attackfish: Jet and Zuko fighting in the teashop, text "Obviously this is the place to come if you want to get murdered by lunatics" (Jet Juko TDL quote)
[personal profile] attackfish
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: the Last Airbender. If I did, it would be one long angstfest and you know it.

Summary: Zuko sorts through the wreckage of his childhood and comes across a doll given to his sister.

Author's Note: It's been a while since I wrote a fic just because. Feels good.

Empty Bodies, Empty Smiles

It wasn't long after the coronation, or the battle that preceded it, that he found her headless wooden body, and for a few brief moments, he contemplated giving her a proper cremation. His own body still throbbed with the force of his sister's lightning. Fiery sparks of pain ran through him every time he breathed along the pathways she had carved. He could see the looks on the faces of his court when he winced and faltered. What his uncle had sought to prevent by sending Zuko to claim the throne had come to pass anyway. Brother fought sister for the crown, and took it from her when he won. That was what the people of his homeland saw when they looked at him, and cast their eyes on the wounds he had earned fighting for their freedom.

He tucked doll his, their, uncle had given Azula, head burned away, body blackened, surviving remnants of her green dress streaked with soot and ash, away in the pocket of his robe and examined the box he had found her in. She had lain, buried in old clothes, the ceremonial mourning clothes he had worn to his father's coronation. She had left black smudges all over the gleaming white silk. The palace servants had put her there for the Firelord's personal servants to deal with, rather than risk disposing of her and angering their new ruler.

The Firelord's chamber, hastily cleared of his father's possessions, stood crowded with dozens of such boxes from Zuko's old rooms, all filled with the remnants of his childhood and his memories. With a sudden stab of sheepish horror, he wondered if the palace servants had found the rest of Azula's stolen dolls. His feet carried him down the corridors, back to his old rooms. He stood in front of the door, a strange and discomforting feeling of loss surging through him. With a glance around at the empty corridor, he pushed his way in.

It had seemed so big, when he had been first allowed his own rooms, big and empty and echoing, and too much. And now it was even emptier. The enormous bed, stripped of its blankets, mattress and pillows, stood skeletal and alone, the only thing left in the entire room. In Sozin's day and for hundreds of years previous, these rooms had housed the Firelord, the grandest suite in the grandest palace in all the islands for a man who dreamed of being the mightiest ruler in the world. Then, Azulon had built grander halls, with grander rooms, and these ones had been relegated to the son of the Firelord's second son, a distant contender for his great grandfather's throne.

And then, Lu Ten had died, and the world had tilted on its axis, and when it had righted itself, Ozai was the Firelord, and Zuko was his firstborn. The servants had come to move him into his uncle's old rooms, and he had screamed his refusal, and slept on the bare floor of his room for four nights in a row before they moved everything back and gave Azula the crown prince's chambers instead. Their uncle was moved into Lu Ten's old rooms, and Zuko was left alone. So much politics, he thought, contained in where someone slept, even when they slept alone. And now he was the Firelord.

After the battle, they had put him in his uncle's rooms, in Lu Ten's old rooms. He wondered if his uncle had anything to do with that somehow.

Shaking off his musings, Zuko strode across the room to the far wall, and gently tapped against it until he found the part that rang hollow. Then, he moved just to the right of it and pushed that panel back, and then slid it into the hollow panel. A cloud of dust rose up. It was untouched. The servants hadn't found it.

Before Azulon's building spree, it had been a secret escape passage for the Firelord. Now, it was a strange malformed little triangle, walled off on one end. Zuko had never been gladder that he had discovered this place after he knew what Azula was like, and so had never shared it with her, or with anyone else. On the floor against the back wall, under a pile of dust sat in inlaid wooden box, stolen from some out of the way corner of the palace. Coughing, Zuko dusted the lid off and picked it up. He remembered when he was little having to drag it across the floor.

With a jolt, he realized as he slid the panel closed and pulled it back into place beside its fellows, that he was leaving that little secret room for probably the very last time. He turned that over in his mind to see how it felt.

When he picked up the box again, his chest felt as if there were cinders inside of it, and his breath hissed out of him. He let it bear him down to the floor, and sank to his knees, ready to push it along like he had when he had been to small to lift it instead of too injured. And a moment later, he rolled his eyes at his own foolishness and called for a porter. There was no need to sneak around anymore like a second prince's unwanted firstborn son.

The porter carried the box to the firelord's chambers as Zuko led the way, pausing as the firelord leaned against the wall, sweating and weak, to rest. Once the box was safely in his new rooms, Zuko dismissed the porter with a wave of his hand and opened the lid.

Faces stared back at him.

On Ember Island, Sokka had told them all about the time he got stuck gutting fish for a week after he stole Katara's doll. Katara had teased him a little about wanting a doll, and Zuko had asked why Sokka didn't have one in the first place. They had all given him that look, like they couldn't figure out what to do with him again. Sokka laughed it off, telling him that he didn't want the doll, he wanted to annoy his sister, but then Toph asked, snidely if he had dolls as a kid. He shook his head. No one had given him a doll since the day Azula figured out she could set fire to them and make her brother cry.

It was surreal, listening to Sokka's story and remembering how he had stolen Azula's dolls. One more memory of his that was almost, but not quite, like everyone else's.

He cradled each of Azula's dolls, rescued and mended as well as he had been able to all those years ago, and laid them gently on the floor until the box was empty. Their faces gazed back at them, smiling gently in spite of their wounds, close to twenty of them, battered hidden away, to protect them from his sister. There was a soldier with her arms twisted off, a circus ringmaster with her hair hacked and burned away, a fisherman with fingerprint burns all over his body, an archer with his cheek burned clean through. Zuko pressed his finger to the burned and jagged edge of the scar, and then to his own.

Before she had gotten real people for toys, Mai, and Ty Lee, and after their mother left, Zuko, Azula had loved playing with her dolls, deciding what they would say and do, ruling them absolutely. But even lifeless wood, clay, and cloth couldn't meet her exacting standards of obedience, and she punished them accordingly.

Zuko wondered if Azula knew it was Zuko who spirited them away after, or if she had just assumed that was what happened to broken dolls.

There was one last doll, and Zuko flinched as he picked her up, his face growing wet. She was perfect, unblemished, her hair neat, her robe crisp. This one had been Azula's favorite, because she wore their mother's face. She used to told her, and talk to her, and make her answer back the way she wanted her to instead of the way their mother did. She used to tell their mother that she loved the doll better than the real her, and smiled at their mother's distress.

This doll alone, Zuko had rescued in time, and Azula had searched everywhere for her, and screamed at the servants, while Zuko hid her away never to be found.

After their mom left, he used to sit in the secret passage and hug the Ursa doll tight and imagine she was the real thing.

Slowly, he turned back to the other dolls, and stripped off the makeshift bandages he had made for them as a child. He set the Earth Kingdom doll down with them, threw the scraps of bandages away, and stared at the dolls and their faces for a long, long time, just trying to figure out what to do with them now.


Date: 2014-04-01 02:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] luunyscarlet.livejournal.com
Awww at little Zuko rescuing his sister's broken dolls from her and cuddling the Ursa doll. I wonder what Zuko's going to end up doing with the dolls now.

Date: 2014-04-01 02:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
I was going to write that, but I decided just to leave Zuko in uncertainty instead. He has them refurbished to give to his daughter.

Date: 2014-04-01 02:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] luunyscarlet.livejournal.com
I figured it would be something like that. The future Crown Princess is sure to love all the dolls and her favourite will be the Ursa doll. The problem only starts when she realizes she has to share her toys with her other siblings. (I refuse to believe that Zuko only had ONE child. Headcanon holds that he had at least four).

Date: 2014-04-01 02:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
My headcanon says seven or eight, and he and Mai are at an absolute loss as to how this happened. Everybody else has three or less, and Mai is 50, and waiting desperately for menopause.

Date: 2014-04-01 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] luunyscarlet.livejournal.com
*snickers*. After their fifth child, Mai is going to be looking into whatever contraceptive methods are present in the AtLA-verse. Zuko on the other hand, is going to enjoy having a large brood to spoil.

Date: 2014-04-01 03:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Zuko's of two minds, on one hand, yay kids! On the other, he's running out of governorships for them.

Date: 2014-04-02 08:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ljlee.livejournal.com
I got a lump in my throat reading this. It packs in a lot, from cruelty to gender roles to identification. It looks like Zuko was rescuing himself by rescuing the dolls, but he couldn't face the truth of his situation any more than he could face the dolls. Hence the bandages that hid their damage under the guise of healing, and hiding them away so he wouldn't have to look at them under the guise of protection. They were the physical reenactment of his shame and fear, his frustrated need to save. Only now, long after, when he's able to admit the truth of his childhood, can he take them out of hiding and see the reality of the dolls.

And now for something uncomfortable: In a continuation of my disturbing penchant for sympathizing with abusers, I surprised myself by actually feeling a flash of anger on Azula's behalf when Zuko hid away the Ursa doll. I think Azula's truth about Ursa and Zuko is that Zuko took their mom away. It's warped logic, as narcissistic logic is, but it's also the logic of the hurt and wounded because that's what narcissistic personality disorder is, a sucking vacuum at the core of being. To see this aspect of their story reenacted through the doll (though I'm pretty sure you didn't intend it that way), and to see Azula thwarted in her need to control and punish... I felt it as an injustice on her behalf, even while fully understanding and sympathizing with Zuko's need to protect the doll. Basically I hurt for them both, but maybe a little more for Azula, the implications of which sympathy discomfits me.

That's what makes this story all the better for me, that it challenges me and makes me uneasy of myself. Not bad for a "what happened to the mouse?"-type angst fest. ;) It takes a sensitive eye to turn an eye to scrap. Archeology seems to me a study of trash and ruin, the thrown away, abandoned, and forgotten. Maybe the same is true for the archeology of our personal histories.

Date: 2014-04-02 01:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
This all got started, as I might have mentioned to you, when I saw Azula torching the doll, and her look of distaste, and I thought to myself, no, that's wrong. Azula loves to play with people, before she had people, she would have loved dolls. Her reaction only works in a highly gendered setting in which dolls are girly and girly is bad. Or if once she had human toys, dolls weren't as interesting. And the next logical step was Zuko, her human toy identifying with them. There's just something so deeply sad about Zuko protecting Azula's dolls the way he can't protect himself.

Oh no, I absolutely intended that. There are two reasons for the Ursa doll in the story. One is to show the way Azula used dolls, as symbolic people she could control, the Ursa doll is a version of their mother who says what Ursa wants her to say (and in story, I think Ursa realized this would happen and gave Azula the doll in hopes she would learn something about the way her daughter's mind worked) and also to represent the way Azula feels as if Zuko took their mother away, both viscerally, because she left because of Zuko, and also symbolically, because to Azula, Zuko was Ursa's "favorite" the way she was Ozai's. I don't think this is the truth, the way parts of fandom do. I think Ursa loved her daughter, and knew there was something very wrong with her, and was the only person to try to set boundaries for her, and next to Ozai's effusive praise, this felt like hate, whereas Ursa valued Zuko when everyone else didn't, and this read to Azula, who saw Zuko as without value, as favoritism, but it's the way Azula saw the situation. You're sympathizing with an abuser, yes, but you're sympathizing with her in her place as abuse victim. While she was Ozai's favorite, Ursa was the only stable loving force in her life, the only person who wanted the best for her just because she existed, and on some level, she knew that. Ursa's leaving shocked her to the core.

And she told herself she was glad. She yelled and screamed for her missing doll because she couldn't yell and scream for her missing mother without admitting just how she really felt.

In some ways, I think Zuko has become a replacement Ursa doll, and also an Ozai doll for Azula. He is now both the last person that she can claim love, and understanding from (and Ursa's child as she is Ozai's) and also a young man who looks a lot like their father, a father whose value of her is built on his estimation of her use to him. Ozai has the control over her. She has the control over Zuko. I think this, just as in this story she doesn't damage the Ursa doll, is why she is so reluctant to just kill Zuko. Yes, having a fall guy is nice, but surely she would be even more secure if there were only Azula.

Date: 2014-04-04 06:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ljlee.livejournal.com
I'm both glad and surprised that you actually intended for Azula to be sympathetic in her loss of Ursa. Glad, because I didn't come across as an abuse apologist asshole, and surprised because I thought you'd have difficulty viewing Azula in a sympathetic light when she reminds you so strongly of your own tormentor.

I think Ursa loved her daughter, and knew there was something very wrong with her, and was the only person to try to set boundaries for her

This. Ursa might not always have liked Azula, which is a good thing because if you like her through everything she does you either have some form of Stockholm syndrome or are a psychopath yourself. However, there is no doubt that Ursa never stopped loving Azula, Exhibit 1 of which is the fact that Ursa always cared enough to discipline her daughter and tell her what was and was not acceptable.

To make a contrast, I would say Ozai always liked Azula (the troubling implications of which I mentioned in the previous paragraph) but never loved her enough set appropriate boundaries and give her tools to deal with reality.

I am endlessly creeped out when people point to Ursa's being an actual parent to Azula as evidence that she didn't love her, because it implies that they think love means endless praise no matter what you do. (A chillingly common pathology in the United States, I am given to understand.) In other words, the way Ozai treated Azula looks like love to them. Even leaving aside the Zuko question--which you can't--they think this "love," which utterly hollowed out whatever capacity for decency and proportionality Azula might have had that Ursa was trying to nurture, was actually a good thing.

I don't even want to think about what real-life experiences led people to think this way. I hope they're just young and immature, and will learn better in short order.

She yelled and screamed for her missing doll because she couldn't yell and scream for her missing mother without admitting just how she really felt.

Ooh, I hadn't even thought about that. Excellent point.

Yes, having a fall guy is nice, but surely she would be even more secure if there were only Azula.

I read about this dynamic in an essay, though it was basically a fall guy theory. It argued that Azula wasn't secure without Zuko because she'd have no one to look good next to and the full brunt of Ozai's expectation and displeasure would fall on her. I used it in a fic where Azula, prior to Zuko's banishment, has an enraged breakdown at the possibility that a scheme of hers might have killed Zuko.

Do you think part of what triggered Azula's breakdown at the end of the show might have been having to kill Zuko? The attack on the Western Air Temple, where she first announced her intention to kill him ("I'm about to celebrate being an only child!") was also the first time Zuko fought back against her on an equal basis and almost won. And granted, Zuko had grown stronger by meeting with the dragons and everything, but this used to be an opponent who could take him and the Gaang single-handedly. The Agni Kai at the palace was the first time Zuko noticed Azula wasn't her old self, but maybe she'd been slipping for a while already.

Date: 2014-04-04 12:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
There seems to be two camps with regards to Azula and abuse, one says she was abused and Daddy made her the way she is, and poor baby, we should forgive her (there's a high crossover between this group and Tyzula shippers, and also with the people who say Mai and Ty Lee should have been better friends to her, and the people who think Ursa abused her. A lot of them also speculate that Ozai sexually abused her. On the other hand are the ones who go "what, are you guys nuts?, he favored her. He abused Zuko!" Whereas I am closer to the latter camp, but not really in it either, since my contention is that Ozai did not make Azula evil, and Ursa (or Zuko, Mai, Ty Lee and Iroh) certainly didn't make her evil, but Ozai still abused her, and that every time he abused Zuko, he was abusing Azula as well, showing her the price for not being perfect.

My abuser's family dynamic was very similar to the Fire Nation Royal family in a lot of ways, but there were some important differences. Her father, who was just like her, adored her and favored her Just like Ozai did Azula (and just like Ozai, he adored her like I adore ice cream, like instead of love as you put it. I don't think he was capable of really loving her) but unlike Ozai, he favored her just because they were kindred spirits, and didn't have impossibly high standards he expected her to meet to keep his favor. Also, her mother loved her, but was in deep denial about what her daughter was and what she was doing, which meant that while her love was real, she loved an image of her daughter. Also, both her mother and her father saw her older brother as the problem child, and both emotionally abused him themselves, and allowed his sister free reign over him. They also both ignored the existence of their youngest daughter almost completely. So because of my experience with a family like the Fire Nation Royals in which the mother loved her daughter in the way the Azula apologists say Ursa should have loved her, and that real love involves believing one's child is perfect, I think it's easier for me to see through that particular rhetoric on motherhood.

Her brother was also extremely possessive of his things, and catching his sister or her friends in his room was liable to enrage him. At the time, I thought it was because he was crazy. In retrospect, it was because every time his sister was in there, something bad happened. Plus it was his safe space.

There are two really nasty threads in American society, one that says that being abused (especially sexually abused) causes you to become evil, and also that having been hurt excuses bad behavior. Both are used by abusers, and I think they both explain why the two camps I mentioned with regards to Azula are so separate. The idea that someone might be abused and also horrible without the former causing the latter is difficult for a lot of people to grasp. It's related to this really sociopathic idea that people are either predators or prey. Not only is the idea that you can be neither, you can be a good person who is not a good target for being preyed on ignored in this world view, which is the point of it, but also, this version of the world erases the fact that being a predator doesn't stop you from being prey. Azula is a predator. She is an abuser. She is, to use simplistic language, evil. Evil people don't have any kind of mutual understanding wherein they won't be evil to each other. Being abused and being abusive are not mutually exclusive, and one doesn't necessarily cause the other.

This isn't to say the abuse didn't affect Azula. One of the major personality differences between my abuser and Azula is just how afraid Azula is, all of the time. This fear, and her extremely fragile self image, is what led to her breakdown. So Ozai didn't make his daughter evil, but he did drive her insane. Nice guy, great father.

So I find myself in the very small "Azula was abused, and she's evil unrelated to that and it excuses nothing!" camp. So I find myself understanding and sympathizing with Azula, and also sympathizing with and understanding her victims, having been in their place.

Date: 2014-04-04 03:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
I think it's really significant that Mai and Ty Lee left Azula for Zuko (or at least Mai did, Ty Lee left for Mai) in the context of this fic, there's Zuko, stealing her dolls again. Zuko is the only one of Azula's toys who can claim to be anything like a rival to her. His leaving probably shook her a little, but Zuko not being at court was familiar to her after his exile, and also, it wouldn't have been hard for her to turn it around in her brain into Zuko not being able to hack it at court, the loser. But him showing up and Mai fighting for him? Choosing him over her? Her pathetic brother, who she has always been better than just beat her in something. That as much as Mai and Ty Lee's "betrayal " itself helped shove her off the sanity cliff.

And yes, she was definitely already slipping in "The Southern Raiders." Her affect is much less flat. She grins instead of smirks. She practically starts cackling. She reacts instead of plans. And she goes after Zuko instead of Aang. Eliminating her toy turned rival, and the evidence of her failure is more important than capturing or killing the one person who can stop the Fire Nation conquest. This to me is evidence of her putting her emotional needs over her political best interests. It's the same thing with not killing Zuko for so long in the first place. As long as he was alive, there was the chance that something could happen, and Zuko would end up on the throne, as in fact, he did. If he were safely dead, there would be no other claimant to challenge her. On the other hand, if Zuko is dead, not only does she lose her toy and the last person who loves her, but also, as you said, she loses her fall guy. But he isn't a fall guy for problems external to her as much as he's someone she can feel superior to in her own mind. She has internalized Ozai's view of Zuko as a failure, and so when she needs a self esteem boost, she looks at her brother and thinks "better than that.".

There's a really telling scene in the Southern Raiders where Azula is falling, right before she catches herself with her royal hairpiece (symbolic, given the last tether to sanity, the last prop for her self image she has is her royal father's estimation of her) where Zuko says "she's... not going to make it," and he looks so stunned and so sad. Then she catches herself, and he switches to angry and resentful and says "Of course she did." Azula's right. Zuko loves her, in spite of himself.

Date: 2014-04-06 03:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ljlee.livejournal.com
So I find myself in the very small "Azula was abused, and she's evil unrelated to that and it excuses nothing!" camp.

Your nuance, it's breaking the internetz! :D I'm in the same camp myself, and I absolutely agree on the horrible, awful implications of thinking that abuse turns you evil--it was one of the reasons I couldn't stand LoK Book 1.

Of course, some of the terrible ideas with real staying power are a twist and a step away from valid and supportable ones. "Abuse turns you evil" is one of those ideas, being a gross and hurtful simplification of the fact that abuse marks a person in ways that may take a long time to recover from, and the damage can take the form of hurting others as well as one's self.

Now, I don't think the core of Azula's manipulative and amoral personality was formed by Ozai's upbringing, so in that sense Ozai didn't turn Azula evil. On the other hand, I don't think her breakdown can be neatly separated from the evil she did. She may always have had the capacity to hurt people without batting an eyelid, but Ozai had a large part in teaching her she could do so without consequence, and also in creating her driving need to gain absolute control. Nothing absolves Azula for the choices she made, but it's also true that she would have been a very different person if Ursa had been the primary presence in her childhood.

So I guess my position is more or less: "Azula was abused, and her capacity for evil was encouraged and amplified by Ozai, and it excuses nothing."

I think it's really significant that Mai and Ty Lee left Azula for Zuko

Oh, absolutely. It was a DOES NOT COMPUTE situation for Azula, I imagine. While the thought that Zuko was somehow "better" than her and "beat" her at the own game would have been unbearable in itself as you outlined, I think the alternative explanation was even more unthinkable--that people cannot always be controlled by fear, and act on motivations other than self-interest and self-preservation, meaning Azula cannot control everything no matter how much she browbeats and terrorizes those around her. Hence the mass layoff back at the Fire Palace, because no one was trustworthy anymore--as in, no one was a dependable automaton who would always and mindlessly do her bidding.

I can't help but feel sorry for Azula because the situation with Mai was Ursa all over again, yet another person throwing away everything to abandon her for Zuko, seemingly defying reason and sanity. I don't doubt that the central emotional underpinning of Azula's need for control was the trauma of losing her mother. No doubt she took the lesson that in order to avoid ever being hurt or rejected again she had to keep an absolute hold on people. Well, it didn't work, and thus she was left in this terrifying void where she had no hold on the world, because Ozai had helped cut away every tendril other than absolute dominance she might have used to reach out to the world. Once that last string was cut, she had nothing she could use to deal with life. Hence madness.

Date: 2014-04-07 01:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
Of course, some of the terrible ideas with real staying power are a twist and a step away from valid and supportable ones. "Abuse turns you evil" is one of those ideas, being a gross and hurtful simplification of the fact that abuse marks a person in ways that may take a long time to recover from, and the damage can take the form of hurting others as well as one's self.

And this is part of why I loved Frozen (and for that matter Airbender) so much. They showed recovery as messy, which is pathetically rare in media.

"Azula was abused, and her capacity for evil was encouraged and amplified by Ozai, and it excuses nothing."

Oh yes, Ozai certainly shaped and gave direction to Azula's existing impulses. She wasn't born genetically programmed to conquer the world instead of say conning old ladies out of their life savings, or becoming a captain of industry and tormenting her brother in her days off. I had a conversation with water-soter in which I said that good people aren't always from good families and really awful people aren't always from bad families, but family always has an effect. How we were raised, what happened to us or what we were exposed to in childhood helps shape how we interact with the world. Azula would have been a psychopath without Ozai, but that would have manifested in a different way had she been raised differently. In other words, she's evil independent of Ozai and his abuse, but he helped determine what kind of evil and gave her the resources to realize her worst impulses on a global scale.

One of the affects Ozai's raising has on Azula is very subtle, but to me shows the absolute lack of humanity Ozai displays towards his favored child. You talked about how Azula feels that desperate need to control and how it does not compute for her when people throw everything away to side with her brother, and this reminded me of something else. We never see Azula manipulate through affection after Ursa leaves, only through fear. When she's a child, she plays the sweet little girl for her mother, at least briefly, but during the main timeline, she very briefly dangles the promise of their father's love in front of Zuko, and that's it. Most psychopaths are very adept at manipulating affection. It's part of what makes them so miserable to have in a family. But Azula doesn't have very much practice manipulating someone else's love for her after Ursa leaves, because Ozai doesn't love her. She doesn't understand love, not only because she doesn't feel it herself, but because after her mother abandoned her, for Zuko, no one except maybe sometimes Zuko, who's also terrified of her, shows her any love. It's a very nuanced and realistic version of the "Evil cannot comprehend good" trope.

Interestingly, she does understand that threatening people's families and friends can be used to control them, which I think is because she relies so heavily on her father's opinion of her to maintain her own self esteem. This is also probably how she perceives Zuko's wish for their father's love. But she does not understand what love actually is, and she doesn't seem to realize anyone can love her. While being loved wouldn't make her a good person, or able to feel love in return, it's still profoundly sad, and says a lot about her relationship with Ozai.

I think one of the contributing factors for her breakdown may also have been Zuko's banishment. Not only was this the ultimate signal of the price of imperfection, but it was also the loss of the only person left who loved her, and so a source of self worth for her external to her father and her ability to control, as well as someone who could unwittingly help her hone her skills at manipulating affection. She was left all alone with Ozai, who had total control over her. He controlled all information she received, all ideology. She had to adapt it or risk being out of favor (and we saw what that led to when it finally happened). It must have been terrifying, and also, since she admired her father so much, and all of his attention, mostly positive attention at that, was all on her, absolutely thrilling.
Edited Date: 2014-04-07 01:38 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-04-08 07:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ljlee.livejournal.com
They showed recovery as messy, which is pathetically rare in media.

It is! It might as well be a training montage set to the Rocky soundtrack. Either you recover quickly and easily, or you're Evil and thus unsalvageable. I don't deny that either of these things could happen (though I don't know of any RL case of easy recovery), but it seems such a disservice to ignore the vast muddled space in between where people struggle forward with a lot of false starts and backsliding, through airless nights and leaden days punctuated by unpredictable bursts of grace.

I think this erasure of the reality of abuse is insidious because people might very well conclude they're beyond hope unless they're insta-fixed, kind of like how people are led by media and social expectations to think a relationship must be unsalvageable if it has any problems (gasp!) that require honest conversation (horror!).

or becoming a captain of industry and tormenting her brother in her days off

I am reminded of Dagny "I'm so proud of sleeping with a married man which is totally OK because I want him and I'm a heroic businesswoman!" Taggert. Then again most of the so-called heroes in Atlas Shrugged are similarly sociopathic.

We never see Azula manipulate through affection after Ursa leaves, only through fear. . . . she does not understand what love actually is, and she doesn't seem to realize anyone can love her.

I never thought of that. Wow, that's chilling.

While being loved wouldn't make her a good person, or able to feel love in return, it's still profoundly sad, and says a lot about her relationship with Ozai.

With guidance and boundaries she could have learned to value the people around her and engage with them in less exploitative ways, if only for her own self-interest. While that's not strictly being a good person, it would have made her at least socially functional. Ursa seemed to be grasping for something like this in "Zuko Alone" before everything was shot to hell.

It must have been terrifying, and also, since she admired her father so much, and all of his attention, mostly positive attention at that, was all on her, absolutely thrilling.

German psychologist Alice Miller in her book The Body Never Lies compared this association between terror and thrill in the child-parent relationship to the dynamic of sexual abuse. That's sort of an explosive thing to say and Miller isn't known for moderation in her writing, but I can see her point that it is abusive to make a child associate the fear of being violated with the excitement of connecting to a parent. My theory is that this association broke Azula's already tenuous grasp on consequence, and ultimately caused her to crash all the harder when consequence, like gravity, reasserted itself.

Date: 2014-04-08 01:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
I am reminded of Dagny "I'm so proud of sleeping with a married man which is totally OK because I want him and I'm a heroic businesswoman!" Taggert. Then again most of the so-called heroes in Atlas Shrugged are similarly sociopathic.

If Nazism is a perfect narcissistic philosophy, objective is a perfect sociopathic philosophy. Also, evidence suggests that sociopaths are disproportionately represented in the upper levels of business.

With guidance and boundaries she could have learned to value the people around her and engage with them in less exploitative ways, if only for her own self-interest. While that's not strictly being a good person, it would have made her at least socially functional.

Exactly. Most sociopaths are able to function in society with a minimum of criminality. They're miserable to have in a family, but most learn not to transgress society's boundaries at least to the extent that they get caught. Azula could have grown up to be like that, but Ozai taught her another way.

That's sort of an explosive thing to say and Miller isn't known for moderation in her writing, but I can see her point that it is abusive to make a child associate the fear of being violated with the excitement of connecting to a parent. My theory is that this association broke Azula's already tenuous grasp on consequence, and ultimately caused her to crash all the harder when consequence, like gravity, reasserted itself.

Part of the reason that Azula apologists think she was sexually abused (which makes no sense given how bad she is at being the vamp) is because they don't think what we saw was bad enough to make her into who she became. And I'm like, are you kidding, what we saw was plenty horrible. Sexual or not, it was definitely sufficient to drive her over the edge.

Date: 2014-04-08 04:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ljlee.livejournal.com
If Nazism is a perfect narcissistic philosophy, objectivism is a perfect sociopathic philosophy.

Quoted for awesome, awesome truth.

Part of the reason that Azula apologists think she was sexually abused (which makes no sense given how bad she is at being the vamp) is because they don't think what we saw was bad enough to make her into who she became.

Oh, internetz. So much fail in one assertion, from the idea that Ozai's abuse of Azula wasn't "bad enough" to the assumption that a) abuse turns you evil and b) sexual abuse turns you eviller. I wonder if they realize how much they're objectifying her by defining her by what (they think) was done to her instead of what she did. Not too comfortable with proactive female characters, are they?

Date: 2014-04-04 05:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] grandiose666.livejournal.com
those comments were what i meant except all i could come up with was "I liked this a lot! Felt very insighful and IC"

Date: 2014-04-04 01:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] attackfish.livejournal.com
This is why I like AO3's kudos system. For when I'm like "I don't know what to say except 'YES!'".

Date: 2014-04-19 09:40 am (UTC)
lokifan: black Converse against a black background (Converse: black)
From: [personal profile] lokifan
Seconded! And reading the threads was fascinating.

Date: 2014-04-19 07:36 pm (UTC)

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