Zuko and Mai v Mr. Boomerang.
One of the reasons Avatar is one of the few epic fantasies I’ve actually liked is that nobody is above indignity.
This is a thing a lot of genres do, but epic fantasies seem to be impressively devoid of any sense of humor, and often cave to the temptation to make the villains or heroes so badass that nothing embarrassing or stupid ever happens to them.
In Avatar (the last airbender, anyway, haven’t seen Korra), everyone has stupid shit happen to them. Even Fire Lord Ozai has his moments– “No, Fire Lord Ozai, YOU aren’t wearing pants!” Azula gets covered in mud. Zuko has… well, getting conked in the head by a boomerang is only the beginning of the stupid undignified shit he experiences. (Though he still doesn’t compare to Sokka, the emperor unto perpetuity of Shameland.)
And I love that. Because in life, sometimes you get covered in mud. Sometimes you get conked in the head when you’re trying to be brooding and dramatic. STUPID SHIT HAPPENS TO YOU. And in real life, you still manage to be badass, or terrible, even in your moments of human frailty.
I wish I saw that more often.
Yes! This, so much. That’s definitively something I’ve noticed too, and I love it!
Actually, in a way, I think it’s kind of addressed in the show itself:
Zuko was publicly humiliated, punished and banished for speaking out of turn at a meeting. This was considered a personal offense to the Fire Lord: they were so strict and enamored with their “dignity” that the slightest misstep by a child could turn into some sort of great insult. And if you’re insulted the proper response is to defend your honor in Agni Kai, a duel to the death (with a child if need be).
In contrast, among the Air Nomads, it was okay to throw mud pies at the head monks and laugh your ass off. It was even encouraged: creativity, fun and humility were seen as the most essential qualities. No one was above pranks - neither being pranked nor even doing the pranks. And it didn’t mean they didn’t know respect - we know Aang had enormous respect for his elders and their teachings. It’s actually a much truer form of respect than what you could find in the Fire Nation, where fear kept you silent.
So, I think there is a lesson here, that maybe we should learn not to hold our dignity in such high regard, that it’s good to know how to laugh at yourself? And when ATLA has fun with its serious characters, it’s also a way to illustrate this idea - the show is all the richer by not taking itself too seriously.