Yes, I’m on an Avatar kick as of late. But it occurred to me the other day while playing Tales of Graces f that there sure are some interesting relationships floating around out there in the wide world of shows, movies and video games that exists in this day and age. From Aeryn Sun & John Crichton to Han & Leia, there is a couple out there for just about every kind of real life relationship. Yet not all fictional relationships are made equal. While some of them are painfully true to real life, others seem just about a shallow and fake as a certain sparkly vampire & oddly same-faced teen we all know of.
Now having just finished watching this week’s rather relationship-heavy episode of Legend of Korra, I got to thinking of how much I like what they are doing with it. The writers (Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) really have a grasp of how to write “young love,” but don’t shy away from how hard or confusing it can often be. Now while I’d love to dissect this week’s episode of Korra, I gotta leave something for my Monthly Reviews, right? So I’ve decided that for the next few weeks I’m going to break down the relationships for Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show that has reached it’s conclusion and finished its love arcs (for the most part). Obviously if you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender then there are SPOILERS AHEAD. Also, what are you waiting for?! Go watch it on Netflix.
So without further ado, let’s start with our good pal Sokka…
Sokka, Princess Yue and Suki:
For those of you who don’t know, NO, Sokka doesn’t hook up with two chicks at the same time. He probably wished he did, but to our knowledge such an event has never happened. Anyway…
Sokka is one of those lovable character that any girl would love to hook up with and any guy would love to be buddies with. He’s smart, funny, resourceful and does it all without any bending abilities whatsoever. And while he does eventually train under a Sword Master, for the most part Sokka doesn’t learn or possess any abilities that make him any better than any-buddy else. He just has that special mixture of “regular” that makes him awesome. He even has his fair share of weaknesses, like being a bit sexist — a trait that is slowly weeded out over time by the overwhelming number of female characters in the show that kick serious butt. He has his first run in with this in the Small Island Village of Kyoshi, where he meets Suki, the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors; a fierce and dedicated all-female group that protect the island with nothing more than martial prowess. There he is humiliated by the “girls” and soon approaches Suki to ask if he can learn how to fight like them. Of course the two eventually grow fond of each other, but are forced to part ways when Aang and the gang leave town and continue on their journey.
This brings us to Princess Yue, who Sokka meets when he and the Gaang reach the north pole. Despite being in engaged to another man through an arranged marriage, Yue and Sokka hit it off rather quickly, and she confesses that she has feelings for him. Yet she doesn’t want to abandon her people, and regretfully turns Sokka down. None of that really matters though, as soon after their heart-to-heart Yue sacrifices herself in order to become the new Moon Spirit, after the previous one was murdered, an action that would have left the worlds (both physical and spiritual) in imbalance and potentially thrown everything into chaos. Yue had been saved by the Moon Spirit as a child, and as such it was up to her and only her to save it by giving back the gift of life she received as a child. Sokka takes the whole thing pretty well, all things considered. I mean it isn’t every day that your girlfriend turns into the moon. And frankly, how does one handle that?
The fact of the matter, though, is Sokka doesn’t. At least not at first. Having lost Yue, Sokka becomes afraid of losing anyone else he cares about, partially blaming himself for being unable to protect her. This makes things rather awkward when he and Suki meet up again. After almost sharing a kiss, Sokka confess his fears to Suki (all while under the watchful eyes of the moon mind you). Suki, of course, argues that she can take care of herself and that Sokka doesn’t have to worry about her. She isn’t wrong, she certainly can take care of herself, but as many of you may know moving on from a past relationship isn’t an easy thing to do. So even though the two of them part on good terms, for the time being their relationship remains at a stand-still (although they do manage to work in a kiss goodbye).
It isn’t until much later though, after a run in with Azula (one of the best villains in TV history!), that Sokka even gets word of what has happened to Suki since he last saw her. “My favorite prisoner used to mention you all the time,” Azula taunts. “She was convinced that you were going to come rescue her. Of course, you never came; and she gave up on you.”
This enrages Sokka to the point of tears, who is goaded into attacking Azula just like she planned and almost takes a knife because of it. Sokka, who was worried he’d be unable to protect Suki in the first place, now has to face exactly what he had always feared. Suki is in trouble, and he has to do something about it.
So he and Zuko head off to the prison she’s being held in, arrange an escape, and eventually break Suki out. She does her fair share of butt-kicking along the way though, running along the shoulders of a bunch of dudes before flipping and kicking her way up the side of a tower, past some guards and taking the Warden of the Prison hostage. “That’s some girl,” Sokka’s father remarks. Indeed she is. And the two of them remain together for the remainder of the series, fighting and battling together in the quest to stop the Fire Lord.
While their relationship is more than a little rocky at first, Sokka’s journey from sexist pig to battle hardened lover willing to risk it all to save the woman he loves is quite the journey.
Likewise the dynamics seen in his relationships are equally compelling. Where at first Princess Yue is your typical “helpless” princess who can’t really do anything to protect herself, it ends up being her that save the day by sacrificing herself (as opposed to one of the heroes doing it). Likewise, her sacrifice is a lasting one. She is the Moon Spirit from that point on, and may even show up in Korra at some point. This isn’t your typical “heroic sacrifice” that ends up with no long-lasting effects. She isn’t knocked out and “almost” dead. Nor is she resurrected later by some sort of strange plot-magic. Yue really IS gone, and Sokka has to deal with that loss.
Along the same lines, Suki is a girl that doesn’t need saving. At least, not in your typical sense. Sokka needs more saving in the time-frame of the show then she ever does. Sure she ends up getting captured and thrown in prison, but at no point is she made to be a “prisoner” in the eyes of the viewer. She handles her time in prison just as well (if not better) then many of the beefy dudes stuck in there with her, and were it not for her quick thinking and reflexes Sokka and Zuko never would have escaped the prison either. Sokka is the show’s comic relief, sure, but he’s also The Last Airbender‘s “regular” warrior dude. Yet despite the fact that he is an intelligent and skilled warrior, the girl who ends up being his soul mate is arguable a more fearsome warrior then himself. If something were to threaten them, it would probably be her doing the saving. In order to be with Suki, Sokka has to swallow his pride (of which there is plenty of) and accept that fact.
The two have many parallels with other “warrior couples,” including the aforementioned John Crichton & Aeryn Sun. And the fact of the matter is that that’s great! We could use more couples like them! Suki is a strong and stubborn woman who is perhaps a bit prideful of her abilities and prone to gloating about it from time to time. The same could be said for Sokka, who only masters his pride after three seasons of being shown just how little he can accomplish sometimes. Yet the two are wonderful together, having fostered a mutual respect for each other as warriors and peers.
And while Suki doesn’t receive nearly as much screen-time as many of the other characters, her relationship with Sokka is one of the most smile-inducing things about the show, as the two meet up in season one but remain otherwise “separated” until season three. Suki remains a constant member of the world though, as she and her warriors actually show up in an episode recounting what happened to Appa after he was stolen from the main group. It’s in this episode that we see Suki get defeated and captured by Azula, as well as establish that she and her warriors aren’t just side characters but actual living, breathing people who are out having their own adventure away from Sokka, Aang and the rest of the group. The show doesn’t ask us to buy into the fact that Suki is an independent and real woman by simply stating it and leaving it be; it actually goes out of its way to show you how her and her warriors are contributing to the story in ways you’d otherwise never know about.
Seeing as the show can be so heavily focused on benders at times, it’s wonderful to see two strong, independently minded “normal” people find love. The show could have easily copped-out and had Sokka settle down with some farm girl or simply kept him as the comic relief with no girlfriend at all. But instead we get to see him, a regular guy with no powers of any kind, struggle with loss and then fight to keep the girl he loves. All over the course of three seasons. If that isn’t a prime example of a fictional relationship done right, then I don’t know what is. Hopefully by this point I’ve convinced you of that as well.
If not though, be sure to say so in the comments! And stay tuned next week for Part 2, where I look at the rather strained and often jilted relationship between Prince Zuko and Mai. A couple that has more than its fair share of problems…
(Avatar: The Last Airbender and it’s characters are owned by Nickelodeon. I do not claim to own any of these awesome characters or pieces of art.)