Emphasis on rambling.
I really don’t see how Amon’s history as Noatak “ruined” him. Maybe it’s because I’m that weird person who thinks that the backstory actually did far better by him than Tarrlok, and that it’d be predictable, thematically dull, and less coherent if he had been the “good” brother and Tarrlok the naturally assertive, power-relishing one. But I keep hearing people say that the backstory’s content (if not the pacing or the dialogue) makes Tarrlok more complex and interesting, but completely wrecks Amon’s character as established earlier, especially in “The Revelation.”
Um. Maybe I was hanging out in completely different fandom spaces, because for most of the series, the two things I heard over and over and over about Amon were:
(1) Amon is badass and complex and fascinating. A villain who a substantial portion of the audience can’t help but fundamentally agree with - however much we deplore his methods - is considerably more intriguing than someone whose motivation comes down to BURN KILL DESTROY (looking at you, Ozai). Amon is compelling, he makes good points, he has bucketloads of charisma, he’s scary, he has incredibly creepy powers, and holy genre savviness, Batman! <3 <3
(2) All that stuff he said in “The Revelation”? Totally lying.
Seriously, everywhere I looked, from the moment that the episode aired, people were all HE’S LYYYYYING CALLING IT NOW!! Off the top of my head, here are some theories I remember:
- He’s some kind of spirit. Maybe something to do with Koh?
- Maybe it’s some kind of cyborg … thing.
- He’s just really spiritual and using some kind of chi-blocking-up-to-eleven. Sort of like a reversed, super dark Pathik.
- He’s actually a bender. Maybe he wants to be the only one left? Or is just really self-hating?
- Maybe he’s a mass-murdering firebender.
- He moves like he could pass Korra’s airbender training pretty well. Maybe he’s a former Air Acolyte!
- Maybe he’s a bloodbender - maybe he’s YAKONE, and that’s why they keep bringing that up. Or! Maybe he’s Tarrlok! Or related to Tarrlok!
- Or wait, maybe he’s Asami with some kind of voice machine thing. Her dad could make that, right?
Here’s one that I literally never heard from anyone, ever:
- Yet another firebender kills his family before his eyes, horribly scarring his face. Later on, the spirits give him the power to remove bending to compensate for the Avatar’s failure to bring balance to the world.
It seems to be pretty easily accepted now that Amon’s lies invalidate his arguments, and with them, his complexity as a character. At the time, though, people generally assumed he was lying, without really altering their basic opinion of him as ‘incredibly badass, brilliant, epic villain with a good point.’ A lot of people thought he was probably a bender and very likely a bloodbender connected to Yakone and/or Tarrlok in some way (in fact, I heard plenty saying that they’d be angry and disappointed if he weren’t; if the Tarrlok-Yakone stuff were unrelated and had no real impact after Tarrlok’s disappearance, the consistent attention paid to it would just be a waste of time). When I first watched the finale and Tarrlok said, “because I’m Amon’s brother,” I actually sort of groaned and went, ugh, fandom was right after all. (Then went to OMFG DIDN’T REALIZE IT WOULD BE LIKE THAT.)
So it just seems odd to me that Amon’s lies apparently throw him into the realm of RUINED FOREVER, when everybody assumed he was lying all along and a good many people had already guessed that he was a bloodbender related to Yakone and Tarrlok. We’re even told, explicitly, that he really is a true believer - so, hypocritical though he may be, it’s not that his arguments are only an excuse to gain power, either (in much the same way that Tarrlok is exploiting the Equalist situation for all it’s worth, AND genuinely committed to fighting them OH HI MULTI-LAYERED MOTIVATIONS I HAVE MISSED YOU). Amon genuinely believes that bending is the source of evil, his movement hits a very real nerve with masses and masses of people, and his real history is actually darker and more traumatic than his invented one; it substantiates his bending = suffering position every bit as much as his lies, if not more so.
In fact, his actual past is so incredibly horrific that people have wondered why he doesn’t just tell the truth. Of course, there’s a fairly simple reason for that - he’d have to admit that he’s a bender, and the likelihood of a bender (much less an acknowledged bloodbender, whose bending-related suffering came at the hands of a non-bender) rallying thousands of non-benders behind him has to be … pretty low. But I think there’s also another reason, that sort of relates to the apparently horrifying consensus between what the fandom expected and what turned out to be true.
Amon is not just a scary, mysterious guy, like … Combustion Man, or something. I remember some fans saying they really didn’t want to know his real history, or what he really looked like behind the mask, because nothing could really measure up to Amon as we’d seen him so far. That is, as he’d deliberately presented himself. (The dude is wearing a mask, making grandiose speeches, and pretending to be divinely chosen. Obviously it’s a deliberate presentation.)
Between his abilities, his terrifying image, and his messianic narrative, he seemed positively epic. A villain on the scale of a hero, a saviour, something more than human, almost transcendental: the anti-Avatar. And more particularly, as a spirit-touched non-bender, the anti-Korra.
This is really how he came across, I think, even though we KNEW he was lying and that this had to be a constructed persona. I don’t think it’s really coincidental that he’s-really-a-vengeful-spirit was such a popular theory. He’d still be lying, but the actual story would fit the image, maintain his epic stature. Spirit!Amon would match up satisfyingly with Amon’s carefully constructed image of an preternaturally powerful, inexorable, otherworldly dark messiah.
His actual story does not. When Amon needs a story of victimization at the hands of benders, he goes for the most generic one possible, and focuses on his evolution to Chosen One. The invented tragedy was there to inspire sympathy, but not pity - Amon was never meant to be a pitiable figure, and most of his narrative is scrubbed clean of any possible weakness, of … well, humanity. His transcendental power is the point.
But there’s nothing transcendental about what has really happened, and his power is not only not remotely transcendental, it’s the vehicle of his suffering. The real story is a very human one, hardly unprecedented (even in-universe), and … pretty sordid, honestly. He and Tarrlok are both figures of pity, there; they’re children who are brutally abused for years on end, have no one to turn to for help, and whose minds are dominated and twisted by their abuse, twenty-odd years later. It’s not an inspiring story, it’s just a horrifying one. (Though I’ll say that I find the idea that ‘trained from childhood in control and torture’ is more trite than ‘firebenders killed my family’ rather astonishing.)
So maybe that’s the explanation - it’s not just that he was hiding the truth along with his face. I mean, a man in a mask, covering up his real identity? Say it isn’t so! It’s that the truth isn’t … well, epic. Amon was epic, so epic that he verged on the inhuman. Noatak of the Water Tribe is entirely human. He’s a boy who fled into a blizzard and a man who panicked when he found himself drowning; a boy who violently protected his brother from the father who favoured him, and a man who waged a violent terrorist campaign against the privileged class to which he belongs; a boy who relished his power as a bloodbender, and a man who hated all benders, and cooperated in his own murder.
And the thing is, it’s also not just that Amon was lying. We all knew he was lying. It’s that Amon himself is a lie. Amon is a mask, and beneath it a made-up face; he has no weaknesses, no particular emotions, no human frailties, and doesn’t actually exist. He’s simply a persona that Noatak - nothing grander than a very intelligent, very talented, very damaged man, who errs and cries and gets pissed off - dreamed up and constructed around himself. Amon, when it comes down to it, is simply an elaborate performance. One that Noatak may subsume himself in, to the point of almost forgetting himself - but he never quite does. In the end, he identifies Noatak as his true identity, “my own name,” and is clearly happy to return to it.
Now, me, I actually find this a lot more compelling, and more … well, likely. Back in “The Revelation,” something that struck a lot of us was how theatrical the whole rally was, between the backdrops and the lighting and the stagework and performers so coordinated it approached choreography. It was obviously a carefully staged production to make Amon seem larger-than-life. It makes perfect sense to me that the mind behind that would also invent a story that makes him seem larger-than-life, than he really is.
I still don’t see how it ruins him, though. Honestly, I think it makes him far more impressive that he’s not specially chosen, not on some higher level of existence than ordinary mortals. All the things listed in #1 are still true, but now he’s a gifted and traumatized, but fairly normal person with no fate/gods/spirits/prophecy/whatever setting him apart. He’s just that awesome all on his own.
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