Medusa’s nest: rambling about Amon
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…
I really like what you said here. I like how Noatak is complex and hard to understand. He is pretty multi-dimensional. Here are some reasons that people I know and myself have raised about being disappointed in ways about the reveal, though after the initial shock wore off I liked Noatak.
1) His attractiveness. Basically, this is a pretty superficial thing, but when I liked Amon as a character before the reveal, it was “ew but he’s creepy.” But then it got turned around into “oh well he’s pretty good-looking so that’s okay.” Not really a reason to hate Noatak, but it was somewhat grating for people to judge others’ preferences on whether or not Amon was hot or not—and, if anything, Noatak is FAR creepier than who he would be if he was telling the truth.
2) I think that Noatak is complex. The issue is how it’s presented. My personal belief is that Noatak was mixed, full of contradictions. He wanted to be the opposite of his father, yet he resents the Avatar, and he pities nonbenders; I believe his motivations were initially genuine, since he has seen the evils bending can do—he’s done some of it himself. However, we do not know this. The twenty-five years for Tarrlok and Amon where they were separated are not elaborated upon. So, we go from the caring brother to the distant brother to Amon abandoning his normal nonbending tactics and bloodbending throughout the entire finale, and it all seems like he’s dissolved into a standard villain. It’s a very haphazard development with tons of ambiguity. My basic thought is that he felt cornered in and he’s pretty mentally unstable, so that’s why he resorted to that, but I’ve had people say that there’s more proof that he genuinely believed in the cause and it wasn’t just a power grab, but it’s not really shown, you know? It’s something we can assume, but never know.
And people have complained that his past is worse than his fake story, so why did he lie? Well, Noatak probably has a ton of self-loathing and wanted to get as far from his identity as possible. So, instead of being a repentant predator, he became a victim. Someone pitiable and understandable and so much like the people he leads, and it feeds on prejudices toward the Fire Nation and firebenders. He was a messiah. I know someone said that Amon pre-finale was dull because he was just awesome for the sake of being awesome; that was the whole point. Amon is a myth, something more than human. He isn’t flawed and broken; he’s the culmination of everything Yakone isn’t, everything Noatak probably wants to be. A savior, absolutely untouchable.
3) Yeah, I figured he was lying, but the thing is, while I think the thought that it discredits the concerns of nonbenders should be nonsense, since it’s not like his points are invalid because the things he talks about DO happen, it might play that way, and it’s a shame if it does. The whole oppression element was really poorly developed, and I think, for people who wanted it elaborated upon, they will see Noatak’s story as a way to dismiss the issue as a whole. And I think people really sympathize with the wounded vigilante who’s taking revenge for wrongs committed to him, which is actually kind of, in a way, who Noatak is, since he was mentally strained and abused and this is his way of making up for it—but we don’t know. What were his true intentions? He’s dead, written off, so we can’t know, and that lack of clarity is really agonizing at times.
Who is Noatak? Hell, he probably doesn’t even know.
(1) I did notice some people complaining about his looks (though not many), but mostly, it seemed a kind of weirdly hipster thing - “we liked him before he was hot!” There did seem this idea that … like, he’s this epic creepy villain, he should look creepy. But I agree, it’s actually more disturbing that he just looks like a normal guy. (Well, very attractive, but that’s normal for the Water Tribe.) Korra could have passed him in the street, and she’d never know.
(2) Well, Tarrlok says outright that Noatak really does believe bending is the source of all evil in the world. Which is awkward exposition (I have plenty of issues with the writing and pacing - the backstory’s power for me is largely in its imagery, for instance, and not the dialogue - but this is about the content), but it’s definitely there and it’s very clear. At most we could say, well, that’s just Tarrlok’s opinion, but IMO that’d be pretty blatantly reading against the text. (And even in-story, Tarrlok is the only person to whom Amon could have conceivably lowered his guard.)
It’s also pretty much stated that Amon has been subtly using bloodbending all along to defeat other benders, quite apart from taking their bending (and I suspect waterbending too, at least in the snow). Again, strictly speaking, you could say, that’s just Tarrlok’s opinion and Mako’s opinion, but I think it’s presented as fact.
So I don’t see Amon using bloodbending in his final fight as him becoming more villainous, but rather that bloodbending openly in a place crammed with Equalists is taking a foolish risk. Which is … most fans see him unraveling over the course of the finale, but I think he starts losing his grip after Episode 9. He seemed to be pretty seriously concerned with PR until then, and suddenly it’s like he’s all but trying to erode his support, and it escalates until he’s debending Korra, which HE HIMSELF said would be a really bad idea. Given that Tarrlok’s debending is the only thing he regrets, and he felt driven to it, yet he’s simultaneously convinced that bending is the source of misery and evil, my personal interpretation is that he just snapped under the cognitive dissonance. (But that’s just mine. I totally accept that we don’t really get an explanation for why it happens - I do think it’s clear that it is happening, though.)
I don’t think the Amon-story was about making himself seem more of a victim than in his real story, though, but less so. Like ikkinthekitsune said, the fake story creates a straightforward, highly masculine narrative of avenging an injury to him and his loved ones, and then layers a messianic one over that, which removes all potential vulnerability. The real story, where he and his little brother were abused via their waterbending, at the hands of his doting, non-bending father, and he relished it but also suffered immensely, and in the end found himself attacking, defending, and abandoning that brother - I mean, essentially it’s the story of a victim who is defined by his abuse, forever. There’s not a lot of strength in it. I definitely agree that he makes himself superhuman and untouchable - though I’m not sure it’s what he wants to be so much what he considers most effective. (He seems far happier when he can reclaim his name and just settle down somewhere.)
(3) I totally agree with the reaction of his followers being cringeworthy, and the idea that ‘oh, he was lying about his bending-related tragic past, he has a completely DIFFERENT bending-related tragic past,’ completely negates all his points and totally resolves the conflict - that’s, um, yeah. I do think that removing Amon is likely to end the revolution, because it revolved so heavily around his cult of personality, but it won’t deal with the actual issues or the very evident discontent. (It seems very much a darker version of “The Painted Lady,” actually, when Katara was denounced by the people she helped when she turned out to be a waterbender, not a spirit. There, of course, it only lasted about two seconds, but it’s still a (very) similar dynamic.)
I tend to see the how-the-Equalists-were-dealt-with issue (which I’m not thrilled about) and the murder-suicide (which I really dislike) and Noatak and Tarrlok’s backstory (which I very much like, pacing notwithstanding) issue as relatively distinct things, though.