Like Iroh lost his son whom he loved very very much during him trying to conquer Ba Sing Se. If Iroh could go back, he would do anything he could to have his son back. Of course IROH, IROH who has been through all of this, would give that advice. But that doesn’t mean that he is right in any given situation. People forget that Iroh is also human, and comes to conclusions based on his experiences/life. I always saw it as such a painful/emotional line that said a lot more about Iroh than it did
(cont) about what Aang should do. And the fact that other Avatars speak to Aang (AND THEY’D KNOW BETTER THAN ANYONE WHAT HE’S GOING THROUGH) and he chooses to ignore their advice, but Iroh’s advice could be considered absolute is just really strange to me I don’t know. TLDR: Iroh can only speak from his own experiences that are not applicable to everything and Aang really should have let Katara go. (Sorry for how long this rabt is, I have been reading meta on your blog for days it’s so lovely)
Now, I’m no @araeph, but… touching on what you said about Iroh & Guru Pathik, I think people forget that these two opinions can co-exist. Yes, Aang’s earthly attachment to Katara was holding him back. No, he’s not banned from love forever. Look at Roku. He had love in his life and he’d mastered the Avatar State. What Aang struggled with was aligning his goals with what the world needed and learning how to make peace with the conflicts that brought to his heart.
Concerning Iroh and his son… Iroh wasn’t clouded by love like Aang was. Iroh had the clarity of mind, despite choosing to live a life of love and prosperity, to recognize when that path wasn’t right. Example: He shut Zuko out completely, when it would’ve been easier for Zuko, his adopted son, if Zuko were coddled and forgiven and told he was right. Iroh knew Zuko needed to face the consequences and find the correct path.
About the ending, with the Avatars…. Yeah…. it was ridiculous that all 4 of them said to put the world first, to kill the Fire Lord and take decisive action, and Aang got a cop-out anyway. That’s just bad writing.
If I may springboard off this and add a bit…
What Aang’s failing was in leaving Pathik is that he misunderstood Pathik to mean “earthly attachments” as “love”, and that love itself as romantic love. I think that’s the two-fold issue he should have wrestled with coming to understand.
Being able to let someone go doesn’t mean you stop loving them, it means you learn to let them exist apart from you, that you don’t hold them back and they don’t hold you back. It was partially Aang not understanding that’s what Pathik meant, and also partially Pathik not explaining more fully to Aang what he actually was trying to get Aang to do. I don’t meant to say that I think Aang’s dilemma would have been magically solved if Pathik would have just said “No, no, you don’t have to stop loving her, you just have to learn to not be held back or hold her back”, because Aang is still just twelve, and he—self-admittedly—knew absolutely nothing about chakras or chakra work. We can extrapolate from that, that he also wouldn’t have understood the depth and breadth of relieving himself of earthly attachments that the monks had begun to teach him. He still would have had to wrestle with that and come to understand it himself even if Pathik had explained it more in that moment. Honestly, it would have taken quite some time learning with Pathik to fully understand and welcome it.
(as an aside, it’s totally 100% understandable why Aang didn’t get these differences and why he would want to hang on to whatever love/attachment he had–he’s twelve and he lost not only everyone like him, but everyone he ever knew. It’s really such a shame he wasn’t allowed to properly deal with and grow from that, and I am a hundred years angry they never picked up this thread/chakra work/Pathik/etc again, like they should have)
The second part of this whole issue is that Aang has been equating his romantic love for Katara (or at least his cusp-of-puberty crush) with the gigantic hold left in his heart of the love for his people and everyone he was close to in his native time. It’s literally directly visually shown when the monks fade away into dust and Katara’s face replaces them. That’s not romantic love–that’s filling-a-hole-in-my-heart love.
Aang should have had to come to terms with both of those issues of misunderstanding and overcome them, and it’s such a shame that the creators decided to completely ignore and drop that significant thread for his character development in order to have his crush fulfilled for… literally no reason other than to make Katara a prize for the hero.
On a meta level, Iroh told Aang to follow his heart because the creators wanted to make it look like he had made the “right” choice, when he really hadn’t. Again, on a character/narration level, that’s fine to have a character take a step back/regress before making more progress, except Aang didn’t make any more progress. (Zuko is a perfect example of this done right: he took a step back and returned to the Fire Nation, but it served to show him exactly why he needed to leave and do the Right Thing.)
But Anon’s analysis of Iroh’s in-character PoV of why he said, “Follow your heart” is spot on. It’s a really good insight into his character and motivations, of his regrets and guilt. That’s a really good catch.