#mako acknowledges bolin as a human being - the only one i have left#he calls him family#bolin is all mako has and all he’s ever had; this he knows#but noatak?#noatak’s quote is about possession#he HAS tarrlok because tarrlok has no where else to go and neither does noatak#noatak’s learned nothing#he still needs someone to push around and tarrlok is defenseless#tarrlok is the old punching bag his father had#noatak needs tarrlok in the inception of his new life to give him importance#AND THAT’S WHY#NOATAK#IS A FUCKING ASSHOLE FUCK EVERYONE WHO WOOBIE-FIES HIM#HE IS A TERRIBLE PERSON#IF ANY BROTHER DESERVES TO HAVE MORE SYMPATHY IT’S TARRLOK AND I SAY THAT AS A PERSON THAT VERY MUCH DISLIKES TARRLOK#i’m full of opinions rn#brothers from the school of hard knocks#brothers from the school of dad please i don’t want to bloodbend anymore
The sad thing about Noatak is that, when he was really young, he actually did have a meaningful relationship with his brother. By the time they saw each other again, though, Noatak wasn’t capable of meaningful relationships with anyone (as much as he might have tried to convince himself otherwise). As much as he needed to have Tarrlok around after his revolution failed and he had nothing else left, Noatak probably would have let him rot in that cell if things had gone better for him.
Noatak probably didn’t consciously intend to take Tarrlok to use as a punching bag, but it would have happened. Power and control were all Noatak really knew anymore, justifications aside, and while he might have imagined he could take his old role as Tarrlok’s protector, in practice he’d probably end up using Tarrlok as an outlet for his rage when things inevitably went wrong (and he’d convince himself he had to do it because seeing himself as wrong just doesn’t compute for him).
Out of all the sympathetic villains in A:tLA and LoK, Noatak might be the only one too far gone to have ever been saved. Zuko broke free from the cycle of abuse, Azula is still young enough in the comic continuity to find some kind of peace, and Tarrlok could have possibly been brought around through serious therapy if he hadn’t killed himself since he at least recognized that he had a problem, but Noatak had already completed the cycle and couldn’t even begin to see the problem with it. (There’s something of a pattern of dysfunctional family dynamics here, with Zuko and Tarrlok playing the role of Scapegoat within their families and ending up more capable of change, and Azula and Noatak playing the role of Golden Child and ending up less capable of change. Interestingly, Bolin fits into one of the other two roles as the Mascot/Clown; Mako, on the other hand, has mostly just grown up way too fast instead of fitting any of them)
I don’t think that Noatak is so irredeemably awful as all that, though he is a very twisted person. For one, I don’t see a more sympathetic reading as necessarily fuck-you-worthy woobification (though it’s my soapbox that woobification is often very defensible and the hatred it gets is all out of proportion and often a bit peculiar - e.g., Noatak and Tarrlok being forced to torture animals, as children, for years on end, via a technique that opens their minds to homicidal madness, while being constantly reminded that it’s the sole value of their existence, is no big deal, right? They could have been homeless!). It’s possible to read Noatak as a total asshole who used to be a sweet kid, but that’s not really my image of the character.
As I see him, Noatak is fundamentally pretty good-tempered, easy-going and optimistic where Tarrlok is sensitive and highly-strung. Of course, where Tarrlok’s sensitivity ultimately warps into a talent for spotting and manipulating others’ weaknesses, Azula-like—he’s a people person!—Noatak’s optimism is twisted into serene unconcern with moral or practical concerns. I think his basic good nature does persist in some ways, though. As Amon, he’s far from warm with the other Equalists, but he’s calm and reasonable. The scolding he gives after Korra’s escape is decidedly restrained (almost apathetic), and he hardly even responds to their other failures except to occasionally offer reassurance. Even when he attacks/possibly murders the Lieutenant, his overriding emotion doesn’t seem to be rage, but mild regret; it’s not that he doesn’t have the capacity for rage, but it’s mostly sublimated, cold, and directed at people he hates.
Likewise, young Noatak becomes progressively colder and more remote over time (though still driven to protect), but it takes years of sustained abuse before he lashes out, and even then it’s a very extreme situation. Now, this doesn’t make him a good person; if anything, it contributes to his creepy dissonant serenity. But I don’t see any evidence that he’s at all inclined to use people as punching bags, much less the only person he remotely cares about; he simply doesn’t seem to have any psychological need for that kind of thing.
Also, I don’t think that he’s unconcerned with Tarrlok before his plans fail. I’ve mentioned it before, but he does prioritize Tarrlok’s unconscious body over the alert, angry Avatar, leaving her to his minions. It’s not just a risk—it’s a fairly pointless (arguably even stupid) one. He has no reason to suppose that Tarrlok has recognized him, since … he obviously hasn’t, so there’s not really any other reason for him to do it. And his debending of Tarrlok in that scene is the only thing he ever expresses the slightest remorse over, even though he’s done and will do far worse things, and that one is actually pretty defensible (similar to Tarrlok’s remorse over bloodbending Korra).
Later, when Hiroshi is angsting over Asami fighting with benders, Amon is surprisingly sympathetic, assuring him that soon they’ll be defeated and then yay Hiroshi will have his daughter back, as if capturing her is a totally workable way to resolve their family issues (Hiroshi himself seems more ambivalent and in the event gives up on her after a token effort). That’s more tenuous, but when taken with the fact that he is literally keeping his little brother captive, it gives me the impression that he genuinely thinks capturing Tarrlok = having him back, he just has to deal with a few pesky problems and then he can bring his brother over to his side, whee sunshine and roses. (I see Noatak and Tarrlok as at least halfway stuck in childhood, particularly Noatak: less sweet and innocent and more psychopathic manchild.)
I don’t personally think Amon was leaving Tarrlok to rot. Tarrlok’s been in that cell for days, but it’s pristine, and he seems clean enough, and not starving or anything, just not as well-groomed as usual, yet it’s obvious that Amon isn’t letting anyone else near him. And Tarrlok has become convinced that Amon’s hatred of bending is sincere, whatever his other lies. My impression is that Noatak has been taking care of him and talking to him—or more likely, talking at him, and if the revolution had succeeded, he’d have just moved him to a more convenient spot to keep on doing it.
I tend to think ‘powerful champion of the vulnerable’ is the core of Noatak’s self-image, given his dynamic with Tarrlok and then the similar but wildly exaggerated one he creates with the Equalists. His protection of both are very comparable. With Tarrlok, he evolved into a distant, powerful figure, he personally shouldered the larger share of responsibility for their ‘purpose’ (partly out of genuine good will, partly because he got psychological kicks out of it), he attacked the father who favoured him on Tarrlok’s behalf, and fled when rejected by him. With non-benders, he set himself up as a messiah, he personally led their attacks (same motivations), he attacked the system favouring benders like him, and fled when rejected.
If they’d escaped together, he probably would have repeated the pattern, treating Tarrlok very much as he did as a boy, and the Equalists later on: rather than meaning to protect him but actually turning violent on him, I think he would have been not just protective, but wildly overprotective. Like—if some guy punched Tarrlok, Noatak wouldn’t rage at Tarrlok over it. He probably wouldn’t respond at all, and then the guy would coincidentally drown himself the next day. Tarrlok would be much more concerned with restraining Noatak than defending himself from him, IMO. And I suspect that if Korra had actually managed to burn Tarrlok, all that saving-her-for-last stuff would have gone out the window a lot sooner.
And, finally (eep!), I’m not sure Noatak is too far gone to be reached by anything, given his last moment. I mean, it’s established that he can sense virtually any movement and either subtly hinder it or blatantly stop it, yet he does nothing but cry. It’s pretty clear that he does know Tarrlok is about to kill them both and accepts it—all but cooperates in it, despite not being at all suicidal himself. Now, I do think that Tarrlok is much more likely to find redemption than Noatak and that it would clearly take something incredibly drastic to open Noatak’s eyes to what he’s become, but I’m not sure his imminent murder is the only one.