The Ember Island Players
Come on, a day at the theatre? This is the kind of wacky time wasting nonsense I've been missing.
The episode begins with Zuko and Aang doing some synchronized firebending in a courtyard. After they finish, Katara exposites that they're apparently shacking up in Ozai's beachhouse on Ember Island. Zuko allays her fears of being discovered by saying that they haven't visited the house (except that one time he stopped by a month ago) since their family was happy.
Enter Sokka and Suki, claiming that there is a play about them. He even brought a poster with them, which exists primarily to try to paint over how it is ultimately impossible for anyone to know the level of detail that they do. Basically, the playwright claims to have scoured the globe for information, using sources such as pirates, nomads, and that damnable cabbage merchant.
Upon hearing that the production is being presented by the titular Ember Island Players, Zuko claims that they're horrible. Ursa apparently took them to see "Love Amongst The Dragons," a production that was rather not to Zuko's taste. When Katara points out that seeing a play that's about them is not the wisest way to lay low, Sokka replies with the page quote. Which does not actually constitute an argument, but we've got to get the plot off the ground somehow. If you can call this a plot...
Cut to the theater, with Aang wearing a silly hat and Zuko wearing a "nondescript" hood. Yeah, nobody will notice this bunch of yahoos. Zuko finds an empty spot beside Katara, but Aang wanted to sit there.
It is at this point where things become rather hard to describe, as there are now two sets of Gaang members and two sets of things happening. So for the sake of sanity, I will use a different color for what is happening on stage. So when I write in this color
, I am referring to the characters in the play, not the actual characters.
The play begins where the show began: with Sokka and Katara in a boat. Katara starts talking about how they haven't found anything fulfilling, while Sokka starts talking about food. Oh Jesus Christ, they've really gone back to season 1 here. And it's worse now, as flanderization has set in.
Naturally, Sokka's rather upset about this character slander, but Toph simply laughs and says that the playwright was pretty accurate. Which is a lie, as she never met that version of Sokka, but that's Toph's purpose in this episode: to laugh at everyone's portrayal. Whether it makes sense or not.
Katara makes an over-the-top speech about how they cannot give up hope and such pap. She start tearing up.
Katara points out that she doesn't sound like that, but Toph again is laughing and in agreement with the play. Except that Katara is right
(as always): she doesn't sound that way. Not even close. Even in early season 1, she had maybe a couple of lines about hope and such. The closest she got was that speech in Imprisoned
. Since then, nothing. So not only is Toph a virtually non-existent character, she also pays no attention to the character of others.
That's somehow fitting, as paying attention to others would show character. And we can't have that, now can we?
Katara sees an iceberg containing a figure. She suspects someone could be inside, so uses a fake waterbending move to open it up. Enter: Avatar Aang. Played by a woman.
Aang is not amused. Katara breaks down in tears at having found the Avatar. Sokka breaks down in tears over not having anything to eat. So Aang tells him that "he" saw some food, but it was apparently nothing. Aang then says that he's "an incurable prankster."
Aang protests this nonsense, but the Blind, Snarky Earthbender snarks at him.
Enter: Zuko. Iroh tries to offer Zuko some food, but Zuko goes on about how he has to regain his honor. Then he says that Iroh sickens him.
Zuko too is not amused, saying that he doesn't like being portrayed as stiff and humorless. Well, maybe you should stop being stiff and humorless.
We cut to various clips of first-season episodes: Aang finding Momo,
punctuated by Aang's disgust at the actress's over-the-top cuteness. We see Sokka in his Kyoshi Warrior outfit asking Suki if the dress makes his butt look fat.
Suki is desperately trying not to laugh out loud while Sokka is embarrassed. Cut to Bumi, being stupid, while Actress Katara starts being all melodramatic at her impending doom.
Katara is not amused.
Cut to The Waterbending Scroll, as the pirates and firebenders fight, while the Gaang manages to escape. Katara's reply to Sokka asking why she stole the scroll was that it gave her hope.
Katara is even less amused.
We see an old stagehand wobbling a sheet of metal to create thunder, as we cut to Aang being held prisoner by the Fire Nation. Specifically Zuko. Enter the Blue Spirit, the "Scourge of the Fire Nation", who frees Aang and carries him off.
Zuko and Aang exchange looks at the inaccuracy.
Cut to some time with Jet, as Katara fawns over him.
The BSE heaps abuse on Katara for it. We then see the Gaang flying over a canyon as Aang remarks that it is The Great Divide. Sokka suggests that they keep going.
This is the first of several meta-jokes in the episode, where the writers poke fun at themselves for their failures
We then cut to the north pole, where Sokka has a parting with Yue, who becomes the Moon Spirit. Naturally, it involves humor and mood dissonance far worse than the series had on its most aggravating day.
Suki laughs at this, but Sokka is tearful and intent on the scene, regardless of how ridiculous it is. And Suki looks a bit jealous at it.
Aang then appears in the costume of a large water monster, destroying the toy ships of the Fire Nation attack force. She falls out of the costume as the curtain is lowered for the first intermission.
The BSE applauds, but everyone else in the Gaang is disgusted.
The Gaang grouses on the banister of the theater, with Zuko saying that the intermission is the best part of the play. Everyone complains about the portrayal of their character. Well, everyone who has
a character does so (ie: not Suki and Toph). There's even this weird scene where Katara says that she's not "a preachy crybaby who can't resist giving overemotional speeches about hope all the time," yet everyone looks around like that's exactly what they think she is. I just don't get this, since that's not even close to how her character acts or thinks.
The BSE simply says that what they see on stage is the truth.
Cut back to the play. The Gaang have entered the Earth Kingdom and Aang goes looking for an earthbending teacher.
The BSE is naturally excited about seeing herself on stage. Toph appears from the ground.
At this point, you can probably write what happens next even if you've never seen the show before. It's really simple; I'll walk you through the thought process:
Writer 1: Let's emphases the fact that Toph is all masculine by making her a dude in the play. And when Katara tries to throw it in her face, Toph will be totally into it!
Writer 2: But then she won't actually have any character to show, since this episode is primarily about how each of the Gaang confronts a caricature of themselves.
Writer 1: Oh who cares, it's not like Toph actually has a character or anything. Besides, it's Komedy!
So male-Toph explains how she can see by releasing a sonic wave from her mouth. Hey, it's more plausible than how the actual Toph sees. Toph then screams at them, and says, "There. I got a pretty good look at you."
And yes, that is in fact Toph's last line in the play. She's not a character in the actual Avatar-verse; the writers aren't going to waste good screen time in the play on a non-character. Toph earthbends, snarks, talks about "her" blindness, and fades into the background.
Somehow, I don't think this
meta-joke was something the writers actually intended, but I found it funnier than most of their actual humor.
Iroh starts talking about Zuko's hair, which he says is out of control. And it has gotten rather ridiculous;
this is probably related to Zuko growing a mop of hair after cutting it in the season 2 opener. Zuko then says that maybe they should split up and walks away.
Cut to the end of The Chase, where Azula is cornered. She points in the distance, saying that she sees Zuko's honor, which distracts everyone so that she can slip out through a door.
Still more reasonable than what actually happened.
Cut to Aang on Ba Sing Se's wall, while Azula is standing atop The Drill. Aang flings stones at Azula, but they do nothing.
The audience seems uninterested. Wow, that's how I felt the second time I saw that episode! Though biting rage would be more like it.
Cut to Jet, using a pair of hooks rather than hook-swords. There's kind of a difference between those two things. Jet swings wildly at Aang, saying that he must serve the Earth King. Then a rock prop falls on him, and he disappears under the rock.
Zuko asks if Jet died, and Sokka says that it was unclear.
I see what you did there.
Cut to Katara and Zuko. Katara says that she finds Zuko attractive. Oh good, we're making fun of the Zutarans now. She even says that she wanted him since he first captured her, back in The Waterbending Scroll. You know, the genesis of Zutara. Zuko says that he thought she was Aang's girl.
And Aang actually nods in agreement. Katara simply speaks the Zutara party line: that she thinks of him like a little brother.
Aang decides to walk out on the play.
Cut to the Seduction of Zuko. He's standing between Azula and Iroh. Azula offers him a choice: the Fire Nation or a life of treachery. Iroh suggests treachery, as it's fun. Zuko walks to Iroh, then pushes him over, saying that he hates him forever. Then joins Azula.
Zuko looks on grimly. For some reason, Katara asks if he really said that. Yes, Katara, yes he did. Just like you fell down in a sobbing heap when you first met Aang.
Zuko just says that he may as well have.
We get some shots of Mai and Ty Lee fighting Earth Kingdom soldiers. They're winning, but Aang appears and enters the Avatar State with a "yip yip." Sure why not. Azula appears, and they re-enact The Most Awesome Thing That Ever Happened And Ever Will Happen In The Show. It even uses a music cue not entirely unlike what was used in the episode. The Angels pose over the fallen body of Aang, with Azula proclaiming him dead. We get another intermission.
The audience applauds. Which is rather odd, since the "hero" of the story was just killed on-screen. Which shows how good the playwright is at keeping an audience focused on the protagonists. They want the villains of the story to win.
So, this is either due to this being a Fire Nation production and the writers wrote the Fire Nation people as the actual heroes, or it is an unintended meta-joke about how the villains of Avatar are more compelling than the heroes. You make the call.
Again, the actual characters of the Gaang are disgusted. Cut to on the stairs again as the Gaang are gathered. Suki remarks on how they seem to lose a lot of their fights or barely survive. Sokka rightly points out that she's not exactly got a winning record over the Fire Nation, what with being captured and imprisoned. Naturally, this pisses Suki off. Katara goes off in search of Aang.
She finds him outside, and she asks if he's OK. Aang says that he hates the play, but she thinks he's overreacting. Aang then reminds us of his blocked chakra (no really, that's the sole point of this scene), saying that he'd probably already be in the Avatar State. Wow, what a great and wise Avatar: driven into a homicidal rage by a play.
Sokka asks Suki if she can sneak him backstage, and she gives him her resume, saying that she's an elite warrior trained for many years in stealth. Was there a whole lot of need for stealth on her isolated village on Kyoshi Island?
Toph talks to Zuko about how everyone's upset about their characters. He points out that her character is so vapid that there's nothing much to caricature. OK, he actually says that she gets to see herself caricatured into being awesome, while he gets all of his mistakes amplified. Because making mistakes is pretty much what is character is. He talks about how he repaid all of Iroh's kindness with a knife in the back. And he's afraid that he may never be able to redeem himself.
You will be missed
Toph tells him that he already has. She calls back to her talk with Iroh, and how Zuko was all he would talk about. She found it annoying but sweet. She says that Iroh just wanted him to find his own path, and now he has. She says he would be proud.
And now I'd like to bid a very fond farewell to the Lady Toph Bei Fong. She will not be seen again in the series. No, I'm not kidding. There are 4 more episodes in the show, and from now on, the part of Toph Bei Fong will be played by the Blind, Snarky Earthbender full-time. She has had her last bit of actual character and now devolves into the caricature represented on-stage.
Cut to Sokka meeting his actor counterpart. The actor makes an in-joke
about allegedly helpful fans, but Sokka is able to win him over with some allegedly funny jokes and suggestions.
Back to Aang and Katara. He asks if she really meant what she said. On stage. He's really asking Katara if what her character said was how she felt.
Has everyone in this show gone insane? Is Aang unable to tell the difference between fact and fiction? I know he's a kid, but he's well past the age when he should be confused by whether an actor is really the person they're portraying.
Anyway, Katara points out that she never said that, but Aang thinks its true. He thought that, after their kiss during The Day of Black Sun, that they would hook up, but he thinks that they won't. Katara is unsure, due to them having stuff like defeating the Fire Nation to worry about. When Katara says that she's confused about her feelings, Aang decides that's the right time to kiss her.
Yeah, that didn't exactly work out, and she walks away.
When Aang re-enters the theatre, Sokka is kind enough to inform him that he apparently missed much of the first half of season 3. No big loss. Although somehow Combustion Man's "death" was moved up to before the invasion.
At the invasion, Katara and Aang have a quiet moment, similar to the one on the submarines that happened in the show. Only here, Katara says that she will love him like a brother, and Aang wouldn't have it any other way. Sokka makes a bad joke,
causing Sokka to laugh at his own joke. The Gaang breaks into the palace, but no one is there. Zuko shows up and decides to join them. It seems obvious that this was added at the last minute to the play to cover recent events, since it makes no sense in context. Sokka accepts and they leave.
Sokka says that since the play caught up to essentially now, that it must be over. But it's not, leading Sokka to suspect that it is telling future events. OK, the inability of the Gaang members to recognize the difference between fiction and reality isn't funny anymore. OK, it wasn't funny before, but now it's really
Cut to Ozai, on his throne; he exposites to the audience of the approach of Sozin's comet. Azula informs him that the Avatar is attacking. Ozai tells her to fight Zuko while he takes on Aang. So Zuko and Azula start with a little ham-to-ham combat, which segues nicely into actual combat with ribbons instead of real fire. The fight style is actually pretty nice, all things considered. Zuko loses of course, since this is a Fire Nation production, and his last word is, "Honor!"
The Gaang members give Zuko a look, as though the play was an oracle and he might drop dead at any second.
Cut to Ozai meeting with Aang, who claims to have mastered all four elements. Ozai then tells him that Sozin's Comet is here and that he's unstoppable. They duel, and Ozai eventually kills him with a large wave of "fire." Ozai then proclaims himself ruler of the world.
Cut to the Gaang walking back to the house, where they have this conversation.
Zuko: That... wasn't a good play.
Aang: I'll say.
Katara: No kidding.
Toph: You said it.
Sokka: But the effects were decent.
Ignoring the mis-characterization (what's wrong, BSE? I thought what we saw up there was the truth?), if you swapped the word "play" for "movie", they could be talking about something else
. Oh, I'm sure that the writers were just doing a meta-joke about bad effects-laden films in general, but the irony of the situation is just too perfect.
This is an episode that I'm kind of ambivalent about. Functionally, the purpose of the episode is, at least in theory, to educate the audience about what happened in seasons 1 and 2. You know, assuming someone picked up the series in its third season. The problem with this is two-fold. First, we already had an episode that basically assumes that everyone saw the first two seasons, since it contained a lot of fanservice and quickly-explained callbacks.
Second, this episode doesn't even properly set up the callbacks and continuity one will need going into the 4-part finale. Oh sure, we see King Bumi and Iroh again, but Bumi's presence here is basically a couple of seconds of screen time, and that's all. The main setup work that this episode does do is Sozin's Comet.
So for someone who watched the series on DVD, this episode was kind of a waste of time. It did set up the silly atmosphere early on, which made it easier to swallow some of the stupider bits. At the same time, it also had a few nice moments sprinkled here and there. Zuko's discussion with Toph was more or less a retread of Zuko's talk with Sokka on the way to The Boiling Rock
. But at least Toph was having a moment, and she did get to put her own perspective on things. Which meant that the writers remembered she indeed has perspective to put on things.
At the same time, it's nice to see the writers poking fun at themselves, with some of the earlier characterization taken to ridiculous proportions. As well as pointing some of their own failures.