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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender - "The Ember Island Players"

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The Boy in the Iceberg is a new production from acclaimed playwright Pu-On Tim, who scoured the globe gathering information on the Avatar, from the icy south pole to the heart of Ba Sing Se. His sources include singing nomads, pirates, prisoners of war, and a surprisingly knowledgeable merchant of cabbage. Brought to you by the critically acclaimed Ember Island Players.note 

"Come on, a day at the theater? This is the kind of wacky time-wasting nonsense I've been missing!"

The Gaang decides to take a break from training and planning to see a play—about themselves. They discover that the play, being Fire Nation propaganda, features a warped plot and Flanderized versions of themselves acted by a bunch of hams. It all seems like harmless fun at first, but the play brings up old wounds, and our heroes find themselves questioning their past actions. The play ends with a speculative battle under Sozin's Comet, where Aang and Zuko are killed as the Fire Nation conquers the planet.

The Gaang REALLY don't like the show (except maybe Toph). The actors in the play have a Character Sheet.

Tropes in this episode include:

  • '80s Hair: Within the play, Zuko sports long flowing hair in the second act. It's why he and Iroh split up since Zuko refuses to talk about it.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Double Subverted. The episode preview sets up the episode as a serious but less action-focused denouement right before Sozin's Comet, similar to the climax of "The Beach." However, Sokka comes along and drags everyone to a Stylistic Suck play about the Gaang for some "wacky time-wasting nonsense." However, in the intermissions, the characters do discuss their motivations and take time to connect with each other before the action-packed series finale.
  • Actually Pretty Funny:
    • Within the play, the scene where Sokka in a Kyoshi outfit talks with Suki, asking if the dress makes his butt look too fat. Suki struggles to hold her laughter in while Sokka looks extremely embarrassed. She also doesn't seem to mind how she is portrayed in the show.
    • Katara points out that Zuko's actor is pretty spot-on, and smirks when Zuko proves it. They both are overly dramatic and say, "How could you say that?!"
    • Toph finds it hilarious and awesome that the Fire Nation thinks she's a giant [masculine] wrestler who has a sonic scream. She's watching — or at least listening to — the rest of the play with rapt fascination up until the Downer Ending.
    • Sokka presents the actor playing him with some alternative jokes during the intermission to use in-character for the final act of the show. While the actor is initially annoyed at having to deal with "another fan with ideas," he's quickly won over by Sokka's puns and uses several of his suggestions onstage.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: This happens with every single character, as none of the Ember Island players are as attractive as their real-life counterparts.
  • Adaptation Decay: The play is this to the actual story. Zuko also implies that another mentioned play is this trope.
    Zuko: Ugh! My mother used to take us to see them! They butchered Love Amongst The Dragons every year!
  • Adaptation Distillation: Their show is a vastly condensed version of Aang's journey, gleaned largely from second-hand accounts (surprisingly accurate ones), though with a Twist Ending that's "Fire Nation friendly", you might say.
  • Adapted Out: In-universe:
    • Notably, Zhao isn't mentioned at all throughout the play, with Zuko taking his place during the events of "The Blue Spirit," meaning that Zuko gets attacked by his own secret identity. A tiny doll of Zhao does appear at the end of the first act to be grabbed by Aang-as-enraged-Ocean-Spirit, though.
    • Long Feng and his conspiracy also don't appear in the play. While Jet is still brainwashed, it appears to have been the doing of the Earth King or someone loyal to him.
    • Intentionally done with the Gan Jin and Zhang tribes as well as the canyon guide from "The Great Divide." And indeed, the entirety of "The Great Divide."
    • Jun the bounty hunter from "Bato of the Water Tribe" isn't one of the characters in the play.
    • Xin Fu and the Earth Rumble VI wrestlers also don't appear.
    • Returning characters who participated in the failed Fire Nation invasion including Bato, Hakoda, Haru, and Teo don't appear in the play either.
    • The Rough Rhinos are also no-shows.
  • Affectionate Parody: The play is completely mocking the show itself, pointing out things that were ambiguous, as well as some of the less appreciated characterization, but all in good fun.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Played for Laughs. In the play, Katara falls for Jet, and then Zuko, much to the real-life Aang's displeasure.
    Player Katara: Oh, Jet... you're so bad.
  • Angels Pose: The actresses for Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee do one at the end of the second act of the play in reference to their invokedFan Nickname "Ozai's Angels".
  • Anime Hair: Zuko sports a head of Vegeta-esque hair during the play's third act. Jet's hair is also like this.
  • As You Know: In the opening scene of the play, fake Katara addresses fake Sokka as "Sokka, my only brother."
  • Ascended Meme: The entire play is essentially a series of memes and fandom discourse that the creators thought were worth addressing In-Universe.
  • Audience-Alienating Ending: The play's ending is this in-universe for Toph. Unlike the rest of Team Avatar, she was actually enjoying the play, finding the way everyone else was portrayed to be hilarious and loving how she was portrayed as a tough and awesome Boisterous Bruiser. However, the play's ending where Zuko and Aang are killed and the Fire Nation wins the war is too much even for her, and she ends up agreeing with everyone else that the play was horrible.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: As it was written as propaganda by an Earth Kingdom playwright who turned out to be a Fire Nation sympathizer, the play ends with the Fire Nation as the victors. Played With in the sense that, In-Universe, this is only the case in the eyes of the main characters. The citizens of the Fire Nation consider it a happy ending.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The episode preview (Previously On Avatar...) shows some of the emotional highlights up to that point in the 3rd season, the title card has an emotional-sounding jingle, and the episode opens on Aang and Zuko training their firebending. All of this implies that the episode will be a more serious episode focusing on the characters. And then Sokka shows up with the poster of the play. Subverted in that the episode actually does end up examining the characters and their motivations as a breather right before Sozin's Comet.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: In-Universe. In the play, Aang invokes the Avatar State by saying "Yip Yip". In reality, that's how Aang gets Appa to fly. The Avatar State just happens whenever you piss Aang off too much.
  • Beta Couple: Suki/Sokka (now comfortably together and spend the episode joking around) to Aang/Katara (who are trying to figure things out after their kiss a few episodes ago).
  • Better than a Bare Bulb: If you haven't noticed all the lampshades hung on this page already; the more you've seen of the show, the funnier this episode will be.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Could be considered as such with Aang when he frowns and looks at the screen in disgust after Toph says having a buff guy acting as her is better than a "flying bald lady".
  • Breather Episode: Sandwiched between Katara's emotional confrontation with Yon Rha and the climatic final showdown is this goofy Self-Parody. It's even lampshaded by Sokka.
  • Call-Back: Toph and Zuko discuss the time she met Iroh, when Zuko's feeling down.
  • Casting Gag: Derek Basco is the voice of Actor Zuko, the real-life brother of Dante Basco who voices actual Zuko.
  • Character Exaggeration: In-Universe. The play versions of the characters are all exaggerated versions of them, mostly based on their pre-character-development selves. Aang is annoyingly cheerful and childish, Sokka is shallow comic relief and just makes bad jokes about eating note , Katara is an emotional wreck who keeps launching into speeches about hope, and Zuko has his angst and focus on his honor dialed up to eleven. Toph is rendered as a Boisterous Bruiser (played by a muscular man, no less) who does nothing but take down bad guys and make quips, which the real Toph thinks is awesome.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Aang storms off from the play when actor Zuko and actress Katara become a couple.
  • Creator Cameo: Playwright Pu-on Tim is the episode's writer, Tim Hedrick.
  • Crosscast Role: The actors for Aang and Toph are both in these. Aang is disappointed that he's played by a woman, but Toph thinks it's awesome how she's cast as a giant hulking man.
  • Decomposite Character: Zuko and the Blue Spirit are separate characters in the play, because most people, including the play's author, didn't know they were one and the same. Indeed, thanks to Zuko taking over Zhao's role for that sequence, they even end up fighting each other.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The play is written by an Earth Kingdom playwright for a Fire Nation audience. Hence, both Team Avatar and the Fire Nation people watching it have different perceptions of it. The latter view the protagonists as the villains of the story and cheer when they're defeated at the end, while the former looks at it as a Downer Ending.
  • Discontinuity Nod: "The Great Divide" is treated as such:
    Aang: Look, it's the Great Divide — the biggest canyon in the Earth Kingdom!
    Sokka: Eh... let's keep flying.
  • Do I Really Sound Like That?: Everyone but Toph feels this way about their portrayals in the play.
  • Does This Make Me Look Fat?: In the play, Sokka asks Suki if the Kyoshi Warrior outfit makes him look fat.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Jet's "death" gets mercilessly lampshaded. He just randomly falls over, and a "rock" falls on top of him. The Gaang (and Zuko in particular) have no idea what they just saw. Sokka likewise admits that he had no idea if Jet actually died.
    Zuko: ... Did Jet just... die?
    Sokka: You know, it was really unclear.
  • Dude, Not Funny!:
    • Zuko feels this way when his portrayal hits a little too close to home.
    • Aang doesn't take it well that the Avatar is portrayed as a giant joke, especially when it recreates Azula striking him with lightning in the back.
    • Toph is having a great time laughing at the play... right up until the ending where Zuko and Aang are killed and the Fire Nation takes over the world.
  • Easily Forgiven: Player Zuko in the play's third act.
  • "Everybody Dies" Ending: What the play does to the Gaang's onstage personas, much to the real Gaang's horror. Although, only Aang and Zuko's deaths were shown.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Implied since even though the play turns out to be Fire Nation propaganda, which ends with the Gaang's death. Even the scriptwriter didn't like the events of the "Great Divide" and decides to simply skip it all together.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Played with by the Show Within the Show. The actor character playing Ozai on stage is even hammier than the other actor characters playing the other Avatar characters on stage. To the Real Life audience, this might seem like a straight example of this trope, but to most of the in-universe audience, it would seem like an Inverted Trope since said audience is mostly composed of Fire Nation citizens who think of Ozai as the hero.
  • Facepalm:
    • Suki facepalms in the background when Sokka gives his actor some of his jokes. (Then she's flabbergasted when the actor actually likes them.)
    • Zuko, at the end of the second act, when Player Azula has defeated Player Aang in the Avatar state and declared that he is no more. The rest of the Gaang is similarly deflated by this.
  • Foot Popping: Player Katara does this when she and Actor Zuko embrace.
  • Forceful Kiss: Aang plants one on Katara out of frustration at her for not responding to his feelings. She doesn't take it all that well.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The show is terrible, and the Ember Island Players apparently butchered other shows too.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Played for laughs with Zuko's disgruntled reaction at finding out that they were adapted by the Ember Island Players. It's one of the first hints that the show is going to be awful.
    • A more straight example: The Boy in the Iceberg's version of the climax is a lot like how it would actually play out, except for the Twist Ending. It takes place during Sozin's Comet, and Zuko fights Azula in a firebending duel (and the real Azula would have facial expressions mirroring Player Azula's) while Aang fights Ozai alone.
  • Gecko Ending: In-Universe. Sozin's Comet wouldn't arrive for another two episodes, so the play wraps things up with its own ending where Azula and Ozai kill Zuko and Aang respectively and succeed at taking over the world.
  • The Ghost:
    • The recurring Cabbage Merchant from previous episodes is mentioned as one of Pu-on Tim's sources for the play's writing material, but he doesn't actually make an onscreen appearance in this episode.
    • Sokka mentions to Aang that he missed out on the play's incarnations of Combustion Man, the Painted Lady, and presumably Piandao.
  • Hand Behind Head: Zuko does it when Toph reveals how highly Iroh spoke of him when they met.
  • Handsplay in Theater: Sokka with Suki (Type A). Aang wants to do it with Katara, but Zuko ends up sitting between the two (Subverted Type B).
  • Harmless Villain: The Gaang in-play. The Fire Nation audience cheers whenever Azula and Ozai triumph, but they also seem to greatly enjoy the antics of The Gaang in the first two acts otherwise, likely considering them Affably Evil or this trope.
  • Head Desk:
    • Aang bangs his head on the balcony banister after being too forward with Katara. ("I'm such an idiot!")
    • He also does this after the play goes into an intermission.
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: Instead of fighting anyone or preparing to face the Fire Lord, the main characters spend an evening at the theater.
  • He's Just Hiding: In a nod to Jet's ambiguous death, Sokka and Zuko are unsure over whether Jet actually died in the play or not. invoked For bonus points, this is the first Zuko learns of Jet's fate or that he and the team had met; he genuinely has no idea what's being portrayed.
  • Hidden Depths: Zuko used to go to the theatre with his mother and has strong critiques about different plays.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Downplayed. The stage version of Katara has a dress with slits almost all the way up to her hips, and a low neckline. Yue's costume is also rather more revealing than the real deal. Neither of the actors are as good-looking as the characters they portray, however.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Sokka complains that his portrayal does nothing but make bad jokes about eating meat... while eating meat.
      Sokka: Apparently, the playwright thinks I'm an idiot who tells bad jokes about meat all the time!
      Suki: Yeah, you tell bad jokes about plenty of other topics.
      Sokka: I KNOW!
    • Katara, meanwhile, gets stared at when she claims she's not "a preachy crybaby who can't resist giving overemotional speeches about hope all the time."
    • Zuko is frustrated that the play interprets him as a humorless stiff. It blows up in his face when Katara points out it's somewhat accurate; Zuko expresses indignation and his actor repeats the exact same indignant line a second later.
    • Subverted with Toph, who makes fun of the others throughout the first act enough to make the audience think that she'll really get an embarrassing performer, but if anything she laughs even harder at her own portrayal (as a huge dude), as this would be exactly how she "sees" herself as.
  • I Hate Past Me: Zuko is once more frustrated about his past actions thrown back at him after watching the play.
  • Informed Attribute: Katara is treated by the other characters as always making overly dramatic speeches about hope. The amount of times she has done so in the show is a grand total of once.
  • Insult Backfire: Toph earlier says that what they are hearing onstage is the truth. But when she finds out that her actor is a big tough dude, Katara tries firing an Ironic Echo in her direction. Instead, as Toph depicts herself as anything but dainty or helpless, she says that she wouldn't cast herself in any other way.
  • In-Universe Factoid Failure: Even accounting for the play's role as Fire Nation propaganda, the Ember Island Players production "The Boy in the Iceberg" gets a lot of facts that should be known wrong:
    • The writer manages to get Zuko's scar on the wrong side, despite him being a public figure in the Fire Nation. Leading to a kid telling the real Zuko that his scar is on the wrong side.
    • Then they called Momo a "flying monkey-rabbit" (he's a flying lemur).
    • They also failed to grasp Toph's tremor sense. Her being cast as a burly guy, on the other hand, makes perfect sense if you consider that the information came from eyewitness accounts, which in the Earth Kingdom would be mostly people who lost to Toph's Earthbending. Who would be able to admit they were soundly beaten by a 12-year-old blind girl?
  • Ironic Echo: While Zuko criticizes the actor playing him, Katara contends that he is spot-on and he asks, "How could you say that?" Meanwhile, the actor playing Iroh suggests forgetting the Avatar and getting massages and actor Zuko asks "How could you say that?!" which is what the real Zuko said.
    Zuko: They make me look totally stiff and humorless.
    Katara: Actually, I think that actor's pretty spot-on.
    Zuko: How could you say that?
    Actor Iroh: Let's forget about the Avatar and get massages.
    Actor Zuko: HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT?!
    [Zuko frowns in embarrassment as Katara smirks]
  • Large Ham:
    • All of the actors to some extent, but whoever's playing Ozai really likes hamming it up.
    • Katara quickly gets quite sick of her stage counterpart's constant wailing. (Which gets better when you know that it's Grey DeLisle [i.e., Azula] doing the voice.)
  • Leg Cling: Katara does it to Aang in the melodramatic play.
  • "Let's Watch Our Show" Plot: A variant. While the characters aren't literally watching episodes of their show, they are sitting down for an episode to watch what is effectively an in-universe The Abridged Series version of it.
  • Lighter and Softer: Than the main series. Until the Twist Ending, anyway, in which both Zuko and Aang are murdered.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Aang and Katara are presented like this in the play to an insanely explicit degree, which of course freaks out the real Aang, who wonders if Katara really thinks of him as such.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: When Sokka goes to meet his counterpart, who fails to recognize the latter in disguise, he's pretty civil to a "fan with ideas". He also finds Sokka's ideas for one-liners Actually Pretty Funny and even incorporates them into his performance. Presumably, the rest of the troupe is like that.
  • Meaningful Name: Lampshaded by the actor playing Toph.
    Player Toph: My name's Toph, because it sounds like "tough," and that's just what I am!
  • Melodrama: The actors in the play ham it up a lot.
  • Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales: invoked In-universe. Unlike the other members of the team, Toph's not offended by the ridiculous and inaccurate way she's portrayed; she actually enjoys the play's take on her, even saying she wouldn't have had it any other way.
  • Mind Screw: Sokka has a moment like this when he thinks that since the play has recapped everything up to the invasion, it must be over, even though it isn't.
    Sokka: But that means... [eerie music starts playing, and the screen goes purple] We're in the future!
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Toph and Zuko have a heartfelt talk about his relationship with Iroh, with Toph mentioning her meeting with Iroh, and then she randomly punches him. Because that's how Toph shows affection.
    • Most of the episode is a lighthearted Affectionate Parody of the show. It is punctuated by serious moments, like when Player Azula lightning-bends Player Aang in the back; even with the ribbons, the scene is portrayed seriously. Then the Cruel Twist Ending where their stage counterparts are killed makes the real Gaang admit that the show sucked despite the good effects.
  • MST: The real Gaang's commentary on the show and the Avatar Extras.
  • My Greatest Failure: Zuko gets to see all his lowest moments thrown back in his face, and exaggerated for comic effect. He takes it pretty hard.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Bending is portrayed with ribbons and glowing paint. Even so, Sokka admits the effects were good for the play. The players for Azula and Zuko are also shown to be talented acrobats, as their duel incorporates a lot of flipping and tumbling, but unlike Player Aang, they're not supported by wires.
  • Mythology Gag: The poster for the play is actually an exaggerated rendition of the cover art for the Season 1 Boxed Set.
  • Nerd Glasses: The actor for the Earth King briefly glimpsed in the play is a short man with oversized glasses, which greatly contrast with the real Earth King’s stature and rather tiny glasses.
  • Never Say "Die": This tendency within the show is mocked in the play.
  • Noodle Incident: "They butchered Love Amongst the Dragons every year!"
  • No Yay: In-universe, Katara and Zuko are clearly made uncomfortable by the play's Ship Tease of them.
  • No, You: Within the play.
    Aang: And now, you're going down!
    Ozai: No, it is you who are going down!
  • Obsessed with Food: Player Sokka's line, "Don't go, Yue! You're the only woman who's ever taken my mind off of food!"
  • Oh, Crap!: Everyone but Toph was already getting fed up with the play, but the Cruel Twist Downer Ending disturbs all of them, and they realize that their own journey could very well end with them dying.
  • The One Thing I Don't Hate About You: While Sokka is definitely not a fan of the play, he willingly admits that it at least had decent effects.
  • Other Me Annoys Me: Most everyone dislikes their interpretation, except for Toph and Suki. The former loves how she was adapted, the latter doesn't seem to mind her interpretation all that much.
  • Peter Pan Parody: Aang being portrayed as a clever trickster played by a woman who does a lot of wire work to simulate flight? Sounds a lot like Peter Pan.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: Player Katara assures Aang that she'll always loves him. Like a brother.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: In-universe, the play compresses about three seasons' worth of adventures. Thus, some of the trickier battles and drawn-out confrontations are shortened. During the Day of the Black Sun, for example, the play doesn't show the Gaang storming the bunker and Zuko following them during their retreat. Instead, they find the palace empty—except for Zuko, who joins them on the spot.
  • Propaganda Piece: invoked The episode is a summation about the series in the format of a Fire Nation propaganda theatre show.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: According to Zuko, his mother Ursa took him to see the Ember Island Players production of a romantic story called Love Amongst the Dragons every year. His only complaint is that, in his eyes, the Players "butchered" it every time.
  • Recap Episode: The play recaps the series up to this point, if not very accurately.
  • Recurring Extra: Lampshaded. The Cabbage Merchant is called a "surprisingly knowledgeable" source for the play.
  • Revenge via Storytelling: The play is the Firebenders' way of poking fun at their enemies.
  • Self-Deprecation: The play takes an in-universe jab at "The Great Divide".
    Aang: Look! It's the Great Divide! The biggest Canyon in the Earth Kingdom!
    Sokka: [looks down. Beat] Eh. Let's keep flying.
  • Self-Parody: The play is one big parody of the whole series.
  • Ship Sinking: Actors Aang and Katara agree to be "just friends", much to Real!Aang's dismay.
  • Ship Tease: The in-universe play seems to push for Katara and Zuko as a couple. When the actors playing Katara and Zuko start getting romantic with each other, the real Katara and Zuko feel very awkward before nervously inching away from each other.
  • Shirtless Scene: Aang and Zuko get one while practicing their firebending at the beginning of the episode.
  • Show Within a Show: The Boy in the Iceberg. Another play called Love Amongst The Dragons is mentioned.
  • Shown Their Work: The "special effects" of the stage play — wires for flight, ribbons for fire and lightning, black-clad stagehands as stand-ins for the environmental changes — are part of traditional Japanese theater.
  • Stylistic Suck: The Boy in the Iceberg is a wacky recap of the gang's adventures, with flanderized characterization, cheesy dialogues, and Fire Nation propaganda.
  • Sudden Downer Ending: How the play ends for the Gaang, after being a lot Lighter and Softer compared to canon until then.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Surely, the Gaang couldn't have expected a play about the Avatar's journey to defeat the Fire Nation (especially when it's not completed yet) to end well in favor of them when the play is written by the propaganda-driven nation.
  • Throw It In: In-Universe. Sokka's actor awkwardly incorporates jokes that were suggested by the real Sokka right before the invasion, much to the actors' surprise and the real Sokka's amusement.
  • Title Drop: In-universe.
    Player Katara: Who is the boy in the iceberg?
  • Twist Ending: From the Gaang's point of view, with the play's end being that they all die and the Fire Nation conquers the world.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Part of Aang's reaction to the platonic Kataang portrayal played on stage was because Katara had yet to reciprocate a reaction to his Now or Never Kiss from "The Invasion".
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: Player Azula pulls a Look Behind You on the other characters and quickly sneaks out through a prop door.
  • Villain Protagonist: In the play, the Gaang are the bad guys, but they still get the focus.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: In-Universe: The stage show has some impressive visuals for a play, including quite a bit of wire work and some cool bending duels. Sokka calls this out as the one good thing in the show.
  • World of Ham: Just about all of the characters in the play chew the scenery at some point.
  • Written by the Winners: Invoked. Since this is a Fire Nation play, they write it where the Gaang consists of one-note villains, Zhao isn't even mentioned, and Ozai succeeds in killing the Avatar. While the audience applauds, the real Gaang is disturbed.
  • Your Costume Needs Work: A kid dressed up as Aang tells Zuko "Your Zuko costume is great, but the scar's on the wrong side." Zuko takes offense.
    Zuko: The scar's not on the wrong side!


Ignoring the Great Divide

The fans hated it, so why not establish that hate in the show?

How well does it match the trope?

4.91 (44 votes)

Example of:

Main / DiscontinuityNod

Media sources: