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Recap / Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Tales of Ba Sing Se"

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Iroh mourns the death of his son.

"Brave soldier boy, comes marching home."

This episode is a series of Day in the Life vignettes featuring the characters in Ba Sing Se. Each has a different writer.

Katara urges Toph to go to a spa with her; while initially reluctant, she enjoys herself in the end, and eventually opens up. Iroh is generally cool, as we see him being kind and hilarious around the city - before going to mourn the death of Lu Ten, his son. Aang decides to help build a new zoo facility and Hilarity Ensues. Sokka engages in a Haiku Rap Battle, Zuko goes on a date, while Momo misses Appa.


  • Breather Episode: Most of the segments, with some notable exceptions. Comes right after an episode revealing a government conspiracy in Ba Sing Se, in which the Earth King was merely a figurehead for Long Feng, and right before one of the series' saddest episodes.
  • Day in the Life: The entire point of the episode.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Downplayed for five of the segments, but Team Pet Momo is the focus of the sixth.
  • Downer Ending: Two.
    • The Tale of Iroh ends with Iroh, who had just spent his day helping strangers, tearfully memorializing his own son, whom he could not save.
    • The Tale of Momo ends with Momo sadly clinging to a tuft of Appa's hair, sitting in his footprint, while being rained on. The Pygmy Pumas whose lives he saved, who led him to where Appa was supposed to be, can only watch on and commiserate.
  • Filler: Apart from showing Appa was in Ba Sing Se, this episode adds nothing to the overall story. But Tropes Are Not Bad as this episode shows several fun and heartwarming character moments, and reestablishes some character development that was previously either seen or only suggested. Indeed, it has been consistently praised as one of the best episodes of the seies.
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Toph and Katara's tale makes it clear that for all her claims of not caring what others think of her looks, Toph is actually quite hurt by such rejection.
    • Sokka's story reveals he loves poetry and can even compose his own on the fly.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The end of Iroh's sidestory. He sang a song to cheer up a little boy earlier in the episode, and at the end, sings it to a picture of his deceased son, Lu Ten. What really adds to this are four words: "In Honor of Mako".
    • Momo's sidestory certainly seems to be the designated oddball segment, right? Cue the first clues of what happened to Appa, and a scene that makes even wild animals cry.
  • No Antagonist:
    • Save for the pygmy pumas in Momo's tale, but they end up leading Momo to Appa's footprint.
    • Of course one could count the Girl Posse in "The Tale of Toph and Katara" and the Haiku Teacher in "The Tale of Sokka", but they all got what was coming to them quickly.
  • Recurring Extra: Looks like the Cabbage Merchant made it to Ba Sing Se after all... and, by now, probably wishes he hadn't.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely:
    • Played with; after their day at the spa, Katara and Toph are both wearing eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick, but it's a little too much and gets Toph made fun of by some local girls.
    • And for Zuko's sidestory, when he cleans up to go out on his date with Jin.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are:
    • After Toph is teased by some mean-spirited girls (and promptly repays them in kind), Katara tells her that she thinks she's pretty, a comment the blind girl appreciates. Toph responds that she'd say the same for Katara, except she doesn't know what she looks like.
    • Later, Iroh casually tells a mugger that he doesn't look like the criminal type. The mugger admits he's just scared and confused about what to do with his life. After the two talk over some tea, Iroh gives the former-mugger much-needed words of encouragement that he has the potential to follow his dream and be a masseur.
  • Vignette Episode: This episode consists of several chapters devoted to different characters, following them around the city.

"The Tale of Katara & Toph"

  • Alpha Bitch: Three snobby Ba Sing Se girls, who decide to make fun of Toph's makeup; they get their just desserts almost immediately after doing so.
  • Bullying a Dragon: A trio of Ba Sing Se natives mocks Toph's (admittedly a bit excessive) makeup. She drops them into a canal, then Katara surfs them away.
  • Cool Big Sis: Katara for Toph in this episode.
  • Cucumber Facial: In "The Tale of Toph and Katara". Just feel sorry for the attendant!
  • Eye Scream: In a sense. Because Toph "sees" using her feet, she reacts to a foot massage the same way a person with sight would react to their eyeballs being scrubbed.
  • Mundane Utility: When Toph and Katara are in the sauna, neither want to get up when they run out of steam, so Toph earthbends a stone onto the pile of heated rocks, and Katara waterbends water onto them to make more.
  • Not So Stoic: After their encounter with a group of mean girls, an obviously hurt Toph claims that she doesn't care about appearances, and is just as obviously touched when Katara insists she's pretty.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Near the end of "The Tale of Toph and Katara", the two girls do this to a trio of snobby girls, forcing them down the bridge and washing them away.
  • Sincerity Mode: Katara says she thinks Toph is very pretty. Two episodes later, we find out that Toph is a Living Lie Detector, suggesting that Toph knew Katara meant what she said, and wasn't just trying to make her feel better.
  • Special Guest: Tara Strong has a role as one of the girls picking on Toph during her and Katara's tale.
  • Tempting Fate: Toph reluctantly agrees to go to the spa, but says the attendants better not touch her feet. Guess what treatment the attendants start with?
  • Underestimating Badassery: In "The Tale of Katara and Toph". The mean girls make fun of a little blind girl... who's also the greatest earthbender in the world.

"The Tale of Iroh"

  • The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Played for Drama. Iroh spends the whole day helping whoever he comes across, then mourns the fact that he was unable to do so for his own son.
  • Dark Reprise: Brave soldier boy, comes marching home... First sung happily by Iroh to cheer up a crying child, later sung somberly to mourn his dead son.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Iroh teaches a man who attempts to mug him how to properly do it. Though, he later subverts this by encouraging him to seek a better path.
  • Ending Memorial Service: In Iroh's tale.
  • Manly Tears: Iroh weeps for Lu Ten.
  • Mugging the Monster: Downplayed. A mugger tries to rob Iroh but is quickly disarmed by him. Fortunately, Iroh's more interested in sharing tea and a chat than dispatching him.
  • Opponent Instruction: Iroh, who doesn't even flinch when surprised, teaches the criminal properly how to ambush someone, though immediately then Iroh talks the guy out of not being a criminal at all.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The people Iroh helps out in his tale are: a baby (by singing "Leaves From the Vine"), a couple of boys (To help them admit the truth of breaking a window), and a man (to help him find a better path). These represent the different phases of life...and a reminder that his own son, Lu Ten has passed on and he will not be able to see him grow up.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Iroh builds one for his son under a tree.
  • Spoof Aesop: The Broken Glass Penalty in Iroh's tale. When a few kids are playing with a ball, and a window is broken the following dialogue occurs:
    Iroh: It is usually best to admit mistakes when they occur, and seek to restore honor.
    Iroh: But not this time! Run!

"The Tale of Aang"

"The Tale of Sokka"

  • Battle Rapping: Of the Eastern flavor. Sokka engages in a haiku battle with a haiku teacher.
  • Chirping Crickets: At the end of the Haiku Rap Battle, when Sokka accidentally adds one extra syllable at the end of his haiku and his audience isn't as impressed as they were before.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Sokka literally gets thrown out of the class like a lance for composing a haiku with one too many syllables.
  • Haiku: Sokka's tale is about him stumbling (quite literally) into a class of girls who are writing haiku, and he comes up with several of his own to compete with the teacher of the class.
  • Hidden Depths: Sokka managed to make haiku poems on the fly. Too bad he slips up on the last one.
  • Serious Business: Haiku. When Sokka uses six syllables instead of five, he gets thrown out the door.
    Bouncer: That's one too many syllables there, bub. (tosses Sokka out)
  • Shout-Out: Sokka's last haiku with the line (pronounced with an "okka") references Digital Underground's song "the Humpty Dance."

"The Tale of Zuko"

  • Almost Kiss: Zuko has a moment with Jin but intentionally interrupts it by holding up a coupon for a free cup of tea.
  • Big Eater: Jin, as lampshaded by Zuko below.
  • Cat Smile: Jin, Zuko's date.
  • Compliment Backfire: "You... have quite an appetite... for a girl."
  • Cringe Comedy: Zuko's and Jin's date is not very romantic, to say the least.
  • Hypocritical Humor: After previously getting mad at Iroh for using his firebending on something as unimportant as heating tea, Zuko does it to make his date happy.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: On his date with Jin, she wants to show Zuko a fountain with the lights lit up, but it's dark when they get there. Zuko's response? To tell her to close her eyes, look around, and then throw caution to the wind to light up the lanterns himself with his firebending. For context, the last time he firebent in a public space was in "Zuko Alone", which led to a major Downer Ending where even the boy that previously looked up to him as a hero declared he hated him, and the last time a girl was nice to him, in "The Cave of Two Lovers", he stole her ostrich-horse. The fact he would risk his entire reputation just to make a girl happy revealed an unusually compassionate side to him that he never showed up until this point.
  • Rewatch Bonus: When the season first aired, Zuko's behavior — his hesitation to accept Jin's offer to go out, his awkwardness on the date, his outrage at being mistaken for her boyfriend, him suddenly backing out of their kiss and fleeing just after he let his guard down around her, saying only "It's complicated..." — is easily attributed simply to his utter lack of social skills and his status as the rogue prince of the nation at war with hers. Another possible meaning behind his behavior is added after watching Season 3 and reading the transitional comics, which firmly clarify that he and Mai were a couple broken up by his banishment.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Zuko yells this at the waiter during his date with Jin.
  • Shipper on Deck: Iroh is more than happy for Zuko to go on a date.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Zuko fills this trope during his segment, though he is more of a Socially Awkward Anti-Hero. While he is a very capable fighter both with and without his bending, he bumbles at regular social situations, such as dates.

"The Tale of Momo"

  • Acrophobic Bird: When Momo is chased by the Pygmy Puma cats, he doesn't think of flying straight up but runs across the street to hide in a crate.
  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: Momo can't understand most human speech, but both he and the puma creatures show startling amounts of intelligence. Momo can tie things around his wrist to keep hold of them, improvise in a performance, unlock things on a first try, and give other creatures a second chance. The Pygmy Pumas in return are grateful enough to stop trying to eat him and become friendly, and to associate the thing on his wrist with a creature they saw an unknown amount of time ago, and they make the decision to take him to where that was. That's very smart.
  • Androcles' Lion: The Pumas that Momo saved help him find Appa's footprint.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: Once again, we see humans talking from Momo's POV. All he hears is "blablabla".
  • Cats Are Mean: The Pygmy Pumas that find and chase Momo, intending to eat them. But it turns out they're just strays trying to survive. After he saves their lives from a butcher, they become friends.
  • Convenient Cranny: Momo hiding in a wooden crate where his pursuers cannot follow.
  • Futureshadowing: How did the Pygmy Pumas know where to find Appa's footprint, or even know that Appa was in the city? Those questions will be answered by their brief cameo in the immediate next episode.
  • Giant Footprint Reveal: The episode ends with Momo squatting in a depression which turns out to be one of Appa's footprints on zoom out (though Momo already knew that).
  • I Owe You My Life: Momo saves the Pygmy Pumas, and in return they become friends and attempt to lead Momo to where Appa was supposed to be.
  • Save the Villain: Momo saves his predators from the butcher. In turn, they help him on his search for Appa.
  • Sitting on the Roof: The Pygmy Pumas share their favorite spot with Momo. From their spot they can see much of the city... and thus can help Momo make a surprising discovery.
  • Third-Act Misunderstanding: After all the conflict with the Pygmy Pumas, they and Momo are shown bonding and cuddling as friends... until one of them snatches the tuft of Appa's fur that Momo was using as a memento. Another chase sequence follows... until they lead Momo to Appa's footprint, letting Momo know he's in the city. Unfortunately, they just couldn't bring the two together themselves.
  • Widely-Spaced Jail Bars: Momo is put in a metal box that would be easy to escape from. He still opts for opening the lock.


Video Example(s):


Leaves from the Vine

As Iroh sings this while mourning his dead son, this once-upbeat song about war takes on a dark new meaning.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

Example of:

Main / DarkReprise

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