Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Tales of Ba Sing Se   Rewatch 
July 6, 2015 7:29 AM - Season 2, Episode 15 - Subscribe

A series of vignettes reveal the events and adventures of Zuko, Iroh, Aang, Sokka, Katara, Toph, and Momo, over one day within the great walls of the Earth Kingdom's capital, Ba Sing Se. "Leaves from the vine, falling so slow. Like fragile, tiny shells, drifting in the foam. Little soldier boy, come marching home. Brave soldier boy, comes marching home."
posted by Atreides (17 comments total)
I'd like to say something about this episode, but the end of the post is making it hard to see the screen clearly.
posted by kewb at 8:36 AM on July 6, 2015


Okay, no, I'm going to focus on the happy things. I'm going to focus on the absolute delight of Aang and the zoo with the hog monkeys, the elephant mandrills, the platypus bears, the dragon flies, the armadillo lions, and the rabaroo and my cabbages! That Aang wants to help every animal in Ba Sing Se, even the spoiled pets.

I'm going to focus on Katara and Toph having a spa day with Toph screwing around with the mud and both of them defending each other when the Mean Girls appear.

And Sokka! Oh God, Sokka, your perfect off-the-cuff haikus and the way you magically get the ladies. "They call me Sokka, that is in the Water Tribe. I am not an oaf."

"I calls it easy. Like I paddle my canoe, I'll paddle yours too!"

And Zuko's date night! That adorable romantic gesture with the Firelight Fountain and then being stupid and awkward with the free tea coupon. Adorable!

But Momo breaks my heart. And god, Iroh. IROH. I can't type because there's something in my eyes. Allergies. Totally allergies. Not my heart being broken. Nope.
posted by Katemonkey at 8:44 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

But, seriously, this entire episode is beautiful and delightful and one of my favourites.
posted by Katemonkey at 8:45 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

YOU DID THE THING BUT WHYYYYY twig in my eye *sniffle*

This is a really good episode though, even with the sobby bits. Iroh helping the mugger is a classic moment. It's so IROH.

There's just so many little memorable moments, Toph's wake-up routine (preceded by the rest of the Gaang primping in the bathroom...oh, Sokka and your wispy teenage mustache!), Momo dancing with the monkeys, Zuko's ENTIRE DATE. Sure, I get weepy at places but overall this little vignette episode is another great example of character development with minor but important plot movement.
posted by angeline at 8:58 AM on July 6, 2015

"Leaves from the vine, falling so slow. Like fragile, tiny shells, drifting in the foam. Little soldier boy, come marching home. Brave soldier boy, comes marching home."

What have I ever done to you, that you would hurt me so?
posted by kmz at 9:06 AM on July 6, 2015

Toph has the best morning hair.

So many animals! For cabbages reasons, best animal is the rabaroo. (Momo as king of the cats is a close second, but I've pretty much ruled out Momo and Appa as best animal [unless the episode is devoid of other choices] since they're main characters.)

Zuko's *SLAM* ... it was nice was perfect.

I was surprised to see that all animals listen to the air bison whistle. I think Aang has a future in building habitats whenever he's done saving the world.

Earthbending football is my new favourite sport.

And, last but not least, Iroh up on the hill with the leaves falling behind him is one of the best moments of the series so far.
posted by minsies at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll confess, friends, I'm just plain evil. :D
posted by Atreides at 11:11 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by angeline at 11:41 AM on July 6, 2015

I remember the first time I saw this episode and I was really grumpy about it. I thought that Toph dressing up was so off-character. I really thought she would have fought it more or enjoyed it a lot less. It just seemed like girl-washing Toph when her character is so anti girly-girl.

On rewatch, I appreciated her resistance more and I wasn't as shocked by Toph's reluctant acceptance of the girly-girl time. And rewatching it with the episode where Toph helps Katara dress up to meet the Earth Nation King closer in my memory helped me re-align that Toph DOES know how to do girly competently, even as she rejects it in her day-to-day.

I'm still a little wary on the girl-on-girl social violence that was a bonding moment, I guess, for Katara and Toph. It kind of felt like a put-down of those girls and perpetuating the stereotype (as often as it may actually exist in real life). I don't know. It made me uncomfortable because I didn't like the show creators making me want to cheer for retaliating against the mean girls. So often the show does so well by portraying female characters as individuals, it felt ... lazy? ... by putting in non-individual stereotypical mean girls.

I loved Iroh helping the mugger improve his stance.

This was a great episode because it was like spending time separately with our favorite people being their own interesting selves. And then, of course, poor sad Momo...
posted by jillithd at 1:19 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

jilithd, I'd never thought about it that way before but though I generally liked Toph and Katara's story you have a really good point. I'm not sure whether the appearance of Jin (my single favorite minor character) later in the episode is a counterbalance or just draws more attention to the nonentityness of the Mean Girls. Anyway, I did really like seeing the growth of Toph and Katara's relationship from where they were even half a season ago.

Tale of Iroh: I thought I was ALL DONE having feels about this but then I found out that the text on Lu Ten's portrait translates roughly to: "To General Iroh: See you after we win the War. Your loyal son Lu Ten." noooooo

Tale of Aang: It is so Aang that one of the most impressive acts of bending we've seen from him so far (short only Avatar State stuff and redirecting the volcano) is making a zoo. Precious cinnamon roll too good for this world, too pure.

Tale of Sokka: Haiku rap battle which is going great until Sokka ruins it for himself? Yep, quintessential Sokka.

Tale of Zuko: You gotta feel for this kid that his screwy life has left him so paranoid and poorly socialized that his first assumption is that the cute girl wants to spy on him -- his first baby steps into normal life are predictably hilarious and then unexpectedly sweet. Again, Jin is great -- assertive and expressive with a great performance from her actress.

Tale of Momo: Aside from the really excellent dialogue-free storytelling, I love that Momo's story of all places is the closest we get to furthering the plot.

Behind the scenes stuff:
- Every story this episode was written by an artist or member of the production staff, not the usual writing team! For most of them this was their only writing credit on the show, but Katie Mattila (Tale of Zuko) did go on to write season 3's The Beach as well as a few Korra episodes (most notably the one with Lin's backstory) and Lost Adventures comics (including one with a Jin appearance). Giancarlo Volpe is noted for his skill with directing action sequences so it makes sense that he handled Momo's story.
- Now that I remember Mako was named as a tribute to Mako Iwamatsu I am even more mad that he was the flattest main character in either series.
posted by bettafish at 6:57 PM on July 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

When I first saw this, I thought ugh, clips episode. I hate clips episodes. And it starts with a girls' day out...double ugh!

Iroh's song reminds me of The Wind That Shakes the Barley . The military theme and nature imagery is pretty much the same in both.

Sokka's tale nicely demonstrates how haiku were pretty much the rap battles of medieval Japan.
posted by dsquared at 7:20 PM on July 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

I started bawling the first time I saw this episode, like full-on ugly crying. I expected that I would get a little misty-eyed on my rewatch this year, but nope. I had to pause the video for several minutes until I was done. I love all the little stories here, but IROH.
posted by a hat out of hell at 6:23 AM on July 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'd heard that this episode was notoriously sad I think, but I thought to myself "ahaha it's a children's show, albeit a very good one, surely I will just get a little misty-eyed and then--" NO. I DID NOT JUST GET A LITTLE MISTY-EYED. I moved straight to inconsolable weeping and now the mere invocation of "little soldier boy" brings tears to my eyes. "THIS IS NOT FAIR," I thought to myself while crying over the end credits. "WHO SAID THIS WAS OKAY?????" And then I proceeded to marathon what remained of the entire rest of the series over the course of the next day or so.
posted by yasaman at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

>the platypus bears, the dragon flies,

OMG of course they're dragon flies, how did I never get that joke.

I like that this episode gives everyone a little space to breathe. It gives us a chance to see Zuko really trying to be, like, less of a Zuko, and kind of feeling his way around there awkwardly but still making fundamentally good choices (morally good, that is, not "successful girlfriend getting moves" good.). The voice acting of him getting more gentle is great. We learn that Aang does actually grow hair! We see Katara and Toph truly becoming friends. We see Momo hear people talk the way we hear him talk!

(Momo makes me cry more than Iroh does, can I admit that here? It may be the context. Poor little dude.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:05 PM on July 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Long thoughts here, shorter thoughts below!

This is one of my favorite episodes and everyone has pretty much covered why in the comments so far, so I won't go too far into it. I do think the episode demonstrates clearly and convincingly why this show is an incredible program in television. The creativity of the world bending - check. The heart in the writing. Check. The characterization of its characters, making them generally three dimensional beings. Check. Excellent animation, directing and framing. Check.

Messed up point of the episode - it looks like Momo and the pygmy panthers were going to end up on someone's plate. WHAT? YOU WANT TO EAT THESE CREATURES?

I also appreciated the use of rather mundane activities, a girl's day out and a date, as jumping points to pry into the characters' emotional fragility and personas. We learn that Toph, for all her confidence bound from bending, she still carries a smidge of worry about her appearance, which she will never truly see. It made me think of all the self-doubts that women likely find culture dumping on them about the importance of their appearances. Toph hides her insecurity about her appearance by simply not caring about it, and it was a nice touch to use this story to draw Katara and Toph together - something that was almost impossible to imagine a few episodes back.

Likewise, Zuko's date. It's a date, but we get to see him struggle and have his past and background come through, causing him to stumble...but at the same time, he tries. "It was nice." I looked at the frame for that scene and realized that Zuko only shows a part of his face, and the part he shows has an expression of vulnerability. It's as if when he cracks open his door, he's cracking open a glimpse inside his true identity.

Sokka and Suki/Nevermind Yue Sokka/Yuki is the bomb.

Incidentally, whenever one of our characters faced someone who by their dress and demeanor implied upper class, our characters generally brought them down to size (until Sokka's hubris kicked in).
posted by Atreides at 1:35 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Behind the scenes stuff:
- Every story this episode was written by an artist or member of the production staff, not the usual writing team! For most of them this was their only writing credit on the show

Oh my gosh, between this and letting the animators add significant personal touches to the animation (and well, the writing and voice acting), I don't know if I can love this show any more.

Interesting notes from the Wikia:
* This is the only episode that Team Avatar is seen enjoying their time in Ba Sing Se, and
* This is the last episode featuring the cabbage merchant.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:27 AM on July 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

The artistic license granted by the creators, along with their selection of people to work on both this show and on Korra, is probably one of the fundamental reasons why the shows succeed. Incidentally, Korra begins to pick up in quality the more they let go and allow others to start filling in the lines.

* This is the last episode featuring the cabbage merchant.

And yet, his legacy will live on...
posted by Atreides at 9:51 AM on July 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

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