Mark Watches ‘Avatar’: S02E14 – City of Walls and Secrets

In the fourteenth episode of the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the city of Ba Sing Se gives Team Avatar a house in the Upper Ring for their job defeating the Fire Nation. They learn how divided the city is by class and how eerily quiet the citizens are about the war happening outside the walls. Meanwhile, Jet moves in to expose Iroh and Zuko. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Avatar.

After a long batch of rather serious and intense episodes, there’s a lot of ridiculous and absurd humor present to not only offset what happens here, but to sort of deal with the uncomfortable nature of Ba Sing Se. But…oh darn, I’M DOING THAT THING AGAIN WHERE I TALK ABOUT THE ENDING AND I JUST CAN’T RESIST oh god i can’t help it what the hell did i just watch

I think that, largely, not only is the humor incredibly entertaining, but it’s acts as a sleight of hand of sorts. As you all know, I have been waiting to enter Ba Sing Se for quite a long time. Every since Iroh mentioned his history with the great city, I’ve wanted to know exactly what this place was and why the Fire Nation had such an intense interest in the place. But even right from the start, there’s a very small vibe that maybe this place is not what I thought it was. Toph’s the first to express her disdain for Ba Sing Se. (Why didn’t she share this earlier???? That seems like a huge deal to NOT MENTION AT ALL.) But right after this, we get the first moment to have a full view of the city. I knew that the city was spoken of very highly, but it was known for it’s wall. Right? So….with all of the attention spent on building the most impenetrable wall ever, surely the rest wouldn’t be the same?

Of course, when Aang is wondering how he’ll be able to locate Appa, we’re shown the absolutely ridiculous and vast empire that is Ba Sing Se. I knew at this point that it wouldn’t be like a giant game of WHERE’S APPA or anything, but this is NOTHING I COULD HAVE ANTICIPATED. It’s gigantic. Unbelievable. Expansive and overwhelming and HOW THE HELL ARE THEY GOING TO FIND APPA IN ALL OF THAT.

And right from the get go, this entire experience is also not what Team Avatar truly expected. Toph doesn’t like the city, and we later learn that Aang never visited this place for a reason, but they do learn just how jarring this culture is. The physical geography and layout of Ba Sing Se is separated by this world’s version of class. Just past the first inner wall live those who are among the lower class (and as Katara rightly calls them, the poor), and you can see it in the attitude of the group’s guide, Joo Dee, that these people are meant to be looked down upon. You are meant to be afraid of them.

We haven’t seen much of the air benders and their culture, so even though it was such a small moment, I appreciated Aang’s comment about how the way Ba Sing Se runs counter to what the air gurus taught their citizens. I’m interested to learn what sort of culture they did have and how egalitarian they were. I guess it’s sad to think about, though, because Aang can never experience his culture in the way he did as a child. They’re all gone, and all of it only exists in memory.


As Team Avatar move further into the city, we see how Iroh and Zuko have already started to assimilate amongst the refugees in Ba Sing Se. I could not imagine a more brilliant thing than to stick Iroh in charge of running a tea house. For being forced out of his home and banished from the Fire Nation, this actually seems like a dream. Unfortunately, this dream is at risk of being shattered because Jet watched Iroh heat up a cup of tea. And here is yet another instance where the writers do not take the easy way out. At first, they seemed to, by presenting us with a fairly sensical dichotomy: we do not want Iroh and Zuko to get caught, and Jet’s obsession with exposing them as Fire Benders rapidly approaches the absurd. That being said, it is still a bit understandable that to Jet, this is the first time he is actually doing something he believes is moral and, from his point of view, I do understand it Well….to a point. And this is incredibly complex to navigate through, too, because the intentions and motivations intersect so often.

BASICALLY I LOVE IT. This sort of storytelling is so much more satisfactory to me. Iroh and Zuko are moving further and further away from the Fire Nation, and I want it more than anything, especially for Zuko. (I have a sneaking suspicious that Iroh has at least divorced him from his nation in his mind, but I haven’t quite had it confirmed. SOON RIGHT. RIGHT. RIGHT. oh god a boy can hope.) Because of this, it’s natural for me to wish that Jet would just leave them the fuck alone. It’s natural for me to side with Smellerbee and Longshot, who are both deeply concerned with Jet’s distracting obsession with Iroh and Zuko.

But…oh damn. Let me get there.

Team Avatar is not finding things any bit more agreeable, and it’s very early that we start seeing just how fucking weird Ba Sing Se is. Sokka makes a joke while they’re on the train into the city that stuff always happens to them, and that weird Twilight Zone music plays when Corn Cob Man sits down next to him. (That’s my official name for him, FYI.) What was a small visual joke there is something in hindsight that is an actual clue to what happens in “City of Walls and Secrets.” I don’t think there was any intentional reference to The Twilight Zone, which, by the way, is one of the greatest shows to ever be a show, and I feel I’m just reading what I want to here. WHICH IS FINE THIS IS WHAT I DO. But there’s a great sense of this story being a giant joke that suddenly becomes very fucking real and disturbing, and it’s that absurd situation that makes this story so fantastic to me.

No, really, it must be said a thousand times right: I am so dearly in love with Avatar: The Last Airbender.

The team’s quest turns to seeing the king of Ba Sing Se, but even that is laced with the bizarre attitude that everything is greeted with inside the city: A nod and a smile. A positive attitude. An eerie sense that everything is just a-ok. With the case of Joo Dee, I initially believed that this all was just a way of parodying how large government can function and the bureaucracy that comes along with it. Well, that’s still the case, and you can certainly believe that this is what it does. It works well! But when the Team realizes that they literally cannot get an audience with the king for SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS, they know that the urgent news that they need to deliver about the eclipse cannot wait for an official meeting.

I have nothing witty or deep to say about it: The scene where Team Avatar act noble and rich is seriously one of the funniest things I’ve seen this show do. And seriously, Momo absolutely steals the show out of everyone, for as serious as they each take it, especially when Toph and Katara come out with those FANTASTIC outfits, there’s that small moment where Momo walks by with a cape flowing from his head and I was nearly brought to tears. Hey, sometimes it’s the little things that get to me.

Toph and Katara, dressed to the nines and aiming to impress their way into a party held by the king (FOR A BEAR OH MY GOD IT’S A BEAR SITTING AT THE TABLE THIS IS THE GREATEST SHOW EVER), but, like many things here, this is easier said than done. Intercepted by Long Feng after he helps them get in, they realize that the customs of these people seems to require accompaniment at all times, much like what Joo Dee did at the beginning of the episode. (Oh, how wrong I was.) Forced to deal with the reality that their plan to let in Sokka, Momo, and Aang is falling apart, they have to play the part and “look” for their “family.” But this doesn’t stop the three remaining members of Team Avatar from finding their own way in dressed as busboys.

AND THEN, HELLO DISASTER. Oh, how quickly this becomes absolute chaos. And it’s not just for Team Avatar. Jet, still stalking Iroh and Zuko, decides that it’s time for him to stop waiting in the shadows and he confronts the two disguised fire benders in the tea restaurant they work in. (How rude.) Jet hopes that by provoking Zuko, a young man quite prone to anger, into fire bending for everyone to see. What Jet misjudges Zuko for is his fantastic ability to use two broad swords. I mean, HELLO, the Blue Spirit, were you not paying attention earlier.

Ok, I jest because good lord this is so chaotic. As Jet fights Zuko to the shock of the group of onlookers, Iroh included, I had a feeling that he wouldn’t budge from his stance. He knew that exposing himself for who he was would be an utter disaster, and maybe this is a sign that he is starting to grow in a sense, to control his anger when he needs to.

And while this is happening, we simultaneously begin to realize just how sinister the weirdness of the ruling class of Ba Sing Se is. The Avatar, when exposed by a freak wine accident (Have I always wanted to type this? Probably.), is met with wonder and excitement at first, but that excitement wanes so quickly as we watch all four others pulled away by the Dai Li

We’d seen them before, only in intimidating glimpses, and here is where we learn their true meaning, and the meaning of the otherwise cryptic title of this episode. In one masterful move of writing, the story with Jet and the story with Team Avatar converge as we learn that in the walls of Ba Sing Se, no one speaks of the war. And this is not a metaphorical or philosophical statement. People are literally not allowed to talk about the war.

We cut to Jet and see what his arrest, which seemed slightly good at the time, is actually laced in fear and paranoia. He is strapped into a chair and given a treatment that appears very much like hypnotism, forced to hear a message over and over again about how there is no war at all.


Long Feng tells Team Avatar about the figurehead-nature of the king, how Ba Sing Se is so coveted because it is literally a Utopia, or at least that’s the way it is intended to be. Threatening expulsion if anyone tries to mention the war inside the walls, Long Feng remarks that it would probably be quite difficult to find Appa if they were expelled, wouldn’t it? And then he tells Joo Dee to escort them back to their house and we see that Joo Dee has been FUCKING REPLACED.

my god.

What this twist does (besides rewriting basically everything we’ve just seen) is to contextualize so much of the past. Why do so many people seek out Ba Sing Se? Why did no one on the inside seem to flip out when a drill came right through the outer wall? Why was everyone so goddamn weird about everything these people seem to mention?

It rewrites Jet’s story as well, because now I suddenly feel awful for what’s happened to him. He believed in his heart that he was doing the right thing in trailing Zuko and Iroh and the tragic irony of this all is that he was right, and because of it, he was punished.

Just an unbelievable plot twist that makes this journey so much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. BLESS THIS SHOW.


  • OMG that student recommends Professor Zei. πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™
  • “Sick of tea? That’s like being sick of breathing!” RIGHT
  • “This tea is nothing more than hot leaves juice.” “Uncle, that’s what all tea is.” “How could a member of my own family say something so horrible?”
  • Sokka, I will never forget the Momo Ghost Plan. Ever.

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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372 Responses to Mark Watches ‘Avatar’: S02E14 – City of Walls and Secrets

  1. This episode of a children's animated series can only be described as "downright Orwellian." In it, an important secondary character is KIDNAPPED BY SECRET POLICE AND BRAINWASHED WITH WAR-DENYING PROPAGANDA.

    It was watched by eight-year-olds. EIGHT-YEAR-OLDS.

    I love this show.

    • Tauriel_ says:

      It starts with A:TLA and ends with Nineteen Eighty-Four, I tell you!

      The Dai Li are TOTALLY MiniLuv.

    • Mr.Fahrenheit says:

      You know, there are many things I could say about brainwashing and though control. Instead I'm going to let an old friend speak, as I believe he can say it far more eloquently than I ever could.

    • Tilja says:

      I don't know, at eight that would've been normal for me. At 13 (the start of my high school), I was forced to watch an R rated movie depicting all of the tragedy of our last coup d'êtat. Everyone of my age then, for the past 20 years, has had to watch that movie at school; I had to watch shootings, bombings, kidnappings, tortures, rapes, nothing softened, all depicting what they said happened. And they keep running that movie on tv all the time and making sure that children of all ages know what they did.

      At eight, watching something bad bloodless with the kowledge that it would end well because it was an animated children's show where people don't get hurt. That would've been normal for me. This would've been normal for me at that age.

      And yes, the secret police kidnappings and brainwashing war-denying propaganda was in the middle of it all. Just as all those concentration centers we have to suffer in each major city and all the vanished people's blood on their walls. I'm just telling you what they made us watch as children and the reason this show to me is good and innocent.

      • Arione says:

        Where did you grow up? What did they make you watch? Sorry your comment=mysterious and curious.

    • Jay Gatsby says:

      Well it was aired on Nick which was mostly children watching, yet now Avatar is discussed about mostly by people older than 18! THIS SHOW!

  2. lilah80 says:

    "Dear Diary,
    I wish Azula could have seen me kicking ass in that swordfight. Maybe I could write a letter about it and send it to Spoiled Brat, Father's Right Hand, 1 Central Palace Way, Fire Nation. I'll have to ask Uncle for a stamp later, because he cried himself to sleep after I told him that my pain was too deep for tea to heal." – Zuko

  3. monkeybutter says:

    Ahh, “City of Walls and Secrets” is soooo good! I like the previous two episodes well enough, but they feel like a lull between “The Desert” and this episode. It’s so exciting to actually see inside of Ba Sing Se! I love all of the thought that went into planning this very strict, very divided city; it’s both rooted in history, especially Beijing’s historical walls, and class segregation in major cities that is still alive today. Suitable to the eeriness of the divided city, our tour guide to the wonders of Ba Sing Se is CREEPY AS FUCK.

    <img src=""&gt;

    Joo Dee reminds me of the opening to Paranoia Agent (which I’ve already voted for you to watch, but it didn’t have that many votes the last time I checked. Everyone should at least watch the opening because it’s just about the best thing ever.) That smile. Eurgh.

    I love Toph in this episode. As amazed as all of the characters (and viewers like me) are about Ba Sing Se, she’s wary about the city. She knows what sort of lifestyle it entails and why she gave it up. Her lecture about manners was fantastic. We’ve already seen how important class is in the Earth Kingdom and how far the Bei Fong name will get you, and she goes on to make the excellent but uncomfortable point that class distinctions are sharp for a reason, and it’s hard for someone from the lower classes to swoop in and pretend to be part of the upper class. I agree with the retort to the apocryphal “the rich are different than you and me”: “They have more money.” But that money and privilege goes a long way, and the people who are born to it can sit around and be slobs if they want — they’ll still probably be upper class.

    <img src=""&gt;

    Jet and Zuko’s fight is my favorite part of the episode. They could have been friends, or at least comrades, but Jet’s obsession with the Fire Nation turned their relationship around in completely the opposite direction. It’s so much fun watching them both fight; they’re both really talented with their respective weapons, and it’s exciting to see a non-bending fight after the amazing bending in the last episode.

    <img src=""&gt;
    <img src=""&gt;

    How lucky is it for Zuko and Iroh (whose tea-related angst is a thing of beauty) that there is no war in Ba Sing Se? No wanted posters, no news about the Fire Nation at all. Even the Dragon of the West can slip by unnoticed. It’s an interesting scheme, keeping people calm and happy by not allowing them to acknowledge the tiger at the gates. There’s no panic inside the city, no interruption of commerce. The Dai Li (nice shout out to Chiang Kai-Shek’s intelligence chief!) is really impressive, and Long Feng is even creepier than Joo Dee, in an unctuous sort of way. But as successful as they are at keeping everything in line, I think their tactic is horrendously shortsighted. The Fire Nation nearly broke through their outer wall and was only stopped by a group of kids! I wish the Gaang lots of luck trying to get through to them.

    • Joo Dee reminds me of the opening to Paranoia Agent (which I’ve already voted for you to watch, but it didn’t have that many votes the last time I checked. Everyone should at least watch the opening because it’s just about the best thing ever.) That smile. Eurgh.
      Hooooly crap, you're right!

      • monkeybutter says:

        One of the many things I love about Avatar is that it reminds me of the anime I love and really, really need to rewatch!

    • Long Feng is even creepier than Joo Dee

      Well, yeah. Because he's CLANCY GODDAMN BROWN.

    • calimie says:

      Oh, Paranoia Agent, how often I'd skip your opening because it gave me the creeps. Such a good series, though. It's perfect.

    • tethysdust says:

      Hah, I didn't notice that about Paranoia Agent, but you're right. That's such an awesome show.

      And good point about the wanted posters. Strangely, it does seem to be the safest place in the world for Iroh and Zuko.

    • stefb says:

      I've watched Paranoia Agent a few times when it used to be on Adult Swim, but I must have needed to start from the beginning or something because I didn't understand a single thing about except for something that I won't mention because what if Mark DOES eventually watch it? I'd definitely watch it with him too. But yeah I always thought that opening was strange.

    • Avit says:

      Chiang Kai-shek's intelligence chief? Tell me more. I knew the man was a right bastard, but haven't got as much detail in my head as I'd prefer.

      • monkeybutter says:

        You know, I don't know as much about him as I'd like to either. Just his basic background, that he was head of the secret police and intelligence for the Kuomintang during the 30s and WWII, his long reach, and his suspicious death. So I decided to look for more information, and found a review of Spymaster: Dai Li and the Chinese Secret Service on the CIA's website (google the title yourself, I've spooked myself out of linking to it. I especially like brief the line absolving the OSS of involvement in his death, lol), and a really, really racist glowing article about him from and early 1946 issue of Colliers. My god, was that an awful read. It's more informative about Western attitudes and prejudice about Asia than Dai Li, but there are things that stand out to me, like the "Friendship Headquarters" in "Happy Valley," and that even though he's being praised, his feared reputation.

        There are a few similarities between Dai Li and Long Feng that probably constitute spoilers, so I'm gonna keep my mouth shut.

      • Avit says:


        Oh hey that was easier than I expected. Wow, some of this must have been direct inspiration…

        Hm, didn't survive much longer after the lot of them took barreled into Taiwan, it seems.

        …can that be construed as spoilery? It doesn't seem to relate to anything show-relevant. It doesn't seem interpretable as anything likely to be show-relevant.

        • monkeybutter says:

          Ha! I thought my first comment had been deleted for spoilers because it disappeared, and then I deleted my comment about "no spoilers in Mark Sing Se" because I was afraid that saying there are potentially spoilers could be spoilers. I don't think it's spoilery, but I don't know! I feel like we should be hiding from the wrath of the mods and talking about this in hushed tones.

    • Macy says:

      DAT SWORD FIGHT. Another tip of the hat by the animators to the first episode of Samurai Champloo, yes?

  4. affableevil says:

    Okay there's so much fantastic stuff in this episode but I can't seem to properly express my love for it all but hnnggggg the end where scenes of Jet's brainwashing are cut into Long Feng's speech about This Is A Utopia and the scary music and then Joo Dee is back but IT'S NOT JOO DEE HOLY SHIT always makes me the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up it creeps me out so much

    <img src="; border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic">

    • monkeybutter says:

      I know! The end is flawless! I love all of the unsettling finishes to episodes in season 2. The team is whisked away, Jet's in a torture chamber, the guy running shit is a double-talking jerk, and I'm just like

      <img src=""&gt;

      I'm so glad Mark got to watch these episodes quicker than usual!

  5. JonT says:

    A BEAR there was! A BEAR ! A BEAR!
    All Black and Brown and covered in HAIR!

    • Albion19 says:

      All the awards to you.

    • MocataJoy says:

      I love thinking of what that guy at the table had to do to "get seats this close to the bear."

      Picking up bear poop for a pre-decided number of years? Helping the Dai Li with their dirty work? Sweeping every street in Ba Sing Se with a wisk broom? Offering fashion advice to the earth king?


  6. arctic_hare says:

    Well, here it is, Mark. The day has finally arrived when you get a good, long look at what's inside Ba Sing Se, and it's not pretty. Although, to be fair, there's no war in there. πŸ˜‰ I mean, yes, it's pretty to LOOK at, but Toph turns out to be more right than even she suspects with that comment about "just a bunch of walls and rules". I'll pass on living somewhere with SECRET POLICE THAT BRAINWASH YOU, THANKS. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

    Joo Dee sure is creepy, isn't she? She freaked me out right from the getgo with that Stepford smile, and the "something's not right here" vibe only grew stronger as the episode went on and we saw her just smiling and shaking her head at people behind Team Avatar's back (WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE?). And hello, classism! Sectioning off the poorer people? "Maintaining order" clearly = code for EW KEEP THOSE ICKY DIRTY LOWER CLASSES AWAY FROM ME. So gross. I sympathize with Aang's discomfort over this shit. HOW UTTERLY SURPRISING THAT THE RICH PEOPLE LIVE IN THE UPPER SECTIONS, EH? Some things really are the same no matter what world you go to; we saw it in Serpent's Pass with Toph being able to buy their way onto the ferry despite a lack of passports, simply by using her family's influence, and now we're seeing it again in a more stark and horrible way with the segregation of Ba Sing Se. I take it back, this city is only pretty to look at from a distance. Life there is damned ugly. πŸ™ Zuko sums it up extraordinarily well in one sentence: "This city is a prison". I don't blame him for not wanting to make a life there, though I do also love Iroh's line about how life happens wherever you are, whether you make it or not.

    Meanwhile, Jet is getting his stalker on. (I really hope the people that shipped Jet/Zuko stopped after this episode, on that note, cause this shit is not romantic.) The spark rock theft, wtf; at least Iroh apparently listened to what Zuko said about not firebending around people there, but STILL. Would you PLEASE listen to Smellerbee and Longshot and drop this, Jet? I thought you were reformed; this does not fall under my definition of the term. They're absolutely right: you're becoming obsessed and it's not healthy (y'hear that, Twilight fans?). And just marching into the tea shop and whipping out your weapons in the middle of all the customers? Seriously, Jet: look at your life. Look at your choices.

    Still, the fight was very tense because, as we know from Zuko Alone, Zuko has a deficiency in Situational Awareness, so I wasn't sure if he would make the mistake of firebending against Jet or not. He doesn't, though, and so Jet is carted off by the Dai Li. I had seriously mixed feelings about this from the getgo, given the warning to Team Avatar from that government official to stay away from the Dai Li, not to mention the general creepiness of Long Feng even before he had that talk with them at the party, and I was proven right when we see at the end of the episode, intercut with Long Feng's speech about how silencing talk of the war maintains the city's peaceful state, that they're starting to BRAINWASH HIM WHAT THE FUCK. DUDE. THIS IS SO NOT ON. Jet is an extremist stalker jerk, it's true, but I don't wish this shit on him or anyone. This city is FUCKED UP.

    AND THEN WE END WITH SOMEONE ELSE CLAIMING TO BE JOO DEE. WHAT THE FUCK. Ba Sing Se is getting its 1984 on, ahahahaha kid's show. I love it. Fantastic episode.

    Other stuff:

    – "You been hitting the cactus juice again?" OH IF ONLY. SOKKA/MOMO/CACTUS JUICE OT3!


    – "Sick of tea? That's like being sick of breathing!" TRUER WORDS HAVE NEVER BEEN SPOKEN. IROH YOU ARE SO WISE.

    – I really like what Toph says about how she knows proper society behavior and chose to leave it.

    – I love Momo's little bow when Aang addresses him as Lord Momo of the Momo dynasty. WHERE IS MY MOMO TO SNUGGLE LIFE IS NOT FAIR ;_;

    – omg Momo is imitating them with the fake cape SO CUTE I REPEAT WHERE IS MY MOMO

    – I kind of love the Earth King's pet bear too.

    – Mr. Krabs, why so creepy? πŸ™

    • monkeybutter says:

      I'll pass on living somewhere with SECRET POLICE THAT BRAINWASH YOU, THANKS.

      And that's why Omashu > everywhere else. If you get in trouble, it's just a trip to the newly refurbished chamber and playing with gorilla-goats.

    • Senna says:


      I also love the vast difference in the amount of space around and between homes in each of the areas. You couldn't even tell those richest homes were IN a city O.o

    • WhiteEyedCat says:

      "Meanwhile, Jet is getting his stalker on. (I really hope the people that shipped Jet/Zuko stopped after this episode, on that note, cause this shit is not romantic.) "

      I was going to say that people still ship Bella/Edward but you beat me to the Twilight reference. People also ship Bella/Jacob…god that girl gets stalked a lot.

  7. kaleidoscoptics says:

    Oh god this is pretty much the worst thing ever. For some reason this episode creeps me out more than Koh did. The horrible 1984 Stepfordianism (that is now a word, shut up) of the city that the characters (and viewers) have hoped for so long would be their salvation is incredibly scary on a deep level. I cannot praise this show enough for basically taking all the easy expectations, tossing them in the trash, and then asking how they could possibly make life hard for their protagonists.

    (Also: DO NOT DO WHAT I DID. I decided hey, it would be a great idea to watch one of these commentary tracks, since I’ve seen the episode already! HUGE SPOILERS. ;_; And I was doing so well.)

    Seriously, you want social commentary? This is a city that literally cordons off its poor from its upper and middle classes, partially so the better-offs don’t have to see what’s going on. It’s something that happens in real life, if not that explicitly. The city is trying to display the appearance that everything is wonderful—and that means poor people and refugees don’t exist. No wonder Aang wouldn’t ever have gone there before. Zuko’s got it right: the city is a prison.

    The city is very reminiscent of imperial China, especially that Forbidden City palace structure. The strict hierarchy and bloated bureaucracy thing is also very reminiscent of certain stereotypes of ancient China, though I’m not sure how accurate it is.

    The ‘cultural authority’ aka secret police is really creepy and Orwellian. Why don’t they want to help win the war? It’s frustrating as hell, because I can see people actually doing that. I mean, the US was isolationist during most of WWI and the beginning of WWII. But their own people are getting killed and enslaved. DO SOMETHING. Also their theme music is even creepy.

    As much as I wanted Jet to get his ass kicked for being an obsessive creepy stalker, he doesn’t deserve to be brainwashed. That last scene with him is nightmare fuel. It is interesting to see how his obsession, which previously made him extremely dangerous and got people to follow him, is now overwhelming him and making his friends concerned.


    (Also, Iroh working in a tea shop is made of wonderful. Also the bear.)

    • echinodermata says:

      Aw, you got spoiled? Sucks.

      • kaleidoscoptics says:

        Yeah, it wasn't like THIS IS HOW THE SEASON ENDS, but it was something I would have liked to be surprised on. :\

        • affableevil says:

          Sorry to hear that :(((

          On the bright side, I honestly don't think anyone can be prepared, even if they know details. I know I'm never prepared, on re-watches.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Why don’t they want to help win the war? It’s frustrating as hell, because I can see people actually doing that. I mean, the US was isolationist during most of WWI and the beginning of WWII. But their own people are getting killed and enslaved. DO SOMETHING.

      I agree so hard on this point, and inaction on the part of kings while the people suffer is historically a bad idea.

    • doesntsparkle says:

      Seriously, you want social commentary? This is a city that literally cordons off its poor from its upper and middle classes, partially so the better-offs don’t have to see what’s going on. It’s something that happens in real life, if not that explicitly. The city is trying to display the appearance that everything is wonderful—and that means poor people and refugees don’t exist. No wonder Aang wouldn’t ever have gone there before. Zuko’s got it right: the city is a prison.

      In the first season, Team Avatar would help out disenfranchised people on their way North. I love that Team Zuko and Team Avatar switched places socio-economically. The G'aang gets to hang out in a pretty nice house in the nice part of the city and crash fancy parties, while the Fire Nation Royalty is hiding with the refugees.

    • stephanienienie says:

      I think Ba Sing Se represents the current situation in China remarkably well, though the creators probably didnt intend it.

  8. echinodermata says:


    Yeah, so inner walls that "maintain order" sends great big red flags up, doesn't it. But it's cool we're exploring class issues. And it makes sense that Toph is used to being "handled." I generally really really enjoy how Toph lives in these dual worlds, and how she juggles the life she was brought up in with the life she wants to live. That she chooses to behave "rudely" with burping and nose-picking, but knows exactly how to pass as a member of "proper society." I just find her a hugely compelling character, and it's a large part of why she's my favorite.

    Also, government conspiracies tend to be some of my favorite stories – Joo Dee is seriously creepy, and I love her inclusion in the story. Keep on shaking your head at the residents, because the thought of exploring some mass conspiracy makes me glee. But then her smile turns into this giant frown at the party, and go track team for some wonderful musical accompaniment for that moment! And then ooh, we do get a mass conspiracy! With a puppet figurehead of a king! So. Much. Win. For the show, I mean. Bad on the Earth Kingdom, but omg "there's no war in Ba Sing Se". Seriously, that line still gives me chills.
    <img src=""&gt;
    "There is no war within the walls. Here we are safe. Here we are free."

    Okay, so. Rigid class system. Fearful residents. Government conspiracies. Brain-washing. Multiple Joo Dee's. Jesus fuck I love this storyline. This right here is pretty much why season 2 to my favorite.

    And hah! Zuko and Iroh now work at a tea shop. And Iroh drastically improves the tea. The secret ingredient being, of course, love.

    Also, this dialogue is one of my favorites:

    Katara: The king is having a party at the palace tonight for his pet bear.
    Aang: You mean platypus-bear?
    Katara: No, it just says bear.
    Sokka: Certainly you mean his pet skunk-bear.
    Toph: Or his armadillo-bear.
    Aang: gopher-bear?
    Katara: Just…bear.
    Toph: This place is weird.

    • Violets are Blue says:

      That dialogue makes my day. Team Avatar would find us weird if possible with all of our unhybrid animals.

    • blis says:

      YES! i was waiting to see if someone would bring up the gang's reaction to the non-hybrid bear. it makes me laugh every time!

  9. dragonsong12 says:

    The way the Dai Li run Ba Sing Se is far more frightening than anything we've seen from the Fire Nation to this point. At least the Fire Nation is up front with what they're doing, the Dai Le is far more dangerous with their covert actions and BRAINWASHING! It's terrifying!
    GAH! So much happens in this episode! Jet's fight with Zuko is utter beauty. Just damned fun to watch. Though you have to feel bad for the poor guy.
    I also love – LOVE – the rock gloves that the Dai Li use. They're such an ingeneous use of earthbending – and covert – like everything they do. This entire episode, almost every scene can be pointed to as a SHIT GOT REAL moment, especially in the second half!

  10. hallowsnothorcruxes says:

    <img src=""/&gt;

    There’s no war in Ba Sing Se. 
    There is no war within the walls. Here we are safe. Here we are free. 

    This episode was incredibly creepy and reminiscent of Orwell's 1984(I'm sure a lot of people are going to comment on that). After finally arriving at Ba Sing Se, we realize that the city is so much more than it seems. From the social segregation to the inner fraudulence of the political system. The fact that people can actually be arrested for mentioning the war outside because it disrupts their 'utopia' is scary. People inside the city don't have to face the war but they pay the price by constantly living in fear. The juxtaposition of Long Feng's lecture with the brainwashing of Jet is haunting and is one of the best moments of the entire series.

    Some more thoughts.

    The voice actors on this show are so good. Long Feng voiced by Clancy Brown is another great example of this.

    How incredibly cool is the fight between Zuko and Jet?
    The quality of the animation on this show just keeps on improving.
    <img src=" "/>

    <img src=" "/>

  11. Lariren says:


    I love it. There are no words. I love stalker Jet and his ingenious ways to try to get them to firebend. Seriously who thinks of breaking in and stealing spark rocks?

    I love you Toph for knowing manners and just not using them!

    The end creeps me out. And I watched it last summer as an adult. I can not fathom how children saw this.

  12. Senna says:

    Oh gosh, Jet. I feel so bad. And this show does SO WELL at paralleling two different characters in obvious yet subtle ways. I love the fact that Jet and Zuko just met, and now we get to see their parallel – that both are terribly punished BY THEIR OWN PEOPLE for speaking the truth in an attempt to protect those people (though in Jet's case, in a far more unbalanced way than young Zuko). It's truly, truly awful.





    • ldwy says:

      Your comments always have a great sense of humor, but this had me laughing out loud!
      So perfect πŸ™‚

  14. kartikeya200 says:

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    Ba Sing Se held a lot of symbolic meaning for the characters. It was a location that was briefly mentioned in season one by Uncle Iroh. FOr him, Ba Sing Se represented a place of devastating loss — it was here that he lost the hundred-day military siege of Ba Sing Se, as well as his son. For our heroes, it represented a place of hope, where Aang would find his lost flying bison, and Sokka would find support from the Earth King for his Fire Nation invasion plan.

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    Ba Sing Se was a real challenge to design, due to its sheer size and complexity. Luckily, the powerhouse background designer Jevon Bue joined our team for season two, cranking out high-quality drawings in alarming quantities. He lived up to his nickname, "The Machine".

  15. kartikeya200 says:

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    The Dai Li possess the specialized Earthbending skill of using tiled rock gloves.

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    Sifu Kisu choreographs a fight sequence with Bryan Konietzko. For every bending and martial-arts movement in the show, video reference was created, then used by the storyboard artists and animators to bring a sense of realism to the fights. This showdown between Jet and Zuko was one of our favorites.

  16. Kaci says:

    Oh, Mark. Now you know why every time you mentioned Ba Sing Se, I was torn between feeling that you'd be disappointed that it wasn't amazing, and feeling that you'd be excited because HOLY SHIT KIDS WATCHED THIS.


    Also? The conversation the Gaang has where they ask if it's a platypus bear or a badger bear or–you know what? I don't even remember all the things they list, but NO. IT IS A BEAR. JUST A BEAR. And then, "This place is weird." AMEN.

  17. Goldensage says:

    I was blown away by the ending of this episode.


  18. kartikeya200 says:

    And the missing art post for The Drill!

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    Conceiving, designing, and animating the tunnel-boring drill was one of the most fun and satisfying challenges Bryan had as an art director.

    <img src=""&gt;

    <img src=""&gt;

    In ancient times, the soldiers who protected the Great Wall of China also lived there. This inspired the design of the military barracks clinging to the side of Ba Sing Se's massive outer wall.

    • arctic_hare says:

      I seriously cannot thank you enough for taking the time to do these art posts for us every day. They are amazing and so are you. <3

  19. Saphling says:

    Augh, Ba Sing Se gives me the chills. "There is no war in Ba Sing Se" is far to close to "We have always been at war with Eastasia." >____>

  20. arctic_hare says:

    I love you two. <3

  21. @redgarlic68 says:

    I love this episode! Nevertheless, it brings back painful memories of how ATLA lost his only Emmy nomination (which was for this episode) to South Park's "Make Love and Not Warcraft". I'm still bitter about it.

  22. thefireandthehearth says:

    Doesn't the general in the previous episode say that "Ba Sing Se" meant "impenetrable city", and that "Na Sing Se" would mean "penetrable city"?

  23. It's the impenetrable city. They don't call it Na Sing Se. That means "penetrable city."

  24. echinodermata says:

    Checked the fan wiki, and the Chinese characters they list for the city name are æ°¸Γ₯β€ΊΒΊΓ₯ΕΈΕ½, which isn't at all close to "Ba Sing Se" phonetically in Mandarin.

    (I presume these characters were used in some sort of poster or sign on the show, but I don't know when or where.)

    EDIT: Okay, screencaps of the name:
    From The Drill (screencap from piandao):
    <img src=""&gt;

    And from this ep:
    <img src=""&gt;

    • Avit says:

      Ohhhh I see. Huh, that's weird. Doesn't sound like Japanese either, so I guess it must be some other sinic language.

  25. Toph13139 says:


    17th comment (hopefully). Being punctual surely pays off.

    When I first watched this episode, just like it happened with the episode of Koh and many other Avatar episodes, I couldn't breathe. I just couldn't. Too much was going on, Zuko was on his way to redemption (to me he was. A girl can dream too.), I had a crush on Zuko (… =D) and didn't want him to get caught, Toph in a dress, Momo part of the Momo Dynasty, Jet, the Dai Li, Long Feng, Joo Dee… Just… I was overwhelmed.

    From the very start Ba Sing Se gave me a bad feeling. At first, because Toph didn't like it (she probably said she didn't like it because she's a rebel like that. Teehee). Then because of Joo Dee. And then… Six to eight weeks? Who are you? My visa appointment? Anyway, this is one of my favorite episodes forever. Also, welcome (again) to the Ba Sing Se arc. In my opinion… Top. XD

  26. hpfish13 says:

    So, I finally got my Halloween pictures (where I dressed up as Ty Lee) online, and I wanted to share them with you all. It’s appropriate for this episode, seeing as we have absolutely no Ty Lee in this episode. I was going to post several of them, but most include my friend (who was Mai), and I didn’t want to put pictures of her up without her permission. So…’s just the one picture.

    Also, I’m not sure how to embed, so here’s a link

    And now I’ve lost my cloak of anonymity.

    • Very nice costume! If you want me to embed it for you, I can do that.

    • Manself says:

      This is awesome! I am so jealous of cosplayers’ talent. What’s a not-creepy way of saying “I want to surgically replace my own hands with yours so that I can make awesome replicas of my favorite characters’ outfits”?

    • thefireandthehearth says:

      That's adorable and really accurate! Did you make that yourself?

      • hpfish13 says:

        No, there's a really great shop in my home town that made it for me. I brought in a picture of Ty Lee, two days later they showed me fabric samples, and in a week they had the costume fully made! It was relatively inexpensive too, they only charged me $90 for the labor and the fabric combined!

    • arctic_hare says:

      That is so awesome! πŸ˜€ Thank you for posting this pic here!

  27. affableevil says:

    I can understand it if people want to explore the dynamic in a this-is-so-entirely-fucked-up kind of way.

    Unfortunately, that's rarely done, and even more rare is when it's done well.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Yeah, it'd be okay to explore the potentials of a screwed up dynamic (after a comment from kaleidoscoptics yesterday, I really want to see a Jet and Azula spin-off), but it rarely goes in a non-icky direction.

    • tintin says:

      what, you mean it's been explored in the NOT this-is-so-entirely-fucked-up kind of way? and MOST of the time?

      D: duuuude. i'm so lucky to have been recced the good stuff.

  28. Vikinhaw says:

    I'm sure lots of people have said this or at least noticed it long before I ever did but (I only just noticed it) you can see Ba Sing Se in the opening credits. That place is freaking huge. I'd link to a pic but I can't find non-spoilery ones.

    Interesting to note that for Iroh the city means the place where he lost his son and when he finally gets to there he finds hope and a new life. For Team Avatar it means a hope to defeating the Fire Nation but that hope is quickly squashed. This show loves it's parallels.

    • thefireandthehearth says:

      Picture reference!

      <img src=""/&gt;

      The map is small, but I think that just emphasizes how ridiculously gigantic this place is.

      (and I don't think this is spoilerly- just the picture from the opening scrawl. Mods, please delete this if it is.)

      • agrinningfool says:

        Dang.. you can see the outer wall.. and then the inner wall. And all that land inbetween..

  29. Jupiter Star says:

    THIS EPISODE. Of all the episodes thus far, this was the one that made me go, "Yeah, we've officially left kids' show territory behind FOREVER." I don't know why, maybe it's because that final scene with Jet makes me think of "A Clockword Orange" every time and brainwashing/torture/blackmail/etc. in the name of keeping things "safe" for those in power? That's just about the most terrifying concept I've ever seen addressed in something ostensibly for kids.


    Also, when I mentioned before that Iroh was the reason I applied for (and got) a job working at a Chinese tea house? More specifically, Iroh in this episode is why ^_^.;; (Though you can seriously learn so much about tea culture through this show…part of how I got the job was because I knew what a gaiwan was after wondering what the heck those weird teacups that the Bei Fongs drink from in "The Blind Bandit" were!)

    • Jupiter Star says:

      …"ClockWORK Orange." Wow. Typo fail ^_^.;;

    • ATLA getting you a job in the real world is the best thing I've read on the internet all week. Congratulations!

      • Jupiter Star says:

        Heh, thanks ^_^. I lost it when I moved overseas for two years, but the year and a half I had the job was AWESOME, and I've been told I get it back when they have another opening, so yay! But yes. ATLA got me a job. An awesome job. Being paid to be Iroh. EVERYTHING SHOULD ALWAYS WORK THIS WAY.

    • monkeybutter says:

      I was sort of hoping those green crystals would be holding Jet's eyes open, but that would probably cross the line on a kid's show.

      Iroh and ATLA getting you a job is a great story!

      • Jupiter Star says:

        *Nods* Seriously, more people should try it! …granted, it might only work in teahouse settings after spending waaaay too much time reading up on tea stuff so you can grow up to be Iroh, but still!

  30. Tauriel_ says:

    Hands up all of you who absolutely ADORE Sokka's pseudo posh English accent. <3

  31. Jupiter Star says:

    YES. Seriously terrifying.

  32. Tauriel_ says:

    You guys ROCK. <3

  33. Guest says:

    Does the party remind anyone of the ball in Shindig, from Firefly?

  34. Kit says:

    They based a TON of the side characters on people they worked with or were friends with; it was probably seen as a compliment.

  35. Wait, does this make us the Dai Li?

    ZOMG, can someone make a THERE'S NO SPOILERS IN MARK SING SE Dai Li gif we can use on people? That would be amazing.

  36. stefb says:

    Let us not forget to mention that Long Feng is voiced by Clancy Brown. Clancy Brown was Kelvin Inman in Lost, aka Desmond's Hatch buddy.

    (actually I only know him from Lost and Shawshank Redemption, although I know he does a lot of voice work)

  37. monkeybutter says:

    Hehe, I hope people watch this over and over again.

  38. stefb says:

    WHAT HE WAS MR. KRABS?! *is amazed*

  39. Tauriel_ says:

    Yes, it is, it's my tolkienite nickname. πŸ™‚ It means "forest maiden" or "daughter of the forest", because the Quenya word "taurë" means forest and "-iel" is a common female name ending.

    • stefb says:

      Haha when I first bought The Silmarillion I was making up all sorts of names because of the name-guide in the back. It was almost addicting.

    • eleniel says:

      I got my handle from Quenya also! xD;; /high-five

  40. monkeybutter says:

    Nothing! They could really start some trouble. It'd be fun!

  41. Kylie says:

    The only thing I have to add is that Long Feng is voiced by Clancy Brown.

    Who is Lex Luthor.

    And also Sinister.

    … And also Mr. Krabs. C-C-C-C-C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER.

    • Hotaru_hime says:

      Luthor AND Sinister? Do you mean Mr. Sinister from X-Men?

      • Kylie says:

        Yup. He did his voice for Wolverine and the X-Men, the short-lived show that was on Nicktoons. It kind of blew my mind.

  42. Erica says:

    Season 4…not to be nitpicky, though.

    I just liked that scene where Team Avatar are trying to figure out what kind of bear, only to discover it's just a bear. "This city is weird."

  43. Mauve_Avenger says:

    I feel a gifspam coming on.

    I don't know why, but I originally thought that it was a small pineapple (sans peel) in the guy's mouth.
    <img src=""&gt;

    "At least he makes the trains run on time." Though I have to say that this job looks exhausting.
    <img src=""&gt;

    Poor Momo. Harassed by a catowl (owlcat?), then blamed for sparrowkeet harassment.
    <img src=""&gt;

    Manners: ur doing them wrong.
    <img src=""&gt;

    Lady Fancyfingers throws food to the ground, wipes the crumbs on her clothes, picks her nose, and flicks the product away. Alas, I didn't get frames from the part where it lands on Sokka's head.
    <img src=""&gt;

    For some reason, I immediately assumed that the bear would actually be Appa, in an Emperor's New Clothes-type situation where everyone's too afraid to tell the Earth King the difference between a bear and an air bison.
    <img src=""&gt;

    Beverage Bending: ur doing it rite.
    <img src=""&gt;

    Two very creepy Joo Dees (who I keep wanting to call Soo Lee because of Soo Lin) thank you for your time. I wanted to make this a single graphic with two gifs inside (or at least post them side by side), but I need to actually figure out how.
    <img src=""&gt;
    <img src=""&gt;

    • Colin says:

      Make them stop. Please. STOP SMILING

    • Mauve_Avenger says:

      And I forgot one.

      The Rock Tile Gloves. It took me quite a while to figure out what was happening with the handcuffs, but I think I understand it now. The only problem I can think of is how it would restrain a person like King Bumi, who can Earthbend even when his arms and hands are completely restrained.
      <img src=""&gt;

      • linguisticisms says:

        It wouldn't restrain King Bumi. And they probably wouldn't be able to restrain Toph either, if they hadn't moved so quickly and taken her by surprise.

        • Alexander says:

          The rock gloves are moving through the air so Toph is probably unable to "see" them anyway. Damn you, cheating Dai Li >:O

    • shirtninjas says:

      Am I the only one who didn't immediately realize it was a different Joo Dee?

      • Avit says:

        Nope! I found the first one so disconcerting and unpleasant to watch that it took me a few seconds to get the "camera"work and the reactions.

      • MocataJoy says:

        Their eyes and hair are pretty different…but they do sound almost exactly the god damned same.

    • Avit says:

      I found the owlcat pretty amusing, because in Chinese the word for owl literally means "cat-headed eagle".

    • sundaycoma says:

      All I'm saying is every now and then when Aang is bending, all I can think is "God, I wanna rave with the Avatar".

      BEST. PARTY. EVER. (Sokka, stay away from the cactus juice! Katara, loosen up! Toph, flip the cup, you me, it's on! Zuko — Ring of Fire is supposed to be a metaphorical title)

      • Violets are Blue says:

        God, the one and only rave I went to was…disturbing to say the least. Part of it was some guy who I was pretty sure had taken something came up and started touching me, asking if I was rolling. Then he began swearing before realizing that duck rhymed with the word he was shouting and how do you perform said action on one. After that he did the same thing to the guy I was with. We then moved while the guy was distracted by someone he knew I guess. All in all, a very creepy time for us.

    • monkeybutter says:

      <img src=""&gt;

      I was making gifs and I wanted to see if I could do it. It's huge, but you can screw around with it. I made a new file twice the normal width, c+p the frames from one (I doubled the amount of frames in the first Joo Dee gif), and then the other, and dragged them into place. It was a fun learning experience!

      I <3 Lady Fancyfingers.

    • Jupiter Star says:

      I want my own sparrowkeets. Momo can harass them all he wants, I just need some. That is all.

    • Avatar_fan_mom says:

      Heh…my 9 year old dtr also mentioned that she thought it was a pineapple in that guy's mouth!

  44. isoycrazy says:

    This is one of the scariest episodes, hands down. The story took a very harsh turn down some very serious material and as you said in a tv show targeted at kids.

    Of course one element that helps this message is the great Clancy Brown voicing Long Feng. There can be only one ruler of Ba Sing Se and he is it.

  45. fantasylover120 says:

    I love how totally unexpected all the stuff in this ep was. I don't know about anyone else but I figured Ba Sing Se would be an awesome place where we would get kick ass allies and the team would gain great momentum in the war. I mean, that is what usually goes on in these fantasy trilogies dealing with war, right? WRONG! Writers quickly smash our expectations to the ground in an almost gleeful way. Ba Sing Se is a dark place full of secrets with its own set of problems and worries and who says they want anything to do with the war anyway? Oh bless you show. Other random thoughts:
    Joo Dee is the perfect example of how to smile in a really creepy and sinister and slightly annoying way.
    I want a pet bear πŸ™
    Heh, freak wine accident. I think I'll use that to describe all my family gatherings from now on. It's a very accurate description.

  46. Jaxx_zombie says:

    All this smiling reminds me of the Smilers from that episode of Doctor Who with the Starwhale.

  47. airbender99 says:

    Bohemian Rhapsody FTW!!!

  48. Cakemage says:

    So tell me, Mark, after watching this episode…are you a happy communist?*

    *Ten points to anyone who gets that reference and answers correctly.

  49. eleniel says:

    Just taking a comment to appreciate the hilarity that is the line, "You have no idea what I had to do to get a seat next to the bear!!!" I mean, a BEAR! How weird.

    • Ridia says:

      Am I the only one who kinda wonders what that guy had to do? Surely the seat next to the bear was in highest demand.

    • Mandi says:

      I am so surprised I didn't come across this mentioned in the comments sooner. It was my FAVORITE part of the whole episode. The looks on the two men's faces when the bear starts mauling the food is priceless!

  50. Bobby says:

    This needed to be posted. Hopefully the link works.

  51. Megan says:

    I always twitch when I think of Ba Sing Se, and it's been very hard to keep a lid on it whenever you would get excited for it, too. Just… so not what I was expecting. It's creepy, but it's so alluring to forget about the war inside the walls. Very accurate to the lengths some governments will go to maintain control. It may be in a fictional world, but the people can be exactly the same…

  52. Avit says:

    The meaning sounds right! The pronunciations… are confusing. :S

    • Hyatt says:

      Could the pronunciations be based on a different Chinese dialect?

      • Avit says:

        Could be. Some Sinic languages are pretty different from Mandarin despite being written with the same set of characters. It isn't Cantonese or Taiwanese, though, and it's not likely to be Szechuanhua.

        • Superstarseven says:

          Another translation (according to pop-up video Avatar-style) is The Eternally Solid City.

  53. stefb says:

    Zuko uses "peasant" as an insult a lot, he'd fit right in with all of the upper-class of Ba Sing Se, no problem. No invitations needed to get in cause he's a stealthy ninja.

  54. cswike says:

    You mean platypus bear?

    I love the music in this episode, not because it's all grand and enjoyable and heroic like some episodes but because it's such an integral part of the storytelling. As a small example: Try to imagine the scene where we first meet Joo Dee without music. "Hello! My name is Joo Dee. I have been given the great honor of showing the Avatar around Ba Sing Se." Kind of seems… friendly, almost welcoming, no? But with the musical cue you realize "wait, something's not right here" – and it's done in a more subtle way than just having someone comment on it.

    • cswike says:

      And then of course there's Iroh and Zuko's first appearance:
      *Iroh with flowers, happy strummed arpeggio*
      Always makes me chuckle.

  55. sabra_n says:

    Gah, as someone who loves big cities, the "planning" of Ba Sing Se was really, really dismaying. Of course, that kind of thing happens in the States, too, on smaller scales – it's just done with zoning, real covenants, walled housing developments, and other uses of property law to keep out the riffraff. Give me a real, lively city and its hodge-podge mix of land uses and people any day. (See eg. Jane Jacobs.)

    While Iroh is busy making a second life for himself in Ba Sing Se, the Gaang has seemingly found itself in the position he was in years ago – stuck in place by the sheer inertia imposed by the city's massive size and its culture. They got past the wall, but they aren't going anywhere.

    I also like that we got hints things would be like this, especially when it came to the city's attitude towards immigrants. The classism, the suspicion towards outsiders, the lack of official empathy or care for anything but orderliness and regulations – we saw it in "The Serpent's Pass", but just didn't realize the full extent of what was happening.

  56. Hotaru_hime says:

    Everything was like fist in mouth for me from the point Appa got kidnapped- I powerwatched this show so hard.
    The eeriest thing for me is that Ba Sing Se acts the way China did in World War 2, when the Japanese were invading. China would send out newspapers and fliers declaring that they were having victory over victory with the Japanese, declining to inform their populace that their army was being decimated and that the Japanese were on their way to fuck them up. So no one would know until their attackers were upon them and then you get something like the Rape of Nanking.
    It's horrendously irresponsible, but Ba Sing Se withstood an attack on their walls from the Fire Nation around seven or eight years ago (I think that was the approximate time of Iroh's attack, as Zuko seemed about eight or nine in Zuko Alone) and the fact that getting past the first wall in that attack was such a novelty… well, they feel protected. Therefore they feel that there is no need to alert the populace that such a thing occurs and they shove refugees with the rest of the poor people in the outer corners of Ba Sing Se. But if anyone were ever to get to the central portion of the city, I imagine it would be very difficult to get out.
    Poor Zuko! Betrayed by Iroh's love of warm tea! Poor Jet! How desperate he must be after that flooding of the village, after losing most of the Freedom Fighters (do we ever find out what happened to the rest?) and then to be confronted with two Firebenders in the stronghold that is Ba Sing Se…
    Which leads me to another thought- you can't just be a bender based on where you are born. I mean, really, it doesn't make any sense. You can't be born a Waterbender if you're not at one of the poles or in a swamp? You can't have Firebending ability unless you're born in the Fire Nation? Clearly not all people are benders, so who is to say there aren't people with Airbending capabilities that simply don't know how to use them and suppressed their abilities as children because they were feared for it? *shrug*

    Lastly, the bear. I love how when the bear is brought up, everyone goes, "What's a bear?" So many combo animals that a bear is weird. Yet no one turns their head over Miyuki the totally normal cat.

    • vivelabagatel says:

      Cats are the exception to most rules.

    • monkeybutter says:

      I wouldn't say Miyuki is totally normal. She does have an ongoing feud with the Fire Nation.

      You make an interesting point about bending. It's based more on the spiritual aspect than genetic, so it's not just who you're born to. But the benders are generally reflective of their environment and nations. Firebending, a martial art predisposed to offensive attacks, makes sense for people living on an archipelago with a lot of mineral resources to manipulate. The solid, defensive and offensive nature of earthbending makes sense for the Earth Kingdom, where they also have lots of mineral resources and a lot of land — they don't have to worry about conquering foreign lands, they can spread out over their own. The airbenders were peacefully disconnected from the world, and while airbending can definitely be used in a fight, it's not as inherently destructive as fire. And the waterbenders live in remote environments with limited resources, and use water, the most easily found element, to live. It seems like the type of bending that develops is related to environment and culture, so it could be that there are potential benders of different elements that just don't have the spiritual reinforcement that they need.

      Or maybe benders are only from their respective nations. Who knows?

      • Hotaru_hime says:

        I suppose you could argue that "in the beginning" that benders allied with other benders and founded their respective Nations as a result. The rest is just genetics.
        I just really, really want there to be Airbenders.

        • monkeybutter says:

          Me, too. I think someone posted on here about speculation that the people at the Northern Air Temple could become airbenders in the future because they have the spirit of airbenders, and I really want that to be true.

    • MocataJoy says:

      Miyuki was actually a combo animal. Half cat, half beard.

  57. Ridia says:

    Oh man, I love this episode so much. The end is such an awesome amazing gut punch — I remember the first time I watched it after the show ended I just *stared* at the TV for a couple of minutes, like "And this is a KID'S SHOW?!" I especially love how this ep plays with your expectation. When they first decided to head for Ba Sing Se, I figured we were back in season one type territory, that the group would spend the rest of the season heading to the city, reaching it ~3 eps before the finale and then fend off the inevitable Fire Nation attack in the finale. Instead, we reach the city with time to spare and the Fire Nation is still stuck outside the walls with the big enemy being within the Earth Kingdom. I love how this show isn't afraid to show that non-Fire Nation people can be bad guys too. The Dai Li may not be starting any wars, but they're definitely not good guys.

    I kind wonder too much about the Dai Li. Like, how long have they been hiding the war? Did Long Feng start the whole "There is no war" thing or was he just the latest successor of creepiness? When Iroh laid siege to the city for one hundred days, did any of the people inside even know about it? That's just creepy to think about, that a huge group of people in what is presumably the largest city in the Earth Kingdom have spent the last hundred years in utter ignorance of what's been going on around them. It also makes me wonder about all the refugees. All those people know there's a war because they've been fleeing it. Do the Dai Li leave them alone because they're just icky poor people anyway and the important rich citizens won't listen to them anyway? Or do people talk about the war amongst themselves and then one day their friends or family are suddenly like "War? What war? We just came here for a new life of happiness and prosperity and there is totally no war going on, what are you talking about." Seriously, the more I think about it the CREEPIER IT IS.

    Personal anecdote: my dad has seen only a handful of Avatar eps, but he did see this one — I was working the day it aired and we had no DVR, so I had to set the VCR on our only cable TV in the basement, where my dad usually hangs out and he watched the ep as it aired (he also channel-surfed during the commercials and I missed part of Zuko's fight. I was most displeased). Every so often we'll be joking about something and he'll say, "But remember: there is no war in Ba Sing Se."

    • Riel says:

      "Or do people talk about the war amongst themselves and then one day their friends or family are suddenly like "War? What war? We just came here for a new life of happiness and prosperity and there is totally no war going on, what are you talking about."

      That's usually what happens when a leader becomes a dictator with a secret police. People pretend there's nothing wrong, because well, look what happened to Jet. The Dai Li didn't even bother to check if Zuko and Iroh were from the Fire Nation, they only cared about the disturbance on the street.

  58. Jay Gatsby says:

    You guys… I don't think there ever was a war. I think everything we've seen up until this point was just an illusion.


    Just kidding! The United States is perfectly perfect! Go America! (If the CIA or FBI is reading this comment, I totally was just kidding. I love my country! Go U.S.A.! … Please don't arrest me! D; )

  59. Minish says:

    I just rewatched this episode just to see Momo in the cape again.

    Best thing ever or BEST THING EVER? Amirite?

  60. exbestfriend says:

    It's like every episode that should have won, lost. Even the episodes of The Simpsons or South Park, aren't the episodes that should have won for them. I hate Emmy voters all the time, but clearly they hate cartoons. and happiness.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Emmys are officially a badge of shame. I mean, The Simpsons won as many times in the 90s as in the 00s. How does that even make sense? It seems like it only started getting nominated regularly after it hit its peak. Hell, the same thing could be said of South Park.

      Now I feel like Comic Book Guy.

  61. Pelleloguin says:

    Oh, gods….This episode. It was disturbing on so many levels. The way they keep the classes apart to me seemed like a way to control the people through ignorance. The refugees know there is a war going on, but because they are kept away from the upper class, they can not make anyone in power aware of their plight. Then again, I assume everyone in power is in on the 'There is no war in Ba Sing Se' conspiracy because it allows them to stay in power easier. Joo Dee was hired to keep Aang from going straight up to the king and demanding some action. Because Jet went against the rules and claimed that firebenders were in the city, he was taken away and probably brainwashed into not believing in the war at least. It was so jarring because for the entire series up until now, Ba Sing Se was the point of hope. The last great stand of the Earth Kingdom, a beacon to refugees and a symbol of standing tall when under fire. Now it's the scary land of creepy people and we all want to get the group out of there before this goes full on horror movie.

  62. exbestfriend says:

    This episode made me very clearly understand how much I loved this show and I will get to that, but first a pointless story about myself.

    I try to watch the episodes of Avatar that Mark is going to watch during the week on Saturday (Saturday is the perfect day for cartooooons!) and my air conditioner is broken and there were several heat advisories for this past weekend, but I could not bring myself to either not watch the episodes or watch the episodes on my phone or my tiny computer screen. So I sat in my living room in a swimsuit eating popsicles with only a fan blowing hot air on me. And at the end of this episode I didn't even take a break before watching the next episode. Sweat was dripping off my eyelashes.

    And that is a ridiculous story, but more to the point, this episode was amazing the fights! the laughs! the creepy Dai Li! but the quality of it was unsurprising and I knew the next episode would (probably) build on it and the one after that and the one after that. I wasn't having the concerns about whether or not the next episode would be worth it, because I knew it would be. That is not a feeling I normally have with shows and I realized I had moved from enjoying the shows because of Mark's reviews of them and had started enjoying the show outright and if Mark stopped reviewing the show, I would continue to watch it. Yay! So I am now officially an Avatar fan! whoo!

  63. simplefaith says:

    This episode is horrifying and I love it so.

    1) Ba Sing Se is gorgeous. I know every post I've made has had some sort of "fangirling over the art" moment, but can you blame me? It's just breathtaking, and Ba Sing Se is both great in design and sheer scale. Of course, that makes a great cover for the whole "deeply-divided class system and brainwashing" thing.

    2) When I first saw this episode, especially the end with Jet being brainwashed and the new Joo Dee, I literally just sat there like "Ho-ly shit. :O" Like, I can't believe they went there, I never would have seen it coming in a thousand years (especially since throughout the whole season the city had been seen as a beacon of hope), but I'm so glad they did! There's this continuing theme about how every nation has its flaws, and I think that's a very diplomatic and well-thought-out way of writing.

    3) The whole scene pre-party was hilarious, which is great, because it had to make up for the SHEER CREEPINESS that was the ending.

    4) I love when Zuko uses broadswords. Not only do they just look cool, but it shows a more disciplined side of him that we don't often get to see, since he's so angry all the time (not that I blame him, and all, but still).

  64. EmD says:

    Jet is my favorite character in the entire series. You know he's a total jackass and doing wrong things, but you can SO understand why he does them. He's what Katara and Sokka would have turned into had they been left alone. However, they had their tribe while Jet had no one but himself and his burned home and charred parents.

  65. NeonProdigy says:

    I don't know what you're talking about, all those people are so happy! Look at them, they're laughing!

    …Jegus fucking grist, that shot. That show. I still don't understand it, but it was all sorts of messed up and wonderful.

  66. Macy says:

    Ah, I love this episode. I believe it got Avatar a Peabody Award/Emmy? AUGH JOO DEE. The single most terrifying character EVER. That unnatural smile gives me chills… But I do love the creeping feeling of paranoia that you feel by the end of the episode. Honestly, whenever I tell my friends to watch this show and they tell me it's just for kids, I just throw this episode in their faces. Man.

  67. lossthief says:

    OHMYGODS, I LOVE Paranoia Agent! It's so strange and out there and creepy and everything I love in my psychological thrillers. I managed to find the entire set of DVD's for about $30 at a used book store near me, and I have watched the entire series over a dozen times.

  68. Anonymouse says:

    Oh My God! Joo Dee is the creepiest thing ever! She's worse than a mannequin (and I really HATE mannequins!)

    Anyways, Toph. I felt so bad for Toph in this episode. She essentially joined the Gaang to get away from being "handled" and now she's stuck in Ba Sing Se, right back where she started. Still being babysat, just by different people for different reasons. Also, her new babysitter is a really really creepy Stepford Smiler. It's got to be really bad flashbacks to the lifestyle that drove her to run away in the first place. Although, I think it's cool that she didn't say anything ahead of time because she knew how badly they needed to be in the city.

    Also, I love her line "I learned high society manners and CHOSE to ignore it." Toph in a nutshell.

  69. corporatecake says:

    One of the best episodes of the show.

    And I can also share the exact extent of my nerdishness! This is what my laptop looks like…

    <img src=""&gt;

  70. MocataJoy says:

    This is the only episode of Avatar that leaves me feeling a little sick inside. Which is exactly what the writers intended. So my sickness only proves how great this show really is!

    We're so used to seeing Toph be a badass that it's easy to forget….she comes from a place where there's "Just a bunch of walls and rules." The moment in this episode that I remember most is the one where Toph turns to Sokka (when he asks if Joo Dee is deaf because she only seems to hear every other word he says) and tells him "It's called being handled. Get used to it." Anyone who has ever lived in a big city and/or dealt with the corporate world can understand that sentiment. A great moment.

    I guess the moment where Joo Dee describes the "lower level" of the city as "quaint and lively" also sticks out in my mind. But only because it makes me want to PUNCH HER IN HER ELITIST FACE. >_<

  71. Harlock says:

    Yeeah congratulations Mark. You have finally reached Ba Sing Se! ^^
    But I just wanted to add something. You always wondered what is IN Ba Sing Se and why the Fire Nation wanted to get into the city. I think the answer is much simpler than that whole "utopia"-thing:
    It's the Capital of the Eath Kingdom and residing place of said Kingdom's King (unlike Bumi who's just "King" of his own City).
    So in short: If the Fire Nation conquers Ba Sing Se, they more or less conquer the whole Earth Kingdom with it. Even if there were still resistance from other Earth Bender outposts, the blow to their moral by taking the city that boasts of it's impenetrability would be devastating.

  72. Evil Midnight Lurker says:

    Fun fact!

    "Dai Li" means, literally, "BIG BROTHER."

    The Earth Kingdom is not at war with the Fire Nation. The Earth Kingdom has never been at war with the Fire Nation.

    • shirtninjas says:

      OH MY GOD I'M AN IDIOT. I took introductory Chinese a couple years ago and though I don't remember most of it, that should have been way more obvious.

    • laleia says:

      In Chinese? Which characters?

    • Avit says:

      I always thought À»£ç†, and apparently it was actually a nod to 戴笠…

    • Kylie says:


      Seems legit.

  73. shirtninjas says:

    I think an interesting thing about this episode that I never thought of before tonight is: If the war has been secret from the citizens of Ba Sing Se for so long (or theoretically, always) then Zuko and Iroh could out themselves as firebenders and few people, if any, would care. It's a detail I'd never paid attention to before, but it demonstrates the severity of the sheltering of the citizens from the war, and I think it shows that the writers paid attention to this detail. When Jet attacks the two of them in the tea shop and calls them firebenders, no one in the restaurant reacts to this news. Instead, they act more afraid of Jet (which, admittedly, he's the one causing trouble.)

  74. Brieana says:

    For once, I'm not ridiculously late! I'm semi caught up.
    That bear made me miss Iorek Byrnison. And Uncle Iroh working in a tea shop? Amazing. That is the perfect job for him.

  75. Avatar_fan_mom says:

    "No, really, it must be said a thousand times right: I am so dearly in love with Avatar: The Last Airbender."

    Oh Mark, really, I am right there with you. So much love.

    And yeah, SUPER CREEPY episode. So uncomfortable the way it kicks your expectations in the ass. I remember watching this episode with my husband and kids and I don't think any of us spoke at the end. Just a bunch of OMFG! WTF! open-mouthed, wide-eyed faces staring at the screen. NEW Joo Dee?? *shiver* Totally tight episode that makes you NEED to see what happens next.

  76. Brieana says:

    "I appreciated Aang’s comment about how the way Ba Sing Se runs counter to what the air gurus taught their citizens. I’m interested to learn what sort of culture they did have and how egalitarian they were."
    Didn't Iroh already explain about Aang's culture? Firstly, as explained before, airbending is the opposite of earth bending, so of course their cultures would be very different from each other. Airbenders are free, earthbenders are sturdy and "grounded", waterbenders are fluid and can adapt to change, and firebenders are… irate assholes? Passionate?
    Something like that.

  77. NopeJustMe says:

    What are you all talking about? There is no war in Ba Sing Se ^_^

  78. Patrick721 says:

    We need one of those image macros for Long Feng, like the Zhao "Voiced By Jason Isaacs" one. Except it should say "Voiced by THE KURGAN" Or it could be a gif that switches between saying Clancy Brown, Lex Luthor, Mr. Krabs, Kelvin Inman, THE KURGAN, Captain Hadley, etc.

    …dear lord, he was on ER. Least reassuring doctor EVER.

  79. Saphling says:

    That's perfect. It should be the default replay to anyone posting spoilers (accidental or otherwise).

  80. Annabelle Diamond says:

    FINALLY! IT IS ABOUT TIME!!!! ( I love caps lock)
    Dear lord what is wrong with this city. First I was like OMG that place is huge then I started getting really annoyed. It was the whole no war thing. I MEAN HELLO PEOPLE ARE DYING!!!!
    Zuko and Jet's smack down. BEST THING EVER!!! I also really liked that there was a real bear not a bear mixed with another animal

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