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The play in "Ember Island Players" is actually a collective dream.
The play depicts events that no one (not even the cabbage merchant) besides the protagonists could have known about, because no one else was present. Therefore the whole play must be a collective dream taking place inside the heads of Team Avatar. As it often is with dreams, the point of the play is to reflect on the hopes and fears of the team. For example:
- Aang is afraid that being a vegetarian and pacifist makes him appear effeminate in the eyes of people (especially Katara), therefore he is played by an actual woman.
- Sokka hopes others would find his jokes as funny as he does, which comes true with the actor depicting him.
- Zuko is afraid of being seen as humorless and stuffy, so he appears like that in the play.
- Similarly, Katara fears the others see her as overtly prissy and melodramatic, and as a motherly busybody, so that is what her counterpart in the play is like.
- Aang is afraid Katara likes him only as a friend, and that is exactly what happens in the play.
- Toph wishes people (especially her parents) wouldn't treat her like a fragile little girl, so in the play she is a burly, hypermasculine man.
- Aang is afraid of his final confrontation with Ozai, and Zuko of his inevitable rematch with Azula, so the play depicts the worst possible outcome for both of these battles.
- And so on...
As for why this dream takes place, maybe the lion turtle or some other benevolent spirit made Team Avatar dream it? This would help them confront their fears and hopes before the coming of Sozin's Comet, so that they are not mentally hindered by these emotions when the time comes to act.
- Ooh, I like this theory! To which I will add my own two cents about the "Zutara Cave" part:
- Aang is afraid of losing Katara to someone hotter and more manly than he is, i.e. Zuko.
- Zuko has been missing Mai a lot and is afraid of losing her for good, and so in the play he ends up with someone who is the complete opposite of her--weepy, overly emotional, and unsubtle, as opposed to Mai's stoicism, icy demeanor, and mystery (which he thinks is way hot).
- Katara secretly fears ending up with another bad boy like Jet. Or maybe the dream is her subconscious desire for bad boys manifesting itself?
- I will add a couple also. Appa thinks he's much cooler than he really is and Momo has self-esteem issues.
- Looks like Katara's been packin' on the pounds and it shows in her dreams lol.
The entire episode Zuko Alone was a dream that Zuko had.
First, let me point out that this is right around the time that Zuko begins struggling with who he is.
The episode opens with Zuko wandering aimlessly through a battle-scared wasteland. This represents Zuko's feelings of loss, general hopelessness, fear and uncertainty, as well as the war. At one point, Zuko and his ostrich-horse are crossing a rickety old bridge and one of the boards breaks upon being stepped on. There is a moment of turbulence, but it is short-lived because Zuko pushes on. This represents reassurance that whatever happens, Zuko will only be killed if he allows it.
Later Zuko, starving and desperate, prepares to rob a couple of their food, but later decides against it upon discovering that the women is pregnant. This solidifies that there is change going on inside Zuko, as his dialogue from earlier episodes -though he may very well have been bluffing- suggests that he puts himself before others, or at least pretends to to appear intimidating. On that note, this shows that Zuko no longer cares what others think of him.
On riding into a town, Zuko asks for water, a bag of feed, and a hot meal. The merchant says that he only has enough money for two bags of feed, which represents the lack of essential resources at his disposal. Upon receiving the feed, Zuko is confronted and bullied by Gow and his cronies, they represent Ozai and Azlua. It must also be noted that his name. Gow, sounds like Zhao. They immediately steal his feed -which is essentially all his has- and order him to leave their town, telling him that there is a steep price for staying. These represent being robbed of any rank, honor, and all he once had, his exile and that he is a social outcast among his people, despite his royal lineage. The merchant tells Zuko that they are supposed to be solders and are supposed to protect the village, but only terrorize it.
This is further empathizes the symbolism because both parties (Being Gow, a solder, and Ozai, Zuko's own father) are abusive to those they are supposed to protect and care for.
Upon being pelted with eggs boy a pair of boys, including Lee, the solders assume that Zuko threw them and begin to interrogate him. Zuko remains calm throughout the questioning, a skill that can be thought of the only good thing Ozai ever did for his son, since he likely grew up learning to mask his emotions from his abusive father.
Zuko's insistent covering for the boys is another instance of compassion on his part, further supporting the above theory of change. It also separates him from others of his nation, who would probably not only hurt and possibly kill those boys, but burn the village to the ground as well. Zuko's snarks at the thugs are things that he'd like to do in real life to his father, but is subconsciously afraid to.
Zuko then meets the little boy, Lee, who represents his true self, a sweet and innocent little boy. This is somewhat backed up with his name being Lee, the very name Zuko uses as a false alias in the Earth Kingdom. Alternatively, Lee represents Aang, as both boys have similar, if not identical, personalities. It is interesting to note that Zuko at ten years old was not very different from Aang in terms of personality. This may also be remembrance of The Blue Spirit, in which Aang wonders aloud if they could have been friends under different circumstances. Perhaps Zuko is regretting that he attacked Aang rather in answered him or is contemplating this for himself, or possibly both.
Lee takes Zuko back to his parents, who represent Iroh and Ursa, respectively. The mention that Lee has an older brother in the war represents Lu Ten, Zuko's cousin who was like a brother to him, and Zuko's personal longing to have him back. Training Lee to use his swords represents how Zuko is struggling to find harmony between his current self and his true self. His bonding with Lee represents how inwardly he longs for the simplicity and innocence of childhood. The fact that Lee compares him to his brother reflects on how Zuko wishes to have had a sibling like Lu Ten who treated him kindly and liked him, rather then someone like Azula. Alternatively, this might be something of a premonition to becoming Aang's friend and firebending teacher.
Being taunted by the solders the next morning at the expense of Lee and his parents reflects how Zuko was treated as a child by Ozai and Azula, and the news of Lee's brother's death reflects the sorrow Zuko felt upon learning of Lu Ten's death. It is worth noting that Lee and his parents are the only ones who are shown to morn Sen Tsu's death, just as Zuko, Iroh and Ursa are the only ones who are shown to mourn Lu Ten's death. Zuko's gift of his dagger to Lee further represents how Zuko would like to find peace within himself and/or make amends with Aang and his friends. Zuko's departure represents how he's abandoned and berried all of this for years.
Lee's mother's appearance and plea for help represent how Ursa was protective of Zuko and cared about him, as well as being some measure of desire to see her again. The mention that Lee is in danger because of the knife Zuko gave him can mean one of two things. Ether that Zuko's pain is partially is own fault, or that he's done more harm to Aang and his friends then he realizes. Lee being taken by the solders represents how Ozai and the others always try to mold Zuko into what they want him to be.
Lee's initial excitement over seeing Zuko symbolizes Zuko's recent discovery that his habits of selfishness, single-mindedness, and rather violent tendencies is not the real him, as well as the resulting confusion. Zuko's persistent refusal to say who he is represents reluctance, possibly meaning that he's afraid of what he might find.
Gow's manipulation of his minions to attack is similar to how Ozai manipulates Azula without her knowledge. The lesser solder's incompetence has a dual meaning; first is how Azula is a though foe, but Ozai would be far worse to face. Secondly, and more likely, it represents how Ozai sends anyone he can into battle and dose not seem to care who lives and dies. Alternatively, they may represent the new solders who where sacrificed in the case that ultimately lead to Zuko's current situation.
Zuko's fight with Gow is similar in some respects to the fateful Agni Kai with Ozai. It is that Gow attacks Zuko relentlessly, though Zuko mainly defends himself and dose not actually fight back. This passiveness manages to buy him time, but Gow quickly gains the upper hand and Zuko is eventually hit hard enough to knock him out.
His final choice to firebend makes him look like his father for a second, which might be Zuko's acknowledgment that his is the Firelord's son and is supposed to be cold and unfeeling. It should be noted that this is the only time in the episode where he shows emotion, as he's kept a pretty good mask of indifference up to this point. It is at this point that Zuko begins to fight back, symbolizing that he is stronger now, both physically and as a person, then when he was in the ring with his father. Zuko's attacks are quick to send Gow into submission, also showing that if Zuko had not held back, he'd not have been hit at all. He then loudly and clearly states that he is Fire-Prince Zuko, son and hair of Firelord Ozai. This represents himself attempting something of a starting point on discovering his identity by stating what is obvious.
An old man calls Zuko out on it and through him, the dream is basically screaming to Zuko that what happened was reality, it can never be reversed and things will never be the same again, rather harshly contradicting Zuko's desire to regain his honor and return home in season one. Zuko's taking his knife back symbolizes breaking away from his nation and rebelling against his father. Lee's mother's protectiveness of him from Zuko is Zuko remembering how his own mother was protective and loving toward him as he truly was, but would probably scorn him today for what he's become. This could also represent Katara, who is Aang's primary protector against Zuko.
Lee's cold rejection of Zuko can have several meanings. Firstly, his true self is sickened at his current self and hates it, as Lee states quite frankly. Also, it could mean that closure will not be so easily achieved. Once more, Zuko may believe that he's crossed to many lines, and that not even Aang, the Avatar, will accept him as his is now. This actually ties in nicely with a later episode, The Western Air-Temple, in which Zuko seems especially shaken by Aang's rejection.
Zuko's troubling dream ends with him leaving the village, feeling the hatred everyone, including Lee/Himself/Aang, has for him. Cut to the next episode, where Zuko looks rested, especially in comparison with the Gaang, but most certainly dose not look happy.
- YOU! ARE!! A!!! GENIUS!!!!
The entire series is a dream Aang has while in a coma.
In the real world, Aang and friends live in our world, with a slightly different naming system apparently. He was at a beach, learning to hanglide or something, be had an accident with he mercilessly survived (or not).
In school, they were learning about the Greeks and the system of the four Classical Elements, which is why they play such a big role in the series. Aang's favorite was air.
In the waking world, he is good friends with Sokka and his sister Katara (whom Aang still has a huge crush on), who both live near him, which is why they accompany him from the beginning of the series. Toph is a girl who only recently moved to their street and befriended them. Her family is having severe financial trouble, which is why they are rich in the series. In real life, Toph is not blind, but she also believes that 'nothing deceives like sight', which is why she is blind in terms of eyesight in the series. Zuko is actually Aang's foster brother, who he had a huge fight with before their trip, which is why Zuko starts out as an antagonistic figure. However, as Aang realizes how stupid the fight is and how badly he wants to be friends with his brother again, Zuko gradually moves to becoming an ally.
Zhou is probably something of a sadist teacher or kid hater. In any case, his favorite victim is Aang, who Zuko often defends from him. This explains why they seem to be something in the way of rivals in the series. Also, Ozai, Zuko's abusive biological father and the whole reason he's in foster care, and Azula. Aang has never formally met ether of them, but thanks to Zuko's stories, they are both portrayed as monsters. Ursa in the real world is dead, but Aang leaves her fate ambiguous for Zuko's sake.
Jet is the cool kid from their school, who Katara likes. Aang is very jealous at this which is why Jet is as big of a creep in the series as he is.
Appa is probably something like a big dog, considering how big his is, his loyalty to Aang, his responding to a whistle, and his sometimes dog-like mannerisms. Momo is cat because of his cat-like behavior, and is actually Sokka and Katara's pet. Aang is very fond of Momo, so ownership is given to himself in the series.
The whole plot plays out in Aang's head like a TV show or a video game. Well, he is twelve, after all. Along they way, Aang gets to travel all over a magical world, learn several different arts, become friends with his brother again, and kiss the girl of his dreams (which at this point is pretty literal)a handful of times. That's some imagination there, kid.
In the end, he is master of all elements, has effectively earned his happy ending, and gets the girl. At this point he ether wakes up from the coma or the plug is pulled.
- I see this scenario easily pulling off a happy ending. After having resolved his fantasy problems of the Avatar dream, Aang wakes up and is able to figure out how to apply the lessons of his dream to his real world life and relationships. This allows him to improve his life, including reconciling with his stepbrother and getting together with the girl he loves.
- RIGHT in the childhood...
Zuko died in his Agni Kai with Azula, and all the events of Sozin's Comet Part Four were his Dying Dream.
Because this would make Avatar the saddest childrens' show EVER.
- That would make Zuko a Maiko, Sukka, and Kataang shipper, wouldn't it?
Ember Island is a Lotus Eater Machine.
In "The Beach," Lo and Li tell the Fire Nation kids about how Ember Island is great for "smoothing out rough edges" or whatever. That's because the entire island is enchanted so that each visitor's experience helps them gain some insight or other benefit. The reason the Ember Island Players knew so much about the Gaang's adventures is that they aren't actually real. Part of the mechanics of the island is able to sense what is troubling every person, and cater to that. That's why each character (except Toph) was immensely bothered by his/her portrayal but found the others' funny.