Zuko, Azula, Mai and Ty Lee are sent on a forced vacation to Ember Island by Fire Lord Ozai. They attempt to behave like typical Fire Nation teenagers, but experience little success. They eventually reveal their inner problems as they discover more about each other. Meanwhile, Aang and friends are attacked by a mysterious assassin with a deadly firebending ability.
Zuko, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee are sent on vacation to Lo and Li's beach house on Ember Island while Fire LordOzai holds restricted meetings with his advisers. Zuko expresses his displeasure of being sent away on a forced vacation, stating that he feels as though he is being treated as a child. The boat pulls into the small port and the kids are greeted by Lo and Li. All of the teenagers, except for Ty Lee, express their disdain at their beach house. According to Mai, the pink seashell bedspread looked like "the beach threw up all over [it]". The sisters urge the kids to give Ember Island a chance, as the beach has a special way of smoothing even the most jagged of edges and revealing one's true self.
Zuko, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee go down to the beach to have some fun. Azula nastily crushes a kid's sand castle, while Ty Lee soon finds herself being approached by several boys, and she ends up being shaded and fanned by them. Zuko makes several unsuccessful attempts at impressing Mai with pretty seashells and ice cream. Azula pulls the group into a game of kuai ball with some other teens, plotting their strategy as if plotting a battle. Using their various skills, they easily overwhelm their opponents. Azula gets carried away, setting the net on fire, and sinisterly gloating as if she has just crushed an enemy. Their game arouses the attentions of two boys named Chan and Ruon-Jian, who invite Ty Lee and Mai to a party; after some persuasion, they reluctantly invite Zuko and Azula as well. Azula makes a point of not revealing her or her brother's royal identity; she explains that she wants to see what it is like to be a normal person for a change.
The group arrives at Chan's house early for the party. Azula tries to compliment Chan's outfit by saying it is 'sharp'. However, again she gets carried away, saying it is sharp enough to puncture the hull of a Fire Nation empire-class battleship, leaving thousands to drown at sea. Zuko gets jealous of Ruon-Jian, thinking Mai is interested in him. Later, Ty Lee is flanked by a crowd of adoring boys and is forced to render them unconscious to escape. Seeing this, Azula calls Ty Lee a tease and says that none of the boys really care about her. When Ty Lee starts crying, Azula hastily apologizes and confides that she was just jealous, before asking Ty Lee to give her some tips. She tells Azula to just smile and laugh at anything a boy tells her. To practice, Ty Lee pretends to approach Azula with a generic guy impression, but Azula laughs way too loudly, drawing everyone's attention.
Fully confident, Azula asks Chan for a tour of the house, after which they go to the veranda and flirt. After the two share a kiss, Azula loses control of the situation and maniacally exclaims that they could be the world's strongest couple and dominate the Earth, while creating blue fire in both her hands. Chan subsequently gets freaked out by Azula's sudden change in behavior and leaves in a hurry, leaving Azula disappointed.
After fetching her some food, Zuko finds Ruon-Jian talking to Mai. Zuko violently shoves Ruon-Jian into a large pot across the room, smashing it. Disgusted, Mai angrily tells Zuko that his temper is out of control. He tells her she does not feel anything and is a "big blah". Hurt and confused by this accusation, Mai tells Zuko that their relationship is over. Chan hears the sound of the shattering vase, and after Ruon-Jian accuses Zuko of breaking it, ejects Zuko from the party. Zuko heads off and goes to his family's abandoned vacation house where he reminisces about memories of himself as a child with his mother, father, and uncle. He spots a stone imprinted with his own baby hand print, only for his eyes to be drawn to an old family portrait hanging on the wall.
Meanwhile, Combustion Man arrives near Team Avatar's campsite. Toph senses the enemy's approach, commenting that a "metal man" is coming. Combustion Man attacks, projecting rays of energy from his forehead tattoo that explode upon impact. His bolts counter anything the gang throws at him, forcing the kids to take cover. Aang tells his friends to get on Appa and get ready to escape as he himself tries to lead the enemy away. Aang uses both airbending and earthbending to fend off Combustion Man's attacks. Aang eventually escapes and rejoins the group on Appa. Though Toph comments on the randomness of the encounter, Katara says that she feels that this new enemy seems to know exactly who they are.
Azula finds Zuko and tells him to come to the beach with her. Zuko tries to reconcile with Mai, but she is still cold toward him. Zuko burns his family's painting to help kindle a fire to keep them warm. Ty Lee wonders why he would burn something so precious; Zuko tells her to mind her own business, calling her a circus freak. Ty Lee tearfully reveals that she has six sisters exactly like her and joined the circus to mark herself as a unique individual, and that being called a circus freak was a compliment. Mai says that this is the reason Ty Lee wants so much attention; she received so little as a child with so many sisters. Ty Lee decides to turn the conversation to Mai, remarking that, despite Mai having been an only child for most of her life and receiving a lot of attention, she still has a "dingy, pasty, gray" aura.
Mai says she does not believe in auras; Zuko retorts she does not believe in anything. Mai goes into her own past, talking about her parents, who gave her everything she wanted so long as she behaved exactly as she was told. Her father's political career meant that Mai would always be under a spotlight, and thus could not live as freely as she would like. Azula deduces that that is the reason Mai stifles her true feelings so much and why she cannot express herself, finally eliciting a sharp and emotional outburst from the normally indifferent Mai. When Zuko says that he likes it when she expresses herself, Mai refuses to let him touch her, saying that she is still angry. This pushes Zuko into a rant about his own life, where he admits that he is always angry, but unsure why. The girls all pressure him into giving an answer, and he finally screams that he is angry at himself while shooting fire in the air because he does not know the difference between right and wrong anymore.
Finally understanding what bothers Zuko so much, Mai returns to his side and says that the one thing she cares about is him and kisses him once again. They turn to the last member of the group; reluctantly, Azula delves into her own past and says that her mother thought she was a monster. Azula admits that she was correct in thinking so, but that it still hurt to hear her own mother say so. With all their secrets out in the open, the heaviness between the four seems to vanish. Ty Lee says she will remember this night forever, and that Lo and Li were right about the beach's ability to reveal people's true selves. She also states that she feels all 'smoothed'.
To celebrate their revelations, Azula decides on a fitting end to their night – the four head back to Chan's party. When the door is answered, Zuko tells him that the party is over and the four of them begin trashing the house, each in their own unique way, leaving Chan sobbing. Together, the four of them forge their own memory of the place, uniting as friends for the first time in years.
Several months later, the beach house is once again occupied, this time by the Avatar and his friends, which also includes the newly joined Zuko. Zuko brought them to the beach house as a replacement hideout after Azula had chased them out of the Western Air Temple during "The Southern Raiders". Katara believed it was weird for them to hide from the Fire Lord in his own beach house, but Zuko assured her neither Ozai nor Azula would think to look there, as his family only came there when they were happy. The beach house would act as Team Avatar's hideaway until the arrival of Sozin's Comet.
In the boat scene, after Zuko tells everyone that they are being sent away on a forced vacation, Zuko grabs the window frames. Here we can see there are two window frames between curtains. However, when scene changes, there are three windows frames between the curtains.
At the beginning when the Team Avatar is swimming, Toph tells Aang to cover up because his "tattoos are showing". Because Toph is blind, she should not have been able to notice that Aang has his tattoos exposed.
In one scene, Toph is seen from behind wearing a gold ring around her arm. In the next frame, she is shown in the front, not wearing it. Also, her arm brace is black and made of "space earth", not gold.
Before starting their match of kuai ball, Azula advises her team to serve the ball to the "girl with the silly pig-tails'" left. However, during the scenes shown, only once does it go to the girl's left and Azula herself starts the game by serving to her right.
In the scene where Ty Lee gives Azula boy advice, there is a rug in the background that disappears and reappears several times.
After Aang successfully escapes Combustion Man and lands on Appa's saddle, he embraces Katara. The animators made an obvious mistake, misplacing Aang's hand in an inappropriate location.
After Zuko gets up after his imitation of Ty Lee, his distance from the campfire seems to change with each frame.
Ty Lee states that Mai was an only child for fifteen years, but Mai's brother, Tom-Tom was born two years prior, when Mai was thirteen.
While wrecking Chan's house, Zuko wears the attire he wore to the party. In the faded picture of the foursome at the end, however, he is wearing the attire he wore to the beach.
This episode was influenced significantly by the film The Breakfast Club, which was used as reference material for the relationship-based plot of the Ember Island storyline. Joaquim Dos Santos humorously interjected the song "Don't You (Forget About Me)", popularly known for being played at the opening and closing of the aforementioned film, to the end of "The Beach" during the animatic phase of production.
The A-Story of "The Beach", that is the plot that dealt with Zuko and the others on Ember Island, was originally intended to be the B-Story (secondary story). However, in order to flesh out some of the characters in Azula's team, the plans were changed in order to focus more on them than on Aang and his friends.
The original swimsuit designs applied to Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee by series creator Bryan Konietzko stirred controversy in Nickelodeon's Standards and Practices Division, which said they were "too sexy for Nick" at an early point in production and had to be redrawn.
The boat that the foursome travel on is similar to the ferry that Zuko and Iroh traveled on in "The Serpent's Pass"; the Fire Nation ferry, however, is much smaller and is drawn by a sea animal.
This is the only episode where Azula shows genuine remorse. She does this when she apologizes to Ty Lee for insulting her.
The torch behind Azula burns blue when she scares Chan.
This is the only episode in which Ty Lee is seen crying.
This is the second known time Ty Lee is labelled a "circus freak". Katara also called her that once in "The Drill".
Azula's feelings about Ursa are very similar to Zuko's feelings about Ozai. Both of them believe that the parent they feel rejected by favored the other sibling more. The only difference is that Ursa never did anything to Azula even remotely similar to what Ozai did to Zuko.
Katie Matilla was chosen to write this episode because of her prior experience with portraying Zuko's "angsty teen" personality while in romantic situations, as she had done in "The Tale of Zuko".
This is the only episode from the entire series in which Azula kisses someone.
Due to Azula being a "people person", she easily figured out the weakness of their enemy while playing kuai ball.
The knocker on the door of Chan's house is in the shape of a lion turtle's head.
When Zuko takes off his shirt to play kuai ball, several blushing girls start giggling over him. The exaggerated attractiveness of both Zuko and Ty Lee is typically known as "fanservice", a common facet of anime.
According to the audio commentary, the beach's sand is gray due to volcanic ash, which is similar to the black sand beaches in volcanic regions around the world.