Sokka discovers that the Ember Island Players, a Fire Nation acting troupe, is debuting a play based upon the adventures of Team Avatar. After going to see the play, everyone except Toph and Suki is furious and embarrassed by the inaccurate and exaggerated portrayals. During the show, Aang confronts Katara about his feelings for her, leaving both confused. The play ends with the Fire Nation winning the Hundred Year War and the Fire Lord killing the Avatar, frightening Aang and upsetting everyone.
At the Fire Lord's beach house, Aang and Zuko continue their firebending training as Katara and Toph watch. Katara asks whether taking refuge in the Fire Lord's house is safe, but Zuko tells her it is the last place his father would look for the Avatar. Sokka and Suki return, eager to show everyone a poster promoting a new play called The Boy in the Iceberg, performed by the Ember Island Players. Katara doubts the idea of attending a play about themselves, and Zuko is not a fan of the troupe performing the play. However, Sokka desperately wants to see it, and so they comply.
When Team Avatar arrives at the theater later that night, Aang tries to sit next to Katara, but Zuko takes the seat first, leaving the young Avatar disappointed. The play begins with Sokka and Katara in a canoe; the real Sokka and Katara get excited. The actress playing Katara gives a long-winded speech about hope while the actor playing Sokka cracks jokes about how hungry he is, much to the disappointment of the real Sokka and Katara. They come across an iceberg with a puppet of Aang inside, and Katara uses her waterbending to release him. When the actual actor surfaces, Aang reels back in shock upon seeing that a woman is playing him. The actors realize Aang is the Avatar, as Appa emerges from the iceberg, designed similarly to a Chinese festival dragon. The actress playing Aang is annoyingly cheerful and enjoys playing tricks on everyone, irritating the real Aang greatly, much to Toph's amusement.
The next scene shows Zuko and Iroh's actors sailing at sea. Iroh's actor is very short and fat while Zuko's actor has a mask on with his scar on the wrong eye. Iroh's actor tells Zuko's actor to have some cake, but the latter says he does not have time, that he must regain his honor by finding the Avatar. The real Zuko comments that they made his character stiff and humorless, which Katara thinks is perfect.
The play moves on through Book One: Water. Aang finds Momo, portrayed as a sock puppet in an air temple, which annoyingly tells the audience "Hello everybody! I love you!" Sokka dresses as a Kyoshi Warrior with Suki's actress and wonders if the dress makes his butt look fat, which hurts Sokka and makes Suki giggle. In a scene depicting Omashu, KingBumi challenges Aang to save Katara and Sokka, and Katara faints from the ordeal. In the next scene, the pirates attack the gang to get back the waterbending scroll, which actress Katara woefully says she only took it because "it just gave [her] so much hope!", annoying the real Katara. The Blue Spirit saves a captured Aang from Zuko, after which actress Aang lovingly declares "My hero!" and jumps onto his head to depart, which greatly embarrasses the real Aang and Zuko. Jet destroys a town by summoning a flood just to please Katara, who is overly infatuated with him. Sokka and PrincessYue kiss at the North Pole, with Sokka suspecting she ate pickled fish for dinner. Yue bids him farewell, as she has important "moon duties" to take care of and ascends into the sky, confirming that she did indeed eat pickled fish. This scene causes the real Sokka to shed tears and stuns the real Suki, who could not believe he kissed the Moon Spirit. The actress Aang dons a blue fish-suit and stomps on small models of Fire Nation ships, clutching and shaking a Zhao doll and cheering, "The Avatar is back to save the day! Yaaaay!"
The gang goes outside for the intermission and are all disgusted at the way they have been portrayed. Contrary to the rest of the team, Toph has been enjoying the play and tells them she knows it hurts, but what they are seeing on the stage is the truth. They go back in for the second act, which starts with them trying to find an earthbending master for Aang. The real Toph realizes this is where she appears and grows excited. Fake Toph appears as an extremely buff man, which amuses everybody, although Zuko is shown to be stunned at the sight. Katara tries to tease Toph for her portrayal, but Toph is very satisfied, saying it is better than a "flying, bald lady", angering Aang. Instead of using his feet to see, the Toph actor releases a sonic wave by screaming. He promptly screams, utterly stunning the entire audience, which is shocked. Toph, however, is wearing a very big smile in delight of her character portrayal.
The play goes on to show Zuko and Iroh going their separate ways because Iroh thinks Zuko's hair is too long. Later, everyone corners PrincessAzula, who narrowly escapes by fooling Zuko into looking up at the sky by saying "What's that? I think it's your honor!" In the next scene, Azula and Aang battle atop the drill, the audience is bored to sleep. The play shows Jet being hypnotized into attacking Aang by the Earth King, but is crushed by a fake, lightweight rock. The real Zuko is slightly shocked by this and asks if Jet died, to which Sokka replies "Y'know, it was very unclear."
The next scene shows Zuko and Katara imprisoned in the cave, with the Katara actress flirting with the Zuko actor, making their real life counterparts slightly uncomfortable. The Katara actress tells him she does not think of the Avatar in a romantic way at all, and they embrace. The real Aang cannot deal with this anymore and storms off. The next scene in the play shows Zuko siding with Azula and pushing over Iroh, telling him he hates him for all time. The real Katara cannot believe Zuko said that to his uncle, but Zuko laments that he might as well have. In the Earth Kingdom palace, Aang enters the Avatar State, but is taken down by Azula's lightning. She exclaims, "The Avatar is no more!" and poses with the Mai and Ty Lee actresses. The audience cheers wildly and the gang looks on in disbelief.
During the next intermission, Katara meets up with Aang outside, the latter greatly upset by the play. Sokka asks Suki to sneak him backstage so he can give the Sokka actor some of his jokes. Zuko laments to Toph about how the play is shoving all his life's mistakes back into his face, and that he is afraid he will never be able to redeem himself to his uncle. Toph comforts Zuko, reassuring him that he has redeemed himself to Iroh because Zuko is with them now, and that Iroh would be proud, cheering Zuko up. Following an affectionate punch from Toph, a little boy in an Aang costume walks up and tells Zuko that his costume is good, but the scar is on the wrong side, leading Zuko to furiously pull his hood over his head. Backstage, Sokka reads some of his lines to the Sokka actor, who apparently has the same sense of humor as him and tells him not to be afraid to make up some catchphrases. Back outside, Aang tells Katara he hoped they would be together after the invasion, Katara tells him that she is confused and that "now is not the right time." Aang kisses her, but she gets upset and runs back inside the theater.
Aang comes back and Sokka summarizes what Aang missed up to the invasion. The invasion starts with Katara telling Aang she loves him like a brother and they shake hands. Sokka's actor asks Toph if she and Aang have a "rocky relationship", and Sokka squeals with joy at the fact that he used his line. Actor Zuko joins the group during the invasion on a whim, with everyone agreeing to accept him since they do not have a choice. Real Sokka gets up to leave, thinking the play must be over since it caught up to the present, but Suki tells him the play is not over yet. Sokka freaks out, thinking the play must be predicting the future.
Fire Lord Ozai appears on stage, summoning power from Sozin's Comet. Azula comes in and tells him that Zuko and Aang are at the palace, trying to stop him. Ozai demands Azula face her brother while he faces the Avatar. Zuko fights Azula, but is quickly killed. His last words are "HONOR!" and the crowd cheers for his defeat. Real Zuko is dumbfounded, and the group looks at him with concern. Aang makes his way to the Fire Lord; but is too late, as the comet has already arrived in the play and the Fire Lord declares himself unstoppable. Ozai and Aang battle, where he fires a giant fireball at Aang, who screams "No-o-o-o-o-o!" as he dies, waving a huge red piece of cloth around him. Azula comes back in and Ozai gives a speech about how the world is now his; the crowd gives him a standing ovation as the gang looks on aghast.
The episode ends with the group walking back to the beach house, talking about how the play was absolutely terrible, though Sokka comments that at least "the effects were decent".
Zuko says his mother took him to see "Love amongst the Dragons" every year, despite the fact the players "butchered" it each time. This is the play that she was cast for as the Dragon Empress as a young girl for a production in Hira'a.
The episode makes a reference to the cabbage merchant, a recurring joke in the show, as a surprisingly knowledgeable merchant of cabbage.
In a 1986 action comedy film, The Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy, the titular character is a young Tibetan boy monk with mystical abilities. Although the character is a boy and referred to as one throughout the movie, the part was played by a head-shaven girl, J.L. Reate.
The idea of a young, male hero being acted by a woman may derive from the traditional English theater productions of "Peter Pan", where the title character is played by an actress. The portrayal of the Fake Aang is much like the character Peter Pan, who is also known for being very immature and a trickster, since he is forever juvenile. In the commentary track, the series creators indicate that it was a send-up of the pressure on them to cast a woman as Aang's voice rather than a boy close to Aang's actual age.
The black-clad stagehands are a reference to the stagehands from traditional Japanese Kabuki theater. In the real world, the adoption of these stagehands' costumes to signify the invisibility of ninjas in Kabuki plays is responsible for the pop-cultural depiction of ninjas as wearing all-black outfits.
While Sokka is saying "A day at the theater", his Fire Nation hairpiece in his hair changes from red to gold, and back to red.
Zuko's boots are gold during the first intermission, but are black in the rest of the episode.
When the Actress Mai pulls the knife from out of her hair and "throws" it at one of the Earth Kingdom guards, it pierces the clothing of the guard and drags him away. But when the Actress Mai is seen in the next shot, she has another knife in her hair.
When Aang was watching the beginning of the play after the second intermission, part of his hat turns a brown color and back to the red after he moves.
When Katara goes to check on Aang after he storms out of the play, she finds him outside standing close to the right edge of a covered deck. After she asks if he is okay, he angrily says that he is not and throws his hat on the ground. After his brief conversation with Katara, the scene changes and shows the rest of the characters' events during the intermission. When the scene cuts back to Aang and Katara, both they and the hat change location to the center of the deck.
When the Ember Island Players preview was released at the New York Comic-Con of April 2008, the Actress Aang's original line was: "I'm the Avatar, silly, here to spread joy and balance!" In the final version of the episode, the script was changed to "here to spread joy and fun!" The Actress Aang can still be seen mouthing the word "balance" in the episode.
The episode places Team Avatar in a unique situation. While it serves as both a recap episode and a view of the team's immediate future, it puts Aang and his friends in the position of the series' viewers. This allows for numerous references to past episodes and the voicing of fan opinions, productions notes, and meta-humor through the group's opinions of the play and the events portrayed within it.
The title of the play, The Boy in the Iceberg, is a reference to the series' premiere episode.
Zuko's voice actor Dante Basco's older brother Derek Basco provided Zuko's stage actor's voice.
Jennie Kwan, the voice of Suki, Sokka's girlfriend at the end of the Hundred Year War, voiced Actress Yue, Sokka's previous romantic interest.
Sokka's stage actor is voiced by Scott Menville, the voice of Robin in the animated series Teen Titans. He voiced a variety of small characters throughout the series.
In the preview of the play, while the events are true to the first season, the character portrayals and minor plot details are comically incorrect to make the gang look bad. Examples:
Katara is played by a much older, heavier, and more "developed" or "robust" actress and is portrayed as very melodramatic and exaggeratedly preoccupied with "hope", often bursting into tears and/or melodramatic speeches for the occasion for no apparent, logical, or comprehensible reason, an exaggeration based on the speech she gave to the imprisoned earthbenders in "Imprisoned". All her actions also seem to be based on "hope". For example, when she and the others steal the waterbending scroll, she claims that she did it because "It gave me so much hope!" She also deliberately waterbends actress Aang out of the iceberg when in reality, she finds Aang by accidentally waterbending while losing her temper at her brother's sexist remarks. She frees Aang with one of Sokka's weapons. The actress is also much more flirty than the real Katara. She seems to have romances with Jet and Zuko, but claims she only loves Aang "like a little brother", which disturbs the real Aang greatly. She is also shown to be more attracted by Jet's 'bad-boy' attitude.
Sokka's actor is incredibly thin and has buckteeth, he thinks only about food, mostly meat—a comic exaggeration of Sokka referring to himself as "the meat and sarcasm guy". He wears Sokka's season two outfit.
While the character is a boy, the actress portraying Aang is a woman who does not attempt to hide her gender, much to the real Aang's annoyance. She is also more of a trickster and is much more perky. Her glider resembles a fan and whenever he/she flies, she has a flamboyant posture that further exhibits her femininity.
Toph is played by an extraordinarily muscular man with Toph's signature hairstyle. To symbolize Toph's blindness, the actor's hair covers his eyes, unlike Toph's eyes, which are not covered but which are very pale to emphasize the fact she is blind. Toph, in real life, "sees" with the vibrations all around her through her feet. In the play, the actor "sees" by releasing a sonic wave from his mouth. Also, much of Toph's background is removed and the gang just meets him/her when he/she comes out of the ground and announces him/herself as an earthbending master.
Jet is a character in the play and he is called "so bad" by the actress playing Katara with a flirty tone and has exaggeratedly spiky hair. He is shown to be using a flood to destroy the village rather than trying to save the village from the inhabiting Fire Nation soldiers. He chews on a red rose instead of a twig or piece of wheat. When he is shown hypnotized, the actor wears large glasses to make his eyes appear larger to emphasize the fact he is hypnotized and he has hooks on his hands instead of the hook swords he used in real life. His death's lack of clarity in the play refers to how his fate was never shown on screen. Also, in the play Jet was brainwashed by the Earth King, whereas in reality it was Long Feng and the Dai Li who hypnotized him, but that might have been a reference to the line "The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai", which triggers it.
Zuko's actor has the scar on the wrong eye and is consistently made fun of for his lack of honor. He is also mocked for being humorless and aggressive toward most of the other characters.
Rather than Zuko deciding that there's nothing further to gain from traveling together with his uncle, the reason Zuko and Iroh separated on the play is because Iroh criticized Zuko's hair leading to Zuko's decision that they should "split up". Also, Iroh's capture is not shown, instead Zuko pushes him over.
Appa resembles more of a Chinese Southern Lion in festivals.
Iroh is portrayed as a gluttonous moron, eating a whole cake. His love of tea is not mentioned and seems to instead be replaced with cakes. Also, he goads Zuko to side with him because treachery is "more fun". Ironically, this version of Iroh's enjoyment of cake is given to the character of Iroh in The Last Airbender, although not to the comical extent shown here.
Momo is a "flying rabbit monkey", talks and is portrayed as a hand puppet with a fake arm attached to the end to fool the audience, though only Aang's actress can wear it.
The Blue Spirit is a separate entity from Zuko and also saves "Aang" from Zuko, though in reality, it was Zhao who captured Aang. The Blue Spirit is given a gargantuan head and a silly expression on his 'face'.
Suki is accurate, though some physical details are slightly exaggerated, but to a lesser extent. She has no lines at all during the parts of the play that are shown on-camera.
Bumi's musculature is greatly over-exaggerated by a muscle suit worn by the actor and the feathers on his headdress are colored. Additionally, when he makes Aang complete a series of trials, both Aang and Sokka are seen being being chased around an arena by various objects while Katara is trapped in jennamite and subsequently faints in an exaggerated pose, whereas in real life both Sokka and Katara were trapped.
Azula's physical characteristics are over-exaggerated, such as having long nails, excessive makeup, wearing pink, yellow and blue clothing and big hair. She is portrayed as being less cunning than the real Azula. Her speech pattern is also strangely bombastic, unlike the real-life Azula.
Mai is portrayed with hair covering her eyes, her hair in the style of Mickey Mouse ears and an unhappy face symbol on her chest, while Ty Lee is depicted as an overweight ballerina whose chi blocking is depicted by her simply kissing her fingers and touching her opponent, incapacitating them instantly. Actress Mai also keeps her stilettos in her hair buns, whereas the real Mai keeps her weapons in her clothing.
Ozai is portrayed as a stereotypical villain, of the sort commonly seen in old vampire horror movies, with over-exaggerated facial features and even disappearing in a puff of smoke.
When Aang's actor on stage mentions they are flying above the Great Divide, Sokka's actor jokes that they should just "keep flying". This is poking fun at the fanbase's distaste for "The Great Divide", as it had the lowest ratings of the entire series.
Likewise, the audience yawning and falling asleep during the section of the play dealing with "The Drill" is a reference to a vocal portion of the fanbase considering that episode to be "boring".
The portrayal of Toph is a reference to the earthbender prototype that Mike and Bryan created before Aaron Ehasz decided that the Toph's character should be a girl.
The pirates seen in the play are actually the real pirates.
While he has Zuko's original topknot at first, Zuko's Actor subsequently has a spiky haircut, and long hair. This parodies the fact that Zuko's hairstyle changed numerous times in Book Two.
The "cave scene" between Zuko and Katara's actors makes them seem like a couple. This is an obvious reference to the "Zutara" shippers.
Suki saying "Are you trying to get on my bad side?" in a threatening manner to Sokka reminds one of the creators of his own girlfriend.
Sokka offering his actor advice may be a reference to the way Jack DeSena (Sokka's voice actor) added his own input to Sokka's lines, which changed the original serious Sokka to the fun-loving Sokka of today. It might also be a reference to the way well-meaning fans are constantly bombarding the creators of their favorite shows with "helpful suggestions".
Throughout the episode, Aang is wearing the same kind of hat that Xu wears in "The Painted Lady" to cover his tattoo.
The ending to The Boy in the Iceberg, in which the Fire Nation gains total victory in the war, seems odd considering the playwright is from the Earth Kingdom.
Though the Actress Azula uses blue ribbons to represent real Azula's blue firebending, when she ultimately "kills" Actor Zuko, she summons orange-red flames instead.
The battle between the Actress Azula and Actor Zuko foreshadows the Agni Kai the two will later have in the episode Sozin's Comet Part 3: Into the Inferno.
In the beginning of the play, the shots of the audience on the lower levels are shown including both men and women. However, by the time the play is at the Actor Toph's introduction, the shots are of men only.
The actress playing Aang uses the phrase "yip yip" before going into the Avatar State instead of using it to get Appa to fly.
After "Aang" was shot with lightning, the actresses who portrayed Azula, Mai and Ty Lee assumed a pose used by the movie version of Charlie's Angels.
Despite Fire Nation propaganda that the war was a way for the Fire Nation to "share their greatness", the Fire Lord is depicted as having clearly imperialistic and megalomaniacal motives, and no one in the audience seems to mind. In fact, they actually cheer when he says the world is finally his, specifically.
Several of the scenes are out of order. For example, the "The Blue Spirit" was shown before the episode "Jet". If observed closely, it becomes clear several of the play's events are in a different order, like Combustion Man's death, which is depicted before the Invasion when it was actually after.
When the defeat of the Fire Nation at the Siege of the North scene occurred, the Fire Nation audience cheered.
While Actress Aang is looking for the puppet Momo, music from one of the non-canonical Super Deformed Shorts, School Time Shipping, can be heard.