Transcendence: Iroh’s Tale

Each week, we’ll look at another example of what I call a “moment of transcendence” – a scene from a show, a passage from a book, or anything else, that I find soul-piercingly resonant: joyful, sad, awe-inspiring, terrifying, or whatever. These moments are highly subjective, so you may not feel the same way I do, but nevertheless I’ll try to convey why I find the fragment so powerful. I hope we can enjoy it together.


One of the great things about going to a large university like Ohio State is that you get a lot of visits from cool guest speakers. About a decade ago, I got to hear a talk by James Earl Jones. A lot of the audience (myself included) came because we were Star Wars fans, and he was very polite, but it was clear that he was way past the whole Darth Vader thing. He said that his main interest now was “simple stories, simply told.”

I’ve been thinking about that phrase today.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has so many moments of transcendence, it’s hard to pick just one. But it occurred to me this morning that most of those moments require a good knowledge of Avatar‘s complex plot to be fully appreciated.

Not so, however, with the Tale of Iroh, a self-contained four-minute story within the episode “Tales of Ba Sing Se,” season two. It contains no spoilers, it has nothing to do with the larger plot, and it’s only got one main character: the old man named Iroh.

I apologize for the quality of the clip below, which is cropped and shown mirror-image by the video uploader. It was the best I could find, and it’s good enough to get the story across. The video should start at 3:13, which is where the Tale of Iroh begins.

If you can’t see the embedded video, here’s a direct link.

Note: the video is cropped and mirrored to prevent YouTube from discovering that it is, technically, a copyright violation, just as my showing it here is, technically, a copyright violation. However, since I’m giving the show free advertising, not hurting their sales, not profiting myself, and not claiming credit, I don’t have any ethical qualms about showing it. I’m not sure how long this particular link will remain functional, though.

Anyway – I don’t have a lot of commentary. The story speaks for itself, I think. The dialogue is clunky in places – dialogue was never Avatar‘s strong suit – but I think it’s quite lovely regardless (and even better if you’re familiar with Iroh’s character).

Simple stories, simply told. I think this may be the kind of thing Mr. Jones was talking about.

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2 responses to “Transcendence: Iroh’s Tale

  1. This show had the best filler episodes of any show I’ve seen. they clearly weren’t needed, but they added so much emotional substance to the characters and the series.

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