Welcome to the twenty-eighth installment of my Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch! Today’s post will be covering “The Chase.” Episode 2.08 proves that our heroes are really toddlers who can’t survive without their naps and gives us a lot of fun fight scenes. There are other fight scenes that give me a hernia, but we’ll get to that in due time.
Please note that while the summary will remain spoiler free (aside for everything up to and including the current episode, of course), the subsequent commentary (and comments) will not be. If you haven’t already seen the series, go do it now. This post will be waiting for you when you come back.
Note: I would like this rewatch to remain spoiler free for The Legend of Korra. Please choose your comments wisely. If you wish to discuss Korra, you can do so on these posts.
Our heroes land in the woods to make camp. Appa is shedding something fierce, and Katara is squicked out about all the flying bison fur everywhere. Sokka and Aang mess around with the fur much to her disapproval. Katara mentions that she’s happy there’s finally another girl around—only to have Toph join right in with the boys. Everybody, including Katara, laughs at Toph’s joke.
The rest of the evening does not go as nicely. Aang, Sokka, and Katara are all busy making camp, but Toph is lazing about on the side and not helping. Katara gently tries to get Toph to understand the concept of teamwork; Toph doesn’t understand what Katara’s trying to get at. Toph has all of her needs taken care of, and she doesn’t understand what the problem is. Katara gives up and walks away.
A little while later, Katara goes to Toph to smooth things over. She apologizes for their mini confrontation and offers up the excuse of everyone being tired. Toph agrees that Katara does seem tired; the girls part coldly.
First: Ew. Second: HA.
Toph wakes in the middle of the night, having sensed something strange heading toward them. She wakes everyone up, and our heroes decide they probably ought to leave. As they fly away on Appa, they spot a large dust cloud in the distance. A menacing tank train is following them.
Some time later, our exhausted heroes land Appa in another clearing. Toph is delighted to be back on land and wanders away to go sleep. Katara stops her and asks if she could help them unload Appa.
The ensuing fight is not pretty. Toph declares that she is pulling her own weight, and Katara calls her selfish and unhelpful. Toph counters with the fact that she gave up everything to teach Aang earthbending. The younger girl then creates a little tent of earth around her, effectively shutting Katara out.
After Katara beats her hands on the earth tent for a few moments, Aang tries to calm Katara down and nearly gets murdered for the effort.
Yeah, this is going to go well.
While everyone tries to sleep, Katara continues to stew in her anger. She taunts Toph about not being able to see the stars, and Toph tosses her onto Sokka with some earthbending help. Before things can get really out of hand, Toph emerges from her earth tent and announces that the thing that’s chasing them is back.
Our heroes flee on Appa once again. They wonder what it is that’s chasing them and how it continues to find them. Poor Appa just falls over once they land again, and the kids don’t even bother trying to set up camp.
The girls trade barbs, but Aang tells them to stop—someone’s chasing them and they don’t know who it is. Katara suggests it might be Zuko, but the conversation quickly stops as the exhausted kids try to sleep. Unfortunately, their pursuers have tracked them to even this remote location.
Aang says that they should confront whomever is following them, since they could be friendly. Sokka dislikes this option, but before further debate can happen the tank train stops nearby. One of the car doors opens, and Princess Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee emerge. They’re riding rather unfriendly looking mongoose dragons.
You don’t see these ladies complaining about a lack of sleep.
Our villains charge our heroes, and Toph says that they can fight since it’s three-on-three odds. Sokka points out that he can fight, so Toph revises her figures to three-on-three-plus-Sokka. Toph earthbends some large spikes out of the ground, but the mongoose dragons climb right over them.
Our heroes decide that it’s time to leave, and Toph erects a wall of earth to buy them time. Unfortunately, Azula’s lightning blasts right through it. Mai nearly skewers Toph with some of her arrows, but our heroes make it on Appa and fly away.
Toph sulks about running away from the fight, and Katara tells her about how one of the girls took her bending away when they fought in Omashu. Sokka flips out when the sun comes up since it means they’ve been up all night without sleep. Katara says they have to keep flying, but Aang points out that they can’t do that forever.
The tank train plows through a grassy field in pursuit of our heroes, and Zuko (still on Song’s Stolen Ostrich Horse) follows the giant tracks it leaves behind it.
Why are they complaining so much? Back in my day, all the teenagers I knew would’ve loved to stay up all night. Granted, probably not while running for their lives, but still.
Our heroes have no idea what to do, but that quickly stops being their most important problem when Appa—for lack of a better term—falls asleep at the wheel. Aang manages to wake the flying bison up so they can do a controlled crash. Everyone is completely worn out, which is precisely when Katara starts needling Toph again.
Aang tries to stop the fight, but it doesn’t work. Katara blames Toph for their lack of sleep; if the younger girl had helped set up camp, they could have gotten it done sooner and slept. Toph counters yet again by saying she’s carrying her own weight and blames Appa for their predicament. The flying bison has been shedding and leaving a clear trail for their pursuers.
This gets Aang riled up, and he joins in the fight against Toph. The Avatar points out that the person carrying Toph’s weight is Appa, and further adds that Appa never had problems flying when it was just the three of them.
Toph grabs her stuff and walks away. Sokka tries to stop her, but she earthbends him out of her path.
I am really not fond of the animation in this episode.
Now it’s Aang’s turn to flip out over driving Toph—his earthbending teacher—away. Katara also regrets how mean she was to the younger girl, but there’s nothing they can do about it right now. Sokka, Katara, and Aang give Appa a scrub down in the river to get rid of his shedding fur so they won’t leave a trail anymore. The siblings fly away on Appa (who is so tired he clips a few trees on his ascent), and Aang gathers up Appa’s fur to create a decoy trail.
Toph hikes through the woods and senses someone nearby. She does some earthbending at the stranger—who turns out to be Iroh.
Our villains have found the river that Appa had been bathed in. Azula examines the trail and realizes that there are really two trails. She sends Mai and Ty Lee in the direction of the broken trees and goes to follow the decoy trail. They leave the tank train behind.
Ty Lee’s serious linguistic problem.
Aang comes across a deserted town and decides that’s as good a place as any to make a stand. He drops the last of the fur onto the ground and takes a seat at the end of a trail, waiting to be found.
Momo spots Mai and Ty Lee coming up fast on Appa. The flying bison barely makes it across the river to safety, but the mongoose dragons can actually run on water. Katara takes out Ty Lee’s ride with waterbending, but the ex-circus performer leaps to safety. Ty Lee throws a couple punches at Katara, but she dodges. Mai sneaks up and throws some projectiles at Katara, but Sokka steps in to cover for his sister.
The fight shifts, and Mai goes in pursuit of Katara, leaving Ty Lee and Sokka to duke it out. It only takes a few seconds for Ty Lee to take out both of Sokka’s arms and one of his legs. In the meantime Mai manages to pin Katara’s arms to a tree so she can’t waterbend. Sokka hops over to his sister, but it’s clear that the siblings are outmatched.
Mai is disappointed that their victory is so boring. Appa decides to make her life more exciting by catapulting her and Ty Lee into the river. When the girls climb out on the other side, Ty Lee remarks that Sokka was kind of cute.
Welcome to Ty Lee’s way to flirt. With any luck all of your limbs will still be functioning afterwards.
Azula finds Aang at the end of the trail. When the Avatar demands to know who she is, Azula does a Zuko impression and remarks on their “family resemblance.” Aang isn’t amused and asks what’s going to happen now. Azula says it’s over—even if he runs, she will catch him. Aang stands up and declares he isn’t running, which makes Azula smile.
Elsewhere, Iroh pours Toph a cup of hot tea. He remarks on how she seems too young to be traveling alone, and she says he’s too old for it. Toph goes on about how people always think she’s weak and want to take care of her. She can take care of herself, by herself.
Iroh compares Toph to his nephew—they both think they have to do everything on their own without support. He tells Toph that there’s nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you (not that he loves her).
Toph asks about his nephew, and Iroh explains that he’s following Zuko. Zuko is trying to figure out who he is and ran away to do it. Iroh admits that Zuko doesn’t want him around right now, but he will be there if his nephew needs him.
Toph says that Iroh’s nephew is very lucky and then thanks him. Iroh is pleased he could share tea with a fascinating stranger, but Toph thanks him for what he said—his words helped her. Before she goes, Toph advises Iroh to tell his nephew that he needs him, too.
Friendships should always begin over food. Or tea, in this case.
Azula demands to know if Aang really wants to fight her—only for Zuko to appear between them out of nowhere and says he wants to fight her. The princess calls him Zuzu (which makes Aang laugh), but Zuko tells his sister to back off because the Avatar is his. This quickly turns into a tense three-way standoff.
Azula makes the first move and blasts her brother off his feet. Aang tries to escape on his glider, but Azula brings him down. The Fire Nation siblings begin shooting fire at Aang and each other while the airbender dodges for his life.
Aang jumps up to the second story of a building and through a door, and Azula follows him close behind. She nearly plummets to the ground as the second story floor is gone. Hilariously, Zuko charges straight through the same doorway and does just that. Aang shoves Azula off of her precarious perch and runs away.
Azula sends a blast of fire after Aang and manages to also knock her brother out. The princess chases after Aang and slices off the bit of building he’s clinging to. Aang crashes to the ground and ends up half buried under rubble while Azula advances on him.
All right, who can come up with the best caption for this screencap? I was too busy giggling to think of one myself.
Before the princess can roast Aang, Katara shows up and distracts her with waterbending. Katara frees Aang from the rubble and runs away with Azula in pursuit. Sokka leaps out of a doorway and attacks the princess, so now Azula is suddenly facing three-on-one odds.
Zuko slowly wakes up and sees his uncle crouched over him. Iroh helps him sit up.
Azula continues to fight, but she is suddenly knocked off her feet thanks to some earthbending. Toph appears and comments on the rest of our heroes needing help; Katara thanks her.
The princess sees that the odds are no longer in her favor and tries to run, but she’s stopped by a belly bounce from Iroh. She’s quickly cornered, six-on-one, by “enemies and traitors all working together.” Azula raises her hands and surrenders, claiming that a princess surrenders with honor.
I do not think that means what you think it means.
And then Azula sends a blast of fire right at her uncle. Zuko screams, but he helps Aang, Katara, and Toph attack Azula. The princess does some funky fire shield thing and escapes in the resulting explosion.
Most of the town is in flames as our heroes pick themselves up. Zuko grieves over his seriously injured uncle, but when Katara offers to help, the prince shoots a blast of fire at her and screams at them to leave.
Our heroes depart, and they, along with the exhausted Appa and Momo, finally get some sleep.
Thank you for falling unconscious. It’s about time.
So this was a lot less pleasant to watch than I remember it being. I know it was supposed to be that way, but just because it’s well-executed doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.
What makes this episode so unpleasant to watch is the arguing between Toph and Katara. Both sides have some serious blame in all this, and that just makes it frustrating for me. I’d rather be mad at just one character rather than two, but both of the girls infuriate me. Let’s take a deeper look at that whole mess from a character perspective and then a writing perspective.
As I noted back in my post on “The Blind Bandit,” Toph brought a ton of baggage with her when she joined up with the rest of our heroes. Chief among that baggage is her desire to be one hundred percent in control of her life and carry her own weight. (She says this around half a dozen times in this episode, and the repetition annoys me. Could we vary word choice, just a little?) Toph is out to prove to everyone that she doesn’t need to be taken care of by anyone other than herself.
And while I can applaud her fierce desire for independence, Toph really does not comprehend what it means to be a team player. She doesn’t understand that being part of a group means helping out with things that affect the entire group, even if they aren’t important to her on an individual basis. And frankly, her unwillingness to help everyone else comes across as rather (dare I say it?) self-centered.
Toph thinks that just because she’s taken care of, she doesn’t need to worry about the other people in the group. She values her own well-being more than that of everyone else’s—which is entirely unsurprising based on what we know about her. I’m going to blame a good chunk of Toph’s self-centeredness on her parents. Her parents’ lives very clearly revolved around Toph. She couldn’t wander the gardens alone, she was restricted to breathing excises and basic earthbending forms, and she couldn’t even eat soup without her dad ordering for someone to blow on it first.
And while Toph chafed under the restrictions of her life—as she should have—there’s no questioning that everything always revolved around her. Couple this with the fact that she’s never had friends before, and Toph really has no way to understand how groups work. She does not get what Katara’s problem is when she calls Toph out on not helping the rest of the group set up camp. When you couple this with Toph’s confrontational nature, things were bound to go south.
The first two times our heroes go around setting up camp, Katara approaches Toph very politely and tries to get her involved in working with the rest of the group. Toph is the one that escalates those scenes and turns them into confrontations, which—to her credit—Katara backs down from.
Now, Katara is exactly the kind of authority figure that Toph just took great pains to run away from. We don’t have any indication of how much time has passed between “The Chase” and “The Blind Bandit,” but I don’t think it’s been very long. This is the first time that Katara has felt comfortable with asking Toph to help out, which means it could be as little as the next morning or as late as a week or two later. With “Zuko Alone” between this episode and “The Blind Bandit,” we can’t know for certain how much time has passed.
The length of time doesn’t matter so much as the fact that Katara and Toph were set up to piss each other off. They never actually get around to talking to each other about the core of their problem—individual v. group responsibility—nor do they actually apologize to one another. Sure, Katara expresses regret for her actions (to Aang), and Toph returns to the group to help them face Azula, but we don’t get to see the girls reconcile at all.
Which is unfortunate, because Katara said some amazingly awful things to Toph. There aren’t any good explanations for Katara’s behavior starting at camp attempt #3. Instead of taking her normal diplomatic approach, Katara goes straight to snide remarks and mocking Toph’s blindness.
Let me repeat that.
Katara makes fun of the fact that Toph was born blind.
What is this I don’t even times eighty billion. If I had a desk, I would have been headdesking hard enough to give myself a concussion. And while I’m all ragey about this particular jab, I have to admit that this pettiness and grudge-holding has been an established part of Katara’s character. Katara flipped out on Aang back in “The Waterbending Scroll” for learning faster than she did, and in season three she’ll go so far as to threaten Zuko’s life if he betrays/hurts Aang again. Katara can be kind and gentle and protective, but she has an equal capacity for anger and revenge and pettiness.
However, I fall on the why-would-the-writers-even-go-that-far side of the fence in this instance. Even for Katara, I think that jab was out of line. And while you can argue with me on that account, I’m more upset at the writers for how they framed this argument.
It makes total sense for Toph and Katara to be miscommunicating and not understanding each other. This personality clash makes complete sense from a character standpoint, specific word choices aside. What frustrates me more is how the boys react to this fight.
Sokka spends his time either whining about how much noise Katara and Toph are making or he else he’s sitting back and enjoying the “entertainment.” Gee, Sokka, what is hilarious about your sister getting into a screaming match with your brand new teammate? Especially when you guys are currently on the run from some unknown, likely hostile force. Katara is beating her fists on the rock tent, trying desperately to get in so she can continue the fight she’s having with Toph. Sokka, would you be this relaxed about it if the person she was arguing with was a boy? Or are you just falling back into your sexism which says that hey, catfights are hilarious! (You are avoiding the catfights are sexy angle, which pleases me considering one of the participants is your sister and the other is twelve. So you get a point. But only one.)
And while Aang doesn’t actually do anything infuriating in what he says—he actually treats this fight like it could be a big deal and get out of hand—the way the show frames his attempt at intervention pisses me off. He goes for the polite approach and tries to diffuse the situation, which backfires in his face. And why does it backfire? Because he suggests that everyone—including Toph and Katara—are tired and grumpy and it’s understandable that they’re tense over this tank train that’s chasing them.
And so, in a completely predictable and totally infuriating way, Katara flips out on him for daring to suggest that she’s at anything other than her mental and physical peak, complete with a crazy expression and screaming at the top of her lungs. The moment is played as comedy, and Aang slinks away, terrified that
this crazy overemotional woman Katara has become completely irrational and has no self-control at all anymore.
Sokka never gets drawn into the fight going on between Katara and Toph, even when it’s clear that things are getting progressively worse between them. Somehow his lack of sleep doesn’t make him short-tempered. And after his first failed attempt, Aang only gets involved to end the argument because Toph has finally gone too far and blamed Appa for the fact that they’re still being followed.
It frustrates me that Katara and Toph essentially have the same argument over and over and over again—Toph even uses the exact same phrasing—and neither of them change at all. Why don’t either of them change their tactics? Why doesn’t Katara try to explain the concept of teamwork and working together for mutual survival against an enemy they’re outnumbered by? Why doesn’t Toph argue about being able to make her own choices and take care of herself?
No, instead Aang has to step in and yell at Toph, blaming her additional weight (yes, additional weight, RAGE) on the reason why Appa isn’t doing so hot with this flying all night thing and finally pointing out the fact that Appa is carrying her and she’s not doing anything to help Appa at all.
So what does Toph do? She ragequits the team and runs into Iroh, who is
a man older and wiser and can help her realize that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with letting the people close to you help you.
Why? Why do these insights have to come from Aang and Iroh?
Why can’t Katara and Toph work this out on their own instead of descending into a screaming match? Why do the guys have to step in and fix everything?
How much more powerful would it have been for Katara to take a step back and say hey, I know this is awkward and different, but we are a team—Appa and Momo included—and that means that aside from splitting up chores, we help each other? That we work together to make sure everyone is taken care of?
She did that at the very beginning, and Toph brushed her off.
Why does the same sentiment, packaged in different words and coming from Iroh, get through to Toph where Katara failed at the very start?
All I have to say is that I’m glad Toph and Katara get better after this.
They do get better, right? I remember a few arguments after this, but nothing this awful. And that I’m sick to death of the idea that girls can’t be friends with other girls their own age without them somehow being jealous, backstabbing, and petty half the time.
This whole frenemies trope needs to die, and it needs to die fast.
Before I take the focus off our heroes, there’s one more question I feel compelled to ask. How come Toph—the blind girl—is the one that figures out that Appa’s fur is leaving a visible trail? No, seriously. Has no one else noticed the white fur he’s dropping all over the countryside?
Actually, how on earth is Azula following Appa’s trail in the dark and going at that speed? It’s not like he leaves bales of it behind every couple feet. Unless they’ve got a line of site on the bison the entire time, shouldn’t they have to slow down and fall behind in order to find the clumps of hair and make sure they’re on the right track? (Disclaimer: I am not a tracker.)
Right, so now that I’m done ranting about Toph and Katara fighting, it’s time to move on to our Fire Nation folks. Mai and Ty Lee aren’t very interesting this time around, though they are amusing enough that I have a bunch of random comments on them in my closing bullet points. No, it’s the royals that have caught my eye in this episode, as well they should.
First off, Iroh was lovely. Even though I have already noted my annoyance about his conversation with Toph, I think it was a great insight into both Iroh and Zuko. It is incredibly touching that Iroh has followed Zuko this entire time and that he is waiting for him to want his help. I am always pleased to discover parental figures who actually respect teens/kids and allow them to make mistakes and learn on their own terms. Iroh is seriously the best parental figure in this series, which makes me a little sad, actually. Why have you denied us good mother figures that aren’t dead or missing, show?
I also appreciated the fact that Iroh has not kept all the things Zuko stole/bought with stolen money. He is back to using a simple tea set—though we’ll probably never know what he did with all the loot and how on earth he kept up with Zuko considering the young man was on SSOH and Iroh was presumably walking. Iroh means what he says, and I love that he is true to his word about not needing fancy things.
Azula is the one that really steals the show at the end. She recognized that the fur trail was a decoy and was able to figure out where Appa had gone. And it was an especially nice touch that she was able to guess that the Avatar wouldn’t have let anyone else set the decoy trail. That reasoning is what let her decide to go after the decoy and send Mai and Ty Lee after the sky bison instead.
And to make Azula even more awesome, she was really able to show off her fighting capabilities again in this episode. Instead of taunting Zuko or chasing after Aang in the mail chutes, Azula was really able to dazzle us with her skill in a spectacular three-way fight.
I love that she made the first move to break the standoff, and I love how quick her reflexes were. When Aang lured her into the second floor of the building, she was able to keep from crashing to the ground thanks to her fast thinking and reflexes. Zuko, on the other hand, fell for the trap and it was hilarious. She knocked Zuko off his feet at least twice, one of which knocked him out completely.
If it hadn’t been for the timely arrival of the rest of our heroes and Iroh, Azula would have either captured or killed Aang. It never gets old seeing her fight because she does it so well. Zuko still can’t land a blow on her, and he frankly does very little in the fight besides get thrown around into the scenery.
Of course, her best move was her false surrender. It was brilliant and totally played to our heroes’ good natures. Azula knew that they weren’t the kind of people who would strike her down if she surrendered, and she used their confusion and hesitation to strike back.
What I found most interesting was that Azula chose to take down Iroh as her one surprise shot. Did she consider him the greatest threat? Or did she think she was more likely to catch him off guard than the Avatar and knew that if she brought Iroh down, it would distract Zuko and effectively remove two of her opponents in one blow? I think either option is likely.
The last bit I want to mention is that we got a reminder here that Katara does have some healing skills, even though the sacred water from the spirit oasis isn’t shown. Nice job reminding us that her healing will be important later.
- What is with this show and its fondness for fake hair? To tell you the truth, the disguises in this show are always ridiculous, but at least this time the kids were legitimately goofing off. It was rather hilarious to see Toph join in, and I was happy that Katara laughed about it, too.
- Toph did the hand on the ground thing again, which had confused me back in “The Blind Bandit.” Here it was pretty clear that she was doing so because the tank train was confusing her. Her hands are more sensitive than her feet, and thanks to CaitieCat for bringing that up as a reason why Toph had touched the ground in “The Blind Bandit.” Now I want to count how many more times she’ll do it in the show.
- And Toph doles out her second nickname in this episode. Back in “The Blind Bandit” she dubbed Aang “Twinkle Toes,” and this time around she calls Katara “Sugar Queen.” Anyone know if there’s a comprehensive list of nicknames from Toph?
- And we begin the running joke about Toph not knowing events/people from before her appearance. She has to ask who Zuko is and be told why they would worry about Ty Lee’s chi blocking ability.
- So much for Zuko’s desire to find his own way. He reunites with Iroh after—what, three episodes apart? Then again, I guess it’s important that Iroh teaches you lightning redirection and starts planting the seeds for your eventual redemption.
- Was I the only one amused that Ty Lee was trying to figure out how best to describe Appa’s discarded and wet fur? And that she thought Sokka was cute. He does have quite a fine wolf tail~
- Are Katara’s armbands really loose enough that Mai could have pinned them to the tree like that without stabbing her in the forearm? Poor Mai—you only ever get to hit your targets when you’re not trying to kill them.
- For the record, that’s the second time Appa has used airbending to defeat Mai and Ty Lee. In fact, Appa is the only one to have defeated them so far. Yay for the flying bison!
All right, that’s good enough for me. Did I missing anything? Come back next Monday for Book Two: Earth || Chapter Nine: Bitter Work, in which Sokka is hilarious and Toph goes drill sergeant all over Aang.
And to all my wonderful commenters, thank you. I’ve really loved getting your feedback and—even more—watching you guys respond to each other. It makes me very happy. <3