Welcome to the twenty-sixth installment of my Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch! Today’s post will be covering “The Blind Bandit.” Episode 2.06 changes the nature of the show forever with the appearance of everyone’s favorite earthbender: Toph.
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.
Sokka waffles over whether or not to buy a bag. While he decides, Aang and Katara are waylaid by a dubious man who is handing out fliers for Master Yu’s earthbending academy. Since the coupon on the back declares that the first lesson is free, Aang decides to check it out.
Aang gets lumped into a class with children much younger than him, but he still gets knocked around like the complete novice he is. Master Yu says if Aang pays for the entire year in advance, he’ll bump Aang up to the next belt. Aang leaves the school and tells his waiting friends that Master Yu is not the teacher for him.
A few students pass by, and one of them mentions Earth Rumble VI, an earthbending tournament with the world’s best earthbenders. Aang asks the students where the tournament is held, but they shut him down. Katara hurries off after the boys and disappears for a few seconds. When she comes back, she has the location of Earth Rumble VI. Katara deflects when Aang asks her how she got them to tell her, but the camera cuts to the boys still frozen to the alley walls.
How does getting buried alive count as an earthbending lesson?
Our heroes arrive at an underground arena for Earth Rumble VI. The announcer (Xin Fu) appears and explains the winning condition: just knock your opponent out of the ring.
The first round of the tournament is The Boulder vs. The Hippo. It doesn’t take long for The Boulder to win, but Aang isn’t impressed with the idea of him as a teacher. Sokka, however, is officially a fan of The Boulder. The tournament progresses until The Boulder faces the previous champion, The Blind Bandit.
Our heroes are surprised to see that The Blind Bandit is a young girl who really is blind. The Boulder is conflicted about fighting a young, blind girl, but The Blind Bandit’s taunting helps him get over it. She calls him The Pebble and then laughs at her own joke.
That laugh makes Aang realizes that The Blind Bandit is the girl he saw in the swamp.
The fight begins, but it’s over in seconds thanks to a special sense that The Blind Bandit uses. The Boulder tries to charge, but The Blind Bandit moves the earth from under his foot when he sets it down, causing him to fall into a painful split. While he’s incapacitated, The Blind Bandit catapults him straight out of the ring.
Sokka is devastated that The Boulder lost, but Katara is amazed at what happened. Aang realizes that The Blind Bandit waited and listened to the earth, just like Bumi had described.
Xin Fu leaps into the arena and offers a sack of gold pieces to anyone in the crowd who can defeat The Blind Bandit. At first no one steps forward, but Aang volunteers to face her.
Aang tries to talk to The Blind Bandit, but she’s not interested in talking. She attacks him, but Aang’s airbending/floating make it difficult for her to track him. The Blind Bandit throws a boulder at him, and Aang is forced to deflect with airbending. It knocks The Blind Bandit out of the ring, much to everyone’s astonishment.
Aang chases after The Blind Bandit because he wants her to be his earthbending teacher. She tells him to leave her alone and disappears behind a slab of rock. Our heroes receive the championship belt and bag of gold, but Aang is upset at losing his chance at a teacher.
You can’t fly forever, Aang. Toph will find you in three, two—
Our heroes return to Master Yu’s earthbending academy in the hopes of finding leads on The Blind Bandit. They run into the students Katara froze, and despite her heavy-handed tactics, they don’t know anything about who The Blind Bandit really is.
Aang realizes they’re asking about the wrong person. When he describes the girl he saw in his vision, the students reveal that the flying boar is the symbol of the Beifong family, the richest people in town. The students point out that the Beifongs don’t have a daughter, but it’s the starting point our heroes need.
Back at the arena, The Boulder tells Xin Fu that he didn’t see Aang do any earthbending—The Blind Bandit just fell out of the ring. They speculate that The Blind Bandit cheated and let herself be knocked out of the ring so she and Aang could split the reward money. This understandably pisses off Xin Fu.
Something tells me that you’re the villain of today’s episode.
Our heroes arrive at the Beifong estate, and instead of knocking like polite, normal people, they climb the wall and sneak around. They’re quickly caught by The Blind Bandit, who demands to know why Aang (nicknamed Twinkle Toes) has shown up.
Aang tells her that a crazy king told him to find an earthbending teacher who listens to the earth and that he had a vision in a magic swamp. Before The Blind Bandit can pound his face in, Katara tells her that Aang is the Avatar and needs to master earthbending in order to defeat the Fire Lord. The Blind Bandit declares it isn’t her problem and threatens to call the guards if they won’t get out.
Sokka tries to reason with her, but The Blind Bandit puts on her helpless girl voice and calls for help from the guards. Our heroes make a break for it just as a guard shows up. He addresses The Blind Bandit as Toph and asks what’s wrong. Toph says she thought she heard someone and got scared. The guards escort her back inside.
Aang watches the scene unfold from the walls and gets a devious look on his face.
Toph: Does not play nice with others.
We cut to Toph’s mother and father, who are talking to Master Yu about Toph’s lessons. They want to make sure she’s not doing anything dangerous. Toph sits sullenly in her chair, but she doesn’t say anything. A servant appears and tells them that the Avatar has arrived.
Our heroes join the Beifongs and Master Yu for dinner, and it quickly comes apparent how overprotective they are of Toph. Toph’s dad asks Aang how long he thinks the war will last. This gives Aang the perfect segue into his lack of an earthbending teacher. Toph’s dad suggests Master Yu, but Aang hints at Toph instead. Toph slams some rock into his foot in return.
Master Yu points out that Toph is still learning the basics, and her dad says that she probably won’t ever become a master because of her blindness. Our heroes are astonished by the claim. When Aang hints at her prowess, Toph earthbends his chair forward so his face smashes into his bowl of food.
Everyone is a little confused about Aang’s spastic actions, but Aang gets his revenge by sneezing food into Toph’s (and her mom and Master Yu’s) face. Toph and Aang square off over the table. It’s a miracle they don’t come to blows.
Yeah, Toph, you deserved that.
The Beifongs have graciously given our heroes a place to stay for the night. Aang is a bit jumpy when Toph shows up, but she apologizes for dinner and asks for a truce. She and Aang walk through the gardens. Toph reveals that even though she was born blind, she’s always been able to see via earthbending. She can feel the vibrations in the earth and see where everything is, even all the way down to the ants in the grass.
Her parents have always treated her as if she was helpless, which is why she became The Blind Bandit. Aang asks why she stays here if she’s unhappy, and Toph points out that they’re her parents. She doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Aang offers to let her to join them, but Toph turns him down.
Before their discussion can get any further, Toph senses something in the ground and realizes they’re being ambushed. They are quickly confronted by one of the Earth Rumble fighters. Before they can defend themselves, Xin Fu and his other fighters drop metal boxes on top of Aang and Toph. Xin Fu declares that they owe him money.
Some time later, Sokka, Katara, the Beifongs, and Master Yu find a ransom note in the gardens. Xin Fu and The Boulder want 500 gold pieces in order to get Toph back. Toph’s dad charges Master Yu with recovering his daughter, and Katara says that she and Sokka will go with him. Toph’s mother falls to her knees and is distraught over her daughter’s undoubted fear.
Why have you suddenly become a tracker? Why do you need to touch the ground with your hand? Aren’t your bare feet enough?
Toph, however, is far from afraid. She and Aang are strung up high above the ground in their boxes, but she’s issuing challenges to the men that kidnapped them.
Sokka, Katara, Master Yu, and Toph’s dad arrive at the arena. They exchange the money for Toph, and Xin Fu frees her. Xin Fu doesn’t release Aang—he wants to turn the Avatar over to the Fire Nation. He orders the siblings out and the rest of his fighters appear in their ridiculous faux-wrestler glory to threaten the siblings.
Aang tells Sokka and Katara to leave; he will be okay. They go after Toph, and Katara entreats her to help them. Against that many people, they’re going to need an earthbender. Toph’s father is upset at the request and declares that his tiny, fragile, blind daughter can’t help them. That’s all it takes for Toph to pull away from her father and go back with Katara and Sokka to rescue Aang.
Xin Fu and company are busy hauling Aang’s box away when the ground erupts in front of them. They turn around to see Sokka, Katara, and Toph, who tells them to put Aang down. She’s beaten them all before, and she will do it again.
The earthbenders toss Aang aside and charge at Toph. Before Katara and Sokka can get ready to fight, Toph stops them. She claims that the fight is hers. To prove it, she tears up the ground from beneath their enemies’ feet, scattering the earthbenders everywhere. She wades into the cloud of dust and takes them on while Sokka and Katara work on freeing Aang.
(You were waiting for this, weren’t you?)
Back at the Beifong residence, Toph tells her dad that she loves fighting and being an earthbender. She was only pretending to be helpless and obedient. Unfortunately this soul-baring confession doesn’t do anything besides make her dad realize that she needs to be watched and guarded twenty-four hours a day. Toph had far too much freedom, and she needs to be protected for her own good. Her dad kicks out our heroes. On his way out, Aang apologizes to Toph, who cries as they leave.
Our heroes prepare to leave the village. Katara tries to console Aang about finding him another teacher, but Aang knows they won’t find another earthbender like her. Just before they take off, Aang spots Toph running to them.
Toph tells them that her dad changed his mind and that she can go with our heroes. Sokka wisely decides they should leave fast before her dad can change his mind again. Aang tells her she will be a great teacher, and Toph tells him she wants to show him something.
As soon as he lands on solid ground, Toph knocks him into a tree with some earthbending. With that she declares them even and asks for her belt back. Sokka still hasn’t gotten the hang of her being blind and tosses the belt at her. It smacks her in the head and knocks her down.
At the Beifong estate, Toph’s dad offers Xin Fu and Master Yu a chest of gold pieces. He says that the Avatar has kidnapped Toph, and he wants them to do whatever it takes to bring her back.
Toph smiles and closes her eyes as she flies away with the rest of our heroes.
At least you’re getting paid in shiny gold instead of tasty gold.
TOPH IS HERE!
Right, with that exclamation of joy out of the way, maybe I can manage to write something coherent.
The odds aren’t good.
I have never actually watched wrestling—all my knowledge has been gained via commercials, pop culture, and TV Tropes—but I still found the wrestling parodies to be hilarious. I loved it all: crazy costumes, ridiculous stage names, overblown theatrics, etc.
Of course, the wrestler that stole it all was The Boulder. Speaking in the third person about himself was entertaining enough, but what really sold it for me were his interactions with Toph. I knew going into this episode that I would be using his conflicted feelings line as the jump text, and it was just as brilliant this time as it was every other time I’ve seen this episode. His facial expressions when Toph makes fun of him are amazing, and I love how easily he’s manipulated and defeated by the little blind girl he was so reluctant to fight.
I’m a little confused about why Earth Rumble VI would be a clandestine event, though. It seems like an entirely reasonable recreational use of earthbending. They aren’t under Fire Nation control, so it’s not like in “Imprisoned” where getting caught earthbending means trouble for you. Who cares if some consenting adults get together and try to pound each other into dust with giant hunks of rock?
And honestly, it’s not like Earth Rumble VI is that secret considering some random teenage punks know exactly where it is. Besides, Toph somehow heard about it, located it, and entered at least the last tournament, if not ones before that. But maybe I’m just overreacting to what the punk students said.
I’m so pleased Katara wouldn’t take no for an answer and gave the students a beatdown for being snots. (Though this is where I should probably enter a disclaimer that I generally disapprove of using brute force to obtain information. Even if it is funny.)
Speaking of the students, Master Yu is such a skeevy teacher. We don’t actually see him ever teaching Aang, even though this was supposed to be a first lesson. Furthermore, his offer to move Aang up to the next belt level if he paid for a year upfront was just as awful. Is he running an earthbending school or a pyramid scheme?
I’m actually voting on the shadier option. Allegedly, Master Yu has been teaching Toph since she was young, but he still has her on the basic forms and breathing exercises? I get that they want her safe at all times, but shouldn’t she have learned how to breathe properly by now? Are her parents paying for a teacher or a babysitter?
Then again, it’s no surprise that her parents probably think teacher and babysitter are synonymous. I am upset at them for how they’ve treated Toph—and I am definitely going to rant about them soon—but part of the blame lies on Toph, too. She’s very honest at the end of the episode where she tells her parents she’s been lying to them and hiding her abilities. Honestly, part of the reason they’ve continued to coddle her so fiercely is because they have never gotten any indication that she doesn’t need it.
If they’d seen before the sudden kidnapping/showdown of awesome that Toph was, in fact, capable of taking care of herself, maybe they would have loosened up a little before now. Instead, Toph has been playing up the helpless little blind girl act (like when she shouted for help in the garden). It’s a smart tactic to play to someone’s prejudices in order to get what you really want, but it doesn’t help solve the fundamental problems the Beifong family has: communication and trust.
And that’s the part where Toph’s parents really fail. Instead of acknowledging the fact that their perception of their daughter was incorrect and asking for time to adjust their world view, they flip out. The correct, reasonable, I-am-a-parent-but-also-a-rational-human-being reaction to this news would be to reevaluate how they treat their daughter since she is obviously far more capable than they ever thought she could be. Instead, they decide that the proper course of action is to restrict her even further and monitor her closely because they don’t trust her to be able to take care of herself. Even though her father saw her take on an entire troop of
professional wrestlers earthbenders.
Parenting (and logic) fail. (Disclaimer #2: I am not a parent.)
The Beifong parenting failure extends even before this, unfortunately. I can understand their protectiveness to a point—this is a world that isn’t friendly to the differently abled, after all—but sequestering her to the point that most people don’t know she exists? Have her parents ever knowingly let her outside of the Beifong estate? Probably not, considering the guards mention Toph isn’t even supposed to be wandering the family gardens by herself.
The more I keep thinking about Toph’s first twelve years of life, the more upset I get. Toph says she’s never had a friend before, which means her parents couldn’t even be bothered to have some other rich little girls over to play with their daughter. Or let the children of their servants keep her company. What possible danger could they think other people’s kids would pose to Toph if she had some play dates with them?
There are no words to describe how completely awful that is. And I was heartbroken when Toph said her parents were doing these things to protect her. While I can concede that hyper protectiveness was probably the majority of their motivation, I can’t help but think there was embarrassment or even shame mingled in with that. A protective parent might hover or coddle; an embarrassed parent hides.
So, like everyone else, I was very pleased when Toph joined the rest of our heroes in defiance of her parents. That is the sort of rebellion I can condone, though I fervently wish she’d done it in such a way that her parents didn’t think Aang had kidnapped her. That was poorly done, Toph. I’d rather you had gone out with a bang—another astounding display of your bending power (your mother didn’t get to see the combat one)—instead of sneaking away in the night.
Oh well. I guess you needed something exciting to do in the season finale. And by exciting I mean inventing an entire new subfield of bending in order to escape Master Yu and Xin Fu.
Speaking of bending, let’s circle back around to Toph’s amazing fights. Aside from Bumi’s showdown with Aang in the first season, we haven’t really seen what an earthbending master can do in combat. (Haru and his dad don’t count, and neither do the nameless soldiers in “The Avatar State.”) With Bumi we got big, flashy displays of power like ripping giant chunks out of the wall.
And while Toph is completely capable of ripping the ground apart, what really impressed me in her fights this episode was how precise she was. She could have taken down The Boulder in a really flashy way. Instead, she moved the little patch of ground he stepped on to incapacitate him and then catapulted him out of the ring. In terms of spectacle or sheer power the actual earthbending moves she did weren’t very impressive.
Go back and watch her grand fight at the end of the episode again. She does a lot of dodging—almost as much as Aang does in his fights—and uses her opponents and their attacks against each other. (One of my favorites was when she lined up two of the fighters so a third accidentally took them down.) And the one time she couldn’t dodge, Toph basically created a shield for herself in order to deflect the incoming attack. Toph fights smart and fast—and awesome, let’s not forget awesome—in this episode. As a further testament to her skill, she even sends everyone but Xin Fu crashing into the same spot. That is a brilliant bit of showmanship on Toph’s part.
Now, while Toph’s seismic sense is pretty much a Disability Superpower, I love it anyway. And mostly that’s because the show doesn’t make this cool ability an equal substitute for sight. Yeah, Toph can sense people sneaking up behind her, but she can’t do it if she’s in the air or water. She also can’t read or write, and as proven in this episode, can’t see it when people toss non-earth things at her. Dang, Sokka, did you really have to throw that giant belt at her head?
Furthermore, the technique isn’t unique to Toph, even if she is the first human to use it. By the end of the series, she will teach Aang how to use it. Aang, in turn, will use it in his fight against Ozai. It’s difficult to argue that the seismic sense is a Mary Sue ability when it isn’t unique to Toph. Toph just gets to be the best at it in the series—but even then it will let her down with detecting whether or not Azula is lying and when she is stuck in sand.
The last thing I really wanted to touch on was something Toph said in the episode: You guys get to go wherever you want. No one telling you what to do—that’s the life. First, it actually reminds me a lot of what Mai says about her own background in “The Beach.” Both girls adopt personas to deal with their parents and their neglect/control, though in Toph’s case she went for a full out secret identity where Mai just went for quiet and angrily bored at everything.
Second, this actually does a really good job of explaining why Toph and Katara butt heads, especially in “The Chase.” Toph ran away in part to, you know, help Aang save the world, but she also did it so she could be in control of her life for real. That would make Toph an excellent loner adventurer, but it definitely makes it far more difficult to fit into a group—especially when you’re a late addition. Katara has been the mother hen and head keep-people-together person all of season one, and it’s no wonder those two have a catastrophic meltdown in their next episode.
In a similar vein, this episode makes it quite clear that Toph doesn’t really trust the rest of our heroes yet. If she did, wouldn’t she have told them the truth about under what circumstances she joined the group? Or at the very least not flat out lied about having her dad’s permission? Then again, I don’t think she expected her father to make the incredibly logic leap that Aang kidnapped her in order to get an earthbending teacher.
Still, Toph has a lot of growing to do before she figures out what it’s like to be a team player and not The Blind Bandit. I’m okay with that. Mostly I’m just excited that she is here. :D
- Aang is in disguise for a good portion of this episode, though it doesn’t do much good. The hat might cover the arrow, but you can see that he has a tattoo that goes from his back and up onto his head. I guess the hat might buy him a few extra seconds before someone requests he take the hat off.
- I was amused by Katara vs. the snotty earthbending students. What really sold the joke was at the end of the second encounter when Katara tells them she’s watching them and Sokka is all full of Water Tribe pride. Yes, Sokka, your sister is awesome and not someone to mess with. I love that he knows that.
- And we have yet another mother who inexplicably gets sidelined. Toph’s mom has all of two lines—but at least it’s more that Katara’s mom has gotten so far? And at least Toph’s mom won’t be dead and/or missing by the end of the show. So. Yay her?
- As much as I enjoy the jokes about Sokka and his man bag, I can’t remember if we ever see the bag again. Do we? If not, it’s a lot of screen time to spend on something that only shows up for a single episode.
- Toph’s dad is more scandalized by her spitting than by her giving the beatdown to seven grown men. I wanted someone to bash his head into the bleachers.
Now that we’ve acquired the last of our heroes for this season, it’s time to go check out Zuko. Come back Monday for Book Two: Earth || Chapter Seven: Zuko Alone, in which Zuko tries to figure out where he’s supposed to belong in this narrative.