In the eighth episode of the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Tophâ€™s acceptance into Team Avatar sets up a stressful situation when a mysterious vehicle begins to relentlessly chase the group, causing all four characters to begin to attack one another out of exhausted frustration. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to watch Avatar.
I think that out of all of the spectacular things that happened in â€œThe Chase,â€ I was most impressed with the way that the writers dealt with Team Avatar taking on their first new addition in the series. Of course, we obviously would all like everyone to get along forever so that everything is rainbows and puppy dogs, but I found this episode all the more satisfying because it was such a difficult and frustrating experience.
For the most part, â€œThe Chaseâ€ focuses on Toph and Katara dealing with each other, since they probably have the most disparate personalities out of the bunch. Thankfully, too, the episode also splits their annoyances with each other right down the middle, for the most part: Katara is pushy and mean, and Toph is stubborn and rude, and their actions force each other to realize their faults.
And yet, on top of all of this character growth (WHICH YOU ALL KNOW I LOVE DEARLY), weâ€™ve got a plot that starts out fairly innocuously and transforms into OH MY GOD THIS IS CLEARLY THE GREATEST THING EVER. One step at a time, though!
Appaâ€™s magnificent shedding coat opens â€œThe Chase,â€ and is the start of the tiny aggressions that Toph and Katara act out against each other. It starts out innocently enough as Aang announces the arrival of spring (in a bit that looks magically like a scene out of Bambi or some Disney movie), which means that Appaâ€™s coat begins to shed. I donâ€™t think Katara lacks a sense of humor, but as the other three members of the group use Appaâ€™s fur to make silly jokes, we see the first signs that maybe Kataraâ€™s expectations for Tophâ€™s behavior, which are based entirely on the fact that she is a girl, are not quite what she wants. Plus, Tophâ€™s joke about hairy armpits is just REALLY FUNNY, OK?
But that slight frustration begins to be magnified when they make camp that night and Toph decides she is going to do whatever it takes to be a solitary member of the group: she only carries her own stuff, sheâ€™ll make her own fire, eat her own food, and set up her own tent. (MADE UP OF ROCK, NO LESS. omg amazing.) Itâ€™s a physical manifestation of a desire sheâ€™s held for a long time. After being cooped up in her parentsâ€™ mansion, unable to do the slightest things to take care of herself, she is determined to never return to such a state again. She has to take this journey in a self-supporting way. That inherently clashes with Kataraâ€™s idea of what the group should be doing, and since she cannot conceive of Tophâ€™s reasons for her solitude, it causes her to lash out at what she interprets as an intense selfishness.
Thatâ€™s what is at the heart of a lot of this: The members of Team Avatar (Sokka excepted, since he is actually not at all involved in the absurdity of what happens here) have a conflict rooted in the inability of these people to simply understand one another, jumping at each otherâ€™s throats because of their perception of events, even if their perception is divorced from reality. Because both Katara and Toph (and later Aang) have a preconceived notion about how one is supposed to act within the group, neither one is willing to accept the ideas put forth by the other.
This is, of course, exacerbated by the main conflict of â€œThe Chase.â€ Toph is awakened by a rumbling of the earth, knowing that someone is headed towards them, so with minimal sleep, the group decides it is best to leave their campsite. On the back of Appa, they see some sort of object in the distance, kicking up dirt as it rapidly plows towards them. Obviously, we recognize this as some sort of Fire Nation vehicle. (Unless that was not that obvious to everyone else? I donâ€™t think weâ€™ve seen any other kingdom with a vehicle that resembles that, so thatâ€™s where my assumption came from.) Why is it pursuing them? What do the people controlling it want?
Despite that, at first, this seems like an episode weâ€™d seen before (Team Avatar runs away, they are chased, then they fight), there are so many things that separate us from a formula that could have been painfully familiar. By including the subplot between Katara and Toph, thereâ€™s an added subtext to the chasing: while the threat of violence and harm is very real, it is as much a mental attack as it is a physical one. I would not be surprised if Azulaâ€™s intention in this episode was to specifically wear down Team Avatar to a point where beating them and capturing Aang would be as simple as possible. The toll this chase takes on the group continues to grow worse and worse, too, and we see that when they make camp for a second time that night.
As both Katara and Toph are now entirely set in their own ways, the combination of this stubbornness with their lack of sleep contribute to a volatile atmosphere. Katara is even less patient with Tophâ€™s insistence to do things alone, and Toph is less patient with Kataraâ€™s insistence to do things her way. The fight culminates in a slammed tent door, the nickname â€œSugar Queenâ€ (WILL LOL AT THIS FOREVER), Kataraâ€™s unbelievably awful comment about Toph being unable to see the stars, and Toph responding with a violent earth bend that sends her airborne.
Did anyone else scream at their TV at this point? Thereâ€™s a slight bit of humor to the situation, surely, but this joking nature had started to rapidly slip away. These two could not only fail to get along, but itâ€™s starting to affect Aang and Sokka too, who are no doubt just as exhausted as they are. The sleep deprivation, combined with the impending doom of the machine thatâ€™s chasing them, is not creating a loving, reasonable atmosphere.
And of course, itâ€™s only a matter of time before Toph informs them all that the machine chasing them is back, yet again, somehow mysteriously finding them a second time. Climbing aboard an understandably exhausted Appa, they fly to a third location, one that will surely be hard to locate, while debating what could be chasing them. Atop a mountain cliff with a lone road leading to their camp site, Sokka does his best to imitate a caterpillar as he crawls to his sleeping spot while Katara thinks out loud about who might be in the machine, suggesting that itâ€™s probably Zuko. Of course, we know that itâ€™s the trio of Dangerous Ladies (OMG I LOVE THAT NAME) and that Zuko is following their tracks. (Well, not at the time. Itâ€™s revealed later on.) OH GOD ARE THEY ALL GOING TO MEET UP IN THIS EPISODE. This is the only thing I hoped for at this point in the story.
I started feeling tired myself when, for the third time, someone in camp (this time, Momo) realizes the machine is back. Again. AGAIN!!! Aang finally suggest that they just stop running and face their chasers. (â€œAlways the optimist,â€ Sokka replies to him.) I had forgotten that Team Avatar didnâ€™t actually know the identities of the Dangerous Ladies at this point, but I was rather excited to see what theyâ€™d do with Toph now added to their collective arsenal.
Oh, right. They would NEARLY GET BURNT ALIVE. Gosh, the Dangerous Ladies are SO FIERCELY TALENTED. And even though I have my own bias against Azula, I cannot deny how wonderfully impressive she is as a fighter. The truth is that she is a fantastic leader of that trio, and the way that the three of these girls mesh with each other is something Iâ€™ve honestly not seen before. I actually donâ€™t think it was something the writers necessarily intended, and Iâ€™ll admit this is just my brain doing that thing where I read layers into things that probably arenâ€™t there, but thereâ€™s a great contrast at work here. Much of â€œThe Chaseâ€ is about how Team Avatar has to learn how to get along with such varying personalities working together, and yet we see how the Dangerous Ladies have even more distinct personalities, and they seem to have no problem getting along. To be fair, the three of them grew up together, so theyâ€™re obviously closer than Team Avatar, but this was a thought that rumbled through my head and I couldnâ€™t ignore how neat that was.
The situation reaches its breaking point as the sun comes up and the entire group must face the reality that theyâ€™ve been up all night. (I adore Sokkaâ€™s horror-struck reaction to the very concept.) Appaâ€™s had enough, and he plummets to the earth in a moment of sleep-filled exhaustion. Despite that theyâ€™ve put a lot of distance between themselves and the Dangerous Ladies, I think the entire group had realized at this point that they were stuck in this seemingly unending conflict, an almost Sisyphus-like struggle of repetition and absurdity. And that leads to the absolute breaking point.
Unless I am mistaken, this final fight starts when Katara can simply no longer resist making a comment slagging on Toph, and the fight breaks out into utter chaos, as both of them at first blame each other, and then Toph reveals the truth about how they keep being found: Appa has been leaving a trail of his own fur behind. Aang, unfortunately, decides to get involved at this point, choosing to ignore the fact that Toph is completely right about this, and he insults Toph so viciously that she gives up and leaves the group.
Instantly, Katara and Aang realize what a horrible mistake theyâ€™ve made, and while Toph will soon learn what she did wrong, Iâ€™m glad the writers put an emphasis on how mean and non-empathetic Katara and Aang were to Toph. (And I also liked that they acknowledged that for once, Sokka did not actually bring a conflict on to himself.)
While Aang, Katara, and Sokka work on their plan to misdirect the dangerous ladies and find Toph to apologize to, I want to focus on Tophâ€™s UNBELIEVABLE TWIST OF FATE that happens after she leaves. Content on her own (though probably realizing what a task she has before her), Toph hears someone near by, earth bending and KNOCKING DOWN UNCLE IROH. As soon as this happened, I nearly peed myself with joy, as I hoped with every ounce of my heart that these people could all somehow converge by the episodeâ€™s end
The time that Iroh and Toph spend together is one of the more emotionally rewarding scenes in all of season two, as the two talk so openly about their predicaments. Iroh is quick to notice just how similar Tophâ€™s journey of self-worth and individuality resembles that of Zukoâ€™s and he vocalizes that to her. At the same time, Toph is completely shocked at Irohâ€™s story, of a family member respecting their loved onesâ€™ journey to find themselves. This is not an experience that Toph is familiar with at all, since her family specifically restricted her own agency, believing that her disability defined her absolutely. I really love the way that these two people, one young and one old, are still able to teach each other a lesson that they need to learn. (ESPECIALLY SINCE IT IS TOPH AND IROH DRINKING TEA TOGETHER oh my god i could not ask for anything more perfect in this whole universe OH MY GOD.)
And this is when this episode takes a turn from, â€œWow, this is rather good,â€ to, â€œJESUS TAKE THE WHEEL THIS IS AMAZING.â€ As Azula correctly guesses that Aang has tricked her into coming this way (and Mai and Ty Lee have already found Sokka and Katara), she confronts him in a scene that obviously references a western showdown. (She also does THE MOST HILARIOUS IMPRESSION OF ZUKO EVER in order to finally share with Aang who she is.) As it seems clear that the two of them will duel, Zuko pops out of fucking nowhere and immediately makes this scene both wondrous and completely awkward. What was once an old western showdown is now a three-way battle, with all three figures unsure of who to fight. The dynamic of this particular fight is unreal, as itâ€™s both hard to follow as a viewer (in a good way) who is going to attack who, and it creates this bizarre sense of competition. For the briefest of moments, Aang and Zuko team up against Azula and my heart nearly explodes from joy. Right when Zuko is knocked away and Aang is cornered, KATARA AND SOKKA SHOW UP and this battle is now FOUR AGAINST AZULA. I begin to hyperventilate from ecstasy at just how amazing it is to see all of these people together, TOPH SHOWS UP. THEN IROH. THEN MY HEART WEEPS AS IT IS LITERALLY SIX PEOPLE AGAINST AZULA. I mean, this is certainly a testament to how spectacular of a fighter she is, but itâ€™s also a sign of just how despised she is as well.
BUT SERIOUSLY. SIX AGAINST ONE. That stand-off, with all of the benders facing Azula as she decides who to attack first, is SIMPLE PERFECTION. Right as she chooses to attack Iroh, who was momentarily distracted by the sight of Toph standing with the Avatar, Zukoâ€™s horrifed cry is almost like a rallying call, and, for the first time in the whole series, ALL FOUR ELEMENTS ARE USED AGAINST SOMEONE AT THE SAME TIME. (Thanks to SpectralBovine for pointing this out for me when we were watching it.)
I donâ€™t know how Azula created that magical blue shield/explosion thing, but she disappears and Zuko rushes to the aid of his injured uncle. In just an instant, too, this episode goes from an emotional high to an extremely depressing depth, as Zukoâ€™s visible pain at what just happened to Iroh causes him to lash out violently when Katara offers to heal his uncle. I was shocked by how quickly what I saw as a victorious moment becomes one of horrifying trauma.
AND THEN IT JUST ENDS. Oh christ, i cannot handle this at all.
- â€œSharing tea with a fascinating stranger is one of lifeâ€™s true delights.â€ RIGHT. Also can we see more of Toph and Iroh hanging out over tea THANK YOU.
- â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with ponytails, ponytail?â€ â€œThis is a warriorâ€™s wolftail.â€ â€œWell, it certainly tells the other warriors that youâ€™re fun and perky.â€ BLESS.
- Seriously, I cannot stop gushing about Azulaâ€™s imitation of Zuko. Flawless, really.
- TY LEEâ€™S SCENE WITH THE WORD â€œCLUMPS.â€ My god, she is so full of joy.
- OK OH MY GOD, I HADNâ€™T SAID ANYTHING YET, BUT SOKKAâ€™S FIGHT WITH TY LEE WAS GLORIOUS. After managing to basically deactivate all of his limbs, he headbutts her. CANâ€™T STOP SOKKA NOW. ilu so much Avatar.