The Blind Bandit
Well, a crazy king told me I had to find an earthbender who listens to the earth, and then I had a vision in a magic swamp, and...
—Aang, explaining how he found the title character
We open with padding: Sokka is mulling over whether to purchase a bag. Riveting entertainment, folks. It's supposed to be funny, because Sokka and Katara have this whole male/female role reversal thing going.
The Gaang find out about Master Yu's Earthbending Academy, and Aang decides to try it out, since the first lesson is free. This lesson consists of having Yu's actual
students lift up large rocks and hit the prospective earthbenders with them, Aang included.
Yeah, a running theme throughout this season is that all earthbenders are batshit crazy. We'll see this more in a couple of episodes.
Aang decides that Yu isn't a good teacher for him. But the Gaang does overhear some kids talking about the Earth Rumble VI event. Aang tries to get them to tell him where the event is being held, since he thinks that he might find an earthbending teacher among the fighters. The kids just tell him off, since they're jerks. Katara naturally persuades them by waterbending and freezing them to a wall. And she just leaves them like that: encased in ice, freezing to death.
Oh, that's right, I forgot: hypothermia doesn't exist in Avatar-verse. My mistake.
So the Gaang go to the Earth Rumble, which is a thinly-disguised Profesional Wrestling
parody. We have the owner of the Earth Rumble, Xin Fu, pulling duties as the announcer, just as Vince McMahan used to back in the days before he became an on-camera character. The goal of each fight is to knock the opponent out of the arena, which is a raised plateau.
BTW, before we continue, you should know that I am familiar with wrestling and wrestling lingo, which I will use it where appropriate.
After the Gaang gets situated, we are introduced to our first competitors: The Hippo, a large fat guy, against... Mick Foley! OK, technically his name is The Boulder. But it's Foley's voice. And he's doing an obvious impression of The Rock. However, as anyone who was a fan of wrestling in the past knows, Foley is God
. Therefore, this match is a foregone conclusion: after the requisite smack-talk, Foley dispatches the Hippo from the arena.
marks out for The Boulder. Granted, Sokka is the smartest of our Gaang; he recognizes his Lord and Savior and acts appropriately. Aang is less impressed, saying that The Boulder only listens to his big muscles. Because Foley is a benevolent God, he does not instantly smite Aang for this. But he does use his omnipotence to ensure that a forfeit will be extracted from the Avatar for his impertinence. Rest assured, smite will
So it is written, so it shall be done.
We then get a classic staple of wrestling: Fire Nation Man, the foreign heel. The crowd boos, naturally, and he jobs out in seconds to The Boulder. After this is a montage of Foley tearing his way through earthbenders until he faces the reigning champion.
The champion is the titular Blind Bandit. A blind, twelve-year old girl. Yes, really.
The Gaang themselves are rather surprised by this. The Boulder and the Bandit exchange some banter, and her laugh reminds Aang of the girl he saw in the swamp. Once the fight starts properly, the Bandit goes from being snarky to dead silent and still.
Blind Bandits may be less blind than they appear...
And it is at this point when we get to the big cop-out. See, the writers couldn't actually give the show a blind character. That would have involved putting forth effort or something, so instead she's earthbending-Daredevil. She has special earthbending-based vision that we get a shot off, looking very much like Daredevil's sonar from the movie. And no; I didn't buy it anymore there than I do here.
I've never understood the logic of this kind of nonsense. What's the point of making a character blind if they're not going to actually be, you know, blind
? Her blindness will factor into the series about as much as Daredevil's did in the movie.
Thanks to her earthbending vision, she sees every move The Boulder makes, and then she defeats him in two moves. As Foley intended. He is a benevolent God, of course; he's not going to publicly shame and humiliate a blind girl. Besides, he has a plan for her, and she couldn't fulfill that plan if he brushed her aside like so much dust.
Eventually, Bending McMahan starts offering a bag of gold to anyone who can beat the Blind Bandit. What? The Boulder had to go through like 10 people, but McMahan's just going to allow anyone from the audience to waltz in and challenge the champion? And for the title
no less? Wouldn't that denigrate the honor of the champion, lowering its prestige and making championship meaningless?
Hmm. I guess the writers really do know their wrestling after all.*
Of course, Aang wants to talk to the Bandit, so he decides to step into the arena. When Aang says that he wants to talk, Sokka, as a good wrestling mark, boos him for it. The two fight, with Aang's airbending allowing him to not touch the ground where she can see him. Eventually, he airbends her out of the arena, thus winning the title.
Upset at losing her title to a nobody, the Bandit storms off despite Aang wanting to talk to her. She leaves the area by opening a hole in a rock wall and closing it behind her.
Sometime later, the Gaang is trying to find the Bandit, so they head back to Master Yu's. There, they meet the two jerk students from before, but one bullying look from Katara has them confessing what little they know. They say that the Bandit's identity is a mystery; she appears, fights, then leaves.
So instead, they try to track down the winged boar that Aang saw in his vision. Apparently, the flying boar is the symbol of the Bei Fong family, one of the wealthier families in the world. But they don't have a daughter. So the Gaang decide to check it out.
Cut to Bending McMahan speaking with God. Foley tells him that Toph wasn't beaten by earthbending, saying that she took a dive to split the money. Naturally, McMahan is incensed by a preplanned outcome happening in his
Oh, the irony!
Of course, Foley works in mysterious ways. He knows how all of this will play out, and he's manipulating the circumstances to achieve a desired result. He knows that its the only way to get Aang together with the Bandit.
Such are the manifold ways of Foley.
Back to the Gaang. Rather than simply coming in through the front door, they decide to sneak in. Because that's always helpful. However, they are spotted by the Blind Bandit, now wearing a white dress like in Aang's vision. She earthbends at them, calls Aang "twinkle toes," and asks what they're doing there. Aang tries to explain, but takes a while to reach the point, so Katara lays it all out: they want her to be the Avatar's earthbending teacher.
The Bandit tells them that it's not her problem, and that if they don't leave, she'll call the guards. She makes good on her threat and they run off. The guards arrive and we finally
get an actual name for this character: Toph Bei Fong.
Because Toph sounds like Tough. Get it?
Cut to Toph having a meeting with Master Yu and her parents over tea. They exposit that Toph has been taking lessons from Yu, but he's only been teaching her the very basics. They are interrupted by one of the elder Bei Fong's people: the Avatar has requested an audience.
Toph is not pleased.
Cut to dinner. When the elder Bei Fong asks Aang how long the war might go on, he says that he's hoping to end it by summer, and that he still needs to learn earthbending. The elder Bei Fong suggests Master Yu, pointing out that he's been training Toph, though he says that Toph's blindness will prevent her from becoming a "true Master". Please, like the title of "Master" means anything after Katara went from nothing to Master in a few short weeks.
Aang, displaying a shocking degree of competence and intelligence, realizes that nobody knows about Toph's skills. However, displaying the forethought that saw him frozen in ice for a hundred years, he starts pressuring Toph by skirting towards revealing the secret. Each time he does, she bashes him under the table with some foot-based earthbending. After a few rounds of this, Aang decides to use an airbending sneeze at her, blowing everyone's food around and hitting Toph squarely in the face.
Cut to after dinner. Aang and Toph go for a walk to air things out. There, she tells him that she was blind from birth, but has had Toph-Vision all her life. Yes, really. At least with Daredevil, you could pretend that it was the chemicals that rendered him blind that caused his superpowers. But nope. All those other blind people in the Avatar-verse that don't have Toph-Vision? I guess they just weren't spechule
enough for it.
This will not be the last time that Toph marks an entire group of people as inferior by her super-special-awesome abilities. Just wait for it.
She says that her parents don't understand, that they think she should be protected. Aang, the absolute master
of running away, asks why she stays with them, but she says that they're her parents. Aang offer her a place with the Gaang, which Toph wants to take, but doesn't.
Then they're captured by the Earth Rumble wrestlers. Toph-Vision gave them a head's up that the attack was coming, but they magically dropped metal boxes around them. And while the boxes have a sealing floor to them that carves through the ground, that doesn't explain what happened to the earth that they were standing on. That is, why Toph doesn't have a small mound of earth with her in the metal boxes.
The Gaang and the Bei Fongs find a ransom note from Bending McMahan, Xin Fu. So the elder Bei Fong asks Master Yu to help with the negotiations, and they plus the Gaang go to save Toph and Aang.
Toph is quickly released once the money is paid, but not Aang. Bending McMahan says that the Fire Nation will pay more for Aang than they will. When Sokka and Katara look ready to fight, the other Earth Rumble wrestlers appear. Katara tries to enlist Toph's aid, but the elder Bei Fong (seriously, they never mention the names of characters) simply says that Toph is weak and helpless and so forth. Naturally, this incenses Toph, so the 12-year-old girl steps up to fight them. All of them. By herself.
It's important to establish the power level of characters, particularly new ones. But this scene is over-the-top. Even when Katara got her magical upgrade to Master, she didn't take on a half-dozen experienced waterbenders all at once and face-stomp them all. None of these skilled earthbenders even come close to laying a finger or a rock on Toph. At least Master Pakku got to dictate the pace of his fight with Katara; Toph just annihilates everyone.
Now granted, they try to make this plausible, in that she deprives them of sight by earthbending up a cloud of dust over the arena. Though that raises a new question. Toph has been blind from birth. The only kind of "vision" she is aware of is her Toph-Vision. While I'm sure she knows that other people see things differently from her, I can't imagine that she has as intuitive a grasp on the concept of sight as a sighted person.
For example, I imagine that glass would confound Toph. To her, it's a solid material, and in her experience, people can't see through solid stuff. But people can see through this. Even if she understood in the abstract that there were some materials people could see through, it would be something that she would have to think about and remember, not something that is obvious and familiar to her.
The same goes with dust clouds. She might know about dust, but it has never impaired her
vision. The only way she would know that it could impair normal vision is if she had heard someone talk about it. It wouldn't be common knowledge for her, especially since she's been sheltered her whole life to the point where the rest of the world doesn't even know that the Bei Fong's have a daughter.
Anyway after taking out the other earthbenders, she and Bending McMahan have a duel. Again, Toph deflects everything he does, and she finishes him off without breaking a sweat.
Cut to the Bei Fong residence, where Toph explains herself to her parents. She says how good she is at fighting and how they kept her hidden from the world, and how she doesn't need protecting. The elder Bei Fong says that she has had far too much freedom, so they'll be keeping her under round-the-clock care. He even says "twenty-four hours a day." Even though we've already established that clocks (and sundials) don't exist in this world. The Gaang are escorted away.
Aang frets about having lost this chance at an earthbending teacher. Um, Aang, what the hell were you expecting? That a couple would surrender their 12-year-old daughter to your care, while you and she go off on dangerous and likely deadly encounters with an army of firebenders who all want nothing more than to kill you and everyone around you? Even if the Bei Fongs accepted their daughter's prowess and allowed her to have more freedom, they're not going to just turn her loose and let her go wherever.
Anyway, there's nothing to worry about. It's not as though the writers went through all the trouble of introducing a named character and establishing her fighting credibility
just to throw her away, particularly when they threw "destiny" around. So naturally she shows up, claiming that her father relented, allowing her to travel freely. Because obviously all fathers do that to their 12-year-old children. Nobody buys this, but they accept her anyway, because aiding and abetting a 12-year-old running away is perfectly heroic behavior. After she earthbends Aang into a tree, because it's funny, the Gaang+1 depart.
Cut to the Bei Fongs. The elder Bei Fong is talking with Master Yu and Bending McMahan. He's sending them to find his daughter, saying that the Avatar took her.
In spite of my personal distaste for Disability Superpowers
(seriously, why bother having someone be disabled if it's only going to lead to them being better off for it?) and Toph's overpoweredness, this is a pretty good episode. It establishes Toph's character and hooks Aang up with his earthbending teacher. And they even do a good job of having her not necessarily facing her head towards people. Granted, it's not so much because of blindness as her Toph-Vision being omnidirectional, but visually it all works.