Opinionated Guide to Avatar: The Last Airbender


The Runaway

She's always got to be right about everything, and she gets all bossy, and involved, and in your business.
Sokka, about Katara

The episode opens with... Superdickery! We see Toph in a net, flung onto the ground of a random Fire Nation city. She yells to someone off-camera that they betrayed her. We cut to... Katara! OMGWTFBBQ! She says that she had no choice.

Yeah, I'm sure this is exactly what it looks like.

Cut to three days before that. We get another attempt to sell the superdickery to us as Toph and Katara look like they're squaring off to fight. Nope; they're squaring off to fight Aang, who's busy putting on a blindfold.

Aang stomps his foot, and quite suddenly he's in Toph Vision. That's... atrocious writing. The moment Aang went into Toph Vision should have been an important moment for his character. It should have served as a good marker of his progress at mastering earthbending as well as becoming the Avatar. But no; it happened offscreen. After all, that would likely have involved giving Toph a character, and we can't have that in this show.

BTW, this is the only Toph episode this season. Enjoy it while you can.

Anyway, they fight for a bit, but an errant shot from Toph hits Katara. She gets pissed when Toph insults her a bit, and hits her with some water. Then, it's 100% catfight, and since they are a water and earthbender, mud is quickly involved. We get a bit of Komedy! with Sokka and Aang before Aang breaks it up by pointing out that he was supposed to be getting training.

The odd thing about this episode is that it turns on the friction between Toph and Katara. Which we last saw... almost twenty episodes ago! The introductory sequence that shows us previous bits to get us up to speed showed us clips from The Chase. We haven't seen hide nor hair of this bit of character interaction since then. Indeed, they had that whole female-bonding mini-episode back in The Tales of Ba Sing Se. This should have been over and done; characterization ought to have marched on.

But it hasn't. For some reason. And to be fair, they do come up with a good one. But it seems odd that the best they could come up with for a Toph episode was to resolve something that was resolved a season ago. Aren't there any Mary Sues she could learn something from?

Anyway, Toph, Sokka and Aang decide to head into town. While they're wandering around, Toph spies some people running a shell game. She figures she can get money from them. Note that if you see a shell game in real life, you should keep walking; it's never legit.

True to life, neither is this one. Toph points out that everyone guesses wrong because he moves the pebble out from under the shell, which is exactly how the scam is played out in real life. Now granted, they do it with a lot more subtlety than what is portrayed here, but props go for the accurate research.

Of course, now we have to ask a question. How exactly does Toph Vision allow her to see this? Toph can see stuff that's sitting on earth; that's fine. But can she see stuff that is on stuff on the ground, even when the stuff between them is not earth? Apparently so, since she can see a pebble through a wooden table. Really at this point, she's just magic; whatever the story needs her to be.

Oh and remember the fact that she can see through wood for later.

Anyway, the scammer asks if she wants to play, and Toph plays the innocent blind girl. Again, props must be given in that this is a very good example of how the scam is run. The guy puts pebbles under each of the shells so that she'll always win the first time. Then he ups the stakes, having her stake Sokka's Black Sword against forty silver pieces. This time, he pulls out all of the pebbles, but Toph earthbends the last one back under the shell.

I'll just pretend that she can know the position of a random piece of earth in midair and affect its trajectory.

The scammer is surprised to find that he lost. In real life, that would be where the scam artist's confederates in the crowd would take you in back and do you over. Here, the Gaang are able to flee before anything bad happens.

Cut back to the camp, where they are returning with spoils purchased with their money. Aang explains how they scammed a guy to get it, which gets Katara all indignant. O Rly, Katara? While we're calling back to previous episodes, maybe we should go all the way back to, say, The Waterbending Scroll, Miss "I stole a scroll for Aang but really for me and then got us all captured by pirates." Where does she get off on lecturing Toph Bei Fong about this?

Toph naturally points out that he was scamming people. You know, like how Katara said that "Stealing is wrong... unless it's from pirates!" And everyone had a little laugh. So either Katara learned a lesson off camera, or this is just Katara being upset because it's not her idea. Katara suggests that they not pull scams too often, and after some Komedy!, Aang gives her "an Avatar promise" that they won't keep doing that stuff.

To emphasize just how little Aang's word is worth, we immediately smash cut to a montage of Gaang-1 using Toph's powers to cheat at several games. Most of them are innocent enough, as those games are likely rigged. However, their last endeavour involves pulling a Flopsy scheme on some random rich guy. Um, just because he's rich doesn't mean it's OK to steal from him.

Cut back to camp, where the Gaang are tallying up their winnings, while Katara starts accosting them, saying that something bad will happen. Toph tells her to lighten up, and Katara calls her a wild child. Naturally, Katara doesn't bother to use coherent arguments like the fact that the fate of the world hangs on their actions. You know, how screwing up now could cause them to miss the invasion due to being imprisoned and get a lot of people killed.

Toph talks about how great they have their life, running around, having fun, without parents. Katara keys on that last part, but Toph isn't going to have any of it. Katara starts pulling an Azula and psychoanalyzes her, saying that she acts like she hates her parents but instead feels guilty. Toph then replies that she does hate them, but Katara says she misses them.

Toph tries to play it off, but Katara just says that the scams are risky and they should stop. She mentions the guy from two episodes ago who was hunting them, and Sokka has a bit of Komedy! about a name for the guy. Toph storms off, saying that she will stop scamming people when she feels like it.

Meanwhile, Sokka heads into town to buy a messenger hawk. Yes, really. On his way back with his new bird, he passes a bulletin board and spots a wanted poster of Toph. Then his bird takes a dump on his hand.


Sokka heads back to camp and shows Toph the poster. We get a genuinely funny bit where she reminds him she can't see what's on the paper. When he tells her that it's a wanted poster, she's actually quite excited, liking her titular nickname: "The Runaway." Anyway, Toph tells him not to worry and suggests that he go spend some of their money. Only this conversation is framed and acted like she's bribing him. Even though it's the group's money, and he was involved in getting it.

Aang and Katara show up. Katara is naturally unhappy about Sokka owning a bird, and it turns out he never bothered to ask the store owner how they work.

Cut to later, when Sokka and Toph are returning with more loot. Katara intercepts them, asking a bunch of leading questions that ends in her revealing the poster. When Katara asks her about it, Toph say, "I don't know! I mean, seriously, what's with you people? I'm blind!"

Well, maybe if you couldn't see everything except what's on paper, people might remember that more often.

Anyway, they get into another argument as Toph deduces that Katara went through her stuff. Katara, thanks to Bending Daredevil's polygraph (which somehow works now, unlike a few episodes back when it didn't), confesses that she was snooping through her stuff, so Toph says that Katara isn't her mom. Toph then talks about how Katara tries to boss everyone around, but she's just a kid like them.

When Katara asks Sokka if she acts motherly, Sokka immediately ducks the question. After a bit, Toph storms off.

Cut to a bit later, as Sokka and Aang brainstorm ways to get Katara and Toph to make up. We get yet more humor based around one of the very few instances where Toph's blindness is relevant. I mean, she can see most stuff just fine. This is Toph's one and only episode this whole season; couldn't they decide just for once not to keep bringing it up as if it were important? Blindness isn't character.

Anyway, Sokka decides to go have a heart-to-heart with Toph. However, they didn't bother to check whether Katara was bathing underneath the rock overhang they decided to sit on. So he uses the page quote to describe Katara, but then he says that he relies on her being that way (see? I can do Superdickery too!). He talks about how Katara was there for their family when their mother died. He even says that he's not sure he can remember what his mother's face looked like, but sometimes he imagines Katara's face in her place.

Aww. The eavesdropping Katara is touched.

Toph then talks about how she sometimes doesn't mind how Katara acts. That Katara cares about the real her. Unlike her own mom.

Talk about facts not in evidence, Toph. Your mom didn't care about the real you because you never let her see the real you. You hid all your super-special-awesome powers from your parents, remember? If your mother didn't care about the real you, it's your fault.

Anyway, after Toph punches Sokka and gets him to agree not to tell Katara about this, we cut to Katara meeting up with Toph later. Toph interrupts Katara to say that she's giving up the scamming. Then Katara suggests that they pull a bigger scam. Yeah, this won't go badly or anything.

Katara's plan is to basically turn Toph in, collect the reward, and have Toph free herself with metalbending. Right, because the guards certainly won't report that someone broke out of their jail by bending the bars or anything. No, that won't arouse suspicion at all. This isn't even remotely like a good plan.

Anyway, we get the scene from the opening, and now in context it makes sense. After Toph gets dragged off, Katara asks for the reward. We cut to Toph being put into a cell. She grabs the "bars", asking what kind of cell it is, and the officer says, "a wooden one."

First... why can't Toph tell it's made of wood? It has been firmly established, as recently as this episode, that Toph can see through wood. Hell, incidental contact with a wooden boat was sufficient for her to get a good glimpse of it. But she acts like she's completely blind in the wooden cell.

Second, why do they have a wooden cell in the FIRE Nation? It's hard enough to hold firebending prisoners when firebenders have been shown to be capable of exploding stone with their powers. Why would they ever have a wooden cell? How can they be sure that anyone they arrest isn't secretly a firebender?

And most important of all, why do they throw her in it? Yes, I know the third-eye guy is going to show up in a minute, thus revealing him as the "mastermind" of this plan. But how does he know that Toph can bend metal?

The list of people who know about Toph's skills is rather short. The Gaang, the people traveling with Hakoda, and Xin Fu/Master Yu. That's all. I refuse to buy that information about her powers traveled so fast that they heard about it in the Fire Nation and that this guy just so happened to find out about it. All inside of a month or so.

Furthermore, let's take the episode at face value. The guy knows what Toph can do. He has tracked the Gaang down... somehow. And so he lays a plan that involves him having the local jailer build a wooden cell (because they wouldn't have them unless it was special-order). All on the assumption that Toph is going to be turned in for the reward.

Sorry; not buying it. There's no way anyone could plan for something like that.

In any case, Katara is captured by the third-eye guy and put in the wooden cell as well. We get a shot of the other two Gaang members rallying to find out what's taking so long. After a genuinely funny bit with the animals, we cut back to Bonnie and Clyde in their wooden cell.

Toph figures out that they're the bait in a trap for Aang. Katara starts talking about how she was against the scams, and Toph points out that this one was on her. Katara says that she wanted to show that she wasn't all motherly. Then she apologises for talking about Toph's relationship with her parents, but Toph says that she was partially right. That she probably really hurt them by leaving.

Toph has a good cry while Katara hugs her. God, how I wish something actually came of this (and no, not that kind of something).

Sokka and Aang walk into the deserted town square. Aang is able to hear the third-eye guy's inhale and is therefore able to pull Sokka away from destruction. Sure why not.

Back in the cell, Toph and Katara hear the fight outside. Katara suggests that Toph use the piece of the meteor that Sokka gave her (she's been wearing it as a bracelet), but she left it back at camp. Katara wipes the sweat from her forehead, then starts running in place. Reconfirming that Toph can't see in the wooden cell, Toph asks what's going on, and Katara says she's making her own water. Naturally, Katara's sweat works perfectly fine and she starts cutting her way out of the cell.

Then the guards tell her to stop or they set the cell on fire. No, of course not. Because that would require someone displaying intelligence.

Sokka and Aang decide to split up; naturally, the guy goes after Aang. But Katara hits him with some waterbending action, to cover their escape. As they leave, Toph fires a rock at him, which he explodes. Yet somehow, somehow, one fragment of the rock keeps going and hits him in the third eye. This knocks him down. When he tries to get up, we get a POV shot where his vision is blurry. Um, OK. He tries to fire his explode beam, but it misfires and blows up next to him.

Sure why not.

Oh, and the Gaang names the third-eye guy "Combustion Man." Sadly, despite how stupid this name is, it's better than "third-eye guy."

Naturally, when the Gaang get back to camp, they find that Appa is a mess of gore and... oh no wait, that didn't happen. Because obviously the guy couldn't possibly have thought to make sure they couldn't get away by taking out their transport before springing the trap. No, that's an Azula-level move, and she's busy.

So they escape. That night, Toph asks Katara to help write a letter for her to send to her parents. And now, one can imagine a slightly younger Toph Bei Fong, in her bedroom after her parents tell her that she will be kept in even tighter seclusion. She's going to run away; she's made her choice. But she wants to say something to her parents. She wants to leave behind a note, to let them know why she's leaving, to let them know that she'll be OK. So that they can understand why she left and who she really is. But she can't.

Because she can't write.

And now, Toph is trying to correct that. They naturally use Sokka's conveniently acquired messenger hawk. Do we ever find out what became of this? Of course not; it's not like Toph is a character or anything.

Overall, it was a pretty good episode, despite the reams of plotholes and fridge logic. It's nice to see Toph actually having character development, even if it's never followed up on or even spoken of again. Even Katara and Sokka horning in on Toph's episode wasn't able to affect it. The episode does have some flaws, but the good characterization makes it better than most of early third season.


How exactly does Toph Vision allow her to see this? Toph can see stuff that's sitting on earth; that's fine. But can she see stuff that is on stuff on the ground, even when the stuff between them is not earth? Apparently so, since she can see a pebble through a wooden table.

That brings lots of questions. Does Toph see a boulder when she uses earthbending to make it fly? Is something being pure stone alone enough for her to see it.
Ghilz 19th Aug 11
I always assumed the vision had nothing to do with what the surface was made of unless you factor in the state of matter. She can make out people and shapes so long as they're on the ground or on something that's on the ground or on something that's on something that's on the ground (etc, etc.)
Wackd 20th Aug 11
Getting kind of sick of the way this liveblog treats Toph. She's not a very important or developed character, but that doesn't mean she's not a character and the writers didn't think that either.
ManwiththePlan 21st Aug 11
I like Toph, I do think of her as a character, just not one that's as developed as the others and given as much detail as the others.

The name "Sparky Sparky Boom Man" for the villain is one I initially hated, but later I came to realize it's pretty accurate. Listen to the noises that occur every time he attacks. Firecracker firecracker explosion. Very distinctive and funky. Plus, I actually thought it was funny how after one name is proposed, the next character actually uses it in context. ("Sparky Sparky Boom Man is after us!")
BonsaiForest 10th Nov 11