Sep 2 2010 1:25pm

Avatar Rewatch: “The Blind Bandit” (Episode 206)

In episode 2.06, “The Blind Bandit,” Aang and the gang continue their search to find the Avatar an Earthbending master, discovering an unlikely tutor in an Earthbending tournament.

Okay, folks. Full disclosure here. I love Toph. I have been looking forward to this episode since before we started the re-watch in the spring. I’m so glad I can finally talk about her. However, I am curious to hear the impressions any first-time viewers have of her. I remember not being completely sold on an addition to the gang when I first saw “The Blind Bandit.”

The episode opens in an Earth Kingdom town with Sokka trying to decide whether or not he should buy an expensive bag. Sokka is certainly the most materialistic of the three and the writers never miss an opportunity to play with this aspect of his character. Meanwhile, Aang and Katara find an Earthbending school for Aang to attend. Sadly, Master Yu is more interested in money than in properly training his students. The gang sulks about Aang’s lack of a master when two teenage boys walk by talking about Earth Rumble IV.

I loved this beat. Sokka fails to get anything from the guys other than a really crap joke, but Katara gets the job done. When she leaves the gang to get her information, it is implied that she will use her feminine charms to get the boys to talk. Turns out she just waterbended the information out of them. It is a cool display of Katara’s power that she holds over those boys for the rest of the episode, and represents another way the show plays with our expectations.

There is a lot to be said about Earth Rumble IV. Clearly, this is an homage to classic WWF tournaments. According to the commentary, The Boulder was originally offered to The Rock. Makes sense. Many of the other fighters resemble other WWF fighters. (I leave it to Matt to break some of that down in the comments. A WWF fan I am not.)

[Matt’s Geek Interjection #1: The Boulder’s voice and appearance resemble that of Macho Man Randy Savage, known perhaps better for his endorsement of processed spiced meat sticks than his performance in the ring. The Big Bad Hippo is in name and appearance an homage to the Nintendo Punch-Out boxer King Hippo, complete with crown-like hairdo and hippo tusk chompers.]

Sokka manages to completely fanboy out at the tournament, cheering on The Boulder up until he is defeated by Toph.

Toph’s introduction as The Blind Bandit is pretty fantastic. Aang recognizes her as the girl from the swamp and then we get “Toph vision” to show us why she is such a powerful bender. It quickly becomes clear that Toph is meant to be Aang’s master. Their fight is fantastic. Toph’s sarcasm and attitude come out immedietly and Aang manages to knock her down a few notches... and make off with her winnings.

[Matt’s Geek Interjection #2: Toph-o-vision is perhaps inspired by the Marvel superhero Daredevil.]

Once Toph’s identity is revealed to the gang (again, by those annoying teenagers), Toph becomes much more than an awesome bender. She is clearly a girl who is struggling with her parents’ view of her. She is coddled and Master Yu, who is more interested in money than results, chooses not to teach her anything too dangerous. It must have been a shock to the gang when they realized Toph’s situation. Remember, Sokka and Katara’s mother is dead and their father is fighting in the war. Aang has no family except for the gang. How did they expect someone like Toph to suddenly be willing to teach Aang? I guess they lucked out when Toph’s “perfect” family was a little too perfect for her.

The fight sequence in the arena when Toph fights all of the Earth Rumble fighters BY HERSELF is mindblowing, not only for the gang, but for Master Yu and Toph’s father. Jaws drop faster than the Earthbenders. Despite Toph’s showing in that battle, her father decides he has given her too much freedom. How sad is it that his need for control outweighs simply letting his daughter experience the world, if only for a short time.

Toph’s decision to leave with the gang made a lot of sense to me. She finally found companions and someone worthy of her skills. Upon re-watch, I forgot that Toph is hunted by the unlikely duo of Master Yu and Xin Fu. There is some awesome stuff coming up with that.

So, re-watchers... how do you feel about the latest addition to the gang? Are there any other Toph fans out there?

Attention First-Time Avatar Watchers: Our posts will be spoiler-free (except for the episode we’re discussing), but be aware that spoilers for future episodes may abound in the comment thread below. We wanted to keep the comment threads future-spoiler-free as well, but it will likely prove impossible and it would impede our ability to analyze the series in retrospect.

Up next: Zuko Alone!

Jordan Hamessley is an Earthbender and is probably going to be Toph for Halloween. She is an assistant editor at Grosset & Dunlap/PSS at Penguin Books for Young Readers where she edits the Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Club Penguin and Dinosaur Train publishing programs, as well as developing original series. She is also an assistant editor for Lightspeed Magazine. She can be found on Twitter as @thejordache.

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Kerwin Miller
1. tamyrlink
*best line of the episode* goes to Sokka: "Water Tribe" (and then he walks away)

i love toph. i remember at this point thinking it was about time they got an earthbender in the group. when they first showed horu (the earthbender boy whose dad was in prison) i thought he would join the group. and her little mannish self is a great foil for Katara.

did anyone notice that toph is the only female earthbender shown (kiyoshi doesnt count) least i think she's the only one...

i understand the blindness of the character but i always thought it made her fights a little to easy. in this episode she has what i call the "Introduction Factor" (there's probably a tv trope name for it) but its where the first time they show a character (on any show) their power/skills are very high, but after that they dont get that good until a little more time has passed....but still it was a GREAT earthbending fight scene! the best we've seen since Aang fought Bumi.
Gary Schaper
2. Garyfury
I watched all of A:tLA for the first time within the last month.

When Toph first turned up, I know that two of my main reactions were to the Daredevil similarity, and to her age. I have to say that (going forward) I was impressed with how the writers handle Toph's blindness and her use of earthbending to overcome it -- while usually it manifests only in minor ways, they never forget and treat her just like a sighted person.

I wasn't thrilled that the new team member was someone even younger than Aang, mainly because I thought even he was pushing it as far as being a world-changing figure. I think it's well done, though, because on the one hand she's supremely confident in her abilities -- but she also shows herself capable of being an abruptly vulnerable kid when those abilities fail her for one reason or another.

Count me as a Toph fan, although in the long run she's just one great character among many.
Mitchell Downs
3. Beamish
Toph is great addition to the show because her character is a complete contradiction. She is a great object lesson in not pre-judging things. AND - she gets to ratchet up the sarcasm even byone Sokka levels which I loved.

Also it should be noted that the voice of "The Boulder" was long-time pro-wrestler Mick Foley who was very consciously doing an over-the-top impression of The Rock - there is only as much Randy Savage in that impression as there is in The Rock's original schtick.
a.v willis
4. a.v willis
First off let's get the obvious out of the way, toph is awesome. She's basically what a twelve year old tomboy would be like if you started slipping steroids into her diet at a very young age. Throw in the fact she is an unflappable force and a pathological smart ass and she's just a remarkable character.

That being said if there's one thing that bugs me about this episode, it's that her parents are set up as straw men. Don't get me wrong, i get that her dad is being overprotective for a good reason, and i can understand why he'd want to shelter her, but listen again to the dialogue when they're walking away from the arena: it's such an obvious set up it's cringe inducing. It would have been so easy to set up the parents as actual human beings who have their best interests at heart who actually make an effort at interacting with her. Instead they're depicted as naieve well wishers who think throwing money at her can help her lead a normal life.
Even then i wouldn't mind if they'd actually fleshed out the relationship later in the series but they don't really. In "the Runaway" they have her choosing to make an effort in the end, but they never really do anything with it except later on showing her using Zuko as a rent-a-shrink. I understand they had to prioritize what they had to show at the end and a secondary character's daddy issues would naturally get put on backburner, but looking at the number of throwaway episodes in the third season, i can't help thinking the bei fong family got the short end of the stick
a.v willis
5. laotsekung
Toph = awesome for pure sarcasm input. The character was a great addition to the team, and nicely rounded out. Also great to see a disabled character that is capable, does not require or want you pity, and if you give her pity will kick your butt. As a disabled person myself, I found the series' tack refreshing without being patronizing.
a.v willis
6. Anna R.
When my boyfriend and I first watched the show, I fell in love with Toph instantly. As laotsekung stated, it was so, so awesome to see a disabled character that wasn't coddled by the general cast - and, further on, much of the cast seems to forget she even has a disability.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, took a few episodes to warm up to Toph. He didn't really like her brashness or the fact that she seemed on the verge of 'too perfect', able to defeat any enemy easily. To him, it seemed as if the blindness had been added in as a trope to make her sympathetic. Once her personal vulnerabilites came out, though, he really started to like her (although he doesn't adore her like I do!).
a.v willis
7. CaitieCat
Absolutely, laotsekung - and she's not the only person with a disability, either. We had Teo, who used a wheelchair even when flying(!), in the first season.

I adore Toph, from the first moment she shows up. She brings another source of conflict into the group with her somewhat stunted social skills, as we see when she argues with Katara later, and she's a huge part of the gAang's schtick when they start fighting as a team (see the visit to the Earth King, for example, when she and Aang do a lot of very cool earthbending). And of course, as laotsekung points out, she does it all while blind. Awesome.

And they don't ignore her blindness, either - the substitute sense she gains from earthbending has plenty of limits, such as not being able to read, or to perceive when on sand or in water.

I'll leave out mention of That Other incredible skill she demonstrates later, because it's a lot more spoilery than the little dribs above. :)

May I add a small plea for some consistency in the tagging of posts? It takes a certain amount of time for the index to be updated, which is understandable, but it'd be a lot easier to know the latest post is up if the tags were consistent. :)
a.v willis
8. Derek J. Goodman
For me this episode has always represented a major turning point in the series. It's not just that Toph adds a new welcome dynamic to the cast, but that from this point on the writers seem to have really found their stride. When rewatching the series, there are plenty of episodes before this that I skip while there are almost none that I skip after this. To me, "The Blind Bandit" was the point where A:tLA went from just being a good show to a great show.
Jennifer B
9. JennB
I think Toph is great!

re @ 2
I don't think she is necessarily younger than Aang. They are both 12, so if she is younger, it is only months.

As I have been rewatching the series, I have been trying to figure out the characters' ages.

We know for sure that Aang and Toph are both 12 because it is stated in the show.
I think that Zuko is about 16. He was banished at 13 and has been looking for Aang for 3 years. Azula is his little sister, so she is only 14 or 15.
Sokka was too young to ice dodge before his father left for the war. Ice dodging is a right of passage for 14 year old boys and Sokka's dad has been gone for 2 years, so Sokka must be 15 or younger.
Katara is Sokka's little sister, so she is 13 or 14 at the oldest.

edited to add
From Avatar Wiki:
Aang 12
Katara 14
Sokka 15
Toph 12
Zuko 16
Azula 14
Suki 15
Mai 15
Ty Lee 14
Jet 16
Haru 16
Yue 16
Stacy Holley
10. sleigh9908
Toph is, without a doubt, my favorite character in the series. She is intelligent, sarcastic, an awesome (self-taught) bender, and (SPOILER) she bends a new medium by thinking logically. My favorite Toph scene is when she plays the Melon Lord. She would make a great evil genius if she wasn't so good.
Kathiravan Isak Arulampalam
11. Ipood
Since Aang is 112, everybody but Pathik and possibly Bumi are younger than him.
a.v willis
12. Aleq F. Reese
i was alittle skeptical about the whole show, and then more so about a new character. but, i will only watch episodes with her now. she is the best character (aside from king boomy)

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