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.