Avatar: The Last Airbender Newbie Recap: “The Runaway”
Ice puns cometh.
This piece was originally posted on Cinefeels and has been republished here with permission.
We’re at that point midway through the season where old conflicts just keep getting recycled, and the plot kind of grinds its wheels until the next SOMETHING BIG happens. Whenever that SOMETHING BIG ends up being, because after all that hullabaloo about not taking detours in “The Painted Lady,” Sokka, Our Lord of the Schedule, has apparently completely forgotten that they’re on a time limit.
This week’s rehashed conflict: Toph and Katara not getting along. It’s still a decent episode, and it’s Toph-centric, so HELL yeah, but I’m wishing the showrunners would move things along a little.
We start with a scene that appears to be Katara giving Toph to the cops for some undisclosed reason. It’s clearly a ruse, because A) …Toph actually going to prison doesn’t help the gaang’s larger goal of SAVING THE WORLD, and B) this is Avatar, and friendship trumps all, so Katara wouldn’t do that.
Three days earlier, Katara and Toph are getting their bicker on while they’re supposed to be teaching Aang. It’s the same old stuff–“Twinkletoes” Katara is a bossy, prissy killjoy, Toph is irresponsible and gross. Toph, Aang, and Sokka later take a day trip to the village, where Toph reveals that she can use her earthbending skills to cheat at the shell game. She plays up the “weak blind little girl” routine and ends up scamming a crapton of money out of the guy who wanted to scam her.
Katara, predictably, isn’t too pleased with her comrades embarking on a life of crime, but Aang makes her an Avatar Promise–which he completely made up–that they won’t make a habit of it. Cue montage of them making a habit of it, with Toph using her earthbending skills to trick people into giving her money. I wish I had the technical know-how to edit “Eye of the Tiger” into that scene, but I don’t, so you’re just going to have to imagine that I did.
And look, it’s the return of Wang Fire!
Back at the camp, Katara tries to convince her buds that continuing to scam people won’t end well, BECAUSE THEY’RE BEING HUNTED BY A MASTER ASSASSIN WHO SHOOTS LASERS FROM HIS HEAD (whom Sokka has nicknamed Sparky Sparky Boom Man), AND THE FATE OF LITERALLY THE ENTIRE WORLD DEPENDS ON THEM NOT GETTING CAUGHT OR KILLED, SO MAYBE THEY SHOULD TRY TO BE INCONSPICUOUS.
Katara puts her psychoanalyst hat on and accuses Toph of having Parental Issues–she misses her mom and dad and feels guilty about running away from home, but she won’t admit that to herself, so she acts out instead.
Sokka, going to town to buy a messenger hawk, sees a wanted poster for Toph–nicknamed “The Runaway”–which Toph thinks is the best thing ever. He’s starting to realize that maybe this increased attention on their group is a bad thing (ya think?), but she bribes him with money for an atlas so he won’t tell Katara or Aang about the poster. Katara finds it anyway while she’s cleaning Toph’s stuff, which makes Toph pretty pissed. Toph accuses Katara of acting like everyone’s mom (which she does, let’s be real), and they both storm off to be pissy on opposite ends of camp.
The bad blood dies down when Katara overhears a conversation between Sokka and Toph, where Sokka basically talks about how great Katara is–she did sort of become his mom after their real mom died, she’s strength, she’s grace, she’s Miss United States–and Toph admits that Katara cares about her more than her own mom ever did.
That sends Katara into full-on Amy Poehler from Mean Girls mode…
…and she asks Toph to do one last scam with her. The plan is that Katara will turn in Toph for the reward money–that’s what the scene from the beginning of the episode is–and Toph will break out of prison right after. Only it doesn’t work, because Toph gets dragged away to a wooden prison, in which her bending powers won’t work. Turns out Sparky Sparky Boom Man’s already tracked them to town. Katara’s thrown into the cell as well, after which she realizes she and Toph are meant to be bait for Aang. They have a nice heart-to-heart, and then Katara figures out she can bust them out of prison by running in place a bunch and bending her sweat.
Meanwhile, Sparky Sparky Boom Man’s been chasing Aang and Sokka around town. Katara shows up and rescues them by encasing his head in a block of ice, causing my brain to go on an endless jag of Mr. Freeze puns.
Toph causes Sparky’s powers to go a little funky by hitting him in the forehead eye with a pebble, while I’m guessing will be significant later. As the group escapes, Sokka says he’s come up with a perfect name for their nemesis: Combustion Man. Uh, no, Sokka. You already said Sparky Sparky Boom Man. You can’t give me that and then take it away. I know what I want.
The episode ends with Toph, having overcome some of her issues, asking Katara to help her write a letter to her parents.
OK. I was not loving this episode. There wasn’t much new presented, and I want things to start moving along. That said, there were some good bits: Toph’s reaction to Sokka and Katara trying to show her her wanted poster (I’M FUCKING BLIND, YO.), Katara coming up with sweatbending, Sokka’s new BFF Hawky the messenger hawk, THIS:
The Fire Nation has some morality issues, but I do like their aesthetic.
Rebecca (@RebeccaPahle) used to work for The Mary Sue before she cruelly abandoned them for Film Journal International, where she is currently the Assistant Editor. Still, she couldn’t stop doing Avatar recaps. Rebecca also writes for Pajiba and Phactual in addition to her personal website, Cinefeels.