Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Chase

One of the best episodes of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica’s first season was “33.”  At its core, it’s an extremely simple episode.  Every thirty-three minutes, the enemy cylons appear and force the humans to continually flee preventing them from finding rest, offering the question throughout the episode as to how the enemy keeps on finding them.  As it premiered in 2004, and the “The Chase” aired in 2006, the question arises whether the writer of the episode, Joshua Hamilton, was inspired by the former.  A quick search of the internet proves that the comparison remains a popular one, and frankly put, the idea of relentless pursuit is an excellent one.  It worked incredibly well for Battlestar Galactica, and it also worked in the Avatar Universe in “The Chase.”
The relentless pursuit is not the only theme of the episode, nor truly, the most important one.  The chase of our heroes is simply the setting for Toph’s integration into our cast of heroes, and thankfully (for us), it’s not a peaceful addition to the group.  Likewise, when something is chased, it generally conveys the idea that the subject of pursuit is being separated from home or friend, but the opposite occurs at the end of this chase.  By the conclusion of the episode, everyone, including Zuko and Iroh, are brought together and the lines of good, bad, and neutral, are clearly, if not permanently, illustrated.  

Our episode begins with Team Avatar settling down for the night and Katara questions Toph’s lack of participation in preparing the campsite.  Toph, meanwhile, quickly raises a flag of self reliance.  Her argument being she can take care of herself, so she doesn’t need to contribute to helping everyone else out.  This sets the conflict between the water bender and earth bender throughout the episode, a matter not truly resolved and a friction that carries on into Season Three.  For additional fun, Appa is shedding his winter coat and dropping air bison hair everywhere.  Despite the gently growing argument between Katara and Toph on Toph’s participation in the group’s efforts, everyone settles down to sleep only to be urged out of bed by Toph, who sensed something like a moving landslide coming toward them.  Reluctantly, the team flies away and behind them spot the hybrid child of a steam engine and a tank, devouring the space between them.  It’s Fire Nation made by appearances, but who or why it’s pursuing them is a mystery.

Again, it’s time to setup camp and again tempers flare between Toph and Katara.  Just as quickly, everyone is bedded down only to have Toph alert them to flight again.  Wearily, they climb back onto Appa’s back and fly farther away before landing on a mountain ledge to camp.  The friction remains between the team’s women, but the lack of sleep appears to be numbing the back and forth in favor of rest.  Until, that is, the pursuers again arrive in the distance.  This time the team decide to wait and see who is chasing after them and discover it’s Azula with Mai and Ty Lee.  The trio leap from inside the mechanical beast on the backs of giant basilisk-like lizards and ride swiftly to confront our heroes.  

The confrontation is brief, as Azula’s lightning inspires the team to once more climb onto Appa’s back and fly to safety.  For one of the first times in the show, Katara voices a true fear.  In this instance, of Ty Lee’s attack which rendered her unable to bend the last time they fought in Omashu.  It’s a nice touch for her character, to allow her to be afraid and in a justifiable manner.  Mai’s knives are also not highly regarded by Sokka, either.  Repetition is part of the narrative, run, be sought, run again, and so again they flee on Appa, flying farther than before with an air bison poised to pass out mid-flight.  The episode takes a short break from Team Avatar to focus on Azula’s steam engine grinding its way through a bucolic field, but more importantly, pulling back to reveal Zuko on his ostrich horse tracking her.  

After Aang, Sokka, Toph and Katara make a hard landing with a half-awake air bison, the group are in a daze of sleeplessness and irritation.  Aang, our champion of peaceful resolve, snaps, as Katara and Toph bicker and the earth bender blames Appa’s shedding hair for being the guide for Azula to follow.  With both Aang and Katara on her, Toph throws her hands up and storms off, done with her short adventure with the Avatar and determined to fend for herself.  Aang is devastated at helping to drive off his earth bending master, but turns to taking steps to end the chase before he can find Toph and apologize.  Appa is given a good wash and Aang departs on his air glider to disperse air bison hair on a false trail.

Toph wanders away and abruptly runs into Iroh, in the midst of tracking his nephew to try and keep a watchful eye out for him.  The pair end up sharing a pot of tea and Toph reiterates her feelings that Katara’s attempt to incorporate her into the group’s activities amounts to trying to help her for being weak or blind.  The Beifong will have nothing of it, but Iroh, in his wonderful Iroh-self, shares the wisdom that one should not turn away help from those who love you.  He also shares that his nephew, unnamed, is lost and trying to find himself.  The wisdom is enough to convince Toph to return to the group, and she suggests that Iroh might benefit from telling Zuko he needs him, too.

Back at the camp, the attempt to trick Azula only partially works.  Azula decides to follow Aang’s false trail, while Mai and Ty Lee follow after Sokka and Katara who flew away on Appa (and smashed some telltale tree tops on the way out).The showdown between Sokka and Katara and Mai and Ty Lee is a fun one with the Fire Nation women generally overwhelming the two before Appa intervenes and sends them both packing.  Elsewhere, Aang finds his way to an abandoned Earth Kingdom town.  It’s another of the ‘Old West’ variety, similar to the village that Zuko had just departed in “Zuko Alone.”  Instead of leaving the dead ended trail of Appa hair and departing, Aang abruptly sits down and awaits his pursuer.

Azula eventually arrives and introducers herself to the air bender as Zuko’s sister, and manages to slip in a mocking imitation of him in the process.  The Western movie aspects of “Zuko Alone,” abruptly flow into “The Chase,” and for a moment we are gifted with something of a showdown at high noon.  The camera even lowers down to frame Azula’s hand, as if she were contemplating drawing a six shooter, and as before, it also frames her hand in a very claw-like manner – symbolically making her more threatening and inhuman than Zuko has ever been portrayed as the villain in the show.  The fight begins only to be interrupted by Zuko in a scene reminiscent of the Mexican standoff from the finale of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  

What follows is an entertaining three way fight between Zuko, Azula, and Aang, in part with the siblings fighting over Aang.  Given all that has happened up to this moment, it’s hard to hold sincere Zuko’s claim for the air bender, but it’s fun none the less with the fight highlighting the differences between brother and sister, as well air bender and fire bender. In one scene, we see Aang perform the same evasive maneuver used against Zuko the first time the two fought, turning and weaving.  A beautiful touch involving Azula’s blue lightning was the changing of the fire to blue into red flames as the fire spread.  The fight accumulates with the appearance of not just Katara and Sokka, but also Toph and Iroh.  Quickly, Azula finds herself cornered and surrounded.  Her reaction? A lightning bolt to Iroh’s chest as she disappears in a storm of dust caused by the immediate attack of her opponents.  It’s likely that Iroh was her target, perhaps because she knew it was the best way to hurt Zuko.  The episode quickly concludes with Team Avatar hopping onto Appa, as Zuko snarls at them to leave him and his unconscious uncle alone, leaving Iroh’s fate up in the air.  

“The Chase,” takes the usually ignored task of addressing the integration of a new member to a team and plays it out on a setting of continual flight and clashing personality.  While the focus was on Toph, it lightly touched upon and further characterized Katara, Aang, Iroh and even, Zuko.  Also of note, the episode revealed Toph’s continual rejection of feminine stereotype, highlighted by a crass joke involving bison hair shoved into her armpits.  It’s transitional episode to prepare us for the next episode, “Bitter Work,” and a nice touch in developing all our favorite characters.

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