Chapter Twenty-Eight: “The Chase”
(Rating Out of 15)
I do a lot of complaining in my reviews, don’t I? Well, I actually like “The Chase” a lot, so I’m going to get all my usual complaints out of the way once and for all, so hopefully most of them don’t find their way in my later reviews unless necessary. Here we go.
DiMartino and Konietzko and company weren’t really imaginative with their episode titles, were they? “The Chase?” “The Swamp?” “The Crossroads of Destiny?” “The Thing?” “The Boy in the Iceberg?” “The One at the Beach?” So many “The (Blank)” titles, with only a few variables (like “Zuko Alone”). Actually, this isn’t even a complaint so much as an observation. I guess with all the work they put into the actual episodes, simple titles were the way to go. At least they weren’t doing what most kids’ shows do, which is putting idiotic puns in every single title. (That said, if this episode had been called “Straight, No Chase” I probably would have let them get away with it.)
Next on the list is my favorite critical punching bag, Sokka. My relationship with Sokka—or Jack De Sena, his voice actor, I should say—is much like my relationship with Robert Plant, the lead singer of Led Zeppelin. They’re at their best when they’re emotional and just reading (or singing, in Plant’s case) the lines they’re supposed to. They are annoying beyond compare when they’re trying to ad-lib and just plain being obnoxious. See, I sincerely believe De Sena can act just as well as Plant can sing, and when they do what they’re supposed to, and nothing more, they’re fantastic! When they try to do their own thing, they’re unbearable.
In “The Chase,” there’s a scene where Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai—or ATM, as I’ll call them when they’re all in the same episode—find clumps of Appa’s wet, shedded fur in a river. Ty Lee and Mai have a pointless discussion about what the right word would be to describe the clumps of fur. Wads? Bundles? Bunches? When Mai finally decides on “clumps,” Ty Lee enthusiastically agrees, and even gives Mai a hug because of it.
First of all, neither DiMartino nor Konietzko is Quentin Tarantino, so the attempt at mundane but amusing conversation is just an embarrassing failure. They’re not Tarantino, nor should they pretend to be. Even if Konietzko does look a little like the love child of Tarantino and Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood.
And more importantly, why does Ty Lee hug Mai because of this? I simply cannot comprehend any reason why this is rationally acceptable human behavior. Is there something I’m missing here? Does this sort of thing happen all the time with Ty Lee? Hmm…
Ty Lee: Mai, can you help me with this essay?
Mai: (sigh) What is it?
Ty Lee: I can’t decide on a good adjective for this word. I need an adjective that says “this is important.” Not that important, but important enough to be distinguished. It’s got an “uh” quality to it.
Mai: … “The?”
Ty Lee: “The!” That’s perfect! (Somersaults out of window.)
Mai: (Rolls eyes.) That’s not even an adjective…
Hmm…I’ve run out of things to complain about. Excellent! Now I can tell you why “The Chase” is such a great episode.
Toph is officially a part of the group, adding a much needed dose of edge that they were sorely missing previously. She’s funnier than Sokka, more stubborn than Katara, and nothing like Aang. The dynamics and interactions between the characters is suddenly interesting and entertaining.
Probably the best thing about Toph is how she brings out the worst in Katara. Yes, Katara can be nice and motherly, and that’s fine, but seriously, the fury is where the heart is. Angry and emotional Katara is the best, and her frequent squats with Toph are among the most entertaining things in the episode. My favorite moment—and quite possibly the least politically correct joke you’ll see in an episode of Avatar—is when Katara harshly berates Toph’s inability to see the beautiful stars in the sky.
For those looking for running themes in my reviews, here’s a freebie: I have a weakness for strong-willed, uncompromising female characters. What this says about me, I have no idea, but it is most definitely a bias of mine. This is part of why the more emotion-fueled Katara is more appealing to me—in addition to that Katara just being more interesting—and why Toph is one of my favorite characters.
However, this bias doesn’t completely color my view of every episode since Toph appeared. These episodes generally are better and more consistent because she genuinely brings more life to the show. Think of her as the Keith Moon that balances out Katara’s Pete Townshend and Aang’s Roger Daltrey. I’d say Sokka is John Entwistle, but I don’t want to disrespect Mr. Entwistle–who’s actually hilarious–by comparing him to De Sena. (Wait, I said I wouldn’t complain anymore, didn’t I?)
The basic plot of the episode is that the four kids are being trailed by ATM, who is able to track them because Appa is shredding his fur coat because it’s the beginning of spring. This is a brilliant plot device, but also creates neat foreshadowing: when Toph points out how Appa’s been giving them away to Aang, the young Airbender becomes extremely offended that Toph would dare blame poor Appa for their misfortunes. For now, Aang’s anger temporarily loses him his Earthbending teacher. Later on, when Appa is kidnapped in “The Library,” Aang’s fury will be a force to be reckoned with.
In “The Chase,” most of the extreme behavior stems from the fact that, in their efforts to outrun ATM, they lose significant amounts of sleep. The growing hostility among the kids is pretty funny. There’s also a moment when Appa falls asleep in mid-air, which might have killed all of them had he not awoken in time. This is as hilarious as it is horrifying.
After Aang, Katara, and Sokka realize that Toph was right about Appa’s fur, they attempt to split up and trick ATM into following Aang’s fake trail so he can confront them. Things don’t go as smoothly as planned because Azula knows that she’s being tricked. So she goes after Aang, while Mai and Ty Lee go for Sokka and Katara, leading to a fight sequence between those four. The obvious highlight of this is Sokka’s gradual loss of most functioning limbs thanks to Ty Lee’s chi blocking strikes.
And so the emasculation of Sokka continues. Come on, watch that sequence again and tell me this isn’t some sort of clever dig at male impotency. She strikes, and his arms and leg go limp. The symbolism isn’t hard to miss. Also, notice it’s his head that is unaffected. (A calling for young males to place more value on their minds and not their bodies? Hmm…maybe.)
Before the real last-act action sequence occurs, we’re treated to a scene of Toph and Iroh meeting for the first time. They share tea, their worldviews, their problems, and they learn something from each other. It’s well-written, well-acted, and probably the best moment in the episode. Not simply because it’s two of the five best characters in one scene together, but because of the sheer humanity that’s present here as it isn’t in many scenes. Different as these two are, they are still able to connect and understand each other. It’s very touching.
But we need a last-act action sequence, don’t we? Well, before stating how fun this sequence is and picking out my favorite moments, this has to be mentioned: what is this abandoned town that Aang leads Azula?
Those TV Tropes posters may actually be onto something for once, because this town looks exactly like the one Zuko stumbled upon in “Zuko Alone.” What does this mean? What that episode all in his head? Was he hallucinating the entire time? Is it symbolic that, until Zuko gets right with himself, he’ll always be running in circles? What’s going on here?
Anyway, the last-act action sequence. It’s more fun that most last-act sequences because it’s Aang versus Azula versus Zuko in what could probably be best described as a free-for-all. Everyone’s against each other, so it’s pretty damn exciting to see DiMartino and Konietzko and company manage to pull that off without it becoming confusing.
This sequence also contains the most classic and well-constructed gag you’re bound to witness in an episode of Avatar. Aang rushes into a room, and Azula chases after him. However, the entire second floor is gone—Aang, that little trickster, hovers innocently over the gap with his Airbending—but she stops herself in the nick of time. Suddenly, Zuko barges in and, not owning the swift reflexes of Azula, falls straight into the hole. The conception, the timing, the editing, the expressions of the characters, etc. is perfect! How the Hell did DiMartino and Konietzko and company come up with that one? This is Buster Keaton-level of brilliance.
Eventually, it’s not just those three anymore. Katara and Sokka join in, and then Toph is there, and then Iroh is there. And it seems like Azula is outnumbered, but thanks to just a brief moment in which Iroh lets his guard down, she strikes him.
In an instance, “The Chase” goes from lighthearted and fun to tragic. Azula gets away, and Zuko kneels over Iroh’s potentially dead body. He forces the others to leave when they try to help, effectively proving that he still hasn’t learned his lesson yet. But this is traumatic stuff, so I can’t blame him that much. And even though I know Iroh isn’t dead, the moment is still extremely effective.
“The Chase” ends on the perfect note. All four kids and the two animals huddled together as they sleep. No fussing over unloading or setting up camp. Beautiful.
All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.