It is best to split this episode into two parts. There's the first half or so, which is the actual chase, and the second half, which is lots of great action. And indeed, the first part is a lot worse than the second one, and significantly drops the overall grade for this episode.
It is often true that desperate and dire situations bring out our real selves, and this is exactly what happens in the first part. Being hunted and lacking sleep, the gang shows that including a new member into an old team is not as frictionless as it might appear. This is a very good move from the creators, as it makes Toph's eventual integration into the gang that much more believable, and gives it its own character and history.
However, all the bickering is loaded with exaggermation and an over-abundance of jokes. While it does lessen the dark mood, especially from the last episode, there is almost too much of it. And this is what makes the first part so very bad.
I have to admit that I was surprised when the hunters were revealed to be Azula's gang, but story-wise that only makes sense. It's also a good chance for these two teams to get to know each other better, even if this happens through fighting each other. However, after Mai and Ty Lee get beaten, that's when the first part ends.
The second part is dominated by action, which basically includes Azula fighting against everyone present. While it does contain some very nice choreography, we also see that Azula is a master firebender. Up to now, the only real and extensive firebending only ever came from Zuko, but now he is revealed to be not quite so good a fighter. Not that that mars his power in character, though.
Next to the fighting, we also get Azula's personality in all its glory, along with some very nice voice-acting. It is especially interesting to see her grown up again after watching her childhood version in 'Zuko Alone'. It just makes her that much more menacing. Along with this, there is also a formal (as far as that goes) introduction of the gang to this season's villain. Just as a side note, the same event for last season (with Zhao) also occurred in chapter eight.
This second part is a lot better than the first one, mainly because the jokes get cut away, and we get some awesomeness from Azula and the choreography. And we have Iroh giving his advice to Toph. This episode actually manages to reveal a great deal of how Toph grew up and how she views the actions of others, and develop her character. That's a nice feat for maybe ten minutes of screen time.
The ending is a double-edged sword emotionally. We have the gang together again, with Toph, all sleeping in Appa's saddle. The act of sleeping with people around is a very powerful narrative tool. During sleep, people are at their most vulnerable, so for the gang to all be sleeping together presumes a great deal of trust between the characters. But with the gang complete, there is now also the very real threat of Azula hanging over their heads.
As said, this episode could have been excellent were it not for the silliness in the first part. It tells a good story, and moves the main plot along very significantly. And once again there is no full closure this episode; it's only a pause in the action, but the plot is just begging to be continued. And it is this presence of plot that will hopefully be prevalent in this season, and saves this episode from a worse grade.
The kids are being chased by Azula and her cronies in a giant tank. Hmmm, doesn't sound like much of a story to me. But what we've got is a quick-paced episode full of badass girls, Iroh's wisdom, and verbal spats with Toph, the newbie to the team.
Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee have unofficially been dubbed "Ozai's Angels" by the fans and it fits them to a "tee". These three psychotically determined girls pursue Aang and his friends relentlessly into the night while the kids continue to fly on Appa, getting more and more exhausted as the time goes by.
Toph's little speech in her debut episode in "The Blind Bandit" filled us in on her character. She's disgusted at being judged as a helpless little blind girl by her domineering parents. Toph assumes that the only way to disprove that belief is for her to be as independent as possible, without asking or assisting anyone else. Now she rubs the wrong way with Katara, who thinks Toph's indifference to their teamwork is a sign of selfishness. Sokka and Aang look on while the girls rant and rave until Toph walks out.
The moment with Toph and Iroh was a refreshing breather in between the fierce action of Aang and his friends vs. Ozai's Angels. It's interesting seeing Iroh talking to someone else other than Zuko for once. But ironically, their conversation leads to the status of the exiled prince who is literally and metaphorically "lost". As we've just seen in "Zuko Alone", his haunted past and present misfortunes are questioning his morals and personal values. He's certainly becoming a far more human or "real" character than the arrogant aloof prince in season one. At any rate, it was very heart-warming watching Iroh help Toph "get back on her feet" with his advice that she reconsider her relationship with her new friends.
The end of this episode is remarkable for successfully combining all of the different characters and their fighting skills together in one big showdown. Suspense is heightened as Zuko barges in on Azula and Aang, turning the two-way battle into a three-way battle. The finale fight echoes the Western showdown scenario from "Zuko Alone" when all of the kidss show up and soon everyone jumping through broken walls and abandoned rooms to dodge Azula's lightning shots. Her snide comment about "enemies and traitors all working together" rings as a possible note to future circumstances between the Gaang, Zuko, and Iroh. Regarding what we've seen from Azula so far, I believe she's just a coward. Her false surrender before attacking Iroh and vanishing away only fuels my opinion that despite her superior skills at lightning/firebending, she knows nothing about honor.
Zuko's pain over his uncle is harsh -- he's so upset that he drives the prized Avatar and his friends away!
It's almost the midpoint of the second season and so much is happening to the gang. Episode 208, The Chase, premiered after the exclusive Zuko episode. This is the time we learn more about the team's latest addition, earthbender Toph Bei Fong, and how the trio adapts to having a new member.
The early dispute between Katara and Toph evolves into a problematic issue before they go to sleep. At this point, many viewers were not pleased with Toph's attitude. Although Katara is right about teamwork, Toph isn't entirely at fault. She was raised and treated like a helpless little girl from all and had no true friends. Leaving home for the first time, to finally be independent, was a major change in life she had to experience. She was never expected to help anyone else, as the one person who "needed" help the most was herself. Like Toph stated, "I don't understand, what's the problem here?" Most of this was overlooked by fans, but I truly enjoyed the argument. It added dimension and flavor to the episode, proving that not all is peachy perfect between the group of friends.
Another part of the episode that I enjoyed was when Toph decides to temporarily leave the group. The characters' thoughts and actions are obviously affected by their lack of sleep, a realistic experience that many can empathize with. Who could hate the peaceful moment that Toph and Iroh shared, which would later be of much significance, anyway?
The importance of teamwork is indisputable when Mai and Ty Lee catch up with Katara and Sokka. Sokka is able to assist Katara by defending against Mai's arrows with his club. The targets are quickly traded, having Mai pursue Katara while Ty Lee faces Sokka. Our heroes lose the match, but are rescued once again by none other than our favorite air bison, Appa. This single minute (yes, I checked to make sure) was perhaps one of the coolest scenes yet, which is hardly surprising. Has any "rematch" in Avatar ever failed to please?
One brief moment that stood out to me, but not in a bad way, was Azula's introduction to Aang. She offers a glimpse of her dark sense of humor, but proves to have one nonetheless. This little detail actually contributes to her character. When Zuko unexpectedly arrives at the scene, the tables are completely turned. An intense three-way battle engages between the Avatar and two firebenders, leaving viewers on the edge of chairs. The animation was dynamically spectacular with almost no flaw. I loved it when Zuko followed Azula up some stairs, but fell through the floorless building (finally a lighthearted moment in all of this tension). It is apparent that Azula is quite a formidable opponent, but fortunately for us, Katara and Sokka arrive to help Aang. Even Toph reaches them, but it is not enough until Iroh and Zuko corner Azula.
That one moment with the gang, teamed up with Zuko and Iroh, was the highest point yet in all of Avatar. Azula takes the single opportunity to shoot a blast of blue fire towards Iroh, the one character who didn't entirely focus on Azula (only because he learns that Toph was with the Avatar and friends). The episode ends with an unbelievable cliffhanger. Perhaps the worst thing in the entire episode was when Zuko yelled at the gang to leave, which just sounded a bit off.
The dramatic title is perfect and the episode passed my expectations and beyond. Without a doubt, this was the best episode for its time.