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The Worst Choice Toph Made On Avatar: The Last Airbender

Since it premiered in 2005, "Avatar: The Last Airbender" has become a modern classic, spawning a movie, the acclaimed sequel series "The Legend of Korra," and a highly-anticipated live-action remake. A richly imagined series from creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the first season of "Avatar" takes time to develop the dynamic between nurturing Katara, goofy Sokka, and determined-yet-playful Aang, the precocious 12-year-old Avatar — well, 112-year-old, if we're counting his years spent frozen in an iceberg.

In Season 2, earthbending whiz Toph Beifong joins the gang, bringing her fierce independence to Team Avatar. When we first meet Toph, she's still sequestered in her wealthy parents' palatial estate, where she's endlessly coddled and condescended to. By the time she officially joins Team Avatar, the long-underestimated Toph is sharp-tongued and confrontational, at times to her own detriment. Indeed, sometimes Toph's obstinacy gets the better of her, leading to poor decision-making and trouble for her peers.

Toph took her scamming too far

In the Season 3 episode "The Runaway," Toph's troublemaking tendencies create a rift within the group. While hiding out in the Fire Nation, Team Avatar finds itself short on cash. After sneaking into town and cashing in on a gambling game, Toph engineers a money-making scam, using her earthbending skills to cheat their way to easy winnings. Sokka and Aang, fun-loving and impressionable as they are, are all in, but Katara objects. She thinks the plan is risky, not to mention immoral. Toph retorts with a devastating blow: she condescendingly calls Katara the "mom" of the group. Soon, the two members of Team Avatar aren't on speaking terms. 

Tensions had been simmering between Toph and Katara long before "The Runaway." Upon joining the gang in Season 2, Toph relished in her newfound independence — so much so that she disregarded the needs of the group, leading to Katara calling her "selfish and unhelpful." By the time of "The Runaway," there's a discernible gulf between Toph and Katara. However, Toph's critiques of the waterbender don't carry much water. Toph may think that her friend is bossy and overbearing, but such characteristics don't carry nearly the same consequences as Toph's flagrant scamming, which results in wanted posters of Toph being plastered all over town.  

She put Team Avatar in jeopardy

Toph and Katara eventually work things out, but not before the consequences of Toph's scamming have fully sunk in. Katara comes around to help plot one last "ultimate scam," but an assassin called Combustion Man is privy to their schemes, and traps Toph and Katara in jail. Though they narrowly get out of the scrape, "Avatar" fans acknowledge that the scamming adventure was one of Toph's riskier endeavors.

u/XishengTheUltimate pointed out Toph's recklessness, which spreads like wildfire to the rest of the team. "The last thing you do when operating covertly is unnecessarily [compromise] your anonymity." They also took into consideration the high-stakes gamble of rousing the attention of the Fire Nation's chain of command. "The plan to bamboozle the Fire Nation law enforcement is incredibly stupid and needlessly dangerous."

The episode also highlights Toph's selfishness, best exemplified in her ability to manipulate the rest of the gang, including the monkish Aang. She justifies her scamming by explaining that they're giving scammers a taste of their own medicine, as pointed out by u/ProclaimerofHeroes. It's only when she begins to examine her stilted relationship with her parents that Toph begins to undo some of her selfishness.

Although the scamming ploy was a costly distraction for Team Avatar, fans concede that poor decision-making often makes for the best character growth and storytelling, resulting in a satisfying "Avatar" conclusion. According to u/XishengTheUltimate, "I understand that the season wouldn't have been fun to watch if these kinds of ridiculous things didn't happen."