Team Avatar encounters monetary issues, so Toph uses her earthbending to scam Fire Nation civilians out of their funds, earning Katara's disapproval. Toph views Katara as acting too motherly, and a rift forms within the group. To amend things, Katara decides to pull a scam with Toph, but they are caught by an assassin, whom Sokka dubs Combustion Man. He uses them as bait in an attempt to kill Aang, but Katara's quick thinking saves the day. As the group settles down for the night, Toph, with Katara's help, sends a letter to her parents.
The episode opens with Toph hurriedly running toward a statue in Fire Fountain City, trying to evade someone. Several guards capture her, ensnaring her in a net. She yells at Katara, whom she claims had betrayed her. Katara replies that Toph brought this upon herself and had left her no other choice. Toph is dragged away by the guards while still glaring at Katara, who stands firmly by the statue.
The episode then backtracks to three days before the incident. Katara and Toph are training Aang, who is blindfolded and must use seismic sense to detect their attacks. When Toph accidentally hits Katara in the chest with a rock, the two start bickering, then start battling each other. Aang, still blindfolded, tries to figure what is going on from a distance. Sokka suddenly charges from behind a rock, loudly screaming, "Sneak attack!", and makes a failed attempt to strike Aang; the Avatar comments that it is not a sneak attack if it is yelled out loud.
The fight between Toph and Katara continues with the two wrestling in mud. Aang interrupts them and they stop. While Katara goes off to clean up, Toph suggests to the boys that they go into town and have some fun, to which they readily agree. Aang, Sokka, and Toph venture to the city with only one silver piece left to spend. Toph suggests they earn more money from a gambling game below them. She is able to detect through her earthbending that the dealer is cheating others and the means by which he is doing so. She uses her bending to cheat herself, earning them forty silver pieces. When they arrive back at camp, Katara advises them against the action. However, even when Aang makes an Avatar promise not to do so, they do not listen. Later on, Toph cheats in a dice-like game and a test-your-strength game, winning even more money. She also pretends to get run over by a noble's carriage so that Sokka, dressed as a Fire Nation soldier, can scam the noble by accepting money for silence.
Katara continues to warn that these scams are dangerous and immoral. Toph tells her to quit acting like the mother of the group. When Katara suggests Toph is making a fuss because she secretly misses her own parents, Toph angrily walks off.
After going into town to buy a messenger hawk, which he names Hawky, Sokka finds a wanted poster for Toph, who has been dubbed "The Runaway". Horrified, Sokka tears down the poster and later shows it to Toph who is delighted at the nickname and how much money is being offered for her return. Toph convinces Sokka to keep the wanted poster a secret from Katara by giving him funds for Appa's armor and expensive atlases.
While rummaging through Toph's belongings, Katara discovers the wanted poster and confronts the earthbender, who angrily replies that Katara is not her mother and should not give her orders. From then on, the two of them are on strict no-speaking terms. Sokka tries to write an apology message, posing as Toph, sent by Hawky to Katara, but she easily discovers this ruse because Toph cannot write. He later talks to Toph to try to mend the rift between her and Katara. As they discuss how Katara's motherly instincts can also be supportive and nurturing, Katara, who is bathing in the water beneath the cliff side where they sit to chat, listens to them. Sokka reveals how Katara took on the role of their mother after her death, so much so that, to Sokka, she eventually replaced the face of their mother. Toph admits that she appreciates Katara's motherly nature, and believes Katara cares for her more than her real mother ever did.
A touched Katara later approaches Toph and suggests that she and Toph work together to collect the bounty that she has accumulated as the "ultimate scam". The group expresses surprise, especially Aang and Sokka, who faint while foaming at the mouth, but Katara is insistent that she can show her fun side.
Katara pretends to turn in Toph to the authorities, depicted in the first scene of the episode. However, the entire scenario turns out to be a trap set up by Combustion Man. Katara and Toph are imprisoned in a cell made of wood, material that neither of them can bend. As Aang and Sokka battle Combustion Man, Toph and Katara try to devise a way to escape the cage. Katara suggests that Toph use her meteorite bracelet to make a saw, to which Toph answers that she left it at camp. Exhausted, Katara wipes her forehead and discovers it covered in sweat beads. She then jumps up and starts to run in place. When Toph asks what she is doing, Katara replies, "I'm making my own water!" She waterbends her own sweat to slice through the wooden cell and escape the prison, earning Toph's praise. Katara and Toph race to help Aang, arriving just in time to save him from Combustion Man. Toph accidentally manages to strike Combustion Man's third eye tattoo with a pebble, knocking him back. He rises and attempts to fire another explosion in the group's direction, only to find his chi blocked. The air around him explodes and the group escapes. While running away, Sokka names their opponent Combustion Man.
At the end, Toph comes to the conclusion that she does not truly hate her parents after all. With Katara acting as a scribe, she writes down a heart-felt message for her parents which she sends Hawky to deliver. The episode ends with Sokka inquiring as to where Hawky is, not knowing that he had been sent off.
When Sokka reaches down to grab a paintbrush to write the fake letter to Katara from Toph, next to the jar of ink, the jeweled monkey that Iroh bought from the pirates in the episode "The Waterbending Scroll" can be seen.
Hawks appeared in the Avatar Series Pilot, in particular Zuko's pet hawk and also in the episodes "The Blue Spirit", "Return to Omashu", and "The Beach". Momo and Zuko's hawk had animosity toward each other as Momo and Hawky do in the series.
The beard Sokka wears while impersonating a soldier was worn in "The Headband" to impersonate Aang's father, "Wang Fire". He wears it again in "Nightmares and Daydreams", as well as in the comic "Private Fire".
The method of incapacitating Combustion Man by striking his third eye is used again in "The Western Air Temple".
In this episode, Toph cheats a scam artist, claiming that she "cheated a cheater". This is similar to Katara's statement in "The Waterbending Scroll" that "Stealing is wrong... Unless it's from pirates!" Oddly, Katara is opposed to Toph's scams, despite this similarity.
Team Avatar would later use the same strategy used in this episode to block Combustion Man's chi that would lead to his demise in "The Western Air Temple".
Sokka and Hawky's relationship is similar to how Aang explained his and Momo's relationship in "Sozin's Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters", where Aang pretends that Momo is talking to help himself think.
While walking away with his new pet Hawky, and before he notices the poster for Toph, he crosses two other posters. The first poster, in order of appearance, is a poster for Love Amongst the Dragons, a play put on by the Ember Island Players, which Zuko did not like their rendition of. The play is also makes an appearance in The Search trilogy. The second one is for the messenger hawk that was downed and had its scroll taken by Combustion Man's raven eagle in "The Beach".
Toph does not have soles on her shoes. However, when she is dragged away by Fire Nation soldiers, soles can be seen on her shoes. The same goof appears when Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Toph are running away from Combustion Man after his chi was blocked
When Katara prepares to bend in the beginning of the training session, the dark red stripe at the bottom of her skirt is gone.
Toph informs the dealer that she is blind. However, at the same time, she takes a coin from Aang and hands it to the dealer as though she is not blind. When she wins, she announces her victory without anyone informing her, which still contradicts the scam she was pulling off.
When Toph talks about raising the prize from twenty silver pieces to forty, the dealer only adds about five pieces to the bag, not enough to make it forty.
When Toph and the boys come back with the groceries, the basket Sokka is carrying has a blue wavy design on it, indicating that it is from the Water Tribe.
When Toph is playing the dice rolling game, she earthbends so that the face-up side of the stick matches the other one that is already landed. However, being blind, she would have no idea which image was face-up at the time, or how far to adjust the stick that was still rolling.
When Katara confronts Toph about the wanted poster, she is barefoot, but later in the argument, when the scene is depicted from a birds-eye view, Katara is wearing sandals.
When Sokka and Toph are talking about Katara, is clear that the cliff on which they sit is too thick for their feet to hang past it. However, when Katara notices them from below, she can see their forelegs and feet..
At the guard building, when Katara is collecting the reward money, Combustion Man comes in with a golden/copper-colored arm instead of a silver one.
When Toph is taken by the Fire Nation Police, all the officers who arrest her are women, except the one officer Katara speaks to after she "betrays" Toph.
Toph pretending to be hit by a carriage carrying a wealthy merchant is very similar to a real insurance scam called a Flopsy.
This is the only episode in which Hawky appears. After being sent away with a message to Toph's parents, the bird is never seen again within the series.
During this episode Toph says to Katara, "Because it's fun and you hate fun," even though in "Tales of Ba Sing Se" Katara says, "It's about time we did something fun together," referring to getting their makeovers together, which Toph herself said "wasn't so bad" at the time.
Sokka finally thinks of a lasting name for their unknown attacker, dubbing him "Combustion Man".
The Fire Nation woman standing nearby when Toph is scamming the circus bell is wearing an outfit very similar to Toph's.
When the dealer begins his game with Toph, rather than removing the rock from underneath the cup and away from the table, he adds more rocks onto the table. This is to increase the odds of the player winning the first round and draws them into the scam.
When Sokka is considering buying a messenger hawk he says that he "wouldn't have to talk to people, [he] could just send them messages". This could be a possible reference to how people text message one another.
Toph's ability to know when she had won caused authorities to believe she was not actually blind. A section of her wanted poster reads "She disguises herself as a blind person..."
According to Avatar Extras, the wanted poster had a thousand gold piece reward for Toph. When Katara is reading the wanted poster, she states that Toph is worth more than ten times she had made in all her scams combined. This shows that between all the copper, silver, and gold pieces, she never collected more than one hundred gold pieces worth.
It is interesting to note that the officials imprisoned Toph and Katara in a wooden cell, seeing as almost no one outside of Team Avatar is aware of the existence of metalbending.
This is one of the instances where Toph demonstrates the ability to "see" rocks that are not in contact with the ground.