Ash is acting like a good guy for the wrong reasons, A.J. is acting like a jerk for the right ones.
What you have to take into account is that Ash doesn’t really think A.J. is abusing his Pokémon. He’s just looking for any mud to sling at him. After all, this is coming from the guy who electrocuted his own Pikachu three episodes ago. A.J.’s gym hardly resembles a death camp, it looks more like a circus.
Brock’s opinion is probably the closest to the truth: A.J. is an asshole, but he’s not abusive and is not devoid of positive traits. Of course, anyone who’s willing to listen to Brock talk about Pokémon food kind of becomes his best friend by default so perhaps he’s a little biased too.
“Team Rocket knows what it has to do/To catch that little Pikachu”
If they do this in the next episode, I am throwing my television set into the toilet.
A.J. gets a similar case of rhyming fever later in the episode, declaring that “Team Rocket has insulted our gym/we’ll answer them with our 100th win” which is also pretty naff.
Ash and A.J. fall into the swimming pool (or as Ash probably views it at this point, the aquatic torture pain death pit) twice in this episode. Somebody has a fetish.
Basically, A.J. keeps calling his own Pokémon wimps and calls Ash’s Pikachu a “stuffed Pikachu”, which is apparently the Pokémon equivalent of calling someone’s mother a whore. For the next few minutes the episode really drags as these two argue about how to treat Pokémon until finally Team Rocket accidentally capture Sandshrew instead of Pikachu (although they were impressed with the Sandshrew so I guess it’s still a success) prompting A.J. to order a search party.
Ash tries to encourage A.J.’s Pokémon to revolt with a stirring speech on self-evident rights, the philosophy of self-sufficiency and a rousing music number.
Actually, he just whines “Come on!” a few times until Brock and Misty let him know he’s being a total dumb-ass.
Meanwhile, Sandshrew escapes from Team Rocket and returns, prompting much celebration from A.J. and his mediocre team of a Beedrill, a Butterfree and several Rattata. It’s also supposed to be the moment where Ash, as well as we, the audience, realise that A.J. is really a nice guy after all. Luckily, Team Rocket soon arrives to spoil the love in.
So Team Rocket thought Sandshrew was awesome earlier and now it’s second-rate and not worth stealing? Make up your minds. I guess A.J. has to step up for his 100th win somehow. Team Rocket even agree to stroll over to his ring to make this as official as possible, which is very nice of them.