The Legend of Korra episode 8 review: When Extremes Meet

Review Kaci Ferrell 3 Jun 2012 - 09:40

Extremism and free will are centre stage in this week's instalment of The Legend of Korra, which happens to be Kaci's favourite episode yet...

This review contains spoilers.

1.8 When Extremes Meet

The title of this week's episode of The Legend of Korra is When Extremes Meet and never before has the title of an episode been so appropriate. This episode is about extremists on both sides, as well as the extremism within Korra.

We've talked before about why some people dislike Korra as both a character and The Avatar. This episode addressed a lot of what people seem to dislike - there hasn't been much focus on her learning airbending and we find out that it's because she still hasn't. She's still blocked on the spiritual side of bending and it's preventing her not only from airbending but also from connecting to her past lives save for the brief dream sequences we've seen of a grown-up Avatar Aang.

We're also dealt a truth bomb from Tarlok when he points out to Korra that she is an extremist too, and it's one of the things he originally liked about her. It's an interesting point - the more I think about it, the more I agree that he's not entirely wrong in that assessment. I wonder if perhaps that is the reason a lot of people dislike the character. Aang was always ready to talk first and fight only when he had to; Korra leads with her fists.

I've talked in past reviews about how I can't fully disagree with the Equalists' gripes against Republic City - they have no representation in their government or law enforcement body, there are jobs and sports that they don't have access to, and their institutions support the rights of benders over the rights of non-benders. All of those are legitimate complaints that can and should be addressed. But I've also never been able to truly agree with the Equalists, either. The way they've gone about their revolution has been completely wrong and based on prejudice. What I've been trying to articulate and couldn't find words for until this episode is that the Equalists are coming at the topic from a place of extremism, and as a wise man once said, "-isms, in my opinion, are not good."

But in this episode, we see the flip-side. The creators of South Park have often talked about their reasoning for attacking both sides of the aisle when it comes to politics: the person on the far right and the person on the far left are basically the same, and it's okay to be the person in the middle thinking both of them are going too far. The same principle applies to Tarlok. There's no true difference between he and Amon, not really. Amon holds a prejudice against all benders because of what happened to his family; Tarlok holds a prejudice against all non-benders because some of them are Equalists. When he has his task force attack a group of innocent non-bender citizens, it's shocking in its brutality, but it drives home an important point: just because Tarlok is on the "right" side of this battle, it doesn't mean he's not just as bad as the enemy. He's an extremist, too, and that's not okay.

The fight between Tarlok and Korra was amazingly animated, and it was wonderful to see the teenagers join forces to become "Team Avatar." Tenzin's kindness towards Korra was beautiful, but honestly, the best moment of the episode is easily the moment when Tarlok reveals just how much he covets power and control.

He blood bends.

As far as I'm concerned, the scariest, most disturbing, most non-child-friendly thing The Last Airbender ever did was blood bending. The second Katara did it for the first time, my breath actually caught in my throat. I still sometimes have nightmares about Hama. The idea that someone else can take such control over you, can turn you into a living zombie - alive, but with no will of your own - is terrifying to me. I had somehow convinced myself that we'd never see it in The Legend of Korra, because I didn't like the idea that Katara would teach it to anyone else, and I hoped no one else would ever stumble upon it on their own.

I was wrong, and this show just grabbed my attention in a way that only something that messed up and dialled into my fears could've done. It's even scarier when you tie it in to Korra's struggle with identity: the idea of stripping her bending away from her personality was scary enough, but the idea of stripping her free will from her? I can't even imagine what she's feeling in that last moment as she's tied up and driven away from the city she swore to protect.

This week's episode of The Legend of Korra is my favorite so far, but I'd love to hear what you think. Were you expecting to see the return of blood bending? Do you think that part of Korra's journey is learning to not be such an extremist? What do you think Tarlok is up to? Tell me in the comments and I'll see you next week!

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