Korra’s parents are brought to trial, and Tonraq is judged guilty of treason, the penalty for which is death. Unalaq steps in and gets the sentence reduced to life in prison, and Tonraq insists Korra abide by this ruling, lest his jailbreak start a civil war, but this is Korra we’re talking about. She goes after the judge, and he, under the threat of becoming Naga’s lunch, rolls over and reveals the entire trial was staged to manipulate everyone, including her, into finding Unalaq just and merciful. He also lets it slip that—yep, I called it—Unalaq completely orchestrated Tonraq’s banishment so that he could be chief of the Water Tribes.
When confronted, Unalaq reminds Korra that the Avatar must remain politically neutral for the good of both tribes and also dark spirits blah blah blah, but she ain’t buying his bullshit a second longer and orders him to release her father, extract the troops, and return to the North. He’s less than cooperative, and Korra’s response is…fireball! Unalaq fights back and his waterbending is pretty sweet, but he’s no match for Team Avatar, who stun him long enough to hightail it so they can catch up with the prison ship.
With the help of Varrick and his uber-yacht, Team Avatar rescues Tonraq, and once he learns the truth, he resolves to take his brother down, as could be expected, with his men declaring him the true chief. However, in a plot twist I totally did not see coming, he totally goes with it. So, it appears that after a two-decade detour, Tonraq is finally becoming who he was always meant to be, which means the Water Tribes are headed toward civil war.
Korra offers to back her father, but he tells her that what he really needs her to do is get the president of the United Republic involved, since a war against the North isn’t something the South can keep up on their own for very long. This puts our characters on the road back to Republic City…with a jilted and majorly pissed off Eska (eyeliner streaming down her crazyface) jetting along the surface of the water in hot pursuit. Luckily, Varrick’s yacht can outrun her. Probably.
I mean, this is just… holy crap! This is the kind of massive wham! episode that usually happens halfway through the season, not right up front like this, which I find encouraging, because it says to me that the writers have bigger fish to fry and will not be wasting any time. Oh, and don’t worry…I didn’t mention Tenzin’s plot here, but it will be addressed in a supplemental Korra article!
I have noticed that unlike last season, where much of the characters’ bending seemed to have lost its flavor (possibly in an effort to show how the bending arts have evolved) we’ve gotten back to the artistry of bending: the circularity of air, the flashiness of fire, the grace of water, and the blunt force of earth. It’s nice to see that return to form, especially with this season’s upgrade in animation quality. The bending in this episode was just breathtaking to behold. Not that our non-bending characters didn’t get some great play.
Seeing Asami again was a real treat and quite a surprise. Given her complete absence after her appearance in “Rebel Spirit,” I assumed she’d gone back to Republic City. Apparently, she’s been hanging out at the Water Tribe Marriott for the last few episodes to iron out her business deal with Varrick. Whatever. I’ll take it, especially since just hearing the sizzle of her electric glove in action again sent a shiver down my spine.
It’s worth noting that every member of Team Avatar was utilized wonderfully in this episode with time left over for comedy. The whole running gag of Varrick and Zhu Li (and, apparently, a tea set) hiding from Unalaq’s goons in a taxidermic platypus bear that sharts money as a diversionary tactic is just so incredibly juvenile and ridiculous and I fucking love it. I have to say, there are about a hundred nominal reasons why Varrick’s character shouldn’t work for me and yet somehow it totally does.
I am so on the Varrick train…er, yacht. I look at him and all I keep thinking is “Asian Bruce Campbell.” He has strangely become more of a comic dynamo in just three episodes than Bolin did in the entirety of Book One. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Bolin, and P.J. Byrne always delivers a top notch performance, but perhaps the writers were just trying too hard to make Bolin the comedic backbone of the show. It never quite worked for him the way it did for Sokka in Avatar, but Varrick has stepped into that role effortlessly. Which is not to say Bolin isn’t funny and lovable; he’s plenty of both, but I think it’s time to find another function for him in the show and let his comedic value be like Tenzin’s: a grace note to round out his other characteristics, because if he and Varrick end up in a comedy pissing contest, Varrick will straight up flatten that motherfucker.
This episode really hit it out of the park, my only complaint being Unalaq’s disappointing downgrade from morally complex antagonist to black hat villain, so I’m going to give it 4 out of 5 stars, and I’ll see you all next week for Chapter Five: “Peacekeepers.”