The Legend of Korra: Enemy at the Gates review

Another strong effort for The Legend of Korra Book Four. Here's Michael's review of "Enemy at the Gates."

This Legend of Korra review contains spoilers.

As Kuvira’s forces poise themselves to move on Zaofu, Bolin and Varrick come to realize that the “great uniter” might be mildly batshit. Kuvira, being one smart cookie, sniffs out the faults in their loyalty and makes the appropriate threats, confirming that hers is a side they do not want to be on. They and Zhu Li attempt an escape in the mecha suits, but Baatar Jr. isn’t about to let them get away so easy. Meanwhile, Korra and the kids approach Zaofu just in time to attempt some diplomacy with Kuvira, but Su, unwilling to let her failure to act cause more damage than it already has, moves against Kuvira before Korra can do anything.

This episode is fairly light on Korra, which I’m fine with. We’re seeing her gradually return to the foreground, still not fully back in the action hero saddle. And that’s actually for the best. The fact that Korra doesn’t want to jump directly into fighting, that she’s willing and even prefers to try diplomacy first, shows the degree to which her character has grown and changed over the course of her journey. Most of her time in this episode is spent talking, learning about the situation, and providing us with a vehicle for some much needed exposition.

Through a scene between Korra and Su, we finally get the backstory on Kuvira, her relationship with Su Beifong, their falling out, and her rise to power over the last three years. It’s made pretty clear that, as I was hoping, Kuvira didn’t start out power-hungry. In fact, she urged Su to lead the Earth Kingdom and not in a Lady Macbeth kind of way, like she would seize power from her eventually. Kuvira was legitimately looking out for the Earth Kingdom’s best interests, and while she believed initially that meant Su in a leadership role, time and circumstance gradually brought her around to the idea that SHE was in its best interest.

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The timing of Varrick and Bolin’s respective defections from Kuvira’s army was perfect, and just one more example of how brilliantly this season is paced. Bolin’s turn took four episodes, Varrick’s took one, and both took exactly as long as the character needed. We needed Bolin’s views to change with time and cumulative evidence that Kuvira wasn’t who he thought she was. Any less wouldn’t have been very satisfying. Much more than this would have started to get tedious and frustrating. But it’s all happening on what appears to be a perfect schedule.

On the Varrick side of things, a lot was going on here. We see Varrick’s conscience (who knew such a creature existed) exerting itself, getting him to second-guess his actions and the possible ramifications of those actions. It’s been confirmed that we’ll get Varrick’s backstory in Book Four (some of which has already been revealed via the Nick website), and I think it’ll go a long way toward adding some much needed dimension to a, however entertaining, fairly one-dimensional character. How much of his backstory will be covered? Just his childhood? Will it cover his rise as businessman? Will we see how he met Zhu Li? Ah… Zhu Li…

Zhu Li’s romantic interest in Varrick did not surprise me all that much. Despite the fact that there hasn’t been any onscreen indication of it prior to this episode, it does not seem to be a recent development. I mean, why else would she have stuck around for this long? Sure, it could be chalked up to professional respect, but I’d have to respect someone a WHOLE LOT to put up with all the shit homegirl has. No, this is likely something that’s been going on a long time, not that Varrick has noticed. And there’s part of me that really likes that Varrick isn’t porking his assistant, that the reason he wants her around is that he is aware of and values her competence, but I do feel for the girl.

Zhu Li’s turn in this episode was both expected and a complete surprise. I had a feeling this would come at some point. I just didn’t think it would be here, at least not until second before it happened. The funny thing is, while the build-up took years, once Zhu Li starts to sour on Varrick, it doesn’t take very long for her to completely renounce him. She fights in his defense and at his side all the way through the episode, but you can already see her start to crack when she tells him she’s not going to hold her breath. She may still be in his service at that moment, but she’s already had it with his bullshit. And let’s talk for a second about what a bad-ass she is in that mecha suit. Holy. Crap. And she wasn’t the only one kicking some ass in that fight. Let’s hear it for the return of lavabending! Yeah!!!

I wonder where Zhu Li’s character will go from here? I’ve long joked that she’s the true mastermind behind it all, and while I don’t actually think that’s true, it will be fun to see just where the story takes her now.  I always knew she had the potential for bigger things and the fulfillment of that potential was first hinted at two episodes ago with her first line of dialogue, the first suggestion that she’d blossom into an actual character and not just a prop for Varrick. Now, it’s possible that this is all some master gambit and that Zhu Li is still on our side, that this is just a way to get close to Kuvira and eventually free Varrick and Bolin.

Honestly, I’m perfectly fine with either way this goes. If Zhu Li is really striking out on her own, I think she earned it, come what may. If she’s really just playing Kuvira, I’m all for that too, provided that it’s her plan, not Varrick’s, and that this whole scenario changes his view of her, elevating her to a greater level of respect in his eyes, perhaps going from an assistant to a protégé or even partner. Either way, it was all worth it to hear her tell the guards to do the thing!

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Another tidbit we’d gotten previous confirmation on was an appearance of Hiroshi Sato, and bleeding hog-monkeys, did I love this story! Asami’s subplot in this episode only gets three fairly short scenes, but it packs a lot of punch, mainly because I believe Hiroshi’s attempt to make amends. I think it was wise to hold off on this exchange until Book Four. It’s been roughly four years since Hiroshi went to prison, and we can see the toll it’s taken on him for a long time, that the only thing he was holding onto was his daughter, and that when she finally went to visit him, it was to tell him to stop writing her.

And while, in a world of twisty writing, it’s possible this is some kind of ploy on Hiroshi’s part, I doubt that it is. I actually think Hiroshi is genuine because really… what has he got to gain here? It’s not like Asami can get him out of prison, and if he even suggested a jail break, she’s blow him off for good. Frankly, I think it would be more interesting if Hiroshi is sincere and that the slow rebuilding of this relationship can play some kind of indirect role in the endgame of the series.

I love how well this whole storyline was written, especially that it doesn’t end with Asami forgiving her dad. She makes no guarantees about what she’ll do or even how she feels, but she’s willing to accept his gesture and try, starting small with a game of Pai Sho. Of course, wherever there’s Pai Sho, I smell deeper meaning, but it could just be used her because it’s something they shared, and I’m fine with that, too.

Another strong effort from Bryke, this time leading into our hero’s first major confrontation with Kuvira. I have to say, this season has been top to bottom satisfaction from the starting shot, and I’m really looking forward to what’s coming. Especially because… look… Kuvira is a force to be reckoned with and all, but Korra just got her groove back. I sincerely doubt she’s going to get her as handed to her again so quickly after that little bit of empowerment. And bad-ass as Kuvira is, I don’t really think you can draw out a fight between her and Korra for now? I’m dying to know.

I now leave you with some food for thought. Baatar Jr. seems increasingly smug, angry, and hostile. Was this really Kuvira’s brainwashing, as his family suspects or has he really always been such a colossal douche canoe? And did anyone else notice that bass chord that came from the spirit vines, the bass cord that kinda sorta resembles the sound of Vaatu’s energy blasts? Coincidence? Hey, should it take 10,000 years, he’ll return eventually. That much has been said. Might this signify the start of the restoration of another balance? In any event, dissecting spiritual entities… never a good idea. Jesus, Varrick, didn’t you ever see Evangelion?

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3.5 out of 5