This review contains spoilers.
1.3 The Revelation
There are times when I wonder just how much is going over the heads of children watching this show. There were two moments in this episode in particular where subtle commentary was being made and I’d venture that only older audiences truly understood it. We’ll get to that later, but first: I asked for Mako development, and I got Mako development.
This episode serves two functions: one, to give us our first real look at Amon, why he started the Equalists movement, and what he can do to further that goal, but also to give us time to get to know Mako. The bulk of the episode is Korra and Mako searching out Bolin, and through this, we learn their tragic backstory. Orphaned when they were very young by a firebender mugger attacking their parents, Mako has had to raise Bolin and provide for him as they are the only family they have left. His coldness towards Korra last week, then, becomes understandable: he is protective of his little brother for valid reasons, and in came this person whose motives Mako couldn’t have understood. He was naturally stand-offish.
This plot allows us to deal with who Amon is, as well. When Korra and Mako infiltrate an Equalists rally, they find that though Amon (himself an orphan thanks to a firebender killing his entire family and burning his face – what is it with this show and facial burns?) is not a bender, he does have one power that no one can truly understand: he can take someone’s bending away. Permanently.
We’ve seen this before only once – it was how Aang defeated Ozai in the finale of The Last Airbender – and until now, only the Avatar is known to have been able to do it. People like Ty Lee can block a person’s chi temporarily, which disables their bending, but that is only for a little while. Amon can do it permanently – and does, to several captives before Korra and Mako are able to save Bolin from a similar fate.
I spoke last week about how we struggle with privilege in our own world, and this episode raises an interesting question – does equality mean removing the privilege from those who have it? Or does it mean sharing that privilege with those who don’t? Amon seems to have sided with the former – by turning everyone into a non-bender, he believes this will achieve “equality.” I can’t wait to see where the show goes with that.
But there were two other, subtler commentaries happening in this episode. The first was a small moment where the equalist in the park encourages people to “take back Republic City” from the benders who oppress them. There’s a subtle irony running through that moment, given what we know of Republic City’s history: it was founded by Avatar Aang and Firelord Zuko after the war as a haven for benders and non-benders alike. Benders made Republic City. It was created by a firebender and the master of all the elements. “Taking the city back from benders” is inherently ironic, since benders created it. In addition, “taking it back from benders” is antithetical to the purpose of the city, since it was specifically created as a place where everyone could live together, regardless of bending status. The commentary is a subtle take on the irony of protesters who speak about “taking something back” without actually knowing the history of the thing they’re talking about.
There’s another interesting theme that’s rapidly developing out of this storyline, and it’s the idea of science versus magic. In a fight scene between Mako, Bolin, and an equalist, the equalist uses rods which produce lightning – like electrical shocks in order to subdue both boys – this, minutes after a scene in which a firebender uses his bending to produce lightning.
In a very real way, the equalists are trying to stamp magic out of their universe and replacing it with science and technology. I find that idea particularly interesting, given that I’m naturally inclined to come down on the side of science in most other circumstances, but find myself torn here. Should the equalist’s technology replace the spiritual magic of the benders? Is sci-fi inherently better than fantasy?
I am unbelievably glad that this show is airing now that I’m an adult, rather than when I was a kid, because so many of the best things about this show would be flying right over my head. I love the questions it poses and I love that it constantly leaves me questioning my own assumptions and beliefs. Korra‘s third episode is even better than the first two and it’s off to a great start. I can’t wait for more.