This review contains spoilers.
1.4 The Voice in the Night
One of the complaints I’ve seen levelled against this show is that the new Avatar is too brash and impulsive. I can certainly understand that – after Aang’s spirituality, Korra’s boldness is a lot to take in. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming. But what this episode did so well was use Korra’s fear of Amon to show us that she has a vulnerable side, too. This is a girl who doesn’t fear much, and yet the idea of Amon taking her bending away leaves her unable to sleep through the night.
This ties into the larger issue of identity, which this series and its predecessor tend to do very well: when Korra has a nightmare about Amon taking her bending away, the last thing he asks her is who will she be if she can no longer bend?
I don’t know how many of you have a certain skill or hobby that is close to your heart, but I do. And sometimes, those skills or hobbies become so much a part of us that they shape our identity. If asked to describe myself, for example, I would tell you that I am: a person, a writer, a woman, an American. Notice that the second thing I would tell you, before even revealing my gender or nationality, is that I am a writer. Similarly, if Korra were asked this question, there are a lot of answers she could potentially give: a person, the Avatar, a bender, a woman, a member of the Water Tribe…the list goes on and on. But for her, a bender and by extension the Avatar would be two of the first things that spring to her mind. And if you took writing away from me – if you took bending away from Korra – who would we be?
The idea of losing who she is manifests as an all-consuming fear for Korra that comes to a head when she tries to confront Amon only to find herself tied up while her chi is blocked. To make matters worse, Amon taunts her by promising to take away her bending in the future, at the end of his revolution, but explains to her that if he took it now, she’d simply become a martyr for benders to rally behind. It shows how clever Amon is and how well he understands the human condition, but it also serves as a form of psychological torture for Korra: she now has to live, to fight, with that information, knowing that he’ll always be waiting right around the bend. And when the right moment arrives, he will strike and take away the heart of her identity.
Elsewhere in this episode, we were introduced to Asami Sato, the daughter of the man who invented the automobiles in this world. A beautiful, kind heiress with a passion for pro-bending, she’s instantly smitten with Mako and I am instantly smitten with both her and her father. It’s a tricky thing, to get a character like Mako who has been self-reliant for so long to accept a gift as huge as the one Mr. Sato offers him, and the show handled it very deftly. Mako probably wouldn’t have accepted charity, but by framing Mr. Sato’s gift with the fact that he came from nothing and recognized something of himself in Mako, it feels more like Mr. Sato paying forward the kindness shown to him years ago by passing it along to Mako. With the money issue taken care of, the Fire Ferrets are officially in the pro-bending playoff tournament and Mako’s got a new girlfriend.
Finally, I’ve been talking in past reviews about how well this show handles subtle ideas and is dealing with the idea of privilege, and I’d like to point out one more subtle statement they’ve made. We’re shown a meeting of the Republic City Council in this episode and find out that it is made up entirely of benders. This is an excellent point and a nice parallel to the real world in which oppressed groups are ruled by groups with privilege. The non-bending population has absolutely no representation in the government of Republic City, and that is an understandable thing to be angry about.
I love that about this show so far: though I’m obviously rooting for Korra and think that Amon’s methods are wrong, this show is showing me that the Equalists have a point. Their anger is justified. Can you blame them for being angry about not having any representation in their own government?