The Earth Queen’s efforts to bring the Avatar back to Ba Sing Se fail spectacularly when Korra and Asami break free. Unfortunately, they crash the airship in the process, stranding them as well as the ship’s skeleton crew in the Si Wong Desert. They construct a makeshift sand sailor from spare parts, and Korra brings her airbending game to shuttle them to safety before they can become a massive sand shark’s lunch.
Meanwhile, the Red Lotus deliver Mako and Bolin to the Earth Queen in exchange for an audience with her. They convince her to release the Avatar into their custody once she arrives, but their impatience combined with the Earth Queen’s royal diva attitude prompts Zaheer to speed up the plan and “liberate” Ba Sing Se.
This ep wasn’t bad. The chase with the sand shark was cool, and the plot made good use of all the characters (except, of course, Tenzin’s group, though I’m expecting them to come back in a major way by season’s end), but this really felt like more of a bridge episode than anything else. This was an episode that kind of had to happen for the overall story to make sense, and they did the best they could, turning this bit of connective tissue into a story in its own right, but aside from the removal of the Earth Queen, not a whole lot happened.
Usually when the story doesn’t move forward very much, I’m happy to have that space filled by character development, but we didn’t really see any of that either. So, does that mean an episode can’t be entertaining? No, of course it can, but that doesn’t make it particularly good. That said, I’ll take this over “The Sting” any day of the week, because while this episode was not Korra at its best, it still managed to have a few good moments and nothing that outright pissed me off.
Bolin is at his best in this episode, particularly the scene in the back of the Red Lotus’s van. He’s just doing his Bolin thing, making conversation, but in the process, we actually learn a little, if not much, about Ghazan and Ming Hua. I have to say, I really hope that the Red Lotus characters spill over into Book Four. We’re just starting to get to know them, and there’s only three episodes left to this season to spend with these potentially fascinating characters. If they just bow out at the end of Book Three, it would be a wasted opportunity.
Zaheer finally actualizes something that’s been theorized since Avatar. It’s been long-established canon that airbending is the only bending art without a finishing move, as the Air Nomads didn’t believe in deadly force, but if they wanted to, airbenders could kill someone easier than anyone else, because all they’d have to do is bend the air right out of your lungs. And this is how Zaheer takes out the Earth Queen. Now, it’s ambiguous as to whether or not she’s actually dead. We’d assume that since Zaheer is the bad guy (or at least an extremist), that killing anyone he perceived as the enemy would be well within his character, and the news reports that reach the Misty Palms Oasis describe the reign of the Earth Queen coming to a “violent end.” However, this is still a Nick show, and while Avatar and Korra haven’t been shy about killing characters, this would be the first time we witnessed a character asphyxiate ONSCREEN to her death. Considering all the pussyfooting Mike and Bryan have had to do around Standards and Practices in this area, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Earth Queen were incapacitated but alive, and Zaheer’s devotion to the teachings of the Air Nomads, which might preclude him from taking a life in cold blood, could certainly justify that move.
There is a continued beat of Bolin trying to metalbend in order to bust himself and Mako out of jail. I actually appreciate that he’s unsuccessful, and I’m actually pushing for Bolin to be ultimately incapable of metalbending. I like the idea that there are certain specialized bending skills that not everyone can do. Aang never learned to metalbend and he was the freakin’ Avatar, so I wouldn’t consider it a failure on Bolin’s part if he just said, “Fuck it! I’m a master earthbender, and I’m just going to be the best earthbender I can be. And that’s awesome!”
Interestingly enough, when Zaheer has an opportunity to recapture Mako and Bolin, he chooses instead to set them free with a message for Korra. It makes me wonder why, given how insistent he was on having Korra in his custody just last episode, he would change his approach now? What has changed?
The true highlight of this episode for me, though, was the return of Tonraq and Zuko. I’ve been hoping for more Zuko since he first showed up earlier this season, and given what he and Tonraq were working on together, it’s a sign to me that things are coming together now, and we’re really heading into the home stretch.
There are three episodes left in this season, and while I have hope and those hopes are substantiated by the consistent quality of Book Three, we are getting dangerously close to the end of the season, and Korra does have a track record of borking its pacing. I can say only this. If the quality of the season so far continues to be the standard, then these last three episodes will be a rollercoaster leading up to a climax that will blow the previous seasons out of the water. If not, well, we’ll likely see a rushed ending with a lot of untapped potential, which would be a tragic way to end what has so far been a spectacular streak of episodes. There is, of course, the third option, which would have the end of Book Three be an Empire Strikes Back-esque cliffhanger, much like Avatar’s “The Crossroads of Destiny.” This scenario would certainly allow for the Red Lotus to carry over into Book Four and for the show to take its time with the rebuilding of the Air Nation.