The Legend of Korra: Old Wounds Review

Parenting is hard, but in the world of The Legend of Korra and Avatar, it is more difficult than metalbending.

While Korra takes her first stab at metalbending under the instruction of Su Beifong in tonight’s first of two Legend of Korra episodes, Lin starts to buckle under the stress of being in Zaofu. Aiwei cautions her that if she doesn’t deal with her repressed feelings, it could do her great psychological and physical harm. He recommends an acupuncturist.

Through a pair of sessions with him, we see Lin’s memories of her youth and the incident that left her scarred and was the impetus for Su’s departure from Republic City. Lin confronts her sister but is unsatisfied with Su’s response, leading to an earth- and-metalbending fight between the two sisters that is long overdue. Meanwhile, back in Republic City, Zaheer’s recent infiltration of Air Temple Island has the police searching for him and his crew. Before they can proceed with their plans, which include “taking out” President Raiko, they have to get out of Dodge for a while to regroup and plan their next move.

I’m really glad that “The Metal Clan” didn’t answer all our questions about the Beifong sisters’ history. Their story unfolded rather beautifully at just the right pace. Here we see firsthand what was alluded to in the previous episode, that while Lin was a chip off the old block professionally, Su (voiced in these flashbacks by Jessie Flower, Toph from Avatar!) was much more like their mother in spirit, rebellious and not overly fond of rules. It was because of this that Su fell in with an unsavory crowd, which led to the incident where Lin was scarred. To literally add insult to injury, Su seems to evade the consequences of her actions when her mother disposes of her arrest report, which Lin takes rather personally. She followed her sense of duty, integrity, and filial piety and got maimed for her trouble, and at the same time Su gets rewarded for her defiance and illegal conduct, and Toph’s moral flexibility on the issue pushes her right off her pedestal in Lin’s eyes. It’s some serious drama going on up in here.

It’s arguable that this incident is one of the most formative in all three women’s lives. Lin never looked at her mother the same way again and doubled down on her belief in the authority of law. Su left Republic City, and while she probably stayed with her grandparents for a short time, it’s very likely that she emulated her mother once again by escaping from the estate and setting off on the journey of self-discovery she told Korra about. As for Toph, she retired the following year. According to Lin, this was over guilt for her treatment of the situation, and while that’s probably part of it, I think it was probably but one of several factors in a much larger decision. Either way, this was a huge day for the Beifong family, and Lin has apparently never gotten over it.

Ad – content continues below

What I find so interesting about the dynamic of the Beifong women is how children seek to avoid their parents’ mistakes, and how two different people can react in opposing ways to the exact same set of circumstances. And it’s kind of impossible to address this point without coming back to a discussion that was had ad nauseum last season. Much has been said, and much of that unkind, about the treatment of the Avatar protagonists as parents. A huge stink was made last season when it was revealed that Aang wasn’t the perfect father. Legion of fans pissed and moaned about how Aang’s character was ruined, because he was a shitty dad, and now people are saying the same about Toph.

And I think that’s bullshit.

First of all, Aang and Toph are not around to defend themselves. We’re getting the story exclusively from their kids’ perspectives, and even mature, rational adult children will never completely see their upbringing from their parents’ point of view. They may never know the reasons their parents made the choices they made, and in some cases the mistakes that they made. All they can know are the results. When Kya and Bumi talk about how Aang favored Tenzin, that’s a valid interpretation of the events, and the only one that they would have, but you also have to take the context into account.

Given everything we know about Aang from both series, he was a loving father, and I believe Tenzin when he says that Aang loved all his children equally. However, love and attention are not the same thing, and did Tenzin receive the lion’s share because of his airbending abilities? Well…yeah.

Let’s start with the fact that Aang was the Avatar. Already there’s a major lifelong obligation that is going to divide his time an attention between family and duty. We’ve never really heard from any Avatar’s kids before in this universe. For all we know, this is just part of the deal. When your dad is essentially some kind of globally recognized bodhisattva/messiah figure 24/7 UNTIL HE DIES, he’s going to miss a few school plays. That’s just going to happen. On top of that, Tenzin was the youngest. By the time he was born, Aang was already approaching middle age and had probably given up on rebuilding the Air Nation. Instead, he gets an eleventh hour heir to the culture he assumed would die with him. Tenzin’s cultural and spiritual education became a priority and rightfully so, and in the process did Bumi and Kya miss out on some stuff? Yeah. But I don’t think Aang loved them any less, and if he realized they felt excluded, I doubt he felt happy about it.

So, no, I don’t think Aang was a bad parent. I think he was just a parent. He got some stuff right, and he screwed some stuff up, like ALL OUR PARENTS did. Maybe people don’t want to think their heroes can be that fallible. I still think Aang was a great person, a great Avatar, and at the very least a decent dad. And I don’t love Aang any less for that. I don’t love Toph any less either, but she is a very different case.

Ad – content continues below

While I do think that Toph loved her daughters, I find it much easier to believe that she was much more selfish in the way she raised them. After all, Toph always liked to do things on her terms, which is probably a good chunk of the reason why she never factored her daughters’ respective fathers into their upbringing. Do you really think Toph would want to spend the next 18+ years negotiating with not one, but two guys whom she probably never planned on speaking to again? Not the Toph, I know. And while she genuinely gave her daughters all that freedom as a response to her own oppressive upbringing, I wouldn’t be shocked if part of that was just a justification she made to herself to be less hands-on—to not get bogged down in all the daily minutiae that comes with being a parent. Toph was a lot of wonderful things, but nurturing was never one of them. Just watch “Bitter Work” again for proof of that. And in response, the Korra writers took two very realistic responses to that kind of environment.

You grow up with a distant parent and very few boundaries, what do you think happens? One child (Lin) seeks the parent’s attention through validation and approval, a desire to please and be affirmed, and the construction of rigid boundaries. The other (Su) realizes that negative attention comes much more easily and seeks her parents’ attention by acting out and testing boundaries at every turn, because they haven’t been made clear. This is Child Psychology 101, and the writers explore it deftly with Lin and Su.

I like that Su tries to reason with Lin to explain that they should just talk things out, which she and their mother had done years ago (another hint that Toph became increasingly thoughtful later in life; perhaps this incident transformed her even more than her daughters realized), but when Lin pushes, Su reacts like a sibling would. She goes for the throat. She pushes her sister’s buttons. She mentions how Tenzin dumped her. And then it’s on.

That final fight scene was just poetry. I can’t even try to do it justice by describing it. All I can say is that I am in awe of how Sifu Kisu and the animators continue to create unique and dynamic fight scenes episode after episode. I just…wow. More interesting, though, was the fallout from the fight. When I heard Lin speaking in her scenes the next day, I almost didn’t recognize the voice. It was a very subtle difference, but props to Mindy Sterling. You can hear a change in Beifong’s voice. It actually sounds like the tension in her heart has been eased to some degree.

As for the other characters, there was some good stuff too. Korra metalbended for the first time, becoming the first metalbending Avatar. Bolin declined Su’s offer to learn metalbending alongside Korra, but it turns out this is mainly a fear of failure. He’s tried metalbending several times over the years and has never been able to do it. Opal calls him out on this, and while he pulls a dick move by deflecting her words and pointing out how scared she is of standing up to her mother, and going to the Northern Air Temple to train with Tenzin, he has a point.

The grace note on all of this is that Opal’s declaration to her parents that she doesn’t want what they’ve got in mind. It drives home to Su that she’s made mistakes as a parent too. She had too much freedom growing up, so she didn’t give her own daughter enough. I really like this, because it implies that Toph wasn’t a horrible parent (and neither was Aang), that parents (at least most parents) do the best they can. And sometimes their best isn’t good enough and they screw up, but that’s just life. No one is a perfect parent.

Ad – content continues below

Lastly, we have the subplot with Zaheer’s gang. There’s not much to say about it. It’s a fairly standard chase sequence and the next logical step, given the events of the previous episode, but we don’t really learn anything new except that their plans involve what I can only assume is an assassination attempt on President Raiko. Oh, and that Zaheer somehow knows that Korra is with the Metal Clan.

Wait a second. How does Zaheer know that Korra is with the Metal Clan? What other kind of spiritual powers does he have? What is this guy’s fucking deal?! Seriously, I love these villains. LOVE ‘EM!

Best. Season. Ever.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing! 


4.5 out of 5