The Legend of Korra: Operation Beifong Review

The Legend of Korra gives us a Beifong-a-thon. Here is our review.

This Legend of Korra review contains spoilers.

The title says it all. Bolin finds himself working alongside three generations of Beifongs when Toph shows up to tell Lin and Opal that their family is being held elsewhere. Doing his best to stifle all his fanboy squee over Toph, Bolin leads them to the re-education camp, where they execute a successful rescue attempt of Su, Baatar, and the boys. Meanwhile, Korra uses her Avatar cred to appeal to the spirits to lend their support to the fight against Kuvira, but they refuse for some surprisingly sensible reasons.

Oh, bless this show. Bless. This. Show. You know why? Intergenerational Beifong awesomeness. This shit was amazing from top to bottom. Seeing Lin and Su finally interact with their mother was immensely gratifying. I was worried that Lin’s greeting of her mother was a little too civil, considering their history, so when she started to show some attitude on the way to Kuvira’s “re-education facility,” I was relieved. It was a fine line to walk, because you don’t want to slow down the action, you don’t want to let the tension out of that balloon, but these issues would arise, and they wouldn’t wait for a convenient time. These conversations needed to be had. I think the writers struck the perfect balance between keeping the action going and exploring these interpersonal conflicts, certain conversations that were a long time coming for both the characters and the viewers. Those exchanges, rather than distracting from the plot or releasing the tension, only added to it.

The main emotional set piece here was Lin’s outburst at Toph, something that in and of itself shows just how deeply all these feelings cut. Lin Beifong is not the kind of person to lose her shit. She’s abrasive, sometimes even loud, but she’s always in control of that fury. And yet here she is shouting at her mother like an angry child (which she more or less is in his context). No one gets to you the way family gets to you, especially your parents, and Lin cannot help but call her mother out for depriving her of a father (especially since Toph wasn’t the greatest mother in the first place) and not even talking about him until Bolin — whom Toph can barely even stand — asks who he is. His name was Kanto, by the way.

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The truth is both mother and daughter have a point here. Toph and Su already worked out their issues years ago. So clearly Toph, who is not the most emotionally expressive person ever, was at least game to talk things over. As we’ve seen, Lin is the type of person to hold grudges until they’re wrested from her iron grip. Toph’s assertion that she’s holding onto family drama everyone else would rather move past is not unfair. At the same time, Lin knows her mother. She has her number good, and I totally believe Lin when she says that her mother doesn’t even know how she hurts her and that when she tells her, she doesn’t care. Because whether or not that’s actually true, it sure sounds like the Toph I know as someone who’s seen every single animated frame of that character.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Toph as a character is that while she never loses her rough edge, she’s always been deftly humanized. She’s brash, cranky, tough, and she shows bullshit no quarter… but she’s not a robot. She has feelings, and the idea that she hurt her daughters and that they might hate her does not just roll off her back. When Lin tells her that she wants nothing more to do with her, she stands by her philosophy of people following their bliss, telling Lin that if it will make her happy she should do it. And yet you can see that Toph is heartbroken, because she knows she made her own bed. She knows why Lin (and formerly Su) resents her, and while she’s not going to take any abuse on the subject, she can certainly take responsibility.

There’s actually a lot to be said with how Toph has been handled in this series and its greater implications. I mentioned in my review of “Old Wounds” that it was incredibly refreshing and feminist that Toph has canonically had two children by different fathers, neither of which she married or even settled down with. Not because I think fathers aren’t important and that the rejection of them is feminist, but because nowhere in the narrative is Toph questioned or shamed for having children out of wedlock. She has been canonically confirmed as a woman who had a sex life that was on her terms. She dealt with the consequences as she saw fit, and nobody gave her shit for it. In fact, she still went down in modern history as living legend and honored hero. The only people who had any problems with her choices were her own kids, and really as they were the only ones truly affected by them, that’s fine.

Because, as Toph acknowledges in this episode, she wasn’t a great mother. Some women just aren’t. She was as good a mother as she was capable of being. She did her best. Her best just wasn’t that great. Some people aren’t cut out to be parents, and a lot of them end up parents anyway, and this is what happens. Doesn’t make them bad people, but there is a stigma. If you’re a bad father it’s not considered great, but if you’re a bad mother it doesn’t matter what else you do with your life, you’re a failure. In the Avatar world that is not the case. Which is not to say your kids won’t have grievances, but you won’t have the world wagging their fingers at you. I appreciate that the writers chose to say, “Yeah, Toph was a pretty lousy mother.” And yet she’s not a horrible person.

Contrast this with what we know of Aang’s parenting, which, while certainly peppered with a few missteps, was certainly not considered to be lousy. Certainly, there was a certain favoritism at times toward Tenzin just by virtue of cultural necessity, but I never got the impression that Aang ever acted coldly toward his other children or ignored them completely. Aang was an imperfect parent. He didn’t get everything right. As opposed to Toph, who, from what we can tell, got nearly everything wrong. It’s a much more subtle, nuanced look at parenthood than we saw in Avatar, where your options were pretty much Hakoda or Iroh (parental sainthood), the Beifongs (misguided, well-meaning abuse), or Ozai (deliberate abuse). That was it. Here we have parents who do their best but make mistakes. Some fall a little short. Some fall very short. But they love their kids. Life’s not fair, people aren’t perfect, but hopefully we can forgive each other.

Now, as for the action…

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Oh my God, so much asskicking. Toph was a rock star, of course. Seeing her work in tandem with her kids was awesome. And her shaming of Kuvira, while I’m sure it didn’t land with the intended target, was just so gratifying to hear. The fight between Kuvira and Suyin was incredibly choreographed, and Su’s on-the-fly metalbending of that panel into armor was sweet as hell.

Toph coming in as the cavalry was not unexpected but was so well done,and I’m glad she didn’t die here, because I was bracing for it, especially once she and Lin had words, because how much would that have destroyed Lin, that her final words to her mother were about how she wanted nothing to do with her? The truth is, though, while I’d like at least a brief cameo in the denouement of the finale, if this is the last we see of Toph, it was a great send-off, especially given her parting words.

Toph points out exactly why she’s staying out of this conflict from here on in, the same reason Katara didn’t involve herself in the Water Tribe Civil War: because they’re old and at a certain point you’ve got to leave these matters to the “kids.” Consider that Toph was a kid herself when she saved the world. They all were. That would certainly reinforce her belief and confidence in handing responsibility over to the younger generation(s).

As for the other stuff going on in this storyline… never have I been happier to see Toph’s lie detector at work. I had pretty much already worked out that Zhu Li was trying to sabotage Kuvira’s efforts from the inside, but as soon as it was confirmed that she was lying AT ALL, there was no doubt left that she had always been on our side. Bless you, Zhu Li. You’ve always done the thing.

As for Bolin, while his redemption in Opal’s eyes isn’t on an entirely realistic time frame… so what? Dramatically, it works. He dug in, really went the distance to help Opal’s family, and proved himself. And while it is a little too easy a turn-around for Opal, I don’t think any of us really wanted to spend a bunch of episodes, especially this close to the end, dealing with their relationship problems.

As this episode was pretty much a Beifong-a-thon, there wasn’t much Republic City action. I like that Raiko acted like a politician and insisted on weaponizing the spirit vines to combat Kuvira’s weapon, and that the others refused. This segues directly into Korra’s venture into the Spirit World to plead for the spirits’ help. I was totally loving that Phoenix Dragon spirit. Can he come back? Please? His conversation with Korra deftly addressed all the logical questions the audience might have about the spirits’ involvement or lack thereof, and his argument for not taking part in a human conflict… it kind of made perfect sense. I can’t really argue with it. This offers two possibilities. Either the spirits are being banked for an eleventh hour Hail Mary when all else fails (and they’ve been sufficiently convinced that it would be just to do so) or this forces Korra to solve this problem on her own, to prove herself to both humans and spirits. Either way, I’m pretty good.

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This episode started off strong and just kept on going. The action was solid, the plot and character development was on point, and the animation, despite being a little dirty in a few spots, was very good. And now? Only three episodes to go. And with Kuvira, according to Zhu Li’s claims, ready to attack Republic City in two weeks, shit is about to get seriously real.

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4 out of 5