Really? A clip show? Really?
And that, folks — that one line up there — was going to be my entire review of this episode. I am not even remotely kidding. The second I realized what this was, I was ready to punch up the shortest review of my entire career thus far, slap half a star on it, and call it a day. But, I knew damn well that there was no scenario in which I was not going to watch the episode, so I figured I’d write as in-depth a review as I could.
This episode was not a total waste of time. Each act’s worth of clips was framed by some interaction that forwarded the stories of the characters to some small degree. Because the story is very clearly segmented, I’m going to take this review act by act.
The episode starts, as expected with Shiro Shinobi’s news reel, and while he’s always addressed the audience, this time he actually talk about events in which he was personally involved, which raised an eyebrow, given how brief these little clips tend to be.
Act 1 properly begins with Mako teaching Wu to fight, the framing device for this segment. It was pretty standard clip show material, even with the chibi face pop-ups to lend commentary. It quickly becomes apparent that these clips are going to be clustered thematically rather than sequentially, and most of Mako’s segment focuses on his love triangle with Korra and Asami from Books One and Two. All the ball-busting Mako receives about his bad romantic habits is pretty much an answer to a very widespread fan complaint, and the questioning of whether or not his and Asami’s break-up was actually a break-up is a direct spiritual successor to the send-up of the ambiguity of Jet’s death in “The Ember Island Players,” reminding us that Bryke are just as willing to poke fun at the missteps they feel are legitimate as they are dismiss viewer complaints they see as petty and/or ridiculous.
Act 2 finds Korra and Asami on Air Temple Island, looking out over the sea at sunset. The original animation of the this segment was truly beautiful. I am very partial to sunsets in both art and life, so I was an easy sell for this one. I’ll admit it. With all of Korra’s romantic material covered in the Act 1, this act was free to explore her growl as an individual, the arc of her character. It recapped how her experiences changed her, and how her actions changed the course of history. It effectively showed us the causality of this series, how several key events played into each other.
In Act 3, we return to Bolin and Varrick, still traveling on that ship with the refugees, all telling stories. Varrick, bored with everyone else’s tales, shares his thoughts for an epic new mover. He proceeds to spin a yarn so bizarre, so over the top, so… well… so damn *Varrick* that it captures everyone’s attention. Just how Varrick is it?
Villain conference call. Oh, yeah, you read that right. Villain. Conference call.
Seeing Vaatu on that old timey phone is priceless, and the fact that Mike and Bryan got all the all the actors back to voice the villains for this little vignette really sold it. All of Varrick’s meta “film industry” lingo is just awesome, especially for those of us who live in L.A. and hear it in practically every other conversation. This was by far the best of the three acts, even though it made absolutely no sense and failed as a recap as it looped in new lines over existing footage, completely changed the context of scenes, and created scenarios that never, ever happened for the sake of the longest and possibly best Varrick joke in the show’s history. Still, though, it did manage to effectively convey how far Bolin has come as a character, seeing his straight man reactions to Varrick’s nonsense juxtaposed with all the ridiculous shit he was guilty of in the first three seasons.
There are a couple of things of note in this episode, namely that it was not a full recap of the series so far, or even the first three seasons (omitting events from the current season would make plenty of sense). Each act was very careful about which scenes it included, in keeping with certain threads of the story so far. But let’s take a look at what was omitted: Tenzin and his kids, Tenzin’s siblings, Asami’s whole conflict with her father, Avatar Wan, Jinora’s spiritual awakening, the return of the airbenders, the Red Lotus, and much more. Now, that’s fine. It’s a twenty minute clip show, and you can only fit so much in.
But here’s the thing. The function of a clip show (aside from saving costs in order to blow the budget on the big episodes) is to refresh the viewer’s memory, to remind them of specific plot points or themes that will soon factor into the narrative one again.
Given all those omissions above, what was still included? Every instinct I have says they are elements that are going to play into these final five episodes. And that makes me both thrilled and terrified. Because that would mean that all the romance stuff from Books One and Two, stuff I had thanked God were behind us, will be revisited in some way. That’s right, we’re probably going to get saddled with some more Korra/Mako bullshit. Fucking gag me. Of course, this could be misdirection, leading us to the ultimate validation of Korra and Mako as platonic, but I have my doubts.
On the other hand, I am very excited by the mention of Korra’s loss of the connection to her past lives, because it suggests that this issue will be addressed. We know that there is a spiritual element to the endgame of the series, what with Kuvira’s spirit weapon. And here we have a reminder of that bass chord of Vaatu’s energy blasts, which sounds suspiciously like the spirit vine explosion. Mere coincidence? Unlikely. Will these two spiritual elements come together in some way? I can only hope so.
This clip show ultimately end up being a decent one, true enough. So, why am I still rolling my eyes?
Because even a decent clip show… is a clip show. Because we only had six episodes of Korra left, and one of them was squandered on this. Look, I don’t have a problem with recap episodes in theory, but again I come to the whole economy principle. If you’re going to tell me you’re cutting all the fat away from a show, which was the buzz-phrase surrounding Korra from its inception, then don’t have any fat. And a clip show is, by definition, fat. Yes, when Avatar was drawing to a close, we had “The Ember Island Players,” but you’ve got to keep in mind two very noteworthy points.
1)The final season of Avatar was 21 episodes, the total series count was 61 episodes, and “The Ember Island Players” recapped 51 of them. We earned a recap episode. And…
2)“The Ember Island Players,” while a recap episode, was not a clip show. Every frame of that show was fresh, brand new animation that provided a summary of all but the series’ most recent events, as well as some tongue in cheek commentary on the show, in a creative and comical way.
This episode did not. It had some funny moments to be sure, but all said and done, it was a goddamn clip show with very little new animation, and whatever character development it did feature didn’t hold a candle to what we got on Aang, Katara, and Zuko in “The Ember Island Players.”
If “Remembrances” really wanted to carry the torch from its Avatar counterpart, this could have paralleled its use of theater with the use of cinema. The Varrick segment was the best one anyway, so they should have just made that the whole episode and just committed to it. Seeing all the events of the series mixed up and out of order, painting a picture of the story in broad strokes, but fudging the details and creating moments that weren’t there like the villain team-up that never happened… that would have been great! This is not what we got. This was one of the precious few episodes of the Avatar-verse that we had left, and it was used up on recycled footage. I don’t know about anyone else, but I just find that inconsiderate and wasteful, and the few yucks I got were not worth an entire episode’s worth of precious little remaining Korra time in the toilet.
Hmph. I give this episode an emphatic “meh.” Beyond that, all I can say is that these last five episodes better hit the ground running and not leave anything important out, because it’s not like we didn’t have the time for it.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Since writing this article, I’ve learned of the circumstances surrounding the making of “Remebrances,” namely a budget cut that shaved off roughly an episode’s worth of Book Four’s funding. When faced with the choice of letting some loyal and dedicated members of Korra’s production team go or making a clip show, Mike and Bryan chose to do a clip show. And you know what? That was the noble choice. They had the backs of their creative team, and I completely respect and even honor them for that. However, the point of a review is not to grade on a curve based on context. It’s take the final product and evaluate it on its own merits. And while the nobility of DiMartino and Konietzko’s choices certainly justifies the existence of this episode, it does nothing to improve its actual quality. So, while I’ll happily recant any criticism I had of their artistic process in regards to the making of “Remembrances,” and enjoy some restored faith in two of my favorite writers while I’m at it, I stand by my assessment of this episode.
Because Mike and Bryan totally did the right thing, but a mediocre episode made for even the best of intentions is still a mediocre episode.