This Legend of Korra review contains spoilers.
Korra’s reunion with Asami and Mako turns out to be fraught with more than a little resentment, but when an abduction attempt on Prince Wu forces them to work together, they quickly table their issues to rescue him. In the process, Korra puts to good use the spiritual connectivity she learned from Toph to track Wu, who’s been thrown on a train headed for Kuvira’s current location. Meanwhile, Bolin and Varrick run into a group of “re-education camp” refugees, who were imprisoned by Kuvira’s forces for the simple crime of having foreign blood (and thus foreign bending). They team up to make an escape to Republic City so they can warn the people there of Kuvira’s plans, including her experiments with the spirit vines. Unbeknownst to Bolin and Varrick, Kuvira has already found an area rich in spirit vines… The Swamp. And she is ready for a full harvest.
This episode reminded me more than a little bit of “Dead Man’s Party” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and with good reason. Both have to do with the protagonist returning home after a self-imposed exile and the hurt and resentment — some of it obvious, some repressed — of the loved ones she left behind. Both tackle the issue head on (“Dead Man’s Party” a little more thoroughly, but in fairness it was twice the length) without spinning it into an ongoing conflict. While there are bound to be repercussions down the line, as there were in Buffy with Joyce and Giles occasionally referencing Buffy’s absence and even treating her differently because of it, the issue seems for the most part to be resolved. In both cases I think the subject is handled very well. It’s an important episode to have, because while you really do want to deal realistically with that issue and all those feelings, you don’t want to spend too much time on it. Again, there are bound to be some aftershocks, as well there should be, but the main issue is more or less resolved, and I’m glad it is.
It’s interesting how different people had different reactions to Korra’s return. When the kids reunited with her in “The Calling,” their thoughts and feelings on the matter weren’t terribly complex. They missed her, so seeing her felt good, and they didn’t look too much deeper into the matter. True, while Jinora is now the same age that Katara was when she freaked out on her dad for his absence, Jinora is a very different character. Katara was very transparently emotional. She felt things very strongly, and even though she knew her dad needed to go away to the war and leave her and Sokka behind, even though she knew her anger wasn’t justified, even though she didn’t want to feel angry, she simply could not deny that anger. Jinora, while possessed of just as many feelings and certainly capable of losing her cool, is coming from a very different place both personally and culturally, being an Air Nomad. She can see the big picture and understand the need for solitude and meditation, and however unhappy she is, either at the situation or Korra specifically, she is detached enough to acknowledge those feelings, process them, and move past them to what’s really important, which is that Korra is with her now.
Tenzin and Pema, being adults, are just happy to see Korra and are capable of approaching the situation from a mature place. Even if Tenzin hadn’t visited with her during her recovery, he probably would have received her upon her arrival in exactly the same state of mind.
As for Korra’s peers, her friends… I’m glad they don’t let her off the hook. Sure, Korra did what she needed to do, and I empathize with her and understand, but I also empathize with Asami and Mako and understand where they’re coming from. At points in my life, I’ve been the one left behind. I’ve had someone close to me just cease communication without any explanation. It does not feel good, and the worst part is the not knowing. You don’t know why they’ve suddenly gone off the grid. You don’t know what they need or how to help them or even if you can help them. Worst of all, you don’t know how it could be so easy for someone who supposedly loves you to just shut you out and cast you aside. It is a uniquely insulting brand of heartbreak, and it devastates because it calls into question not only how much you matter to that person but how much you ever mattered. How much could you have if they could just throw you away like that? That very subtext is running strong underneath that supremely uncomfortable lunch scene.
Mako’s resentment toward Korra is floating pretty close to the surface. It doesn’t take much for him show his hand. Asami plays is much closer to the chest, and whether or not that’s intentional is left up to interpretation, but I suspect Asami went into that lunch thinking she was far cooler with the situation than she actually was. When Korra asks if she kept her waiting long and she responds with,
“Only three years,” it’s said in a witty, jovial tone of voice, but I’ve been exposed to enough passive-aggressive behavior to detect just a hint of resentment in that remark. This is almost immediately backed up by Asami “letting it slip” that Korra had been in touch with her during her absence. Sure, it could have been an honest mistake, but I find it extremely hard to believe that it didn’t enter her mind that such a remark would provoke an angry response from Mako.
It’s interesting because we expect Mako to have some kind of resentment toward Korra for not keeping in touch, especially if she corresponded with Asami. The fact that Asami is also angry with Korra, despite the fact that she got more out of her in the last few years than anyone, is a very realistic reaction. Sure, she got a letter but that’s still only one letter, it took over two years to get that much, and she hasn’t heard anything since. That’s more than enough reason to be pissed off.
The thing is, while Asami is totally justified in a little overreaction to Korra questioning Hiroshi’s motives, Korra raises a valid point. Even if Hiroshi turns out to be legitimately reformed, it’s good that the question of whether or not he’s manipulating Asami is at least raised. What’s more, it’s awesome that Asami acknowledges Korra’s point. She’s not so much miffed at what Korra said, but that Korra is the one that said it. I can’t help but think, though, that there’s more to the whole Hiroshi angle. I wonder what it is.
The only thing better than Korra describing Toph as a cranky, more miserable version of Lin is Mako’s doubt as to whether that’s even possible. I’d honestly thought we’d seen the last of Toph, but if Kuvira is going to be cutting into the swamp… I don’t think so. There is no way Toph is going to be absent for that, and it makes me wonder if she will survive. On the one hand, this is Toph. For any character to defeat her would be incredibly difficult and would border on blasphemy. Anyone who takes Toph down would have to have serious chops. On the other hand…
Kuvira is one tough cookie, and she seems to be the best metalbender out there, possibly good enough to rival Toph. Our Lady of Crankiness did note that neither of her daughters mastered metalbending as well as she’d hoped. It would be an interesting turn of events if the Beifong sisters never could match their mother’s metalbending… but Kuvira could. And killing Toph would accomplish several things. For one, it would drive home on a whole new level just what a threat Kuvira is. It would also have a profound effect on Lin and Su, nudging Kuvira over the edge from dangerous to unforgivable. Lastly, it would be massively sad for Katara and Zuko, as they would now be the only members left of the original Team Avatar, and that kind of emotion does make for a powerful ending. I’m not saying killing Toph is necessary, likely, or even that I’m hoping for it, but if it happened I would totally get it and accept it.
Regarding Prince Wu … really? Given how much cucumber-aloe water he was holding, how scared he was, and the fact that he was knocked out pretty badly, the guy didn’t piss himself at any point? Wu certainly was valuable in this episode as a means of bringing the team together again, but now that he’s hiding out at the Sato Estate, I really don’t want to be saddled with much more of him. I’m really hoping this is how we’ll free Mako up to just be part of the show again.
Mako’s point that getting on each other’s nerves really is, for him and Korra, like old times may seem like just a throwaway joke, but it runs deeper than that. All through Book Three, the two had been estranged, on civil terms but not exactly comfortable with each other. They wouldn’t be bickering with each other if they didn’t feel comfortable enough to throw formality and politeness to the wind. So, in that sense it really is like old times.
You know what’s not like old times? Asami. I didn’t say anything in the season premiere. I didn’t know if it was a deliberate shift in her character design or if she was merely being drawn off-model, but — and I’m not criticizing here, because the woman is a complete, undisputed knockout — is it just me or has Asami put on a little heft? Seriously. Look at those hips. Baby got back. Like I said, it doesn’t matter. Not only is the lady gorgeous but she knows how to accessorize as well as she ever did. Can’t help but notice her electro-glove is now a sleeker, more ergonomic model. Because you cannot have your weapon of choice clash with your outfit. No, sir.
As for the Bolin/Varrick story, it was fairly sparse but well done, and I wonder if those refugees will continue on in future episodes or if they’re just one-off guest characters. Either way, I’m fine. What really matters is that we get more of Bolin and Varrick together, and I just love these two. You have to hand it to Varrick, it takes some doing to make Bolin the straight man in a comedy duo. For real.
I understand to a degree Bolin’s reluctance to play the lavabending card, but I’m getting a little tired of how long he waits to use it once the need becomes apparent. True, from a writing standpoint, you don’t want to have a character become too powerful as it limits the credibility of any jeopardy he might be in, but if you hand a character that kind of power, you better be prepared to face the narrative consequences.
To the writers’ credit, once Bolin pulls out the lavabending, he works that shit but good. It’s clear that he’s gained a pretty solid mastery of it over the last three years. What’s also noticeable is his heroism. Bolin has always had a good heart, and he’s generally had good intentions, but in this episode he really shows what a sense of authority and competence he’s developed. Earthbending is probably the least graceful of the bending arts, but it’s very possible to tell the difference between an earthbender who has control and one who lacks it. Bolin seems far more poised and precise than he’s been in previous seasons. It shows in both his personality and his actions. He’s still got a pretty broad comical streak, but when he gets down to business, he means business.
As for Varrick, just like in last week’s episode, he proved that he’s worth more than some comic relief. He’s an incredibly funny character, but he’s also really smart. It would have been easy for him to just be some cloudcuckoolander ripe for a steady joke harvest, but the truth is Varrick really is a self-made man. He’s smart, innovative, and knows when to trust his instincts and take chances. That’s someone who, in a pinch, you want to know. Man, there really is just some lightning in a bottle when it comes to quirky, inventive Water Tribe men. Truly.
While it’s been stated that Kuvira has been imprisoning any who challenge or resist her, even in the form of verbal dissent, her imprisonment of anyone not of Earth Kingdom origin reeks of ethnic cleansing and eugenics, and if she wasn’t giving off a fascist vibe before, she sure as hell is now.
This episode was a real winner. It was dense but never felt heavy. The plot moves along smoothly and organically, keeping the story moving while dealing with some meaty character issues. And while it did not directly address Korra’s faltering in the previous episode, I’m okay with that. I came to realize in the past week that what I wanted wasn’t so much for Korra to conquer her issues faster, but for the rest of the series not to consist of a string of defeats. Having her lose to Kuvira is fine, and I was fine with it in that episode. What I did not want and still don’t is for her to get her ass kicked, especially by Kuvira, for the next few episodes. It’s just demoralizing.
Having Korra deal with some lesser adversaries is a great way to give her a few wins, build back up her abilities and her confidence, and get her to a place where Kuvira might still have some advantage over her but not a guaranteed victory. Basically, if Korra fights Kuvira directly again before their final confrontation, there better be a damn good reason, because Korra getting her ass kicked? I get it, but I’m over it. Let’s give the girl a few wins and then throw her back into the lion’s den to see how she fares. She’s already reclaiming her identity in small, subtle ways. I mean, come on. While she looks amazing in green, it really is nice to see her back in blue.