After Tenzin, Bumi, and Jinora took off for the Northern Air Temple with the new recruits, the remaining members of Team Avatar continued their search for new airbenders. When a report comes in that one has been discovered in the city of Zaofu, Beifong isn’t particularly enthused about going, and we quickly learn why. Zaofu is a city of metalbenders, founded and led by none other than Lin’s half-sister Suyin (Anne Heche). Meanwhile, back on Air Temple Island, Meelo and Ikki run some new recruits through airbender boot camp. When a mysterious stranger named Yoru arrives to train, Kya’s intuition tells her that he’s not as benign as he appears.
So, Zaofu is the shiny metal city we saw in the trailers, not a White Lotus stronghold, as the architecture might suggest, but the home of The Metal Clan. And it is gorgeous. I absolutely love the aesthetic of Zaofu. Aside from the “lotus” buildings, there’s a very Art Deco style to the architecture as well as the fashion. It’s something completely different from what we’ve seen and is one of my favorite design styles in either show so far. There’s also a great vibe to Zaofu. It’s established as a peaceful city where people are encouraged to reach their full potential, whatever that may be. Unlike the Avatar Era Fire Nation, that potential need not be of use to the state. There is a value placed on individuality and the arts, and while Bryke are notorious for subverting this kind of Utopia in one way or another, and Suyin’s comment about there being no secrets in the city thanks to Aei Wei’s natural lie detecting ability does raise an eyebrow, I find myself hoping that Zaofu is more or less what it purports to be.
Upon their arrival, Team Avatar is greeted by a guide named Aiwei, whose skintone and facial jewelry are distinctly Indian in nature. Between him and Guru Pathik, I’m wondering how big a presence people of an Indian-inspired background have in the Avatar world. Are they of any particular nation?
On their tour, a statue of Toph Beifong prompts Bolin to ask what we’re all thinking. Does Toph live here? Are we going to get to meet her? And the answer, at least for the time being, is no. According to Aiwei, she used to visit from time to time, but years ago, she left to wander the world in search of enlightenment, and hasn’t been seen since. So, there you have it, folks. We have confirmation that Toph may still be alive, and I for one would like to see her either return by the end of the season or be confirmed dead, and why? Because whatever is going down between Lin and Suyin is going to need some big time closure, because bitches haven’t spoken in thirty years.
As it turns out, Suyin, or “Su” as she is commonly called, is the opposite of Lin in every conceivable way. Where Lin is rigid, Su is flexible. Where Lin is tough and reserved, Su is warm and expressive. Lin followed in her mother’s footsteps, committed herself to her career, and had no interest in motherhood, one of the main reasons she and Tenzin never worked out. Su pursued her own path, married an architect (with whom she designed and built Zaofu), and have five children. All I have to say about that is that her figure is damn good for a woman who popped out five kids by the age of thirty or so. I mean, that is a woman who knows how to work her core. Pilates got nothing on her.
Su’s kids include athletic twin boys Wei and Wing, brooding artist Huan, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Skrillex (although I don’t feel the powerful urge to punch him in the face, so good on him), an as-yet unnamed engineer son who works closely with her husband, Baatar, and her only daughter Opal, the new airbender.
Through a few comments, we learn a lot about Lin, that she never felt as though her mother every appreciated her or even wanted her, and it explains a lot. It makes sense that Toph, having grown up in such a strict household, would have given her daughters more freedom than they knew what to do with. It makes sense that someone who grew up feeling unwanted by her mother would have no interest in kids, due at least in part to a concern that she’d be equally as damaging as a parent. On the other hand, another in the same situation would be all the more inspired to be different when confronted with parenthood. Psychologically, this is some pretty heavy stuff, and I love that Korra isn’t shying away from it. When I first heard that Toph’s daughter would be a character in Korra, I wondered what kind of child Toph would produce? And when I first saw Lin in “Welcome to Republic City,” I thought, “Yup, that’s exactly what I would have guessed.” And yet, everything about Su is just as completely believable.
Of course she would have inherited Toph’s sense of rebellion. Of course she would have left home to go on her own adventures (I wonder how she and Kya got on; their backstories are very similar and they must have known each other as children). Of course she would be a progressive type and loathe the Earth Queen. Everything about Su’s character makes perfect sense. And that’s something that can be said for all the new characters this season. All of them feel very organic, additions to the ensemble that only enrich the show and not some neat concept the writers shoehorned into the story because they felt like it.
I absolutely love the story going on here between Lin and Su, and how despite Lin’s abrasiveness, her bitterness and resentment, and her completely uncalled for unkindness toward Opal, we can see that she’s deeply hurt and saddened by all of this. It’s quite remarkable actually. Not a single thing Lin does in this episode is sympathetic. She destroys Naga’s ball, she lies by omission to Korra, she rebuffs any attempts made to connect with her, she verbally abuses everyone, and even physically lashes out. And yet, she’s the one that we feel sorry for. That is some top shelf writing right there.
Opal seems like a fine addition. The fact that she’s an airbender means that she was previously a non-bender, and this clearly had no effect on the love and nurturing of her mother. She’s sweet and open, and clearly likes Bolin, but as soon as he starts acting all weird and douchey, she calls him on it without missing a beat, and tells him that she liked him when he wasn’t trying so hard. And it works. Opal’s attitude and effect on Bolin is like the polar opposite of the whole Ginger mess from last season, and I’m loving it. I love that a girl tells a guy in so many words that she doesn’t like the way he’s talking to her. She makes her boundaries clear and she is validated for it. Fuck to the yes!
So, I’m already loving this episode, and then Varrick shows up to dinner with Zhu Li in tow and I… I just… brain… exploding! Yes. Thank you. YES!! So, Varrick is an old friend of Su’s. Sure. Why not? I don’t care how he’s back or why. I can always use some more Varrick in my life. Zhu Li… do the thing!
On the Air Temple Island side of things, we meet back up with Daw, the new airbender we met in the premiere. Ikki and Meelo’s instruction has not met with a whole lot of success, but “Yoru” seems to be doing remarkably well. He passes through the airbending gates on the first try and expresses an eagerness to go to the Northern Air Temple. However, he also creeps about in Tenzin’s study, which raises another red flag for Kya. Once she recognizes him to be Zaheer, a pretty awesome battle ensues, the only action in an otherwise exclusively character-driven episode. Through this fight, we see once again that Zaheer is already deeply skilled in airbending if not already at the level of master. But… how?
Obviously, it’s impossible that he had any airbending powers prior to Harmonic Convergence, but he does seem pretty damn knowledgeable when it comes to Air Nomad culture. He’s repeatedly quoted Air Nomad philosophers, and he became aware of the Avatar’s identity shortly after she was discovered. I think that Zaheer is a fallen Air Acolyte. It would explain his access to the culture and history of Nomads. His proximity to Tenzin would have enabled him to learn about the Avatar’s identity in fairly short order, and time spent amongst the Air Acolytes would help him to cultivate the habits, behavior, and overall state of mind that, like Kai, would render him spiritually attuned to airbending so that when Harmonic Convergence happened, his body and spirit were already primed for him to ascend to airbender status. In fact, he might have already been spiritually predisposed if he was drawn to the Air Acolytes in the first place.
This episode… this FUCKING EPISODE… so good. That’s five for five so far. Book Three is just blowing me away. The new characters are great, the returning characters are being developed in interesting and natural ways. The world is expanding, the mythology is starting to connect the dots between Avatar and Korra. This is truly what I think the show was always meant to be, and it’s at its best so far. By a longshot.
One last thing. As if I wasn’t already over the moon about this episode, I love that Toph’s daughters never knew their fathers. I mean, it sucks for them, sure, but it’s what this seemingly throwaway line implies that rocks my socks.
Toph never married. She fucked who she pleased without any apologies or explanations, and no one questioned it. No one demanded she identify her babydaddies. No one thought any less of her. In fact, she is, to this day, world renowned and honored beyond measure. Do you realize what this means, people? It was slick and it was subtle, but with one quick line of exposition, The Legend of Korra just endorsed female sexual liberation.