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Psychology of Fear in The Legend of Korra: “The Voice in the Night”

We are four episodes into The Legend of Korra and as you might expect, I’m completely won over. Heck, I was won over before it started, but I count this as a milestone since four episodes is what I think it takes for Avatar: The Last Airbender to find its voice; the two-part beginning of “The Boy in the Iceberg” and “The Avatar Returns” to lay down the rules of the universe and the dramatis personae, the trip to “The Southern Air Temple” to establish the mythological roots, and then finally the glowingly perfect episode “The Warriors of Kyoshi.” Riding the unagi, kick-butt female warriors, Sokka’s character growth and a treatise on unintended consequences… capped off with the Avatar figuring out a way to help despite everyone telling him he can’t. You can draw a straight line from “The Warriors of Kyoshi” all the way to “Sozin’s Comet.”

In a lot of ways, “The Voice in the Night” is the spiritual reverse of this arc. The first two episodes establish the new Avatar and her supporting cast — the “Krew” as opposed to the “Gaang” — but they also present to us a brash, over-confident and stubborn Avatar Korra, as juxtaposed to the recalcitrant Aang who harbors a fundamental doubt and guilt. Aang starts his Hero’s Journey from the “Refusal of the Call” part of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth. Korra is a different kettle of fish entirely — while terms like the aforementioned “brash” and “stubborn” are often used as code words for “generally terrible,” in Korra’s case they aren’t exaggerated stereotypes, but they are her burden, they are what is holding her back. And so, we get to the theme of “The Voice in the Night”:  fear and denial. A downturn of good fortunes. Dark days for the Avatar.

The third episodes of both shows establish the antagonists in greater detail; in Avatar: The Last Airbender we see Zuko and Uncle Iroh in opposition to Commander Zhao; In The Legend of Korra, we have Amon and the Equalists in all their reasonable and terrifying glory. For my money, Amon is way scarier than Fire Lord Ozai; the whole Robespierre Guy Fawkes Rasputin thing is really intimidating and the threat of losing bending seems much more horrifying than death, as strange as that is to say. “The Voice in the Night” deals directly with the fallout of the previous episode; Korra’s nightmares and her sudden internal struggle with her uncertainty dominate the storyline. It is a psychological episode, but I can’t help but notice that the validity of the Equalists’ arguments are highlighted along the way; is it just me or is the Republic City Council all benders? The sleazy Tarlok and splendid Tenzin certainly are, and I thought it was implied at one point that the other representatives were as well. We’ve got a world where all the channels of advancement — from the political to professional sports — exclude non-benders.

The financial realm seems to be an exception, at least, as we’re introduced to two non-benders who have really risen to prominence: Hiroshi Sato, creator of Future Industries and the automobile analogue the “satomobile” and his moped riding daughter, Asami. Asami is destined to become part of the Krew, if I read the cards correctly. Am I crazy or does she look like June, the bounty hunter? Both of them have a similar sort of look to G.I Joe‘s Baroness, which is…an all right look if you ask me. Asami and Mako strike up an affection right away, and so we’re introduced to yet another romantic entanglement. “Makorra” fans watch out now that “Masami” is on the case! I sort of wondered if Mako might end up fancying the gentlemen, but I think we’ve seen that isn’t the case, so c’est la vie. Now of course we get the conspiracy theories that one or both of the Satos is an Equalist. It certainly is possible, but without more to go on, who can say?

The heart of this episode is Korra and Tenzin. Aang’s son is really just a gem, a real highlight of the show whenever he’s on screen — he isn’t perfect, but he’s working on it. We even get to see him on his glider in this episode — despite his serious demeanor, he has elements of whimsy and he works as a great straight man with lines like “don’t bring my mother into this!” and “Meelo that isn’t a toilet!” In fact, his relationship with his wife and children is a great foundation for the “airbending” parts of the program, and it makes you the viewer root for Korra to confide in him as she struggles with her worries. When the episode descends into the nadir of horror, with Korra in the clutches of Amon in a real worst case scenario, and then Tenzin is there for her in her moment of catharsis, you feel it, too. You want her to bond with Tenzin; you can’t help but see him as a worthy mentor and a trustworthy figure.   

And of course, the big treat: when Korra gets bonked in the head at Aang’s statue, we get a reincarnation flashback. Perhaps dealing with the historical problem mentioned off-handedly in the council, Yakone? I don’t want to get too caught up in speculating, but might we follow the adult Gaang through flashbacks that shed light on the present situation of Republic City? That wouldn’t surprise me too much. We’ve already seen statues of adult Toph and adult Zuko, so when we see Toph in the flashback the first thought is “that is exactly what grown-up Toph would look like!” More neat visual storytelling.

I think when we see finally see Zuko, on the other hand, he won’t resemble the statue of Fire Lord Zuko; I think he’s going to be much more like Iroh. Uncle Zuko! I was sort of disappointed that a mature Sokka doesn’t have a ridiculous “Wang Fire” beard like he did when he pretending to be an old man in “The Headband,” but making him look like a cross between Hakoda and a young Sokka is probably more reasonable. As for adult Aang, I was incredibly relieved that he could pull of his facial hair. The chinstrap looked a little dubious in the opening credits but in action it was great.

Mordicai Knode can’t wait to see Korra talk to Aang in the spirit world but is even more excited for Uncle Zuko.  Tell him who you want to see from Avatar: the Last Airbender in The Legend of Korra on Twitter.


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