How great are the White Falls Wolfbats? Come on, you may love to hate Tahno, but their entrance was one of the best set-pieces I’ve seen in a while. They came out in those masks and I was already at the edge of my seat making metal horns with my fingers…and then they lit the fireworks. Just glorious spectacle…sincerely rivaled by the existence of Fire Ferrets cosplayers. Three of the fans in the stadium are dressed up like Korra, Bolin and Mako, and it is such a great little nod towards the real world fans that I couldn’t help but be charmed.
The meta doesn’t stop there, either; the announcer of the match is the same voice as the recap narrator, and there is a sequence that is just one big wink at the duality of both in-story and out-of-story elements. The post-modern angle of it is hidden underneath a little bit of slapstick, but that is the internal logic of The Legend of Korra; it isn’t a pretentious collection of cinematic sleight of hand but a much more complicated and fun weaving of a story. Heck, even the use of slow motion and rewind is a repurposing of sports tropes…in order to tell a tale of reincarnation and social justice.
After “The Spirit of Competition” I theorized that any given Korra episode would have two out of three possible storylines; this one was definitely high on the pro-bending axis and the Equalist axis, but we do get a few little jabs of soap opera romance… just not from Korra, Bolin, or Mako. This time we get a glimpse into Tenzin’s backstory, as foreshadowed by Pema’s comments on how she and Tenzin got together while Tenzin was already in a relationship. Immediately the question became: who was Tenzin’s romantic interest before Pema?
Since Lin Beifong was the only other female adult of note, speculation centered around her and “And the Winner Is…” settled it. Lin’s comments about “cut and run” to Tenzin were a big hint, but when Korra puts two and two together and teases Tenzin, he confirms it and notes that it isn’t as simple as Pema’s advice to Korra made it seem. He also says “criminy,” which is fantastic and exactly why Tenzin rules. As a side note, I’m going to make a prediction: who Lin Beifong’s father is will never be answered; it is this season’s “Zuko’s mom.”
We got Mako as Batman in “The Revelation,” and now “And the Winner Is…” gives us Lin as Spider-Woman. Really though, Lin Beifong is the Most Valuable Player in this episode. I mean, this is really where she pulls out all the stops and shows just how awesome being a specialized metalbender who wears metal armor and carries around coils of wire can be. Her mix of “webslinging” and her breakdancing-esque fighting style was just utterly, mind-bogglingly great. What is that fighting style, anyway? Most earthbendering in Avatar: the Last Airbender was based on the Hung Gar style of Kung Fu, but Toph used a form based on Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu — I wonder if, like her mother, Lin has her own signature form? I’m not a martial art’s expert or anything, but it looked like the Brazilian fighting style Capoeira…with, like I said, a not-insignificant bit of Radioactive Spider Bite style. Suffice to say, Sifu Kisu, you mad genius, you’ve done it again! Maybe the more flowing forms Lin uses are evidence of Aang’s influence on her; Air Nomad Ba Gua-style martial arts blending with a medley of others?
Speaking of influenced by airbending styles, does Amon’s whole “dodge the bender’s attacks and get in close” style of combat seem very…well, Air Nomad to anybody else? I don’t lend a lot of credence to theories of an ancient Aang or Bumi behind the mask — no credence at all, actually — but I do find the duck and weave tactics Amon uses to be evocative of the circles techniques that Korra has been learning from Tenzin and that Aang frequently used in the last series. We also see in this episode the rapidly developing arms race between the benders and the Equalists; I realized early in that The Lieutenant’s electrified escrima sticks were an anti-metal-bender weapon, but now we’re seeing that logic played out on a larger scale.
The same sort of worldbuilding that brings us a city where lightning-benders run the power grid has also taken into account what steps people would take to counter the advantages of benders. A flourishing of grassroots movements like chi-blocking dojos and an arc of technological progress in both the civilian fields and in tools of war. and of course, the most glaring question of the whole Equalist sequence: where was Asami?
As in “The Voice in the Night,” when Korra gets knocked in the head, we get another series of flashbacks. Adult Toph and an angry Avatar State Aang are the characters of yore that we see here, but the sneering guy is the real curiosity. He’s dressed in clothing not dissimilar to what Councilor Tarrlok wears — sort of a “Colonial North America” look to the Northern Water Tribe these days, it seems. Assuming that sketchy fellow is Yakone, that is another piece of evidence regarding his identity…and it is one that fits with the theory that he was a blood-bender. I’ve heard two theories about these flashbacks: one is that we’re actually seeing them from Amon’s point of view. We’re clearly not seeing it through Aang’s eyes, which is what you might expect if it was Korra reliving memories of a past life, but then, when Aang relieved his past lives — like Roku’s, in “The Avatar and the Firelord” — those were third person as well. It does lead into the second theory, though; that a young Amon saw Aang take someone’s bending away. It is reasonable to think that Avatar Aang might encounter people who were just as bad as Ozai, in their way, and that he might strip them of their bending as well. A rogue bloodbender would fit the bill, and it would provide a link between the flashbacks and the story. Perhaps Amon is Yakone’s child, or just someone who was in the courtroom that day and saw Aang spiritbend? Worth thinking about.
Did you see what Mordicai Knode did there? With the “when pigs fly” pun in the title? Because the Beifong sigil is a white boar? & Lin was flying all over the place like a superhero? How cool was that? You can tell him just how cool you thought it was on Twitter, or look at the Tumblr he is just figuring out how to use.