Wed
May 16 2012 4:00pm

When Pigs Fly: The Legend of Korra: “And the Winner Is...”

When Pigs Fly: The Legend of Korra: “And the Winner Is...”

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.

45 comments
Stefan Jones
2. Stefan Jones
Meta-comment:

I haven't started watching the series yet, because I wanted to have a few episodes recorded in case a splurge was in order.

But #$&#$%@#%$ Nickelodeon keeps mucking around with the schedule! Last Friday's repeats were replaced with two episodes of a new Kung Fu Panda series. (I tried watching; really mediocre.)

I know I can watch episodes on a computer, but it is really annoying to have a cable subscription and a nice big TV and have to resort to watching a cramped image on a laptop screen.
Sean Fagan
3. sef
I was annoyed that the episode didn't show up on iTunes until Monday afternoon. grumble. Anyway.

Do we know the title for the second season of the show? 'cause I'm wondering if it's going to be "Spirit"...
Mordicai Knode
4. mordicai
2. Stefan Jones

I use a DVR to record all my television, & even then I still get weird shows that I don't want to see; sorry Discovery, but just because something is in the Mythbusters slot doesn't mean I'll watch it. Anyhow, if you have cable, & totally recommend going the extra eight bucks a month & getting a DVR anyhow; watch it on your terms! I also have all those cords to hook my laptop & ipad up to the television, so that is another route?
Mordicai Knode
5. mordicai
3. sef

Yeah, when I reviewed "The Revelation" I also found myself wondering if it would be "Spirit." Totally plausible, but then, given how different the various seasons of Avatar: the Last Airbender were I'm prepared for anything, up to & including leaving Republic City.
Harry Burger
6. Lightbringer
Best bending fight scene since TLA's finale. I wonder if Korra will get to learn metal bending or Iroh's lightning redirect trick? That might help against the shock weapons.
Metal benders often use their tricks to Spiderman - fly, it makes sense to combine training with air nomads. Who would be more experienced with flying and falling gracefully? Especially since Lin and Ang were good friends. Toph certainly didn'tinvent
Harry Burger
7. Lightbringer
Spiderman techniques - she can't see up in the air like that. Lin and Tenzen probably first hooked up when she was trying to perfect the style.
Mordicai Knode
8. mordicai
6. Lightbringer

I've wondered about advanced techniques; just from a narrative viewpoint it seems more "fair" if the Avatar can't learn, say, Metalbending...leaving the highest levels of mastery open to single element bending masters. Then again, the whole point of the Avatar is that she doesn't play by the "bending rules," so...

& that is a really good point; Toph couldn't have helped with any of the aerial acrobatics...which means...Uncle Aang must have helped. That is a strong piece of narrative logic you've ferreted out, no pun intended.
Stefan Jones
9. Dax
I'll take Pabu walking on his front paws and jumping through a hope over an insane firework display any day!
Stefan Jones
11. Chris F
After watching once it (finally) came out on iTunes, Esme and I immediately wondered a) when is Mordicai going to write his post and b) who bankrolled the bribes to the refs?

We spent a little while trying to follow the money and proposed this:
Clearly the fix was in. The Wolfbats knew about it, which is how they knew to cheat with impunity. Yet it was blatant enough that even the announcers were commenting on it.

Amon needs the Wolfbats to win, because he wants to take away the champs' bending and he doesn't want that to be Korra yet, if we believe his earlier monologue. Certainly, when he does take her powers, he wants it to be in the role of the Avatar, not just a bending champ. Moreover, the Wolfbats are far more willing than the Fire Ferrets to play along with the underhanded trick, which slots them into his morality play of the bully benders perfectly. Considering how carefully everything else was orchestrated, why wouldn't he rig the results just as carefully?

Still, it's got to be expensive to buy a ref on such a big, public stage. You'd need a pretty fat bankroll behind the scenes. Like, captain of industry big....
S Cooper
12. SPC
No more expensive than the giant honking blimp! The money trail behind the Equalists is going to have to be important. They are just too well funded and equipped to ignore that.
Stefan Jones
13. Chris F
The blimp...the blimp is also very expensive, I imagine.

I also was wondering, do we hear that the radios are also manufactured by Future Industries? A company was mentioned but I don't think I caught it. It's been a couple of times now that Amon has interrupted radio broadcasts throughout the city. Perhaps he's got great technology of his own, but perhaps there's also some master override switch that a sympathetic manufacturer might have included in the design?
Mordicai Knode
14. mordicai
11. Chris F
&
12. SPC


This conversation is a perfect example of why I like this show so dang much. Like, musing about the economics behind a revolutionary cell? Is a reasonable course of action...despite the fact that this is ostensibly in the same category as cartoons where villains don't have motives let alone a plausible source of funding.

Anyhow, Chris, the company mentioned was...CABBAGE CO! A nice nod to everyone's favorite merchant.

It seems that at least one of the Satos is going to be an Equalist. I think it is Asami & I think she'll be vindicated; that is, she'll protest the extreme actions of Amon & be a splinter group.

That, or...the whole thing is a set-up. Tahno could be a collaborator, if we go with the whole "Amon is faking it, his ability is not permanant, he is a showman" angle. Then again, promos for the next episode make it seem like Tahno is really a wreck...so either he lost it for good, thinks he lost it for good, or is a really good actor.
treebee72 _
15. treebee72
The one thing that really frustrated me about the blatant cheating was there was absolutely no negative reaction from the stands at all. If you are going to have it so bad the announcer points it out, there should be some boos coming from the crowd.

I know Amon gave a speech about benders being so corrupt they don't care if the winners cheated (and it helped my frustration some), but considering pro-bending is so popular, not everyone in the crowd would be a bender and/or so fanatic about the Wolfbats that they would approve of the cheating.
Stefan Jones
16. Chris F
I agree that I wanted a little more booing from the crowd (other than Tenzin, who was charmingly vocal).

Also! If it's Cabbage Co (which I love to hear, thanks M!), then that supports my original "theory" that Amon is the descendant of the cabbage merchant, certainly the most abused non-bender in the history of the world!
Mordicai Knode
17. mordicai
15. treebee72

Given the amount of cheering that goes on for real world...um "ethically compromised" competitors, I can't say I'm surprised by the lack of booing? I mean, not to point fingers, or demonize sports fans...people root for um, "ethically compromised" politicians, too. Tribalism is a crazy thing.
treebee72 _
18. treebee72
@ 17. mordicai, but with RL sports, there are always fans of the 'other team' in the stands (especially if both teams play really close - like in this case, the same city!) & also 'purist' fans who just want to see a good game and don't appreciate cheating to win. Plus add in the whole Cinderella/Underdog story of the Fire Ferrets & there would be a lot more people on their side than presented with the crowd reactions.

I can buy the chearing being dominate, but not exclusive like it was presented in the episode.
Mordicai Knode
19. mordicai
18. treebee72

I dunno, the token Fire Ferrets cosplayers take care of the "honest opposition" angle for me-- they, along with Tenzin, are stand-in enough for an "angry audience," from a narrative angle? You're right though, the underdog angle would be huge. What is the probending version of "Linsanity"? Bolinaphrenia? Makophoria? Korrapsychotic?
R B
20. MasterAlThor
Ok folks I will ask some questions to you guys here cause I watch the show but I am not as "deep" into it as you guys.

Who is this Yakone guy? I have watched every episode but I don't remember him being mentioned. Also, why is he important?

Finally, who is Asami?
Simon Southey-Davis
21. Glyph
I don't trust Asami... not yet anyway. Fits a certain visual archetype too well. I'm expecting a "revealed as / becomes a bad guy but eventually reconciled with the Krew" arc.

Also, I'm calling it here: Amon will successfully strip Korra of her bending, probably in the S1 finale, and S2 will have her get it back by tuning in to the spiritual aspect of the Avatar.

Also also, at some point she's GOT to go into the Avatar State; I expect a TLA S2 finale-level twist when she does. Maybe not the first time, but I'd lay odds it's coming. This may be linked to her Spirit quest, since she doesn't seem (consciously) aware of her past incarnations yet.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
20. MasterAlThor

Yakone is...well, not important, yet, I guess, but he's the center of a web of speculation. In the flashbacks, with Adult Aang, Adult Toph & Adult Sokka, they are doing SOMETHING, with a sketchy guy. In the council, Tarrlok brought up Avatar Aang confronting "Yakone." Really that is all we know, but there is...speculation.

& Asami is Mako's romantic partner, she's the daughter of the rich fellow who invented cars.
Mordicai Knode
23. mordicai
21. Glyph

The "visual archetype" is the reason I think she can't be wicked; the "femme fatale" is an easy, insulting stereotype & I think Bryke would only undermine it, if they used it.

I wonder about Amon & Korra; I see the season you discuss as a potential as well, but that seems...I'm not convinced. Someone is going to get the kibosh, though.
R B
24. MasterAlThor
Mordicai,

You seem to believe that someone is going to get their bending taken away. Let's take Korra out of the equation. Who would be the most viable person? My money is on Tenzin. No one else (aside from Korra) will have the effect of a big WHAAAAAAAAAAT?

Thoughts?
Ashe Armstrong
25. AsheSaoirse
Oooooooh yeah...caught up, and after last week's love triangle blehfest, this made up for it. I was tense the whole time. Lin, MVP, yes yes yes. And I kept thinkin the whole time, "I WANT TO METALBEND SO I CAN BE SPIDER-MAN!" Oh man, that hit the spot.
Stefan Jones
26. realmcovet
The Wolfbat intro was great! Tahno lost considerable sexy points with me in this ep, though, freaking cheater! My favourite part of the whole show was the Tenzin/Lin romance reveal & then the cosplayers. How adorable was that nod to fans? Someone on Tumblr said, "We must cosplay the cosplayers" & I about lost it, sooooo funny. I was clapping & laughing & bouncing up & down over that. I also agree with you that Lin's martial arts style had a very Capoeira like swag to it!

I am super interested to see the exposure of chi-blocking dojos in an episode. That would be the jam right there. I was also laughing so hard at the tumblr speculation of those wires that someone was theorizing about that you reblogged. CRAZYYYY.

AND DID SOMEONE SAY BLOOD-BENDING??? :P

P.S. I really like Glyph's talk of Korra losing her bending in the first season & then redeeming it in the second season. It's always awesome when a character loses something you once became dependent upon & possibly even taken for granted, just to turn around & claim it back with a mad vengeance & passion.
Stefan Jones
27. Dax
First, I obviously meant "hoop".

I don't know about Korra loosing her bending. She really isn't that great of a bender to begin with, especially compared to (even S1) Aang. She wins her battles by being fierce, but not very controlled... And she had yet to water bend effectively. For example, when she created the waterspout to chase Amon, she couldn't make the distance. Aang could've made it by using his air bending as a supplement. So, from a story perspective, Korra actually needs to really be a better, calmer, bender to increase the story impact. My money is on Tenzin in a self-sacrificial gesture to safe Korra.

Also, we haven't really see her doing any Avatar stuff yet: no Avatar state, no spirit guide (though this has to do with her being too impulsive, not spiritually calm). I'm gonna be such a screaming fanboy when we do see some Avatar action!

I wonder why this series is marketed at kids: it's clearly YA to Adult material. Just the fact that, at least on an ideological level, Amon is right, makes him not a suitable kiddy-show villain. Add to that all the subtleties of the world building and story telling, and you have (IMHO) the best TV show of this season!

I so want me a cute Fire Ferret in a tiny costume... maybe I should splice some red panda and some ferret DNA and make my own Pabu!
Mordicai Knode
28. mordicai
24. MasterAlThor
&
26. realmcovet
&
27. Dax


Yeah, I mean-- you don't introduce a character who can permanantly (or "permanantly" as the case may be) remove bending without there being consequences. Korra is the obvious target, but that might be why it won't be her; Mako or Bolin on a sidequest to restore their bending could be a totally valid path. Tenzin is an interesting idea, but I think a bending brother is more likely.
Mordicai Knode
29. mordicai
25. AsheSaoirse

What I like is thinking about Lin saying that same thing to Aang, all "teach me to fly!"
treebee72 _
30. treebee72
I don't trust Northern Watertribe Council dude - he's definitely up to no good. I just can't decide if he's working with Amon or was taking advantage of the situation to make a power play against Lin.
Mordicai Knode
31. mordicai
30. treebee72

Well that is the thing, isn't it? People have diverse sides & motives-- & since Korra is an amazing piece of television, it portrays those facets. I think it is entirely possible that Tarrlok is both a skeevy slimeball who is chiseling for his own advantage, undercutting Tenzin & Lin to accumulate power...& that he also thinks he's doing what is best for Republic City. I mean, he isn't very trustworthy, & I don't agree with his methods, but does that means he's working with Amon or that he's a villain? Not neccisarily; he could just be a jerk!
Mordicai Knode
32. mordicai
26. realmcovet

What Realmcovet is talking about is this wire right here, which you can see both at Future Industries & at Amon's lair. A clever catch by screencappers foreshadowing a collusion between the Satos & the Equalists...or artists using the same colour to draw a wire? Being reasonable favors the latter explanation...crazy internet rumors favor the former! & while we are at it, why does Toph have six fingers?!
Scott Silver
33. hihosilver28
I really don't see how Korra could have her bending taken away when we know that Amon is going to be dealt with this season. I'm very intrigued to see how it's all going to work out, but knowing that seasons 1 & 2 will have different villains, I can't see Korra not winning against Amon.
treebee72 _
34. treebee72
I'm leaning towards Tarrlok having his own agenda and willing to use any advantage that comes his way to grab power. However, there is that creepy looking Northern Watertribe guy in the flashback... If there is a connection between him & Amon, there might be a connection between Tarrlok & Amon as well...
Mordicai Knode
35. mordicai
33. hihosilver28

Wait! I don't know what you are talking about, is that confirmed? I vacillate between avoiding spoilers & cackling like a mad genius over various #korra tags, so I am a little schizophrenic when it comes to info like that. Amon is only a season one villain, who said that? Anyhow, he could still de-bend someone & then get taken down by the others, but that is interesting information.
Stefan Jones
36. Kingtycoon
Man was I happy with this one. I'd previously complained because I thought the pro-bending aspect was wearing thin - and as if by request, exactly on cue- they knew when to end it and exactly how to end it- with a constantly building crescendo. I love how the spectacle builds - from the the little fire-ferret's routine to the Wolfbat's NBA style intro, to the electrocuted crowd (electrified audience?) to the big superpowered fight & flight to the big kaboom at the end - Pro-Bending = Over. I loved that, perfect. So cataclysmic that by the end the burning police-blimps are just an afterthought, just incidental. How perfect right?

The flashbacks continue to be the most compelling aspect of the show. We're all invested in Aang and they are doing an awesome job of pacing us in terms of seeing the adult Aang. It's exciting to think about, cool to wonder, but we're never confronted with him as the fully-realized Avatar in a way that would be jarring, that would (in that all adults are traitors to their childhood selves) betray our expectations. Aang as a grown man is something to wonder about but that you don't dare look at directly.

That they ever thought about the metal-benders being able to do what they do, have their specialized suits etc... that's just exactly perfect- that's the acme of worldbuilding right there. The only fault I find in it is noticing that for the moment the other benders are a bit too low-key - maybe to help the Equalists and the Metalbenders shine in the short term - which is fine - but I couldn't help but remember Azula jetting around on fire-bending when Korra fell off the pipe, or Kitara slashing through metal with waterbending. It's a good set up to keep the main character limited but with enough promise and obvious potential to keep you rooting for her.

And really - this is the first episode where I really started to root for Korra.
Scott Silver
37. hihosilver28
@35 mordicai

http://www.toonzone.net/news/articles/42559/toonzone-news-interviews-michael-dimartino-and-bryan-konietzko-co-creators-of-the-legend-of-korra/

3rd question. Which is why I didn't view that info as a spoiler since it came from the creators in an interview.
Mordicai Knode
38. mordicai
37. hihosilver28

Oh sure, I didn't mean spoiler in a derogatory way-- I mean, we're clearly working with the same soup of information-- I just mean the general sort of bubbling zeitgeist of speculation & rumor. Anyhow, that is really interesting! It also makes me think that "big" speculation-- like Amon being an ancient Aang that somehow stopped being the Avatar, or whatever-- is so much bluster.
Mordicai Knode
39. mordicai
36. Kingtycoon

You aren't alone in thinking this is the best episode so far; I rewatched it last night, & the popular consensus of the group was with you. One of my friends was talking about how she got goosebumps. I may be in the minority in liking last week's a lot, but this one takes the cake. I wonder if it means pro-bending is over-- maybe there will be a rematch at the end of the season?

I think it is true that we're seeing bending hyper specialized here. The Fire Ferrets need to get out of the paradigm of no headshots, no hosing-- we need to see no holds barred bending again.

I don't think the flashbacks are the high point, but they are tantalizing. I am willing to be dragged along, having them doled out conservatively...I'm more interested in this generation (& Tenzin & Lin's generation) than I am in the Gaang, who had a satisfying conclusion to their big series arc.
Scott Silver
40. hihosilver28
38. @mordicai

Agreed. I just think it's funny when the fandom runs rampant with theories that are pretty blatantly debunked by the creators with the information that is out there.
Mordicai Knode
41. mordicai
40. hihosilver28

Well they've been trained by people like Moffat to assume that showrunners are all lying conmen. & I say that in the nicest way possible; if I was a showrunner I'd be full of lies & stratagems, too. Heck, I'm not a showrunner & I still weave a web of deception!
danielle g
42. daniellegee
I'd been thinking it for awhile, but the fight scene in this episode really confirms that the animators on this show must be having the time of their lives working on it. There's so much fluidity to the characters' movement, that you are willing and able to forget this is a cartoon. It was super exciting, pacing-wise and through the choices they made in the camera angles and on top of it the animation was on point.
Mordicai Knode
43. mordicai
42. daniellegee

Reading the art book for the last series-- which I maybe should review for Tor.com as it is amazing-- part of what they talk about is how they've cultivated a real relationship with the Korean studio that does a lot of the grunt work. They don't just ship it overseas & expect mindless drones to paint the cells-- or however modern day cartoons get made-- but rather they try to approach it as a partnership. You get interesting idiosyncracies that way, organically, that you wouldn't otherwise. So even those guys must be having the time of their lives, as you put it.
Simon Southey-Davis
44. Glyph
Ah - I've generally been avoiding spoilers and if I'd heard the one-season-villain thing, I'd forgotten it. Oh well.

In completely non-spoilery anticipation of this week's post, may I just say: I LOVE THIS SHOW.
Mordicai Knode
45. mordicai
44. Glyph

Oh man I know, I am going to write up the review as soon as I find some good screencaps of WolverLine.

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