After a week hiatus, The Legend of Korra is back with a vengeance. Saturday’s episode, “When Extremes Meet,” unites a number of threads, weaving them into a whole; notably Tarrlok’s Task Force from “The Voice in the Night” and the continuing fallout from the revelations of “The Aftermath.” All along we’ve seen that the Equalists have a number of strong points to their rhetoric despite their extremist members, and now we’ve seen those concerns validated as the oppression of non-benders begins to spiral out of control. Korra is faced with the ramifications of her actions and starts to confront her assumptions, not just about the role of bending or the Avatar, but about herself as a person, as well. Luckily, Korra doesn’t have to do it alone; she has Naga, Asami, Bolin and Mako as “Team Avatar,” as well as Tenzin and his family.
The destruction of the stadium in “…And the Winner Is” has left Mako and Bolin homeless, and her father’s crimes have left Asami adrift as well; luckily for them, the fledgling Air Nation has taken them in. On Air Temple Island Bolin finds a fast friend in the hyperactive Ikki, Jinora nerds out on Pabu—she’s a wonderful little bookworm—and Meelo develops a crush on Asami. You have to admire the worldbuilding here; none of the characters are static. Other people’s lives continue despite off screen during Korra’s training and playing pro-bending and this shows most clearly in Meelo. He’s much more talkative and present in the story. Yes, he continues to be a slapstick diversion—especially his…er, fartbending—but he’s clearly grown up a bit since his first appearance gnawing on Tenzin’s head in “Welcome to Republic City.”
If “The Voice in the Night” was all about psychology, “When Extremes Meet” is all about emotions. The hyper-stylized anime breakdowns of Korra and Ikki are the first evidence we get of it. Ikki just drops “Did you know Korra like Mako?” like a bomb, a single devastating line. Asami’s “um…no, I wasn’t completely aware of that” is a telling response—that “completely” hangs in the air like the cloud of debris. Ikki’s demonic meltdown after that is just an aftershock.
Korra is feeling roundly defeated in this episode; she’s failed at resolving all of her major conflicts. Amon has trounced her every time they’ve clashed. Lin has resigned. The boy she likes has a girlfriend. She can’t airbend. She hasn’t gone into the Avatar state or spoken to her past lives. Or has she? The scene with Korra riding Oogie with Tenzin is telling in that regard; you see Tenzin tense up when Korra talks about her flashbacks—to someone steeped in a spiritual paradigm, those “hallucinations” are clearly a connection to her past lives. It is just a hunch of the shoulders, a tilt of the head, but the animators are able to get body language across; so much is communicated as Tenzin sits up straight.
Is there anything worse than watching Korra off alone, crying? Not sobbing; at least when Korra was sobbing it was because of outrageous circumstances, because of reasonable fear and trauma. Korra’s depressed tears here hurt because they are honest, because they have verisimilitude; everyone has been ground down to a nub at some point. The thing is—Korra isn’t alone. Her friends are there for her, literally and figuratively, as is her surrogate family. The “go team!” moment is deflated by a farting Meelo, but a little levity never hurt anyone. It leads directly to one of the most truly fun sequences of the show to date: Team Avatar out patrolling the streets of Republic City.
As soon as we see Asami flex the taser-glove and wheel out the sleek satomobile I realized—she’s the Han Solo of The Legend of Korra. It is a shame they can’t take Naga—I know she’s much less anthropomorphic than Appa but I miss Aang and Appa’s rapport—but watching the Krew careen around town, jumping obstacles and taking sharp bends with a few clever applications of earthbending and then demolish the bad guys were totally worth it; it reminded me of how well the Fire Ferrets worked together in “The Spirit of Competition” when all the pieces came together. It is interesting to see teenagers treated like teenagers; unlike Avatar: the Last Airbender, where kids were often treated like adults, in The Legend of Korra, the group is sometimes pushed aside and ignored until an adult like Tenzin or Lin intercedes on their behalf.
From the moment Korra says to Tarrlok “You need me; I don’t need you!” you can tell things are going to take a serious turn in their increasingly antagonistic relationship. Korra has already been manipulated and used by him, and seen him either engineer or exploit Lin’s downfall, so she knows what he’s capable of in the political realm. Or at least, she thinks he does; Korra has underestimated the lengths Tarrlok will go to, as we see with the mass arrests. In a move “ripped from the headlines,” we have police engaged in segregation, mass arrests, kettling and indefinite detention. Things are escalating, and they go off the rails as Tarrlok has Asami, Bolin and Mako arrested to use them as leverage against Korra.
Of course, we as the viewers have underestimated Tarrlok as well, as we start to realize when Korra confronts him in his home. Lovely architecture though, isn’t it? His speech about power, violence and intimidation isn’t just bluster—we start to see the veneer fade away and be replaced by something much more… feral. Things get physical and we see that Tarrlok fights dirty; no tentacles of water for him, just jagged knives of ice. The episode is messing with us, the viewers; we think now we’ve seen the nadir of Tarrlok the Bully. When Korra hulks out, smashing through the wall (just like baby Korra!) and lands with a shockwave you can’t help but think it is game over… and it is, but not the way we think. Rather than a righteous beating at the hands of the Avatar, we get Tarrlok bloodbending.
And a flashback. So, what do we see? Things are jumbled; the chronology of the flashbacks are muddled, but it seems pretty clear that speculations of Yakone being a bloodbender are more than confirmed. Which begs the question of whether Tarrlok and Yakone are related? They do have similar features, but then, that could easily be explained by both being from the Northern Water Tribe. Really though, two bloodbenders? Of course they are related in some way. The question is—is Aang bloodbending? To me it looks more like Aang is frozen in place as well, but I’ve heard other theories, including the theory that Katara (notably absent from these flashbacks) is going to swoop in with some bloodbending of her own… or is the one responsible for teaching Yakone bloodbending.
Mordicai Knode thinks Korra & Tenzin are wrong; the new Metalbending Police Chief Saikhan isn’t the worst; the rest of the Republic City Council are the worst. Seriously, stop voting unanimously with Tarrlok, you offend my sense of civics! Want to rant about fictional politics with him on Twitter, or follow his Tumblr? Click away!