Mon
Jul 28 2014 1:30pm

The Legend of Korra Goes Digital: “The Terror Within”

Avatar Legend of Korra

It’s sad that we have to wait to discuss “The Terror Within”—one of the tensest episodes to date, bringing back the sense of real menace that Amon had—in order to talk about how the sausage gets made, but we should. There is an elephant koi in the room: Nickelodeon has decided not to air the rest of The Legend of Korra and instead will make the remaining episodes available online. I know, I’d rather talk about how we finally get to see an all-out battle between Zaheer and his team of what fans are calling the “Red Lotus Society” versus Team Avatar and the Metal Clan, but we need to discuss the nuts and bolts of how we’re going to be able to see the stories, while we’re at it. I mentioned I was worried last week, but it was too little, too late. At least the episode we actually did get was excellent, right?

We live in a post-Arrested Development world, where a show that had been off the air for years experienced an unlikely return to the small screen in the form of a Netflix show. Since then, the formula has been refined; shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are huge successes and critical darlings and they’ve never even hit the airwaves. Community has been “rescued” from being canceled by Yahoo. This is a digital age. I personally watched the first two books of The Legend of Korra on my DVR, but I’ve since cancelled cable and have already been watching this season digitally. What I’m saying is that this could actually be a good thing. I have a much higher rate of convincing people to watch a show that they can easily watch online at their leisure than I do convincing someone to...what, wait by the television on Friday nights? By that logic, it’s great that it is going digital! Heck, maybe Book Four could have a big debut on Hulu or something; this could be the opportunity the show needs to grow.

Avatar Legend of Korra

That being said, this says a lot about how Nickelodeon has treated the property. We’ve all heard stories from the beginning about Nickelodeon executives pushing back against having a female lead, and the show’s creators mollifying them by showing testing groups who didn’t conform to their expectations—my ultimate point being that there have always been tensions between the show and the network, or at least, that is how it seems to me.

Avatar Legend of Korra

Everyone is too professional to point fingers, but it’s hard not to look at how the show has been plagued by leaks, doesn’t seem to have been aggressively marketed or advertised, was saddled with start dates that announced last minute, and then was pushed out two episodes at a time, etc., and not raise an eyebrow. I don’t think this season of Korra got the attention or the chance it deserved, and the fact that this season is so gosh darn good just makes it worse.

Avatar Legend of Korra

Enough with that; let’s talk about “The Terror Within.” The plot is very simple. First, giant brawl between firebenders, psychic firebenders, earthbenders, metalbenders, waterbenders, lavabenders, airbenders...just about the only kind of bending we didn’t see on display was plantbending. (Well, and bloodbending, but I think we’ve gotten our quota of bloodbending for a while.)

I found the first half of the episode so suspenseful. Last week I mentioned how exciting it is to not be able to predict what will happen next...and this episode was the pay off for that. I had my heart in my throat: would they succeed in kidnapping Korra? It seemed completely plausible—these are the same guys who vanished Appa for how many episodes?—and so there was actual catharsis when Korra was saved. The threat sure was credible enough to convince me to take it seriously. Thank heavens for Bolin Time!

Avatar Legend of Korra

The second half is a more cerebral investigation. Oh, hey! Remember how Mako is a cop? Yeah, well the show remembers too. I don’t want to take things like that for granted; forgetting about character growth is a problem a lot of television shows struggle with, but not The Legend of Korra. Though I will say there is one small, crucial detail that I’m missing—where is the Beifont flying pig? And can Asami have more than one or two lines in the next episode, please? We do get the return of the “echolocation stomp” from Lin, though, and that’s enough for me for now.

Avatar Legend of Korra

Figuring out who the guilty culprit is doesn’t take a rocket scientist. Well, it doesn’t help that Varrick the crazy inventor has some helpful insights in that regard...and he did have that rocket jetpack, didn’t he? So alright, having a rocket scientist doesn’t hurt. Still, a good ethical lesson from the show: people in positions of authority need independent oversight. More tension here, as they sip tea and try to avoid giving direct answers...suspense that pays off with a bomb!

Avatar Legend of Korra

We’re left with questions. What is the “Red Lotus Society” up to? Did they teleport away? Their agenda remains opaque; it’s like we’re on the wrong side of a heist movie. Why was Aiwei helping them? Is there a network of agents? Is he perhaps loyal to the Earth Queen? A member of the Dai Li, or even it’s new Long Feng? I know people still suspect Su Yin, analyzing her facial expressions to look for guilt, but wasn’t she the one who came up with the idea to rescue Korra with cables? She could have sabotaged the whole process to let Zaheer and his crew get away with Korra—or heck, simply not doing anything was an option—but she didn’t, so I’m inclined to trust her.

Avatar Legend of Korra

Yes, I think she’s genuine, right down to her rebellious streak causing her to enable Korra’s own rebellious streak...not that I think Korra has to listen to Lin in the first place, but I do wish she’d tackled the confrontation like a grown-up. It is the Avatar’s job to take care of threats like this, and if Korra wasn’t safe in Zaofu, I don’t see how she’d be safe anywhere else until the problem is taken care of...but I wish Lin was going with her.

 


Mordicai Knode doesn’t really care where he gets his Legend of Korra from, as long as he gets it. Find him on Tumblr and Twitter.

30 comments
Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
Also, watching Korra be a frustrating prodigy just reminded me of Aang frustrating Katara with his own savant like skills. I like being reminded that they are the same soul...& really hope she re-links to her past lives.
ViewerB
2. ViewerB
So where exactly will we be able to watch this digitally? Hulu? Nick online?
ViewerB
3. GarrettC
I'm really disappointed with Nickelodeon over this whole thing. They're aggressively running a more and more outdated model for boys and girls programming (the vanguard of which Cartoon Network seems to be at the forefront of, aggressively supporting children's shows that break traditional "boy/girl" audience norms, like Powerpuff Girls or Adventure Time or the AMAAAAAZING Steven Universe ), but also (if you're still following the main clause) applying outdated models to mediums that have been most successful with new models.

Maybe that requires a little unpacking. Starting with Nick's discomfort over a female lead (and, I should note, a female lead of color with an a-typical cartoon body type and a deep voice, because I think every one of those things should be considered when damning Nick's fear of the character). A:TLA was so wildly, fantastically successful that Nick should have been willing to slam dunk LITERALLY ANY product that continued that universe. A show about Zuko's childhood told entirely from the perspective of turtle ducks? YES PLEASE. A show about the intricacies of humanely cultivating sky bison fiber and using it to create and sell a line of high-quality sweaters to the water tribes? OF COURSE LET ME WATCH THAT. A strong, conflicted teenaged woman of color with muscles who plays sports and dates and saves the world and RIDES A POLAR BEAR THAT IS ALSO A DOG? Yes. 1,000 times yes.

It is not just business as usual that Nick sabotaged this idea from the start, almost dumping it at the mention of "female lead," refusing to commit to more than half-seasons, refusing to renew it for more than a half season or two at a time. It's criminal. It makes me angry. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to say, "Okay, Nick. I'm not watching your shows anymore because you don't have integrity as a network and I want my future children to watch Cartoon Network because Steven Universe is AMAAAAAZING and to not watch your crap because they don't need it."

And that's just the WHY IS FOX DOING THIS TO FIREFLY rant that should be attached to any discussion of what Nick is doing to Korra (I actually have many conflicted feelings about Firefly, but that's clearly beside the point). Here's something else:

"Since then, the formula has been refined; shows likeHouse of Cards and Orange is the New Black are huge successes and critical darlings and they’ve never even hit the airwaves. Community has been “rescued” from being canceled by Yahoo. This is a digital age. I personally watched the first two books of The Legend of Korra on my DVR, but I’ve since cancelled cable and have already been watching this season digitally. What I’m saying is that this could actually be a good thing."

Except that Nick is STILL airing the episodes based on a non-digital model. The successful model for releasing digital television media is to give it to viewers in a way that allows them to "Netflix" it. Releasing the episodes online weekly is bad digital business. As soon as Nick announced that Korra would be released digitally only, the remainder of the current season should have been made available all at once, and plans to release book 4 as a marathonable bundle should have been announced as well. This is how digital shows succeed. Agh.

Nick. Nick Nick Nick. I am disappoint. That said, I love this season. My only wish is that the villain team wasn't even there. The show is doing such a good job with allowing the inherent conflict within these family units play out that there's more than enough drama and opportunity for growth and badass bending fights (hello, Beifong Sisters Smackdown) that the villains actually feel like a drag on the season and an active distraction.
Paul Rando
4. SerDragonReborn
A wonderful episode.
The action at the beginning was beautiful. However, it makes me wonder what else the Red Lotus group has up their sleeves. It was a fairly even fight, so what do they have that can make them more threatening for the season climax?
That said, I do enjoy that this season is very up-in-the-air in terms of predictability. I wish we knew more about the villains, but because we don't it's very difficult to make predictions about the rest of the season.

As I told my roommate when the Metal Clan was introduced...in a utopian society, the person who can tell truth from lies should probably be the most suspect. Aiwei's reveal was very well done. I realized afterward that because he is the "Truthteller" of Zaofu, he could very well have been lying about any or all of the soldiers he'd cleared. Even if they find Aiwei, the safety of Zaofu is compromised.

Roommate: You're going to drink Aiwei's tea? How stupid are you?
Me: *spends the remainder of the scene watching the tea cups to see if anybody drank. Nobody did.*
ViewerB
5. GarrettC
Also, Tor.com, piggybacking on my last comment (and hopefully not side-tracking too much): I'm perfectly available to do a Steven Universe Re-watch series fr you.

And, failing that, I will give ALL OF THE CLICKS to anybody else you bring in to do so. This is a thing that would be a good thing.
Mordicai Knode
6. mordicai
2. ViewerB

I believe both of those venues, yes. Others too, probably. Nick.com has a bunch currently, & I'm not sure about Hulu...I started checking last night but then I...fell asleep. It isn't being communicated very well, which makes me think that it is more shenanigans by Nickelodeon, personally.

3. GarrettC

I wish I had anything insightful to say about your comment, because it is pretty spot on...but uh...I...agree. That's about all I have to say! Yep, you're right. & my (perhaps self-deluded) optimisim is more about Book Four; I think whatever we get now is just scrambling & juryrigging a solution.

4. SerDragonReborn

I was looking around Tumblr after the episode aired & there was a litany of livebloggers being like "DO NOT DRINK THE TEA!" & yes, I was very gratified that no one drank the tea, especially not after the "Red Lotus" used poison on Korra in the first place...

Can Lin lie detect? Seems like what they need are three lie benders to sweep the city, start from scratch.
ViewerB
7. GarrettC
@4: To be fair, it was a relatively even fight while the 4 baddies were completely boxed in by two of the best metal-benders in the world, several more trained metal-bending domestic soldiers, and Mako and Bolin, while being burdened trying to escort an unconscious body.

If you burden the badguys, completely surround them, and throw a dozen or so of the best benders available at them, it's a relatively even fight.
Paul Rando
8. SerDragonReborn
@6, Glad to hear we weren't the only ones so concerned! And while I think it'd be great for Nickelodeon to release all of Book Four at once, like Netflix does, I think it'd be awesome if they decided to put it back on its original timeslot--Saturday mornings at 11:00. That seemed to work pretty well for them, after all.

So far, Lin has not demonstrated any lie-detecting capabilities. Nor has Bolin or Suyin. Or Korra, for that matter. Everybody in Zaofu seems to treat Aiwei as the city's only lie-detector...which is why he was suspicious. If there were three, as you suggested, and they weren't all aligned as closely as the Dai Li were, it wouldn't be so suspicious.

@5 a Steven Universe re-watch would be phenomenal! I've always wanted to write a re-read of Terry Brooks' Shannara series, especially the original trilogy, the Heritage of Shannara, and the super-cool prequel, First King of Shannara.
ViewerB
9. TheTick
You would think if Lin can use the sonic stomp, she could lie detect. But maybe that's an even tougher technique.

Biggest reveal to me is that Toph might still be around. I guess Sokka and Aang are the ones we know for sure are gone.

I have a whole blog post stewing, not unlike 3's comment up there.
ViewerB
10. Cybersnark
And, for those of us not in The Right Country, this is where we turn to piracy.
Chris Meadows
11. Robotech_Master
It's kind of funny, really. If you look back at the early episodes of Avatar (and hey, speaking of which Tor has never finished its Avatar original series rewatch...maybe you could get them to let you take that over since its authors no longer seem to be with Tor.com?), you see the sort of goofy humor (including potty humor and slime, two Nick mainstays) that characterizes Nick shows, and could be forgiven for assuming it's just another such goofy kids' show.

Then almost before you can even blink it moves on into territory of death of loved ones, parental abuse and abandonment, and the psychological problems that come out of these traumas, and you find yourself wondering how a show like this ever even got greenlit on Nick in the first place. We're all glad it did, mind, but it's not exactly what you'd expect from the network of Spongebob Squarepants and "You Can't Do That on Television!"

For all that Nick has historically had a hard time figuring out how to treat the show, it nonetheless deserves mad props for going ahead and rolling with it anyway, and even ordering a sequel (though they did put some annoying restrictions on the formula that keep it from going quite as epic as the original). It's a small wonder Nick has had a hard time figuring out how to treat Legend of Korra either--especially since it seems to be aimed squarely at teens, skewing a bit older than Nick's traditional toddler-to-tween demographic.

The importance of the switch to digital can't be overstated; this may very well be the first time a network TV show has ever been pulled mid-season to switch to digital distribution. I blogged about it here. You make a good point that they should have just released the whole thing. Binge-watching is the new hotness, after all. But then, as stated above, Nick has never known how to treat the show.

It's worth noting that, given that the truth-teller was lying, anyone he questioned could have been in on it. Even Su-Yin or Varrick (though that would be a little too twisty to be believed). Nonetheless, I think it was a great touch that Varrick was the one to point out the obvious--that it smelled like a conspiracy. After all, as even Mako admits, he'd be the one to know about those. Does Su-Yin really think Team Avatar can take down the Red Lotus? Doubtful.

I strongly suspect that Korra is going to have to fall into their clutches for things to play out as they have to, just as she had to open the spirit gates for Noatak. We'll have to see how it goes.
Chris Meadows
12. Robotech_Master
For some reason the mobile client doesn't like HTML. Oh well. My blog post:

http://www.teleread.com/chris-meadows/audience-migration-to-digital-pulls-the-legend-of-korra-off-nick-tv-channel/
Kerwin Miller
13. tamyrlink
I hope that Nick drops the show and a station that can truly appreciate it will pick it up. Perhaps turn it into a proper anime, a little more graphic, a little more violent, more intense... but ehh we'll see.

I hope we get some background on the Red Lotus Society ( i like EvilBenders better myself, but ehh)....Because this chick is waterbending without arms and I NEED THIS EXPLAINED! (are Korra's cousin's dead btw?) And I need to know how Zaheer became such an accomplished AirBender overnight.

The episode was good. I called Aiwei halfway thru his interviews of the guards. Tho I still think Su is in on this in a deep cover long term kind of way. I cant wait till Lin finds out she was complicit in Korra leaving Zaofu.

The CombustionBender (nice throwback to Sokka there) curved her attack! I thought that was great creativity for the show. they seldom show finesse with firebenders...

Maybe Bolin will lavabend...maybe its a dual bloodline thing... his dad was earth kingdom and his mom fire nation (and if they werent benders themselves they could be descended from benders)

thats all i got for now...
Christopher Bennett
15. ChristopherLBennett
@2: According to Korra Nation, the show will be available on Nick.com, the Nick mobile app, Amazon, Hulu, Google Play, and XBox, and possibly others.


@3: Nick did not only renew the show a half-season at a time. In fact, they bought Books 2 through 4 all at once when they saw how well Book 1 was doing in the ratings. (It killed on Saturday morning, which makes their decision to move it to prime time in seasons 2-3 baffling.)


@13: The thing is, nobody except the Avatar can combine two or more bending arts. The child of two different kinds of bender is purely one or the other, or none at all (e.g. Bumi, pre-Convergence).

As for lavabending, as I've said before, we know that waterbenders can change the amount of heat energy in their element, turning ice into liquid or steam almost instantly. So if they can change their element's phase state at will, there's no reason earthbenders can't do it too, at least in theory. It's probably harder to learn because it takes more energy, though.
ViewerB
16. Mr. Magic
I find it very interesting that they were still trying to kidnap Korra as a young adult.

The assumption my friends and I've entertained had is that the Red Lotus was working with the Earth Kingdom 14 years ago.

We know the Earth Queen wants the United Republic back in the fold. Having a young Avatar molded to your beliefs is a hell of a weapon in your arsenal (and likely why she was 'conscripting' Airbenders).

Or it that didn't work, then just kill her and wait for the next one to pop up in the Earth Kingdom. The latter seemed like the approach I thought Zaheer would be going for.

But he didn't. They tried to take her alive and now I'm REALLY intent on knowing what the hell their master plan is.
Ryan Labay
17. Drowned World
@11. I'm all about a mordicai -led A:TLA re-rewatch.
Allana Schneidmuller
18. blutnocheinmal
@10 Give the browser add-on 'Hola Better Internet' a shot.

@13 I'd love to hear the behind-the-scenes theory behind the different bendings. I'd always wondered whether there'd ever been any dual-benders. Lava-bending seems pretty darn close, unless he's actually pulling lava from beneath the earth's crust, which I doubt.
Christopher Bennett
19. ChristopherLBennett
@18: When we first met Ghazan in his cell, Zaheer tossed him several pieces of solid rock which he turned molten by bending.

As I said, though, since waterbenders routinely change their element from solid to liquid, there's nothing anomalous about earthbenders doing the same. If anything, it's strange that more of them can't do it, given that it's such a common waterbending move. I guess that's a function of bending rules being based more in spirituality and symbolism than physics -- waterbenders are about fluidity and change, earthbenders about stability and solidity.

But from a physics standpoint, what waterbenders are doing when they change ice to liquid or liquid to vapor is adding heat to it. Indeed, there are instances of airbenders evidently controlling heat to some degree, as when Roku used airbending to cool a bed of lava, or right here when Korra used an air shield to protect Team Avatar from an explosion. And as Tenzin said in "Original Airbenders," they can warm themselves in cold environments by the proper breathing technique.

So that means that heat manipulation is not unique to firebenders; in fact, with lava-bending thrown in, it's something all four kinds of bender have been shown to be capable of. Which makes sense, more or less, since all bending is about controlling chi, which is basically energy, and heat is also energy.
David Goldfarb
20. David_Goldfarb
Of course we've seen plenty of examples of waterbenders going the other way, too: liquid water to ice. I've wondered sometimes whether the ice they make is cold. (You can have high-temperature solid water at high pressures. Maybe you can have it with the aid of magic as well.)
Christopher Bennett
21. ChristopherLBennett
@20: Well, yes -- it's all thermal control. Firebenders can snuff fires as well as start them. I'm sure Ghazan and other lavabenders can cool lava as well as heat solid stone. And, again, airbenders have been shown to have both warming and cooling abilities.
Jonas Schmiddunser
22. Jineapple
That they're trying to kidnap Korra instead of trying to kill her could mean two things: Either they're really trying to get the Avatar on their side - which, considering they're trying to kidnap her as a young adult would have to mean they have REALLY convincing arguments to make for Korra to go completely against what she has learned so far, not to mention that kidnapping is not exactly a good method to establish trust. I guess they could try brainwashing of some kind, but it would be kind of overpowered to give them that possibilty. Not to mention that Korra should be able to break out of that in the Avatar State.
The other option I see is that they're trying to kill the Avatar for good. Which would mean they will try to force her into the Avatar State under controlled circumstances and then try to kill her.

I don't really think they're working with the earth queen. She has been painted as pretty much simply evil from the start. Having the Red Lotus remain mysterious for a large part of the season only to reveal they're pretty much just evil henchmen would be really anticlimatic. There's also their name to consider - it establishes a rivalry to the White Lotus, and we know that they are after some ideological goal.

Right now, I think anarchism is what fits best. But we'll find out next week.
Chris Meadows
23. Robotech_Master
@22 Anarchism would certainly fit with noted punk personality Henry Rollins providing the voice of their leader. :)
Jessica Trevino
24. Ciella
One of the interesting things this episode made me realize, is that Lin a crap detective. Last season I kept thinking that they were maligning her character by having her believe that Mako was a bad guy and that those two detectives he kept butting heads with were competent. But after this episode, I've realized that no, she just sucks at detective work. Which isn't a bad thing. She's a great leader and tough as nails, so it makes sense that she's the Chief of Police. I guess I just assumed that she was always awesome at everything (which she mostly is). Now that I've realized that this is just something she's bad at, it puts some of the events of last season in a better light.
David Thomson
25. ZetaStriker
Re: Lavabending. Extreme heat from friction. That's my ridiculous theory and I'm sticking to it.
ViewerB
26. Hardcore
It sounds like LoK is well on its way to being this decade's Firefly (ie: great show that got bum-f*cked by its network).

Well, at least Nick didn't air episodes out of order....yet.
Chris Nelly
27. Aeryl
To be honest I first suspected Varrick. He's just on the right side of sociopath to get away with lying, like Azula.

But instead he contributed to learning the truth, but after the evidence I started suspecting Aiwei.

I won't say much because spoilers(I just got caught up with this ep and the next as I post this) because since you brought up the show calling back to season 2, this next one does an even better job of making S2 feel more integrated into the plot.

And yes that battle was AMAZEBALLS and the animation is better than ever. Watching on XBox lets me watch it HD whereas I have cheap cable, so that was nice as well.

I've said my piece about the move off cable, and still say the solution is making it more available, not less. It's not that I don't deny that digital and online streaming is where we going, it's just that I am also painfully aware of how far behind that curve much of America and elsewhere is right now. But what does Nickelodeon care, poor people don't buy the crap they advertise.

And I completely agree that this is a case where the network abysmally failed the show, not the other way around.
Chris Nelly
28. Aeryl
@3 GarretC, Agree with everything you say, the way Nick has treated this show is criminal.

Still don't give CN too much credit, they have the exclusive license with DC now, and have pulled shows because too many girls liked them, Young Justice I think it was.

Also, you should totally try and submit articles on Steven Universe to tor, read the submission qualifications at the bottom of the page!
ViewerB
29. Booyahman
Personally, I think the "Red Lotus Society" was in jail because they killed Aang. Good to know it wasn't cancelled!
Chris Meadows
30. Robotech_Master
Man it's annoying having to wait three days from when the show airs to talk about it here. :P

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