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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.