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Republic City is Burning: The Legend of Korra: “Turning the Tides”

The Legend of Korra seems to be entering the endgame and it looks like Amon is calling the shots. I was sort of dubious when Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko claimed that each season would have a clear resolution independent of each other, but it really is starting to look like things with the Equalists have come to a head. “Turning the Tides” takes the warfare out of the shadows and into the open. Not just content with bombings and terrorist attacks, Amon, Hiroshi Sato & the Equalists are in open revolt. I won’t call it a revolution—where are the people in the streets, where is the populist uprising promised in “The Revelation”?—but rather a coup, a systematic targeting of the leadership of Republic City.

Pinpoint strikes kidnapping the councilors that go off with military precision? That is a spookily well-orchestrated plan. It is fun watching all the schemes go in motion—like a montage sequence from a heist film like Ocean’s Eleven, only for the bad guys—and how hilarious is it to see The Lieutenant outside of his usual hood and goggles? That glorious mustache of his is even more ridiculous when he’s not in uniform. And he’s pretending to be a spider-rat exterminator? Spider-rats?  That I’ve got to see.

The Equalists plans do not come off without a hitch, however, and that hitch has a name. Tenzin. We get to see Aang’s son in an all-out air-brawl with a trio of Equalists, dodging sneak attacks, doing slow motion kung-fu, whirligigging two of them like tops, tossing them over rooftops. Just great, and with only the office assistant—the council page who exposed Tarrlok, from “When Extremes Meet” and “Out of the Past,” who is The Legend of Korra’s answer to Milhouse Van Houten—to witness. Tenzin is on the ball, here. Kill the power to the police headquarters? Too late, Amon, Tenzin has just sent the most important telegram of all time. Just a little message to the commander of the United Forces. Tenzin is an airbender; he sows the wind and reaps the whirlwind.

Flood the police station with gas? Did we not just mention how on point Tenzin is? He leads a crew of police out to…face a small army of the platinum mecha-tanks we first saw in “The Aftermath.”  You can really see the difference in strategy here; the Equalists are engaged in innovation, in an arms race with Republic City, and the status quo isn’t adapting. Sure, the inventions and advanced techniques of seventy years ago have been refined, giving us the metalbending cops and lightningbending in the city power plant, but the Equalists developed stun-gloves to negate the armored advantage of the police, they use platinum to stay safe from earthbending, and now they’ve got giant magnets? The establishment hasn’t even stopped wearing the metal armor, and that failure to adapt has kept them at a disadvantage.

It is Korra and the Krewe to the rescue! In a nice sequence that again shows that the group has good timing with each other. Despite the cracks in their interpersonal relationships, they have a natural teamwork. It is especially worth noting the Asami’s self-defense training and vehicles skills are crucial to the performance of the team, as the brief comedic aside of Korra’s inability to drive underscores. Watching Asami electrocuting people left and right it is pretty darn near impossible not root for her.

Hiroshi Sato must be an incredible genius to rival The Mechanist from Avatar: the Last Airbender. Sato-mobiles and zepplins, the aforementioned mecha, shockgloves and magnets…Sato seems to be responsible for dragging the world of the Four Nations into the future, whether they like it or not. We see by the photo he keeps of his family that he’s still human, just driven to a breaking point by his obsession with revenge. Perhaps he’ll be redeemed into a moderate voice for Equalism, hopefully working for the cause from a prison cell. Either way, I predict that there will be a moment of choice for Asami in the near future—either her dubious boyfriend and the Avatar or her father and the Equalists—and that she’ll choose her friends. Probably after a fake-out where she appears to side with Hiroshi and Amon, shortly followed by a double cross.

A lot of this episode deals with love triangles; both the Korra-Mako-Asami love triangle that spun out of “The Spirit of Competition” and the now largely defunct Lin-Tenzin-Pema dynamic that we were alerted to in “And the Winner Is…” Asami knows that Mako and Korra kissed and she’s dealing with it…pretty appropriately. She isn’t taking her anger out on Korra, but on Mako—Mako being the one who primarily deserves it—and she is attempting to address it with him, though not to any great effect. I hear occasional rumblings about Mako, that people feel like the show is setting up him and Korra being together but that they don’t like him in light of his recent behavior. I don’t think Mako’s behavior is aspirational. I don’t think you are supposed to like how Mako is acting. I think Mako is confused and he’s being a jerk…and I think that is going to backfire on him. There are consequences for your behavior in the world of The Legend of Korra.

The other love triangle is one that seems to have cooled to a mutual respect, though one fraught with perhaps a tinge of good natured antagonism. Tenzin asks Lin to stay to protect his family—the last airbenders, if you will—while he goes to the Council. That is one of my favorite under-used tropes in fiction—when characters actually act as though they expect to have a future. When they act in smart and believable ways. Tenzin prepares. He thinks ahead. What would be the worst possible scenario? For his family to be attacked. What does he do? Takes rational steps to circumvent that. He asks Lin to stay, and we are rewarded with babysitting Lin. Her coiling a loop of wire around Meelo and his dirty diaper is just to die for.

Tenzin’s caution is not not misplaced; the Equalists attack Air Temple Island, as I think we’ve expected them to do from day one. As the White Lotus Society members and Lin square off against the Equalists you have to wonder: is today the day we get a final showdown between Lin and the Lieutenant? Nope! Instead, we get a Naga showdown, as the polar bear dog swats the Lieutenant from the sky. Good girl, Naga. The appearance by Team Avatar isn’t what saves the day, however—we have the airbending kids for that. I’ve mentioned how great I think nerdy Jinora is; seeing her drop out of the sky on a glider was a definite “eff yeah!” moment for me. Ikki and Meelo too; Meelo’s farting is back on display and now I think…yes. Yes, we’ve played that hand. The fart jokes have had their moment in the sun. Time to put them away.

Of course this is when Pema goes into labor. The Laws of Dramatic Narrative practically require it. Still, it is the bright spot in an otherwise wretched day; Pema has a baby and she and Tenzin name it Rohan. You know you thought they were going to say Aang, just admit it. Not naming him after a famous character from the previous series is a nice piece of misdirection, given how the episode ends. This is followed by a bittersweet retreat from Air Temple Island. Run, hide, be patient. Really, regrouping is what they need, but the whole group—Korra and her friends, Tenzin and his family, lonesome Lin—has been reeling from defeat after defeat. Remember, though; Aang suffered countless setbacks and was always on the run, too. Still, the episode is called “Turning the Tides,” and while it may seem at first that the episode is referring to the reversal of fortunes Amon has brought to Republic City, the end of the episode hints at a more optimistic interpretation…

But first, heartbreaking heroism from Lin. If there is one thing we know, one thing that is true in the depths of our hearts, one thing written on the Stone Table of Narnia, it is this: Beifongs hate blimps. We know when Lin gives her “don’t look back” speech that things are going to be grim, but for a shining moment we get a Beifong doing what they do best: totally destroying airships. Just ripping them apart like wet paper, tearing them from the sky. She leaps from one to the next—metalbending the canopy itself to spring her across the gap—but we knew, as she did, that it was a one way trip. As I said; there are consequences to your choices. After “The Voice in the Night” we knew that Amon’s ability to take someone’s bending away would have to hit close to home for it to matter as something more than an abstraction…and Lin is the first real casualty. Whether or not she will be the only one remains to be see. I suspect that if she isn’t we can expect a “quest” arc for her next season, as she struggles to regain her bending.

The episode ends with a bang. General Iroh. General Iroh. Oh just let that sink in, the glorious dulcet voice of Dante Basco, the sharp military uniform, the name “Iroh,” the whole happy joy of him. You know what? If you look at the family tree diagram I posted at the very beginning of these reviews, you’ll see that Aang and Katara’s non-bending son Bumi has a similar collar to General Iroh…which could mean that they both simply serve as members of the United Forces…until you look at Zuko and Azula’s collars in Avatar: the Last Airbender. There is a strong design similarity and a real possibility that Bumi might…be the Fire Lord’s consort? That General Iroh might be the grandson of Zuko and Mai—almost certainly the case—as well as the grandson of Aang and Katara. I can just see him calling Tenzin “uncle” in the same voice that Zuko used to call the first Iroh “uncle,” can’t you?

Mordicai Knode isn’t sure how old General Iroh is supposed to be; he seems to be a full-grown adult, but younger than the rest of the adults on the show, which is probably for the best. If he was a legitimate romantic option for  any of the characters, all of the love triangles would spontaneously collapse. Oh, he has a Twitter and a Tumblr, too.


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