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The Legend of Korra‘s “Peacekeepers” Gets Parallel-y

You know things are going to get real when you see Lin Beifong waiting at the docks of Republic City. Then a Sokka statue? With a boomerang? Well, I guess a boomerang does always come back! After “Civil Wars,” which was all about set-up, I was eager to see something, well, happen. It did! Now the ball is really rolling. Rolling where I can’t quite say, but we’ve got plots, we’ve got agendas, we’ve got pursuit and enemies and dark spirits. Politicians and crooks, as if that wasn’t the same thing, and the things a Jedi doesn’t crave: Adventure! Excitement! Romance! Lemur training! Well, okay, Yoda didn’t say anything about romance or lemurs but we’ve got it here…or you know, in romance’s case, the lacuna where it should go, anyhow…

What is going on with Bolin? He says he is going to “figure something out,” and yes, please, Bolin, please, figure something out. Bolin is adored by Republic City; he’s genuinely good at playing to them, and maybe that will be the direction he goes…but currently he’s being co-opted by Varrick in a “racebending” metastory. Light skinned guy from a different cultural background dressing up in a mockery of the local fashions? I can’t tell if this is a spoof of Nanook of the North or of Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender. Eska, meanwhile, is now a “crazy ex” which continues to play the problematic aspects of their relationship for laughs. I do like her messed up eye make-up look, though. Maybe Bolin will have a “thing” with Ginger? Ginger’s only been treated as a prop by the story so far—quite literally objectifying—so it would be cool to see some character there.

Korra and Mako’s breakup is something I’m actually really into. Say what you will about romantic plots and subplots, but at least the friction here isn’t irrational. Since “stop acting irrationally” is what I always find myself saying to fictional characters of all stripes, I’m into it. The tension is real: Mako is pledged to and loyal to Republic City, and Korra is the Avatar. I don’t think she was wrong to circumvent President Raiko or to take sides in the Water Tribe dispute; she’s in a unique position of singular responsibility. She is an outside authority, that is one of the roles of the Avatar.

The conflict between Mako and Korra is the same conflict Korra and General Iroh have, but Korra’s feelings for Mako prevent her from dealing with it as graciously as she did with Iroh II. (The breakup is also explicitly paralleled to Lin and Tenzin’s split, for even more mirroring.) Both have personal and ideological conflicts with Korra’s actions; in the Gaang, everyone was loyal to Aang and each other. Sokka came closest to having outside allegiances, through his father, but those were never at odds with helping the Avatar. Instead, Avatar: the Last Airbender deals explicitly with the Avatar being above and beyond traditional avenues of governance; the battle against Bumi, the trial of Kiyoshi, and fundamentally, the rebellion against the colonialist Fire Nation.

I’ve become increasingly interested in the pacing of The Legend of Korra. By way of comparison to Avatar: the Last Airbender, “Peacekeepers” would still be in the first season. What does that mean to me? Well, a couple of things. We’ve talked about Korra having “cinematic” pacing, with more things left to the audience to fill in the gaps. Rather than show you every answer, they let the viewer piece it together. This can aid in the kinetic storytelling; for instance, the use of viewer assumptions about freedom fighters, protesters, and injustice in order to shorthand a lot of development for the Equalists, really quickly.

Another thing on my mind is Korra’s journey. Aang had a “big bad” during his incarnation; the Fire Nation had put the world out of balance, there was a hundred years of imperialism and war, and Sozin’s Comet was inbound, making the situation with the Fire Lord one of paramount importance. And for villains: Zuko, a proxy of the Fire Lord; Zhao, a proxy of the Fire Lord; Azula, a proxy of the Fire Lord; and eventually, Fire Lord Ozai himself. Korra doesn’t have this “World War” or even a “Cold War” situation; it is as if every one of her fights is with Long Feng and the Dai Lee. Her incarnation seems marked more by individual conflicts, with each conflict having two facets to it. Equalists and bloodbenders, Northern aggression and dark spirits. Is there a broader pattern at work?

Lastly I can’t help but think about parallels; when the Northern Water Tribe armed forces occupied the Southern Water Tribe, I think the first thing that leapt to most people’s minds was the similar animation to the Fire Nation’s invasion and the “then, everything changed…” intro monologue. If I was a Northern Water Tribe navy, trying to conquer the Avatar’s homeland, I would be really paranoid of giant Miyazaki Godzilla, wouldn’t you? Aang already demonstrated that the Avatar can single-handedly wipe out a naval blockade, in the North. The fact that “The Seige of the North” covered episodes 19 and 20 make me wonder if in a few episodes Korra will mirror that display of the Avatar State’s power?

Mordicai Knode thinks that Sokka’s space sword should remain lost until the third series in the Avatar cycle, where it should act as a kind of “sword in the stone.” Find Mordicai on Twitter and Tumblr.


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