This season of The Legend of Korra is really sticking to its eponymous theme of Change. At the end of “In Harm’s Way,” Team Avatar acknowledges that they’ve made new enemies, but they’ve also made new friends. In the most basic way, the story is about the way the Avatar is changing the world—just this time at a political level. The characters embrace the changes, following the path they think is best, and because of that they succeed. This is true both for our heroes and for our erstwhile villains, as each group pulls off a massive escape.
“The Metal Clan” shows the opposite: what happens when change is resisted, when the chi is blocked, so to speak. I suspect Lin’s grievances with her sister are more legitimate than they seem at first—there’s always a worm in the apple when it comes to cutting-edge utopias—but either way, the conflict is clearly tearing her apart. The Legend of Korra doesn’t give us the expected emotional beats, opting for realism and character development over tropes and trite moralizing. Finally, everyone please take note. It is an abstraction of the Harmonic Convergence.
So far The Legend of Korra has been really knocking it out of the park with Big Visuals—from glowing astral Godzillas to stadium Spider-Man brawls—and these episodes keep up that tradition. The ice prison, fire-breathing dragons, astral SCUBA, huge scrums and intense duels… the ticket buys the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge. I’ve talked a lot about how this show uses subtle-and-not-so-subtle cues in the animation to good effect, from Aang and Korra sharing body language to things like this week’s Ringu style flickering as Jinora astral projects, or when Kya is fighting Zaheer—she whips out two spirally currents of water, crisscrossing them like an old school atomic symbol. Yep, that’s Aang’s daughter alright!
Speaking of Jinora astral projecting… first off, obviously Jinora is the best. I’m a known Jinora sympathizer from way back. The fact that she’s turning into an enlightened Nancy Drew is a-okay with me. What I took particular note of was that she said astral projecting was an “airbender move.” We’ve talked about how earthbenders have sandbenders, and how waterbenders have healing and spirit calming, as well as bloodbending and plantbending. We’ve seem some “advanced techniques,” like the firebender’s lightning, go from being rare talents to developed skills as bending techniques improved. “The Metal Clan” is all about the legacy of Toph’s invention of metalbending. Is astral projection the airbender advanced technique?
There is a whole host of characters dumped into our lap in this episode. So far, Change has been about families as much as anything else; heck, even the criminals are a tight knit family. The anti-Scoobies, something the Avatar hasn’t faced. We’ve seen the benefits of trust and teamwork for Team Avatar (and the Gaang before them), now we’re going to see the villains exploit those same advantages. Beyond that, Korra’s father and twin cousins didn’t just fade away into the background, and Mako and Bolin’s family are still making appearances. Obviously one of the two new episodes is just straight up about Lin’s family. These are the ties that will drive the coming conflicts, if we could just unravel them. We haven’t touched on Asami’s lack of family; we see her and Korra sparring, but after that she doesn’t get a lot of spotlight. More Asami!
Which characters will be important moving forward? We know that Avatar stories don’t just discard characters—even seemingly cameo ones—and we’ve been introduced to several families’ worth. Maybe they won’t return. Maybe they’ll stay in Zao Fu as set dressing. Maybe someone will become a recurring, Suki-like character, or heck, maybe someone will join full time, like Zuko or Toph did. That would sort of be fitting, and we’re in Toph city.
Speaking of Toph, The Legend of Korra is showing us that the cast of Avatar: the Last Airbender were imperfect, that their lives didn’t become “happily ever after” fairytales when the show ended. That’s not what life is like, so the show isn’t like that, either. That doesn’t mean seeing just the flaws is the whole picture, either. Toph might still be alive, so maybe she’ll provide more context (…but I doubt she’ll mention who either of their fathers are).
Let’s talk about Zaheer and company. So they were imprisoned for trying to kidnap Korra. Got it. In the past, I have developed my own little pet theories and clung to them beyond all reason and sense. I’m not going to do that, this time. Not that I’ll entirely take any of the characters at their word—there is obviously going to be some kind of Shocking Reveal, right?—but I’m not going to create my own maze of smoke and mirrors. Henry Rollins is doing a great job, bringing a sense of menace to his infiltration of the Air Nomads that gave his scenes a Hitchcockian air. I’m wondering if a close betrayal is at hand: Su Yin seems too good to be true. Or of course, there’s the ever-likely knife in the back from Varrick to suspect…