Let’s not everyone freak out at once. Just last episode we talked about the knife edge of doubt that an “all-ages” show like The Legend of Korra has been able to walk when it comes to violence. The Earth Queen’s demise could have been the Earth Queen’s defeat until the burden of context clues pushed it over. Heck, this episode we see a number of seemingly fatal falls turn out to be misdirection, on all sides, so I guess my point is: all we can do is speculate about the ultimate fate of one of our favorite characters.
One thing I’ve said this entire season is that the stakes and the tension are high; it feels like anything can happen. I’m hoping the fallout from this recent turn of events is more of a melancholy sad, with more of an “Appa’s Lost Days” feel to the consequences than what the worst case scenario could be. Enough of all of this vague spoiler-free mummery; let’s talk brass tacks, below the cut.
I had said Zaheer was due to do something to put him squarely in the “villain” camp for us viewers, something less ambiguous than, you know, assassinating a slave-taking unjust tyrant. Oh, the Red Lotus can pull all the “hey, it is his fault, we tried to force him to surrender” garbage, but then, they also could have not terrorized a group of people who are famous for having already been targeted for genocide once before. Zaheer, buddy, you’ve gone and Godwin’d yourself. I’m on record as saying Tenzin is my second favorite—Jinora, obvious number one slot, though all she does this week is gasp at Kai’s bravery in the face of danger—so if Katara doesn’t show up to clean Zaheer and the Lotus’ clock, I’m next in line.
Is Tenzin dead? I don’t know. I don’t think so, because you could still squeeze blood from that stone. If Tenzin was in a coma, Korra could quest for him in the spirit world, for instance. Or if the Red Lotus just beat him until he could resist no more…well, that wouldn’t be surprising either, actually. Wasn’t that what was done to them, presumably? Captured and locked up; maybe they’ve taken an injured Tenzin as a hostage. Then again, maybe this is all foolish optimism. Tenzin’s comment about fighting as long as he can still breathe is darkly ominous in light of “Long Live the Queen.” You can milk a lot of pathos from a funeral, too, I guess. I’m trying to brace for the worst.
There are two more episodes of The Legend of Korra left after this week’s “The Ultimatum.” The series so far has shown a marked tendency to escalate the action in the finale of each season, and Korra wrapped up Amon and Unalaq after just one Book each, but I’m not sure they’re ready to move on past Zaheer and the Red Lotus. Book Four is still happening, to the best of my knowledge; it will conclude the series and isn’t just going to be shelved, as I’d half worried. There’s an upside to this digital model right there; you might as well put them on the internet if you’ve already paid for them, and once you realize that you’ve made a mistake pulling it, like with Firefly, at least you have a chance to keep some distribution streams open.
My point is: there is a season left, and the Red Lotus could continue to be the villains for a whole ’nother book. Or they could become something more complicated, the way Zuko, Azula and her gang ended up being fleshed out with unexpected depths. Then again, there are still two episodes left; you can get a lot done in two episodes. So far, the characterization of the Red Lotus has been sparse, hinted at rather than shown: Bolin’s crack about unresolved romantic tension between Ghazan and Ming-Hua is just the sort of thing I mean. You know what I want. I hinted at it in my bio line last week. I want to see an equivalent to “The Beach” for the Red Lotus.
What’s Zaheer’s deal, for instance? How did he know enough airbending theory to be this good, right out of the gate? I suppose we could just assume he’s a prodigy but I think there is a more interesting answer. I want to know about his relationship with P’Li and how the Red Lotus formed. Maybe a flashback is in order? I want to know what their plans are for Korra; trying to brainwash her as a kid is plausible, but again, I wonder if there isn’t something deeper behind their motives.
I don’t do “spoilers” but I couldn’t help but notice that the last episode of the season is called “Venom of the Red Lotus.” I wonder if it isn’t the metaphorical venom of their dogma; they might “convert” Korra, though I’d suspect covert motives on her part rather than her knuckling to coercion. I’m thinking “The Crossroads of Destiny” from Avatar: the Last Airbender, the cliff-hanger ending of Book Two, for comparison.
Team Avatar just can’t catch a break with airships, can they? Should’ve gone with a sky bison; Appa was much more reliable. I’m a Dungeon Master, so I get it; if you give your PCs a shiny brand new airship, you run the risk that suddenly they’ll just take it and go anywhere! Inconvenient if they want to say, use the radio to call ahead to warn Tenzin long before Zaheer can be a problem. That’s something I’ve often thought about actually: the Hitchcockian tension of the radio or telephone. It’s just not something you can really duplicate in a low-tech setting. It makes me really glad, in a “big picture” sense, that The Legend of Korra was brave enough to change the setting of Avatar: the Last Airbender, to evolve it’s history and technology by a generation.
I remain quite impressed with the worldbuilding, both large scale and small scale. From technology and spirits to little stuff like the show continues to remember that Mako is a detective now, and that he and Bolin have extended family in Ba Sing Se. Details create verisimilitude but sticking to the details takes it to the next level. Like Zuko’s continuing hunched posture and stroking his chin in his “thinking face”—you know I like the use of body language on this show. To say nothing of the fight choreography this episode; I think I don’t need to. It speaks for itself. Bravo.
Mordicai Knode admits he was worried that seeing Iroh this episode meant Tenzin was going to be the leaf and that we were going to get another rendition of “Leaves from the Vine” for his death scene. It could still happen; Zuko could still sing it at his funeral. It is a concern. Find Mordicai on Tumblr and Twitter.