This episode of The Legend of Korra, “Enemy at the Gates,” is a nice beat in the tale. It isn’t rushed to get to the bang-pow-smash ’em up bits, but it isn’t treading water, either. After last episode’s healing, Korra is ready to get back into the story, and this episode eases her in, gives us a wiser Korra trying to take the high road, while forces work around her escalating the conflict.
The main story happens out of Korra’s sight, as Bolin and Varrick figure out that Kuvira might not be all that benevolent a dictator after all, and have an all out mecha brawl escaping. So okay, maybe a little whammo-biff-sock brawling, after all… plus Asami Sato, solo, sorting out her life all on her own. So much for friends!
I’ve been reconsidering the “Korsami” romance. Or the increasing plausibility of it, anyhow. I’ve mused about Nickelodeon’s meddling with the show, with it being pushed into digital distribution after double episode dumps and an accelerated release schedule. The creators kept a cheerful face on during the whole thing, looking at the bright side; partially, of course, there is the fact that they didn’t really have a choice, but I wonder if there is an upside of freedom, of being insulated from executive whims. Making Korra bisexual might not be on their radar, but then again, looking at the shenanigans around the show’s broadcast, maybe there is an opportunity? It could happen at this point, is all I’m saying.
It’s on my mind because this episode shows Asami attempting to reconnect with her father. It seems like every week I give this show accolades for remaining internally consistent, and here we are again. The Legend of Korra could have assumed that they locked Hiroshi Sato up in prison and threw away the key and never circled back around to him…but that’s not the kind of show this is. This is the show that makes Suki the longterm love interest even though she’s “just” a side character in an early episode, that brings back Jun the bounty hunter time and again. So now Asami is playing Pai Sho with her Hayao Miyazaki-looking dad. Prediction: he’ll be instrumental in deactivating Kuvira’s laser canon superweapon when all is said and done.
The swamp was very Dagobah, and Kuvira’s Earth Empire is very… well, Imperial. Airships sliding through the air slowly, pregnant with menace—it’s very Star Destroyer, and I don’t think it is just the LEGO commercials making me think that. Look on the works of the Mechanist and despair: from the Phoenix King to Kuvira, airships have revolutionized warfare in the world of the Avatar. That SDF-1-esque laser blast from the spirit vine? Well, there’s that game changer I was predicting, I suppose—and how much more Deathstar can you get?
Varrick was looking for spirit batteries, but what did we get instead? A superlaser. Not for nothing, but the light was purple; I don’t know if that means it is associated with Vaatu but I’m keeping my eyes peeled, because I still think Korra is going to be the real great unifier, and join together with both Raava and Vaatu; maybe this is related? Just keeping my options open.
So Kuvira’s flip is pretty convincing, because the show used such a soft sell. Well, relatively; yes, arresting main characters and threatening them with “re-education” is pretty clear cut, but it wasn’t an over-the-top “muah-ha-ha!” moment of cacophonous self-parody, so I’ll take it. She (rightly) stymies Korra with her “tough love” rhetoric; Korra is just as guilty of using force and intimidation when she didn’t get her way in the past. Kuvira wants to “do it right” when it comes to Zaofu, Korra wants to reason with her; it almost seems like things can come to a diplomatic resolution right up to the end of the episode, when we find out Suyin has taken her kids (Wing & Wei anyhow; where is gothy Huan?) to go all Navy SEAL ninjutsu on Kuvira. Good luck with that.
That mecha fight! Oh man, how much better than the glimpse we got in the teaser was that!? This is the first time we got to see the next generation battlesuits in action and boy oh boy do the come fully equipped with bells and whistles! Lightning balls, flame throwers, net cannons, grappling guns, even Glitter Boy leg braces. Zhu Li goes hardcore, a mixture of micronized Miriya Parina-Sterling and Attack on Titan-ish wirefighting. Finally we get some lavabending from Bolin the Peacemaker, too!
There is probably some specific anime term for Zhu Li and Varrick’s relationship, and I enjoy seeing the show skirt and flirt with subverting the trope: I think Zhu Li’s betrayal is probably a double-cross, but if not, we’re in trouble, as she’s obviously hyper-capable. I keep talking about Robotech, but I can’t help but see references or parallel evolution to it all over this episode. The impossibly dangerous canon, the mecha battles, and the art aesthetic specifically look like the Southern Cross, especially Kuvira’s guards with the full-body armor and covered faces.
We’re on the cusp of the Metal Wars, on the brink of the war build by the Mechanist, and Future Industries, and the Red Lotus’ destabilization of the Earth Kingdom, and Korra’s absence and Suyin’s refusal to lead. It’s a world that seems inevitable given the chain of history leading all the way back to Firelord Sozin’s unbalancing the world with Fire Nation imperialism. So the scale has tilted to chaos in the Earth Kingdom, and it is up to Korra to “balance” it without the whole thing falling over like a Jenga tower. Will her new, wiser methods work? Or does this situation call for a little of the old Korra aggression, or a middle path of force tempered by her new found patience and mercy? We’ll find out soon enough!