Well okay, with this episode of The Legend of Korra, Kuvira seems to be well and truly beyond the pale. Ethnic concentration camps, Kuvira? Yep, you’ve gone and Godwin’d yourself. Not to mention that all the guys have the sides of their heads shaved, all Hitler Youth style. It’s a good look in Sleep No More, but here it is frankly just ominous. There is no doubt in my mind that the next stage in Kuvira’s plan is the “re-unite” the Earth “Empire” is marching to conquering Republic City. It looks like she’ll be in black-and-white by the time she gets there, though this season’s theme of “Balance” still gives me hope of some nuance in the final ethical calculus.
Worry not: this is a fun episode; a nice change from last week’s episode that features Asami’s stun glove, Bolin’s hot lava, the Noah’s Ark of Bumju, Naga, Pabu and some sky bison & flying lemurs, and Korra back in Water Tribe duds.
Having Varrick run back in to mess with the wires and generators at the
Berlin Earth Empire Wall to jury-rig an electro-magnetic pulse to take out the mechs? To me that’s a perfect example of how Avatar: the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra have always choreographed battles with an active environment. The work of Sifu Kisu and his team are rightly lauded, with each bending style having their own complex physical backstory in the form of martial arts and signatures characters have their own unique variants. Very cool, but equally as cool is how rarely static the fights are. Fighters change the battlefield as they brawl. Earthbenders forming walls, ramps, holes; waterbenders making ice sculptures, slip-n’-slides, floods, that sort of thing. Even powerless Jet used the hooks on his swords to turn the trees into an active environment, and non-bending Sokka and Piandao’s battle was explicitly environmental, bamboo trope and all.
Avatar gave us the start of technology as an “environment,” from the deep sea oil rig prison with Evil Sulu to it’s apotheosis in Toph and Sokka taking on the Fire Nation airship fleet on the Day of the Comet. In The Legend of Korra, the prevalence of metalbending and the exponential growth of industrial technology have evolved that battlefield even further. Tearing the roof off a train and airbending off a bridge or using your know-how to hotwire whatever’s on hand is par for the course. Think laterally!
I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate that; it’s the opposite of old lo-fi Hanna-Barbera cartoons where things were foreshadowed by the fact that active cells were a totally different color than the background. Now everything is in play, through what I imagine must be really well integrated communication among choreographers, animators, writers.
Varrick’s really become an interesting character study. Going from amoral and gonzo to developing a conscience (but still with plenty “mad science”) has been a winding road, which makes it all the better. No watershed moment, no big catharsis, just slowly inspired to be better by Korra and the crew. That’s my take on it. He’s the case study on the benefits of mercy and rehabilitation. He’s still a fast-talking scoundrel with a penchant for monkey-wrenching, but now he’s doing it for the side of the angels and not just his own short-term profit. It certainly doesn’t hurt that his slapstick works in a way Meelo’s doesn’t, either. Hog-monkeys! Speaking of people who, like Meelo, would be annoying in larger doses, we get Prince Wu again.
Fine, he gets kidnapped—Wu-napped—and we get a nice set piece out of it. A fairly minor conflict, but it gives us a chance to see the real conflict, the character interactions. Why did Korra write to Asami but no one else? Mako’s like “what’s going on…” and I’m like “oh crud, shipping intensifies.” Asami is mad that Korra presumes to judge her or her relationship with her dad after she bounced for three years. Their arguing tips off the bad guys, having very real consequences.
Feelings are hurt, but in the end it is resolved in a healthy way, through catharsis and talking about it and then hugging it out. Grandma is a nice bow on Wu’s story, and on Bolin and Mako’s extended family’s story. Remember, this series never forgets about it’s continuity.
Bolin is the star of this one, I am very happy to report. I think I’ve been waiting for this episode from the moment the brothers showed up. Showcase Bolin! This was a watershed episode for him. First off, how awesome is he when he’s lavabending all over the place? So awesome. Then he knows when to hold ’em, knows when to fold ’em; he communicates subtly with Varrick (“do the thing!” having established their teamwork skills) and seizes opportunities, knows when it’s time to stop talking and start doing. He turns enemies into allies and is all brave and leadershiping…it’s great and I think his star is on the rise. Team Bolin.
Mordicai Knode wonders if Toph will perish in battle defending the Spirit Banyan or if that’s how we’ll discover she was a ghost the whole time. He also thinks it would be funny if his prediction was right, and Korra bonds with Raava and Vaatu and that restores her ancestral memories and it’s just Avatar Kyoshi screaming “JUST EARTHBEND IT INTO AN ISLAND!” Find him on Tumblr and Twitter.