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Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Legend of Korra: Long Live the Queen

It’s official, all this show needed to become awesome was more Asami. I could have told them that back in season 1!

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This very much felt like a “bridging episode”, which is very different from a filler episode in that even though it sits between one important episode and the next, it cannot be skipped in the way filler can.

As it happens, something revolutionary (literally) does happen in this episode, but for the most part it’s a series of captures, escapes and changes of plan as the pieces rearrange themselves for the next big confrontation. In short, Mako and Bolin are captives of the Red Lotus while Asami and Korra have been taken by Earth Kingdom bounty hunters.

Boys first. The Red Lotus gets them safely to the Earth Kingdom and an audience with the Queen, where they wrangle a deal – information on the escaped air-benders in exchange for the Avatar. She'll get what she wants from Korra (the air-benders) without the nasty international incident when word gets out that she’s holding the Avatar against her will. Seeing the sense in this, the Queen agrees.

Meanwhile, Bolin and Mako learn that the old tired cliché of saying “I believe in you!” doesn’t work as a magical character growth activator all the time. In other words, Bolin can’t metal-bend them out of jail.

With Korra still in that frankly disturbing Hannibal Lector straightjacket (seriously, it’s not just me that finds this really awful, right?) Asami thinks up a way to spring them both, using her engineering know-how to free herself.

And once again I’m impressed by this show’s ability to create fully-realized minor characters in just a few minutes of screen-time. From the gruff hook-handed captain to the well-meaning young sailor (who shackles Asami where she wants to be shackled, politely but firmly declines Korra’s request for water, and then bitterly states “what do you care?” after he’s injured in the airship crash), there’s the sense that what otherwise seems like the embodiment of a Just Following Orders crew are real people.

Having crash landed in the middle of a desert (wasn’t this a movie?) captors and captives alike are forced to work together to build a sand glider and escape the circling sand piranha. Yeah, it all feels a bit like a Side Quest to the main drama, but I think it fits in nicely to the theme of Korra’s role as peacemaker and unifier. She and Asami could have easily ditched them in the desert, but Korra chooses to work together – and by the end of their adventure the bounty hunters opt to let her go.

Just in time for Korra to meet up with her father, Lin and Zuko (who apparently already met Korra as a child) and learn about what happened to the Earth Queen.

In this show’s most censor-pushing scene since Tarrlok’s murder-suicide, Zaheer flat-out murders the Earth Queen. On-screen. Slowly. Using his air-bending abilities to draw the breath out of her body, he suffocates her to death. Damn.

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Okay, so let’s talk about the fact that a woman has just been murdered on what is ostensibly a children’s cartoon show. The interesting/scary/compelling thing about Zaheer and the Red Lotus is that they’re not wrong. Which is not quite the same thing as saying they’re right, but we’ve already seen what a tyrant the Earth Queen was: enlisting air-benders against their will, ignoring the suffering of the outer rings, and generally possessing a highly unpleasant disposition. But was cold-blooded murder the answer?

The murky moral waters continue when Zaheer makes a radio announcement to the citizens of Bai Sing Se (interestingly enough, he stops Ming Hua from doing bodily harm to the radio operator, pointing out that he’s here to help them), telling the people that the Queen is dead and directing Ghazan to bring down the walls of the city. As you’d expect, instant rioting ensues.

Whether or not the image of the walls tumbling down was a reflection of the Berlin Wall or Jericho is up for debate, though all three are fairly entrenched in the theme of political revolutions – either way, this particular depiction suggests a level of chaos and anarchy that may not be a good thing for the population at large.

As Korra says, it’s only the beginning. And as Zaheer says, he has an important message to send to Korra via Mako/Bolin – something to make her come to him. And we still don’t know what the Red Lotus want from her, only that it doesn’t involve her death.

Miscellaneous Observations:

Remind me, but doesn’t your body have to be in the same place you left it in order for a spirit to return to it safely? Or is that just my head canon? I just recall Aang getting lost in The Winter Solstice when he went to the spirit world...

Another thing I love about this show is the way it tries to fill in some of the “gaps” in the story, pointing out things that other shows would simply leave to the imagination – such as the guard pondering that Korra still has air available to her, or Bolin asking what the Red Lotus did in prison for all those years.

Zaheer has a beautiful mastery of air-bending, using it to glide through the double doors of the throne room without anyone seeing him. Between that, his inner calm, and his tendency to quote an old air-bending master, he’s rather like a Dark Aang in many respects, only with a love of freedom replaced with full-on anarchy. It’ll be interesting to see him come up against Tenzin. And let’s face it, his grace and self-control make him a better air-bender than Korra.

Lin, Tonraq and Zuko being united with Korra is a team-up we’ve all been waiting for, and I love how you don’t have to be young to be awesome in this show. That said, I was a little disappointed that the Zuko/Korra meeting was so low key, if not because the Zuko/Avatar relationship was one of the most important relationships in the original series.

Like I said, this is a bridging episode, but one that certainly keeps up the momentum in going into the final episodes...

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