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Friday, October 17, 2014

The Legend of Korra: The Coronation

This show is certainly keeping up its winning streak, and there's every chance that this – the final season – will be the best Korra season of all. I can almost feel the writers putting the characters into position, drawing out the storylines, and getting ready to say goodbye.

As I suspected, there's been no sign of Opal and Kai since the premiere, and though I'm sure they'll be back again in some small capacity, that was their swan-song. (Didn't I say? Didn't I?) No doubt Tenzin sending his children off to find Korra will encompass their mini-arc of the season, and I also foresee some Suyin/Lin interaction before the focus is once again narrowed down to Korra/Tenzin and Korra's personal Team Avatar. In other words, everyone is getting a little screen-time before the big main character-centric showdown.

Other predictions: that Varrick currently exists in the capacity of a Chekhov's Gunman (I don't know why, but I really hope that his magnetic suit of last season makes a comeback) and that Eska and Desna's cameo was exactly that: a cameo (not that I'd mind if they're given something more substantial to do before the finale). But at this point, it's all about giving each character closure and checking of the "to do" list.

***

Top marks for the irony inherent in that title. The twist is that there was no coronation, at least not one that wasn't annulled seconds after it took place, for as soon as Kuvira takes the microphone, she announces to those gathered that she's going to remain in charge of the newly established Earth Empire.

Tone it down, show.

You have to admire a woman who actually lets the pathetic coronation go ahead before announcing her own plans. Kind of reminds me of that urban legend in which a groom goes through with his wedding vows before directing everyone at the reception to look under their seats where he's stuck photographic evidence of the bride screwing the best man.

Kuvira is a fantastic villain, one that might well be a match for last season's Azula, though I'm afraid that the writing is already throwing her too far into the "villain" camp instead of the more interesting Well Intentioned Extremist pile. There was a genuine attempt to point out that she's done plenty of good things during her "reign" as the Great Uniter, things that even Mako acknowledges when he bluntly informs Prince Wu that he hasn't done much of anything to help the people of his kingdom in the lead-up to his coronation.

Kuvira may not be the solution, but clearly neither is Prince Wu. Removing him and the royal family from power is clearly the correct choice of action, especially when you consider President Raiko's plans to put a bunch of ministers in charge and more-or-less use Wu as a figurehead.

But we also learn in this episode that Kuvira is throwing her dissenters into prison camps and making veiled threats toward those who oppose her regime, not to mention that she went with "Earth Empire" as opposed to "Earth Republic". That's a huge red flag for anyone who's watched Star Wars.

Mako is definitely not convinced.

So I get the sinking feeling that she's going to tip over into "madwoman that has to be stopped" any moment now, rather than remain a three-dimensional counterpoint to Zaheer (the overbearing order to his all-powerful chaos). Clearly the title of this season – Balance – is leading towards Korra finding exactly that between these two figureheads, but I hope that Kuvira's character isn't butchered along the way. If we keep it at this level of "do what has to be done" authority with a few sharp edges, then we may just have our best antagonist yet.

That's what I want – not a villain, but an antagonist and enemy. Zelda Williams is doing a fantastic job at projecting Kuvira's charisma and control; it would be a shame to waste all that by sending her off the deep end.

Suyin had an interesting appearance in this episode, representing Zaofu at the ceremony and coming face-to-face with her estranged son and soon to be daughter-in-law. This is the first time we've seen Su operating independently from her introductory role as Lin's unmentioned sister, and her interactions with Kuvira were perhaps the high-point of the episode.

From what I've gathered, Suyin isn't a hugely popular character in fandom, mostly due to its adulation of Lin, but I've always enjoyed her as a reasonably pleasant if not a bit self-centred matriarch. It's obvious that she was a spoiled little brat as a child, one who now lives as a free-spirited mother that just wants to be left in peace within the comfort of her own city.

Oh no you didn't, bitch.

I loved her reaction to Kuvira crediting her for her distaste in the monarchy, and that Kuvira actually called her out on not taking an interest in world affairs before Kuvira took control. That was a great way of establishing Suyin's accountability and her failings, knocking her off guard when Kuvira revealed that Zaofu was next on the list of cities to come under her control. It's an unexpected animosity that's begging for some decent fan-fiction to fill in the blanks.

And this conflict spills into Bolin and Mako's relationship. Bolin, who has seen the good Kuvira has done (including in his old neighbourhood) stands up for her, whilst Mako's issue seems to be that she's going against the wishes of the world leaders. Naturally it all comes down to an argument, but one in which both sides have a legitimate point-of-view. Very good, show – keep this up!

Elsewhere, Prince Wu cuts a rather pitiful figure. Up until this episode I didn't have much to say about him – he was deliberately annoying with a rather off-putting design, but here I had to feel a little sorry for him. There's a sense that all his over-excited chatter about the spectacle of his coronation was an act put on by an insecure kid who knows on some level that it's never going to happen.

Even before Kuvira took over, it was pretty clear that the royal dynasty was at an end, and (having watched a similar plot play out with former Russian aristocrats over on Downton Abbey) it was a little poignant to see that Wu's retinue had been whittled down to a trio of old men, and his crown replaced by an earring that had to make-do as a brooch.

And is it just me, or does Wu seem to have a little crush on Mako? He seemed very touchy-feely and co-dependant, so it wouldn't surprise me if Bryke slipped in that subtext on purpose.

***

Oh Toph! Every time I thought they were going a little overboard with the feisty old lady deal, I reminded myself that this was exactly what she was like when she was young. More than Katara, more than Zuko even, there was an effortless amount of continuity between her younger and older selves, leaving no doubt that this was the gutsy little earth-bender that put Aang through his paces in Bitter Work.

Look at this - it's totally her!

The teaching methods between Katara and Toph are profound – slow and steady reassurance versus tough love, but in a way the latter is exactly what Korra is bound to respond to. I felt a little sorry for her considering all the hard work she's put into recuperating, but Toph brings up a valuable point after sensing all the bits of mercury in her bloodstream: that there's every chance Korra is deliberately rejecting the chance to heal so that she has an excuse not to be the Avatar. Which means that deep down, Korra is deathly afraid.

I just want to hug her!

Miscellaneous Observations:

No Asami? Damn it show, I THOUGHT WE WERE PAST THIS.

I love that the trees in Republic City have stuck around, and are now an organic part of the architecture.

 

I don't care if we never find out who the fathers of Toph's children were. We just don't need to know.

Wu presents Kuvira with the Kyoshi Medal of Freedom, making this the second time in as many episodes that the former Avatar has been name-dropped. Please let this be an indication that they're planning some pre-Aang stories.

So Varrick has his hands on a spirit vine. As a wild guess, I'd say he's going to figure out how to control it, and by doing so manipulate all the other vines growing throughout Republic City by doing so.

When Kuvira tells Bolin: "conflict is the last thing I want," I believe her – but is this because she truly values life or because she desires order above all things? Similarly, she's got a point when calls Wu the world leaders' "handpicked dictator", and her claim to the same position rests on her popularity among the people. So far she's coming across as a Good is Not Nice Character – an intimidating person, but an effective ruler.

"You're the worst Avatar ever." It's like a catchphrase at this point. Give the girl a break!

That Toph thinks her daughters never picked up metal-bending all that well makes me desperately want to see her take on Kuvira. Alas, I'm pretty sure they'll keep her in the swamp.

Was that a stuffed Bosco I glimpsed at the Little Bai Sing Se throne room?

Ultimately, this was definitely a place-setting episode, but I have confidence that the pay-off will make it all worthwhile. And until then, we'll always have the Dance of the Badger Moles. I uploaded it especially:


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