Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Legend of Korra: Beyond the Wilds

We all survived last week's clip show, so let's get straight back to the important stuff: PLOT.

This felt like another transitional episode, a story in which nothing really gets resolved, but is mostly setup for later developments. By the end of this episode Korra has taken another step on the path to healing, Lin and Opal prepare for a rescue mission, and Varrick and Bolin return to Republic City, only to be almost instantly paired up with other characters in preparation for the next episode: Varrick with Asami and Bolin with Opal.

So it was quite a busy episode, even without the overt presence of Kuvira, who only appears briefly in one of Korra's visions. It turns out that her foresting of the swamp vines is having an adverse effect on the spirit vines that cover Republic City, and a few of them turn nasty.

And it's time for another mini-cameo/update from one of the new airbenders that were discovered last season: Ryu, who is out of the basement and playing tour guide to visitors to Republic City. When the spirit vines snatch them up, it's Jinora, Opal and Korra who investigate, soaring over the Bechdel Test as they do so.

It's nice to get a bit more focus on Jinora and her spiritual abilities, and despite once again being relegated to Distressed Damsel, she at least gets an astral-projected message to Korra before she's dragged into the spirit world. There's no indication whatsoever as to what these vines were actually trying to achieve by kidnapping these people, but really the whole thing is an Excuse Plot to kick Korra into gear.

Korra's on-going feelings of inadequacy, supplemented by the fact that no one else – from President Raiko to Tenzin – seems to believe that she's up to the task of being Avatar, is a subplot that's clearly going to be drawn out all the way to the finale. And that's fine with me, as this is the best Korra's development as a character has ever been. Up until this episode, I've been assuming that with each new obstacle surmounted, Korra's healing process has come to an end. Now that doesn't seem to be case, especially considering her words to Mako after her visit to Zaheer:

Mako: Do you think you're finally going to be able to forget what Zaheer did to you?

Korra: No, but I am finally able to accept what happened and I think that's going to make me stronger.

That seems rather open-ended to me; an indication that although she's over the trauma of being attacked, there's still more "strengthening" of her mind and body to come. I'm glad they revisited Zaheer, not only to give Korra the chance to face her fears, but to give us some closure on last season's Big Bad.

The idea of Zaheer helping Korra overcome the PTSD that he is responsible for is certainly one of the more daring plot developments that this show has attempted, but for the most part I think they pulled it off. I'm not a fan of woobifying villains, and to be fair it's not like the show or the fandom has attempted this with Zaheer, but the redemption of a grown man who tried to murder a teenage girl is not a plotline I'd be interesting in seeing.

Yet it played out with a certain amount of finesse. Despite being shackled and imprisoned, Zaheer is not a shell of his former self. He still has access to the spirit world, and his ability to levitate demonstrates that he's still maintained his level of detachment. He's not suffering, just cut off from the real world.

But given his genuine commitment to his belief-system, it makes sense that he would be horrified by the thought of his actions leading to a dictatorship, and I may have done a little fist-bump when Korra manages to find that chink in his armour. Furthermore, there has never been anything petty or vindictive about Zaheer's characterization, so it makes sense that he would assist Korra in regaining her link to the spirit world, strictly in pursuit of the greater good.

So Korra is no longer haunted by memories of her near-death experience at his hands, though the aforementioned quote suggests that she's still not quite back to her old self. And of course, there's also the existence of Dark!Korra to deal with, an apparition that has not yet been explained or even mentioned by Korra. I have two opposing theories on what it could be:

It could be a sliver of Vaatu playing games with Korra's head. He's been mentioned a couple of times this season, and Ravaa herself made an appearance in this episode (foreshadowing?)

Otherwise, it could be that Dark!Korra is a subconscious extension of Korra herself. It struck me that everything Dark!Korra has done could arguably have been for Korra's benefit: preventing her from entering Republic City, leading her to the fighting ring where she could get in shape, dragging her into the swamp where she met Toph, and stopping her from killing Kuvira (something she would have regretted forever).

Of course, I could be completely wrong. Despite my earlier predictions, Opal is turning out to have a much bigger role than I initially thought, and it appears that the show is not quite done with Prince Wu yet either. For some reason he's been invited to a council meeting between the world leaders, who are divided on whether or not to pre-emptively strike at Kuvira.

They fall on the side of nay, largely thanks to the input of Fire Lord Izumi (not Honoria; I've no idea where I got the idea that was her name) who FINALLY gets some dialogue. And thanks to the terrible security, Bolin and Varrick burst into the council hall to share their knowledge of what Kuvira is up to regarding her super-weapon.

But a full reunion of the gang has yet to happen: Asami only gets one scene in which she's paired up with Varrick in response to the spirit-vine threat, and Bolin's attempt to apologize to Opal result in him agreeing to accompany her and Lin on their rescue mission to Zaofu.

Opal is currently getting a fair amount of grief from the fandom, though I can understand why she's acting the way she is. She had a point when she said no one else seemed to care about her family's safety (they really didn't) and her need to undertake a covert rescue mission with Lin appears to be her best option. But I can also see Bolin's side of the story as well. He honestly thought he was doing the right thing when he remained with Kuvira, having seen the very real good that she was doing throughout the Earth Kingdom. Opal asking him to join her for the rescue mission in order for him to "win her back" (seriously girl? You're not some prize) is not the best way to repair their relationship.

She just needs to focus on getting her family back, and then on getting over her anger at Bolin. Combining the two is not a good idea.

Miscellaneous Observations:

Fandom also seems to be annoyed that Izumi is stately and bookish instead of sultry and tempestuous like Azula. Pssft. Come on people, she's the daughter of Zuko and Mai. She's sooner going to be a dork than a spitfire. And I hope you all noticed that Izumi was referred to as Fire LORD, not Fire LADY.

The show is veering dangerously close to an environmentalist tract in regards to the mecha-suits that are being used on the rainforest – er swamp. Conversation is important in real life, but television aesops about them are almost invariably obnoxious, so let's hope they stick to the imagery of vines versus chainsaws and not stirring speeches about how the environment needs our help to flourish.

The gang is almost back together again, though sadly Asami is relegated to a single scene. As much as I liked Raiko calling her one of the "brightest minds in Republic City", I would have preferred her instead of Mako going with Korra to the prison. Up until this point she felt more involved in Korra's healing process than he does.

Ravaa! That was another nice little cameo, and hopefully one that heralds more to come.

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