Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Legend of Korra: Kuvira's Gambit

We all knew it was coming: the moment when Kuvira crosses the line. Arguably this has already happened, what with her detainment camps, kidnapping of the Beifongs and creation of a superweapon, but this time (as they say) it was personal. This time she sacrifices something she loves in order to achieve her goal of conquering Republic City.

Which is poor old Bataar Junior. But I'll get to that.

The episode is a fairly balanced blend of story mingled with little character beats, though those beats were rather oddly distributed among minor characters (Zhu Li, Prince Wu) rather than our main cast.

While Kuvira sets her sights on her biggest (and apparently last, though by this point it's easy to assume she'll eventually move on to the Fire Nation and Water Tribes) target yet: Republic City. And though she comes up with a legit-sounding reason as to why its integration into the Earth Kingdom Empire is justifiable (and how many real countries out there have sought to reclaim annexed land?) we know its symbolic importance as a city that Aang and Zuko established as a bastion of peace and unity. From a moral standpoint, targeting it is a big no-no.

There's been some debate in various message boards concerning Kuvira's true feelings toward Bataar, but I think she did at least want to marry him. Look at the above screencaps. There's no indication that she's not being sincere about her desire to get married, and I can imagine that she was looking forward to having an obedient little husband who was totally devoted to her – though she notably only returns his "I love you" when she's preparing to sacrifice him.

Perhaps she says it to catch Korra's team off-guard, perhaps she says it because she (at least on some level) actually means it – but clearly not enough to give up her ambition.


As for our good guys, it's once again up to Bolin to burst into a private meeting and share pertinent information – this time that Kuvira's super-weapon is ready and that she's advancing on the city. There are some decent logistics discussed when it comes to President Raiko's reaction: the evacuations becomes mandatory, the railway lines need to be shut down, and (as Korra suggests) their most pressing concern is to destroy the spirit weapon.

But it turns out that Kuvira isn't going to use the railway to transport her weapon; she's had a giant mecha suit built in order to carry and control it directly, one that seems modelled on a similar monstrosity featured in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Bryke are self-proclaimed Miyazaki fans) hich can create mass destruction in way that's genuinely terrifying to behold.

I'm more convinced than ever that the sound-effect used for the weapon is the same ear-shattering boom that was also used for Vaatu's energy blasts, which is contrasted chillingly well by the elegance and simplicity of the operating controls that Kuvira mans.

Of course, it's a little hard to believe that this massive piece of engineering could be constructed without a single soul noticing or commenting on it, and the problem with mecha suits is that it only takes something as simple as a well-positioned tripwire to take it out of the game, but in a nice bit of continuity that isn't overtly spelt out to the audience, at least we now know what Kuvira wanted with the metal domes that covered Zaofu.

Our core Avatar team of Korra, Mako, Bolin and Asami are reunited extremely briefly in the act of uncovering this information, and are forcibly driven back to the city to share the horrific news.

It's around this point that two relatively minor characters get some unexpected development: Zhu Li is reunited with Varrick and gives him a piece of her mind, and Prince Wu finally shows his worth by calmly telling the people of Republic City over the radio why they need to leave and how to do so (even throwing in an anecdote about how he goes to the bathroom). Pema also gets a little focus in her decision to stay and help out with the evacuation.


Finally, when it becomes apparent that Republic City has no chance against Kuvira's super-weapon, Korra organizes a team to kidnap Bataar and gather what information they can from him on how to destroy the mecha suit. Although the kidnapping goes off without a hitch, Bataar isn't even remotely convinced by Korra's threats. In an eerily timely fashion given the real-world revelations about Guantanamo Bay, Korra opts not to torture Bataar, but in fact has a much crueller idea in store. Unless Bataar talks Kuvira out of taking Republic City, Korra will make it her life's work to keep them permanently separated (it's a pity they didn't elaborate on this a bit more – Korra should have suggested taking him into the spirit world and closing the door behind him).

There are a couple of nice moments strewn into this sequence: Raiko and Lin's plausible deniability when they learn Bataar isn't on board his airship to discuss peace terms, and Suyin's sadness in trying to reach her estranged son, but it's Kuvira who makes the fundamental decision here.

Poor Bataar. Well, I guess I don't feel too bad for him, as he willingly participated in the construction of a weapon of mass destruction, but he really was the Percy Weasley of the bunch, wasn't he. On the wrong side, and never given the opportunity to come around of his own volition.

But let me say at this point that the episode had a lot of great "hero shots":

Miscellaneous Observations:

"All hail the Great Uniter!" Just in case the dictator connotations weren't obvious enough by now.  
I've seen a couple of complaints that the giant mecha could be easily taken out by a trained group of metal-benders. Well, perhaps that will indeed turn out to be the case, but at this point you have to keep in mind that apart from the Beifong family, all the Metal Clan either are loyal to Kuvira or stuck in Zaofu.

Where exactly were Rupublic City citizens getting evacuating to? And can't they just evacuate Meelo along with everyone else? (Okay, I can't stand the little turd, but it also seems a bit daft that Tenzin and Pema would allow their children to stay in what's swiftly becoming a war zone).

The budgetary restrictions of this season seemed to manifest not only in the avoidance of an actual battle, but also in montaging the evacuation through a series of stills.

More now-or-never silent cameos from Tahno and Gommu homeless guy, as well as a slightly larger role from General Iroh (it's still weird hearing Zuko's voice emerging from this guy).

Where is Kya? I'm beginning to think the voice actress is unavailable, because her absence is glaring. Kai, on the other hand, finally makes his return.

Wow, they certainly didn't pull any punches when it came to the demonstration of the weapon's power. These guys are dead:

Meep – two episodes left. One week to go!

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