This was definitely an episode that probably would have been better delivered with the second episode to help expand and further establish everything raised in it. It was effectively a, “Here’s the game board with all the pieces,” type of episode, but we have to wait until next episode to see the pieces move. Not very exciting.
The animation seemed slightly off, notably for me, Tenzin’s face when he smiles about Korra’s return from the Southern Water Tribe. Still a step up over the Japanese studio work from Book 2.
And what is the relationship between the Crown Prince and Kuvira? Are they in open conflict, or does Tenzin and everyone else acknowledge that Wu is destined to just be a figurehead, with Kuvira holding all the power?
I think the working expectation is that Kuvira is simply bringing the Earth Kingdom back in order so Prince Wu can assume the throne over a united and peaceful kingdom. I didn’t pick up any open conflict, but I did perceive that there are those who believe Kuvira should be the one in charge and not Prince Wu, who’s been living up the playboy lifestyle in Republic City while everyone else is suffering.
Overall, I enjoyed the episode as a return to Korra, but it was definitely not a strong episode by any means. It was fascinating to see what I recognized correctly from the trailer and what I completely goofed on. The Great Speculator I am not!
Both Asami and Mako appeared more mature and grown up, though this was apparently achieved by giving Mako what I call the, “General Iroh” haircut, and putting Asami in something that almost resembled a shawl (fine, a fashionable, business professional, shawl). What’s interesting is that it seems Korra was the glue of Team Avatar. One might argue that the team was not strongly held together based on Book Two, in which the brothers had already gone off in different directions, Mako the police, and Bolin pro-bending and then ultimately, mover star. Without Korra to serve as a unifying force between them, a reason to come together, it seems they are not inclined to pursue the same interests (not unlike regular siblings). Asami continues in her position as the head of Future Industries, a job which doesn’t apparently lend itself to crossing paths with Mako very often. Their meeting also kind of implied they weren’t crossing paths socially, either.
Bolin, meanwhile, has separated himself from other people he cares for, besides Pabu (HE IS PEOPLE), Team Avatar, and Mako. He’s separated himself from Opal, and while that relationship is still ongoing, Opal appears to be having doubts without Bolin even being aware of this fact. One reason, his association with Kuvira.
Our dancing captain in the Metal Clan has gone full on army general. Our first introduction to her was standing before a map of the Earth Kingdom and as someone determined to bring it all together, not to rest until it was 100%, not 90% complete. At first this seems admirable enough, but we receive a visual cue that Kuvira (whose name, it should be noted, starts with a K, like Korra) has less than virtuous goals in mind with the dark shadowing under her eyes when she convinces bandits to join her army. We see her as a manipulator, using survival as her leverage to force others to side with her. She threatens to leave the bandits tied to the train tracks until the next train comes through, and later, she threatens the governor of the state with the survival of his people if he does not “sign the documents.” Presumably, Kuvira has been and plans to continue manipulating a lot of things and people to achieve her goals.
Her goals, however, are virtuously dressed in restoring order and uniting the Earth Kingdom. She also expects everyone to serve the state, which is how she offers the bandits the chance to “rehabilitate” themselves. As a dancer of choreographed performances, it would make sense for her to have a preference for order, as it’s the only way such a dance can exist. Without order, the dance is just a bunch of people waving their arms and hands, while running around aimlessly on a stage. Kuvira wants the Earth Kingdom to be choreographed, but the final purpose of this dance is yet unknown, but it does involve forcing the concession of valuable ores from those under duress. Her “victory” in the city in this episode exposed a number of things. First, she is not acting for the Earth Kingdom or its monarchy, it’s the Metal Clan Army, her army, which has come to the rescue and its to her that the governor is required to swear fealty – not the Earth Kingdom throne. Second, her requirement that the state sign over its mineral rights also reveals another perspective. In a kingdom, one would assume that the king or queen possess those rights, or at the worse, the “state” or political entity. Kuvira’s demand of that concession is proclaiming that the Metal Clan, or at least she, stand in the same place as these other sovereign entities. Kuvira or the Metal Clan are becoming “the State.”
Her moniker, the Great Uniter, harkens to two different similar examples. In the present day, in a manner that surely informed the writers, we associate “Great” in a title, probably best with “Great Leader,” the title that the leaders of North Korea assume. Thus, it casts a dictatorial light on Kuvira that she accepts this title, if not promote it (we don’t know enough on that end). Another example might be the “Great Emancipator” which is the title that was bestowed on Abraham Lincoln. Like Kuvira, Lincoln oversaw the reunification of the United States after it was fractured in war and obviously, the emancipation of slaves. Incidentally, Lincoln also signed into law a bill to promote the transcontinental railroad which would unite both sides of the nation. So far in Korra, it seems that people view Kuvira as one or another, and that reputation, either way, does not seem to be slowing down her ambitions.
The Metal Clan also appears to have suffered a fracturing. We will likely learn more about what happened, but apparently, Kuvira’s and Baatar’s (Suyin’s engineer son), departure from Zhaofu was not done with the support of Suyin. Baatar mentions that his mother should have forgiven him by now, even though she hasn’t. I would argue that Kuvira probably made an argument that the Metal Clan had a destiny/duty to leave Zhaofu to help restore the Earth Kingdom, and perhaps even more, and it was with this plan that Suyin disagreed so greatly, that she was willing to become furious with her son over it. It may not be surprising, either that Baatar joined Kuvira, and now is engaged to her, on the same grounds that engineers are required to see the world in which everything is in order. Machines won’t run, buildings will stand, and products can’t be made if something is engineered out of order.
Bolin in the Metal Clan! We quickly learn that Bolin see’s his participation with Kuvira’s army as a means to help people. Why this required leaving Pabu behind is not clear, but Kuvira’s influence over him is strong enough to affect the way he styles his hair. I would not be surprised if Kuvira commented on the unprofessionalism of a fire ferret on one’s shoulders may have lead to poor Pabu’s exile to Air Bender Island. We also have another case of Bolin not seeing the deviousness in those he likes, in the same way he refused to accept Mako’s assertions that Varrick was up to something in Book 2. It’s also entirely possible that when Bolin joined Kuvira in her mission to restore order to the Earth Kingdom, that mission was completely an altruistic one that has slowly become twisted in the continual path of military victory in Kuvira’s mind. The ride may have remained the same, but the path it’s taken is one that has veered from what Bolin signed on for, and has so far failed to recognize has deviated. I expect Bolin will find out Kuvira’s true plans and this will lead to his departure from the army (he could very well be the sparrow that sings Kuvira’s real ambitions to the rest of the world).
Magnets! Or well, trains! It’s not a coincidence that our first scene in Book 4 is before the Republic City train station, a symbol of the interconnectedness of the Avatar world and also foreshadowing, by way of Kuvira’s use of the train as a means to transport her forces, as a direct threat to Republic City. President Reiko claims that the train station represents a new age, and every proclamation of a new age in Korra usually represents a major upheaval. Speaking of Magnets, it was great to see Varrick is a part of Kuvira’s inner circle, along with Zhu Li and Victory Tea! (VarrickTea Industries) Varrick being Varrick, one must wonder what role he played in pushing the Metal Clan out of Zhaofu.
Air Nomad Peace Force! We learn several things. One, the air nomads have at least in this case, appear to have abandoned their staffs for flying suits, and two, are stretched thin across the Earth Kingdom trying to keep things in good order. The fact the governor complains about the delay in assistance also means another thing, that the air nomads, who stepped in to fill the roles of the Avatar until she recovered, are simply not capable of it based on numbers alone (which one would argue, the avatar is one woman!). It’s also a sign of the level of widespread mayhem and chaos across the Earth Kingdom caused by the fall of the Earth Queen and the revolution set into motion by the Red Lotus (the extent of which has yet to be made clear). However, the air nomads are respected enough that the governor is willing to accept Kai’s recommendation to surrender to Kuvira, albeit inspired by his people suffering.
Korra. We know these things about Korra. One, she’s back on her feet. Two, she has likely been back on her feet for at least six months, the time span from when she left the Southern Water Tribe for Republic City. Three, she’s not the kick butt Avatar she was prior to her fight with Zaheer and the Red Lotus, as showcased by her defeat in the MMA style rock bending fight. In fact, her defeat was terrible enough to encourage a complaint from the fight organizer. Four, Korra has turned away from her status and position as avatar. She flatly denies knowing anything about the Avatar, and not because she’s gone undercover to bust up the underground bending fixed matches ring run by the Republic City Triads. It does make sense that an avatar who has decided to stop being an avatar would pick this form of employment, she doesn’t really have any other skills to fall back on. From the age of a child, she was raised to master fighting forms and outside of serving as a bouncer or private security, she can’t find any other occupations. Mako is in a similar position (minus the lightning bending for power production), but went into law enforcement, to be a protector with his skills. Korra by giving up her mantle of avatar, has already signaled, she no longer wants or believes she can be a protector of society. She would rather fade away into the masses of Republic City.
One thing that signaled to me that the world of Korra was upside down, that things were awry, were our animal companions, Naga and Pabu. In Avatar, when someone has an animal companion, they are inseparable and their absence always noticeable. That is no different in Korra, where Naga was really one of Korra’s few friends before she arrived in Republic City, and was the equivalent of Appa to Aang. Bolin saved Pabu from culinary death and was happy to smuggle him around in his shirt rather than appease the Earth Queen by leaving him back at their visitor’s residence. In this episode, both animals are not with their best friends. Naga arrives with Korra’s father, Tonraq, at Air Bender Island, with Korra’s absence in that moment specifically highlighted by the conversation between him and Tenzin. Pabu, coincidentally, is seen being fed by Jinora at the air bender dinner table, also on Air Bender Island. Meanwhile, Bolin is off riding in a train with the Great Uniter. Arguably, while Pabu and Naga aren’t animal guides to Bolin or Korra, their absence from their lives may symbolize that the two have gone astray from their respective paths.
Side thoughts, Meelo has a crush on Korra. Weird or cute? I don’t know yet. Jinora let her hair grow in, approved. Was Rohan in any of the family shots? I completely didn’t notice him. Tonraq has grey in his hair, being a chief can be a little stressful apparently. Mechs. We knew about the Mechs, but it was the shot of the kid in the Earth Kingdom in one raising his hands excitedly that helped establish how they were viewed. They’re not things of terror, but awesome pieces of weaponry. No explanation yet on the creepy goggled soldiers of the Metal Clan Army. Other than a general storm trooper appearance, that is.
Republic City has embraced the wilds, at least for tourism dollars. Are they as dangerous for humans as they once were thousands of years ago? (Not for the Hobo! Who happened to be friends with some of the same spirits Jinora was interacting with at the start of Book 3) Mako being sent off to Ba Sing Se, as if the President of the United Republic controls him like a vassal. What? Mako can just quit the police force, no? Loves the job too much?
Prince Wu. His design seems influenced by Aang’s Earth King. He is the grandson of the Earth Queen’s sister or brother (‘great aunt’) and is incredibly foppish. Is he set to follow in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, who instead of living in established ignorance, lives in blissful ignorance of the realty of his kingdom? Will he become concerned like his ancestor did about the state of affairs and take an interest? Will he find a bear to be his friend? Regardless, Kuvira very likely stands between him and any real power in the Earth Kingdom.
In all, an okay episode, but one that desperately should have been saddled with a second episode to fully flesh out our characters and the past three years. Next week, I suppose!