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Archive for June, 2012

How the Finale of “Korra” Ruined the Entire Series

Four days later, my reaction to the ultimate conclusion of The Legend of Korra is no longer violent, but no less angry. I haven’t been this infuriated by the end of a story since watching M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village*. Incidentally enough, both endings have the exact same problem: they are both completely catastrophic letdowns that rob all that preceded them of its excellence.

I’m not the only person who thinks so. I’ve gone through several negative fan reactions, and they raise the same problems. There are, however, a few opinions that differed slightly from mine that had to do with unanswered questions (e.g. just how could Amon take people’s Bending away?) and the back story of Amon and Tarrlok.

Personally, I thought the tragic back story of Amon—his real name is Noatak—and Tarrlok was just fine. And I didn’t mind that Amon’s great power was left a mystery, among other things (e.g. how come Amon failed to take away all of Korra’s Bending? Why is that process so selective?). No, my issue has to do almost exclusively with the Deus Ex Machina of a denouement: when Korra gets her Bending back thanks to Avatar Aang.

I have to admit, I was greatly enjoying the finale up until that point. As far as I can remember, the action scenes and the more emotional sequences were handled incredibly well. Some things were a little ridiculous, like General Iroh’s Iron Man flight.(And the giant Amon mask on the Aang statue’s face was just dumb.) However, the back story of the brothers Tarrlok and Amon was probably the most effective aspect of the entire series, and Tarrlok’s murder-suicide was the most shocking, most tragic, and most moving moment.

In fact, re-examining Tarrlok’s suicide only makes me detest Korra’s “resurrection” even more. I’ll discuss that later.

Not “If,” But “How”

To understand my absolutely disgust for the moment Korra receives her Bending back, it’s best that you know where my mind was right before it happened.

The instance Amon took away Korra’s Bending was, aside from Tarrlok’s murder-suicide, the most unexpected yet properly set-up moment in the show, and I was surprised that creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were able to go through on it. When I saw that she could Airbend, I was momentarily confused, but I accepted it: in a childish sort of way, it made sense. After that, everyone kept going on about how there was absolutely no way they could heal Korra and restored her Bending. Not even Katara, the greatest healer in the world, could do anything for her.

That sort of made me sad, but in the back of my head was always the same thought: she’s going to get her Bending back eventually. She’s the Avatar after all, and the world stills needs their savior. Besides, we all know that there’s a Book Two in the works.

With the idea of her gaining her powers back an inevitability, the big question followed: how will she get them back?

That’s when my expectations got the better of me. The possibilities of Korra truly going on a spiritual journey and becoming a wiser, stronger, and more emotionally stable human being who didn’t need to always depend on physical strength before anything…well, that struck me as the most daring thing these guys could do!

Well…besides having her do that

One could argue that such a storyline would merely be a revised version of the story of Avatar: the Last Airbender: the Avatar-in-training who only knows how to Airbend must learn (read: re-learn) the other elements in order to bring balance to the world. But since Korra already has the aggressive temperament that Aang lacked (which was part of Aang’s struggle, and which was a big part of Korra’s appeal), it would be interesting seeing her somehow regain her once native abilities by other means.

Remember back in Avatar how Zuko temporarily lost his Firebending because his motivation (CAPTURE THE AVATAR!) had changed? Then he needed to go back to the original source of all Firebending (dragons) to regain it? Certainly something similar could happen with Korra and all the other elements. (Of course, an antagonist bent on world domination will be needed to give Korra an opposition and to keep the action fans entertained through all this inner journey crap.) Not only does this plausibly set up a solution to Korra’s Bending problem within the laws and boundaries of the Avatar universe, it keeps in line with the show’s theme of the learning process: sometimes you must completely unlearn previous skills and habits in order to truly become a master.

Which brings me to my basic point: by giving Korra her Bending back at the very last minute, DiMartino and Konietzko unwittingly severe the possibility of a much richer and much more mature storyline. The possibility for which they carefully set up for in their own damn show.

Setting Up for Disaster

Korra is established as an aggressive, abrasive, arrogant, and all around macho person. Her image of herself is strong and fearless, never willing to back down from a fight. And why would she be? She’s the fucking Avatar, so she’s probably the most physically powerful person on the planet. One then has to wonder if her arrogance is the direct result of her being the Avatar and having the upper hand on people, or if that part of her personality was merely there all along? Frankly, there is no evidence of the latter: we never see her before she discovered her Avatar abilities. Hell, the first time we see her at all, she’s around five-years-old and already abusing the Hell out of her powers.

The scene with her as a wild child is cute and funny, but also damning: right away we see the tragic flaw of Korra. Her Bending has been the foundation from which she’s built her entire personality on, and to have that taken away from her would be the most devastating blow to her very existence.

And who better to pose a threat to that identity than someone who can take Bending away from people? Enter Amon, the leader of the Equalists and the only man in the world who knows how to do that very deed. Upon witnessing this evil first-hand, Korra naturally reacts with fear. And it’s quite possible that this is the first time in her life that Korra has ever truly experienced fear, for this is the first real threat to her image and way of life. (Forget that she’s the Avatar, the duty for which Bending is an automatic prerequisite.)

Naturally, Korra tries to hide this fear from everyone, because the last thing a macho person wants to appear is weak. In “The Voice in the Night, ” this leads to her even challenging Amon to a one-on-one night fight, probably the stupidest thing she ever did in the show. Of course, coming that close to losing her Bending—since Amon spares her as part of his master plan—should have taught her to pick her battles more carefully, but no: for the most part, she still insists on going after Amon herself to face him. Those lessons about “patience” are still secondary to her image as a tough guy**.

Ultimately, that attitude costs her her Bending. Suddenly, our protagonist, who spent her entire life trying to appear strong, is rendered weak and vulnerable for the first time. From a physical standpoint, that is, which is crucial because it reveals just how little inner strength she had, having compensated it with her undeniable outer strength.

Here’s the catch: the show seems to imply that if Amon hadn’t taken away her native Bending abilities, then Korra would never have been able to awaken her Airbending and her spiritual side, which was the catalyst for the entire series. She was just fundamentally unbalanced. But now she can Airbend and get in touch with her spiritual side. That, above anything else, should be the first step towards her truly becoming the Avatar.

But there is yet another aspect of Korra’s character that would have made a spiritual/re-learning journey storyline much more endearing: for most of her life, she has been a very privileged girl. Except for Airbending, she is born a natural Bender—not necessarily a prodigy—and has been trained, looked after, and taken care of by the Order of the White Lotus for most of her life. If she had any major conflicts during her childhood that shaped her, then the series sure doesn’t let us in on any of them.

Korra, despite being a generally nice kid, may have grown up under the impression that being the Avatar gives her free reign to do whatever and get whatever she pleases. It doesn’t, as the first episode “Welcome to Republic City” carefully demonstrates. She can’t get free food, she can’t fish in the city park, she can’t go stopping crime if it’s going to result in major property damage, and she can’t just have the charges dropped against her (including resisting arrest) simply because she’s the Avatar.

A major part of Korra’s character development seemed to revolve around the idea that life comes with certain rules, and to break them only generates setbacks and dire consequences, whether they are the rules of Pro-Bending or the rules of relationships (e.g. knocking an opponent out of the side of the ring is just as foul as moving in on another girl’s man). Basically, you can’t always get what you want, which is something Korra appears to come to terms with by “The Aftermath,” when she tells Mako that Asami will really need his love and support in light of recent events. It’s an extremely mature gesture on Korra’s part. [A gesture that is subsequently made pointless by the fact that she and Mako get together in the end anyway, but that’s a whole other discussion (besides, it’s not the last time DiMartino and Konietzko rendered a previously noble gesture completely unnecessary).]

It’s also worth noting that Korra’s life of relative privilege contrasts sharply with the harsher lives of Mako and Bolin. In a revealing conversation in “The Revelation,” Korra mentions that she never had a need for money, as she was always taken care of by others. As a result, she was never exposed to the more brutal realities of life that the brothers experienced after losing their parents as kids. In fact, Korra seems to have very little exposure to the world outside the Southern Water Tribe, making her a tad bit naïve, to say the least***.

The contrast in Korra’s lifestyle—in which nearly everything was given to her—and the brother’s—in which they had to work for everything—established yet another possible direction for Korra’s development. For the first time in her life, she had to really work for and earn the things she wanted. Airbending wasn’t just going to come easily, she had to rework her entire way to thinking. And gradually, she kind of did. Even if Amon was the ultimate reason for her unlocked Airbending, she probably couldn’t have knocked him out of that window without at least some lessons in Airbending etiquette.

Finally, the prospect of her having to earn her other Bending powers back would have cemented the validity of that theme. Her ability to Airbend and the newly acquired spiritual guidance from Avatar Aang and the other past Avatars would certainly be of help. She could finally get in touch with those aspects of herself that received no attention because her initial aggressive personality would not allow it. She could rebuild herself from there.

But it was not to be. Aang shows up, says something about hitting rock bottom doing something, and just gives Korra her Bending back. She even goes into the Avatar State, because that’s what everyone was waiting for, right? Once again, Korra didn’t have to work for anything, learn anything, or sacrifice anything. She’s simply handed what she wants because she was at her lowest point. With literally seconds of story to go, DiMartino and Konietzko successfully create a domino effect which destroys the significance of nearly everything that came before.

(A quick note on Aang’s Energybending: now it certainly makes sense that he would be able to take away and give back the Bending of others****. My gripe with Energybending is how it’s used both in Avatar and in Korra as an all-too-convenient Deus Ex Machina for our heroes. I don’t think it ruined Avatar‘s story too much, but in Korra, the damage is beyond repair.)

For example, doesn’t the fact that Lin Bei Fong gets her Bending back after she very nobly sacrificed herself to save Tenzin and his family take away that moment’s power? (On top of that, Tenzin and his family got caught anyway, but never mind: Lin still gets an “A” for failure.)

And what about this: seconds after Korra goes into the Avatar State, she sees that Mako is behind her, happily goes to him, and says, “I love you, too.” Moments before Aang showed up, Korra had a difficult time accepting Mako’s love because she was no longer the Avatar, but now that she’s the old Korra again, she can be with him. I’m sorry, but am I the only one who sees that as kind of fucked up? It’s almost as if she’s saying, “Now that I’m the most powerful person in the world again, I accept your love, loser.” (At least, that’s how it comes across to me.)

Originally, I figured Korra refused Mako’s confession of love because of his clumsy timing***** and wording. In Korra’s mind, he might as well have said one of two things: 1) “I love you [because you’re a loser]”; or 2) “I love you [in spite of you being a loser].” (The latter is slightly better, but you get the idea.)

Now, however, that “I love you, too” really just puts Korra in a very negative light during those scenes. She seems motivated more by pride and self-pity than anything else. If it’s true that she was contemplating suicide on the edge of that cliff (more on that later), then she was simply being immature and melodramatic. (Then again, she is a teenager!) Maybe her first step to real maturity would have been to realize this contemplation as such. That would have been an interesting direction.

I also must address the idea that this is supposed to be Korra’s “rock bottom.” Why is that? Because she lost her sense of identity and contemplated suicide? From my experience, that’s called being depressed. On the other hand, attempting suicide—actively taking the necessary steps to end your existence—is much closer to “rock bottom.” This is most especially true in fiction: how many times do you see a character merely contemplate the act? Most of the time, they either go through with it—success rates vary—or they come pretty damn close only to either be saved and/or to find the inner strength to keep living******. (Hell, I think The Avengers has a quick line about how Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk, tried to commit suicide when he “got low.”) But of course, they’d never show a character trying to commit suicide in a kids’ show.

Oh, wait…

Now, if I just happened to be on the writing staff for Korra—a writing staff which never existed because DiMartino and Konietzko wrote every episode themselves*******—this is when I’d say to them, “Come on, guys! Don’t bring up the subject and expect us to accept your pussyfooting around it next time! Go ahead! Let her try to commit suicide!

“Actually, better yet: have her try to commit suicide and fail. Why does she fail? Because she inadvertently activates her Avatar State, saving her life. See? Not only does is this plausible within the Avatar universe, but if she can still go into the Avatar State, then doesn’t that let us know that there’s hope for her after all? That there is she a way can still become the Avatar? Cue the spiritual journey!”

And regarding Aang’s line about “rock bottom”: “When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.” That line would have some actual heft to it if, you know, we actually got to see Korra change. Which we don’t. And more importantly, we don’t see the change—if they even was one—come from Korra herself.

The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few

I completely buy into the idea that Korra was contemplating suicide on the edge of that cliff, and that she didn’t have the guts to go through with it. The filmmaking does just enough to drive that point across. But here’s why it still doesn’t work.

After Amon’s true identity is revealed, he frees Tarrlok and they both get away on a boat. Amon goes on about how they can start a new life together, “just like the good ol’ days.” Tarrlok, however, will have none of this, opting to kill himself (and his brother with him) rather than live with Amon/Noatak.

The reason this moment holds such power is because of Tarrlok’s motivation. He clearly regrets how his life has turned out, and how his genuine aspirations to make the world a better place were so misguided thanks to his father. (I’m paraphrasing, but this is sort of goes along the lines of, “The sins of the father shall be visited upon the children.”) This separates him from his brother, who has the same aspirations, but lacks the recognition that his means to that end are horribly flawed, and only make things worse. Deep down, Tarrlok probably realizes that, even if he somehow got away from his brother and rose to power again, he would never be able to achieve his goal. He just doesn’t have the mindset for it. Of course, his brother doesn’t realize that and wants to try again. This, Tarrlok cannot abide, and so his solution to kill himself and his brother is actually as noble as it is tragic: in a world where neither of them is capable of doing good, the best thing they can do is no longer exist in it.

Suicide is often referred to as “the coward’s way out” probably because people are horrified by the notion of it sometimes being the only way out. When the best contribution you can make to the world involves the active eradication of your own existence, that is truly “rock bottom.”

Additionally, the fact that Tarrlok had the guts to go through with it and Korra didn’t…well, that just goes to further show what a pussy she really is. (I’m kidding, but still….)

Let’s go back to Korra on the edge of the cliff, where suicide is no longer a far-fetched speculation. What if—and this is a big what if—her contemplation was primarily concerned not with herself, but with the world? That is to say, what if she was willing to kill herself not out of self-pity—which would be typical—but out of a recognition of the greater good? Remember, when the Avatar dies, he/she is reincarnated in a whole other person. The world still needs their savior, and since Korra is clearly in no position to be that savior, her suicide would allow that responsibility to go to someone who would be. That would be the ultimate self-sacrifice.

That would have been a real ending! It would have been a brave, challenging ending. It would have been one of the most remarkable endings in all of television.

But alas, Korra is still very much a kids’ show. (This is a show that won’t allow a pilot to die if his plane blows up. Could you imagine if Star Wars wouldn’t allow that?) Death, let alone suicide, is not something reserved for the main character, no matter how noble such a death would be. No need trying to depress the little ones, now is there?

But then, they wouldn’t have to. The possibility I proposed earlier in which she inadvertently activates her Avatar State could have worked.

But I might as well stop pondering such possibilities, for they are no longer such. Instead, they shall be mournfully labeled “what could have been,” if only Nickelodeon was brave enough and/or DiMartino and Konietzko were persuasive and uncompromising enough.

Where Do We Go From Here?

A lot of people are wondering: where exactly can The Legend of Korra go from here? What new adventures can Korra and friends get into next now that Amon is no longer a threat? Will there still be Equalists to deal with? Or will a new villain emerge? With Korra given all four elements now, how will she develop as a person and the new Avatar?

Personally, I could care less what Book Two will be about, because, unless they surprise me with something truly new and stunning, nothing DiMartino and Konietzko come up with will ever be as intriguing and rewarding as the potential storyline they destroyed with Book One’s last-minute happy ending.

Objectively, the series still has undeniable merits. Tarrlok’s back story and suicide-murder will probably remain the most emotionally affecting aspect of the series, and the series as a whole is beautifully drawn and cinematically kinetic (episodes like “And The Winner Is…” still stand as excellent showcases of wonderful animation filmmaking).

But in the end, the emotional connection to this material has been severed. I was betrayed, let down, and cheated. The wonderful drama that was so real and involving turned out to be nothing more than a fake and manipulative rouse. I suppose my feelings towards DiMartino and Konietzko are the same as the lieutenant’s towards Amon after he witnessed him Bloodbend. “How could you do this to me after I invested so much into you?” (Besides, what inspired this blog anyway but a lot of disappointment and a lot of love?)

Quite possibly the most disillusioning part of this whole ordeal is what it says about DiMartino and Konietzko as storytellers. They seem to be masters of hooking you in, but when it comes to paying everything off, they sorely disappoint********. I guess I was more forgiving towards Avatar‘s Deus Ex Machina because: 1) I never cared too much for Aang’s story anyway (I never thought I’d use that as a positive attribute of that show); and 2) the show’s success was never that dependent on its ultimate conclusion.

Avatar was more like a collection of short stories barely held together by an underlying plot and the world they took place in. Episodes like “The Southern Raiders” were free to stand alone as pieces of self-contained brilliance. Sadly not the case with Korra, where every episode built on each other in a more coherent and thematic way. If this is what these two plan to do with all of their stories, then consider me less than enthusiastic for the inevitable Book Two. I’ll certainly still watch it out of morbid curiosity, but I sure as Hell won’t be investing myself in it.

And so I close with a direct address to Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko themselves: you guys have certainly inspired me in my own creative endeavors, and your positive contributions to animation and storytelling are greatly appreciated, but this ending is unforgivable. You’ve ruined your show, your fan base, and my faith in you as reliable storytellers in a world where so few exist.

In the words of Greg Focker, I just have one question for you: “Can you deal with THAT?!”

*I realize the irony of comparing DiMartino and Konietzko’s work to that of M. Night Shyamalan. Considering the two never speak publicly about The Last Airbender, I wonder what they would make of this comparison.

**I say “guy” because I believe Roger Ebert is on to something when he called the heroine of Brave an “honorary boy.” That label is certainly applicable to Korra.

***Didn’t the Avatar used to have to travel the world in order to master all the elements? The show seems to imply that she was stuck in the Southern Water Tribe all those years of her training. Why? Was the conflict in Republic City that bad that no where else in the world was a safe place to train the new Avatar? I know DiMartino and Konietzko wanted to set Korra in one general location, but I feel like they didn’t think this all the way through.

****Someone brought up a very important point: in Avatar, Bending is impossible to do in the Spirit World. So Aang shouldn’t have been able to Energybend Korra’s powers back even if he wanted to. Good Lord, this show just keeps getting worse!

*****Interestingly, everyone silently scolds Bolin for looking on the bright side when he says, “At least you finally unlocked your Airbending!” Mako tells him, “Bro, not the time.” So, there’s no time for positive thinking, but there is time for goofy love proclamations? I don’t get it.

******For a great example of the latter, see the film Umberto D. No, I’ve spoiled nothing for you. Watch that film now and you’ll still be crying your eyes out.

*******Perhaps one of the problems with the writing is that they didn’t have the expert guidance of Avatar head writer Aaron Ehasz, nor did they have a John O’Bryan to use as a scapegoat.

********I was on the verge of labeling them as unreliable as screenwriter David Koepp, but that’s taking the criticism a little too far.

All screenshots taken by me.

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Announcement: Expect a Better Explanation for my Disappointment with the Ending of “Korra”

As the title suggests, a much more in-depth explanation for my pure hatred for the ending of The Legend of Korra is in the works at the moment. It’s been eating away at me since the finale last Saturday, and will probably continue to until I finally examine why.

Hopefully this doesn’t interfere with my usual Avatar: the Last Airbender reviews, but if it does, I will certainly let you know.

– Marshall Turner


Chapter Fifty and Fifty-One: “The Day of Black Sun”

9

(Rating Out of 15)

11

(Rating Out of 15)

I usually complain about episodes that contain more filler than they do plot, but with “The Day of Black Sun,” it’s damn near the opposite: there’s too much plot, and not enough of anything else.

Let’s put it this way: “The Day of Black Sun” is a vital couple of episodes in the series. We need to see our heroes attempt to attack the Fire Nation during the solar eclipse. We need to see that their plan fails because Azula knew about it all along. We need to see Zuko confront his father before he leaves to join the Avatar. We need to see that Iroh escaped from prison. We need to see that the Fire Nation has created those air balloons and zeppelins. This is a huge turning point.

And yet, I was absolutely bored throughout much “The Day of Black Sun” (especially part one; part two has some redeeming moments). This feels less like an actual episode and more like a dutiful set-up for the remainder of the series. There’s so much going on, and yet very little of it resonates. And despite the fact that a big battle was taking place, I just didn’t care about the fates of any of the characters.

I guess before I go into what I think went wrong, I’ll start off with what actually works in “They Day of Black Sun.” (Not my usual routine, but I’m desperate here!)

Part One is without a doubt the inferior of the two, but it has some good things. It was fun seeing a lot of the past characters all in one place. I particularly liked the Boulder’s explanation for his arrival. No longer fighting for entertaining, he fights for the Earth Kingdom. How noble of him, but how strange that he still talks in his usual exaggerated manner and refers to himself in third-person. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

Aang and Katara’s final exchange in Part One is really nice. Neither one really wants to contemplate the idea of never seeing each other again, but just to be on the safe side, Aang finally gains the courage to kiss her before flying off to fight the Firelord.

And isn’t it wonderful to see Uncle Iroh again? He appears to have made friends with a guard named Ming who is kind enough to sneak in extra bowls of rice and other things just for him. In return, Iroh subtly warns her not to be in or around the prison that afternoon, for that’s when he’ll make his escape (the aftermath of which we see in Part Two).

In Part Two, we actually get some emotional moments.

I’m sure everyone remembers the scene in which Zuko confronts his father, pretty much spelling out why his father sucks and why how he’s going to right the Fire Nation’s wrongs by joining the Avatar. Firelord Ozai predictably reacts with venomous anger, baiting Zuko to stay just long enough for the eclipse to end. How does he bait him? Why, by telling the poor kid that his mother was not killed in his place, but actually banished, which means she might still be alive (a source of much interests by fans, and subsequently a source of much trolling by DiMartino and Konietzko*).

It’s pretty horrifying—but strangely not surprising—that Ozai would be so quick to try to murder his son once the eclipse finished. That makes Zuko’s triumph in deflecting Ozai’s lightning all the more incredible. The kid finally gets his wish from “Bitter Work,” and he pulls through magnificently.

Elsewhere, in trying to find the Firelord, Aang, Sokka, and Toph instead find Azula, who wastes all the time they have during the eclipse by leading a pointless chase. By the time the kids figure this out, it’s too late: she manages to bait Sokka by telling him that Suki gave up hope that he would ever save her. Listen to the pain and anger in Sokka’s voice, and you’ll understand why I feel Jack De Sena should stop trying to be funny and stick to dramatic voice acting. That’s where his real calling lies.

On the lighter side, isn’t it nice to see that Toph has finally found a formidable opponent in Azula? Toph cannot tell when Azula is lying, even when it’s blatantly obvious. That and Azula’s obligatory blind joke provide two of the best laughs in this episode.

Another great laugh is provided by the surrender of a group of Firebenders during the eclipse. You’ve got to admire their spirit, if not their stupidity. (Were they not paying attention when their superiors warned practically everyone else what the eclipse did to their Firebending?)

I feel rather silly having to list the moments I found worthy in these episodes, but there you have it. Are they enough to save the episodes? Part Two, probably, but Part One is another story entirely, and where the bulk of my criticisms lie.

It’s a problem I had with “The Siege of the North,” and it’s a problem I have here: DiMartino and Konietzko and company simply do not know how to handle large-scale action sequences. And it’s not the fact that no one seems capable of dying in these battles. I’m now convinced that this is partially a mandate of being a kids’ show, but also a personal choice made by DiMartino and Konietzko and company—especially when you take in account how carefully they show the realities of war in other effective ways.

No, my problem is not that the characters don’t die so much as I don’t care if they live. I would not be moved in the slightly if anything happened to, say, the Boulder, because the show has done nothing to convince me he is worth getting emotional invested in. The same goes for those Waterbending hillbillies. And when it comes to the people we actually do care about—Aang, Zuko, and friends—there’s no suspense there either. We’ve still got ten episodes to go, so nothing too bad can happen to our heroes.

Contrast that attitude with how I felt during the climax of “The Puppetmaster.” Even though I knew how it would end, I was still invested in the action. The stakes were high because of the emotions involved, not just the physical action. In fact, episodes like “The Puppetmaster” have a much stronger impact upon re-watching them because we cared so much in the first place. It’s kind of like how you remember a dangerous time in your own life and recognize just how easily things could have gone horribly wrong. “I was this close to losing everything!”

That emotionality is missing from “The Day of Black Sun,” but the other issue involves the more technical aspects of the show. Whenever there is CGI used—especially for the submarines—it looks absolutely awful. And it’s not because of Rigid Action Syndrome, but rather because the CGI doesn’t communicate the heaviness and physics you’d expect from such cumbersome modes of transportation. Too often I feel like I’m watching someone play a cheap video game.

Finally–and you knew this was coming–here’s my problem with Sokka’s failed attempt at public speaking: it’s almost funny.  It teeters on the edge of being really, really funny, but for some reason, I never laugh. If anything, I just wind up embarrassed for Sokka. There’s something in De Sena’s delivery makes you really want to pity this guy, because he’s clearly making an ass of himself in front of all those people. It’s not a pretty sight. I was relieved when his dad finally came onstage to shut him up.

Bottom line: “The Day of Black Sun” is a chore to sit through. But the good news is it’s the last episode of Avatar: the Last Airbender to be so. The remaining episodes—with the exception of “The Ember Island Players”—are all great, and some are even the best in the entire series. For that, I’m willing to forgive “The Day of Black Sun” for not being that entertaining. As far as dull but important episodes go, at least it’s better than “Appa’s Lost Days.”

*To an extent, I can understand why being asked the same question over and over again (“Where’s Zuko’s mom?”) would get on their nerves, especially since they didn’t even pretend to have an answer. Trolling never solved anything, though. Just ask the Simpsons writers.

All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.


Random Thoughts on “The Legend of Korra” Finale and the Series as a Whole

(Note: Yeah, I pretty much failed to keep up with my The Legend of Korra reviews, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give a few first impressions. Except spoilers.)

  • I’m still on the fence as to whether The Legend of Korra is actually better than Avatar: the Last Airbender or not. It certainly has Avatar beat in terms of technical aspects and consistency. But then, no episode of Korra really reaches the emotional highs of, say, “The Southern Raiders.”
  • Korra has not changed at all throughout this series. It can hardly be called progress that the only reason she is finally able to Airbend is because the rest of her Bending was taken by Amon.
  • “Skeletons in the Closet” is probably the episode that comes closest to reaching the greatness of Avatar‘s best episodes. Isn’t it strange that the villains are always the ones with the most interesting and moving back stories?
  • Bloodbending remains the most horrifying aspect of the Avatar universe. Watching these characters in such agony under this evil power is really nauseating.
  • It’s nice to hear Dante Basco’s voice again.
  • Is the lieutenant dead? Is Asami’s father dead?
  • Isn’t it strange that the villains have the most tragic—and most emotionally affecting—ends in the Avatar universe? First, Azula’s mental collapse breaks me down, and now here’s Tarrlok killing himself and his brother.
  • When I saw Tenzin and his three children tied up on stage at the Equalist rally, I literally freaked out. And then they were freed and they escaped so easily that now I feel cheaply manipulated. That’s really low, guys.
  • DiMartino and Konietzko come pretty damn close to finally making a large-scale action sequence that works. The battle between the planes and the ships may not be that exciting, but it is so well-crafted that I don’t mind too much.
  • We never do find out how Amon (his real name escapes me at the moment) knew how to take people’s Bending away.
  • There’s a great line about hobos that needs to be itched in stone for all to appreciate (if only I could remember it).
  • Asami has become extremely passive-aggressive. Some “strong female character” she is!
  • General Iroh’s take down of those planes is probably the most ridiculous action sequence in the entire series. I felt like I was watching Iron Man by accident.
  • That idea to put the Amon mask on the Avatar Aang statue’s face is just silly.
  • Finally, the very ending of the finale–in which Avatar Aang appears to give Korra back her Bending–infuriated in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time. Not only did it feel like a deus ex machina, it totally ruins what could have been a great storyline for Book Two, as well as a much deeper meditation on equality and pride.

Bottom line: I’m glad I watched it, but that ending…


Chapter Forty-Nine: “Nightmares & Daydreams”

10

(Rating Out of 15)

Watching “Nightmares & Daydreams” right after the dark and masterful “The Puppetmaster” is akin to visiting a beautiful beach resort right after it was hit by a hurricane. Despite the place being littered with debris, garbage, and maybe even some dead bodies, its patrons attempt to go on having fun just like they did in the good old days before disaster struck. Their spirit is admirable, yet disappointing. In failing to acknowledge the storm, they fail to make things better.

At this point in the series, do we really need episodes like “Nightmares & Daydreams?” It’s silliness and borderline inconsequentiality harkens back to the few entertaining episodes of Book One, and that can hardly be called progress. I mean, I understand what the episode is trying to do. After all, DiMartino and Konietzko and company have almost always followed dark episodes with lighter ones, probably so not to send the little ones who make up their core demographic into too much despair. I appreciate the concept, but as with much of anything in this show, the results vary greatly. At best, we get “The Chase” after “Zuko Alone.” At worst, there was “The Great Divide” after “Jet” (the latter of which wasn’t even a good episode to begin with).

“Nightmares & Daydreams” fits somewhere in the middle: in spite of how bizarre and pointless it is, it’s still rather entertaining and contributes at least something to the overall story (mostly on Zuko’s side). Naturally, I’d have preferred something a little more stable and meaningful—again, especially coming after “The Puppetmaster,” the best episode since “The Crossroads of Destiny”—but given what we’re given, it could have been worse.

The crux of the episode revolves around Aang and his anxiety over fighting Firelord Ozai during the invasion. Why he chooses now to stress over this is beyond me. (With all the craziness and fun going on in the past few episodes, did he just forget?) To make matters worse for Aang, he and the kids arrived at the rendezvous point four days ahead of schedule. What is he supposed to do for four days?

It’s my belief that Avatar is always at its funniest when it’s strictly about the characters and their situations. Self-referencial jokes by the creators or jokes that reference other works usually fall flat. There have been exceptions (e.g. that over-the-top metal armor in “Sokka’s Master”), but for the most part, this sort of meta-humor is really not DiMartino and Konietzko and company’s strong suit. (See “The Ember Island Players.”)

That’s why I really don’t like the first two nightmare sequences. They’re obviously poking fun at a few anime excess—hence Aang’s bizarre hairdos*—which really have nothing to do with the Avatar universe. More importantly, they distract from the surreal quality of the nightmares themselves, which is where the real interest (and the real humor) lies.

Like this whole pants business.

The next nightmare is much better, in which Firelord Ozai himself wakes Aang up to tell him he overslept and missed the invasion. Anyone who has dreamed about missing a deadline, only to awaken and discover there’s still time left, can relate to this.

Right down to the flying cows.

The final nightmare is the best, and the one with the most surrealistic quality. I don’t know what this is an homage to—as far as I’m concerned, it’s way too out there to be an original creation of DiMartino and Konietzko and company—but it absolutely works. It almost has a Bunuel quality in which none of the images seem to connect, and yet they somehow do. I won’t get into these images right now, but I will say that my favorite of these is the shot of Momo’s shushing gesture.

No matter what his friends do, they can’t seem to get Aang to calm down. Katara’s sauna yoga fails, as does Wang Fire’s therapy—which ends in a hilarious bit of head nodding—and Toph’s special treatments. Well, at least they tried, and isn’t that what friends are for?

Aang’s final solution: stay awake until the day of the invasion, all the while brushing up on his training. Of course, this is an incredibly stupid idea: for all his brain dead paranoia, it’s surprising he doesn’t consider the possibility of falling asleep while fighting the Firelord. On top of that, he begins having strange hallucinations, ranging from getting smooth with Katara to witnessing a samurai duel between Momo and Appa. Maybe that last one goes a bit too far in terms of silliness, but I’m fine with it.

All’s well that ends well, though. Aang finally goes to sleep when his friends make him a big comfy bed out of koala-sheep** wool.

Finish that off with another silly dream sequence (see, this time it’s the Firelord who has no pants) and that’s it for Aang and friends.

But wait! Zuko is in this episode, too! Haven’t seen him in a while.

He’s still adjusting to the royal life, which is not at all what he hoped it would be. Sure, he can boss people around and not have to worry about being invited to important war meetings. But he quickly learns that the role of “perfect prince” doesn’t suit him at all.

At least he has Mai. He can’t confide in her emotionally like he could with Uncle Iroh, but at least she’s someone he can hang out with. Some company is better than none, something I always tell my friends during those rare moments that I actually talk to them.

To tell the truth, this is probably the least eventful—I don’t want to say “worst”—Zuko side story in the entire series. This side story has a very basic point, and it gets it across well, but beyond that, it’s not very entertaining. I guess they wanted a sane, grounded story to go along side the zany trippy antics of Aang.

Not that I’m complaining. Zuko’s track record still outshines Aang’s in terms of emotional involvement and entertainment value. And besides, it will be fully rectified in the next few episodes, when Zuko actually joins Aang and friends. Now there’s something to look forward to!

Oh, and guess who wrote this episode? Come on, take a wild guess.

*This did remind me, however, that, all things considered, Avatar is much, much more realistic than your average anime when it comes to certain aesthetics–hairstyles being one of them–and I’m really grateful for that.

**Admittedly, although I hate hybrid animals, I love the koala-sheep. Talk about a truly inspired combination.

All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.


Chapter Forty-Eight: “The Puppetmaster”

15

(Rating Out of 15)

Mind control used to be one of my most irrational fears. To an extent, it still is, but “The Puppetmaster” has me convinced that “puppetry,” or body control, is just as bad, if not worse. At the very least, mind control alleviates you of consciousness and the memory of having done whatever your controller made you do. Puppetry provides no such solace; you are very much aware of what you’re doing, and you are powerless to stop yourself; you’re an innocent bystander to your own crime.

Within the Avatar universe, “puppetry” is possible thanks to a vile Waterbending technique known as Bloodbending. Even now, Bloodbending remains one of the most disturbing concepts ever introduced into the series. The idea that someone could control you by manipulating your blood is nauseating to even think about. Can you imagine how painful that would be? Is it any wonder that the technique would be deemed illegal seventy years later in The Legend of Korra?

By the end of Book One, I sort of came to terms with the fact that Bending would probably never be taken to some of its logical and more gruesome conclusions since this was a kids’ show (i.e. you’ll never see cute little Aang collapse someone’s lungs with Airbending). Book Two immediately changed that when Katara was nearly buried alive by an Earthbender, and later when Aang (likely) killed a buzzard-wasp with a blast of air. Hell, by the end of Book Two, Aang himself was nearly killed by a lightning strike to the back. These moments didn’t necessarily demonstrate the gruesome conclusions I had in my head, but they allowed for the possibility of them. Whoever said, “The threat of violence is more powerful than the violence itself” was definitely right. A world in which something as horrible as Bloodbending is imaginable by the audience and the characters is a pretty frightening world.

Having said all that, no concept, not even one as intriguing and repulsive as Bloodbending, is worth a damn if it’s not supported by good writing. In fact, lousy writing can rob a concept or theme of its potential and validity (something Korra sadly proved).

The genius of “The Puppetmaster” is that not only does Bloodbending not even factor into the main story until the last act, but when it does, it is a shocking yet totally natural development to an already gripping narrative. This is exactly how horror stories should be: the fear does not simply arises from the object of terror, but from the fact that we genuinely care about the people who encounter it, and we hope they make it out all right.

A quick summary of the plot: in the middle of the night, our heroes are found by an innkeeper named Hama, who offers them lodging. The full moon is fast approaching, and the town she lives in is infamous for people disappearing every night the moon is full. Aang, Sokka, and Toph decide to investigate this weird phenomenon. Meanwhile, Katara warms up more and more to Hama, especially after finding out that she’s a former resident of the Southern Water Tribe and a master Waterbender.

The script for “The Puppetmaster” (penned by Tim Hedrick) may just be the most perfectly crafted in the entire series. There’s not a single wasted moment. Every joke hits the right mark. None of the exposition feels forced. Everything builds up to the climax brilliantly. Like the very best episodes of Avatar, the writing puts absolute faith in its long-time audience; specific character quirks and motivations weave in and out of the story in a manner that’s both clever and casual. The result is an episode so organic as to feel inevitable, which ultimately makes it that much more emotional.

As for those specific characterizations: 1) Toph Bends her meteor rock from “Sokka’s Master” into a key to open a chest; 2) Aang initially believes spirits may be kidnapping the town folks, since something similar happened way back in “Winter Solstice”; 3) Toph’s Earthbending abilities help them find the missing citizens; and, in one of the episode’s most subtle and funniest jokes, 4) Sokka’s sword never once gets used simply as a sword until the last act, and when he’s not even in control of himself. Master Piandao would be proud.

Clearly this story could not be told anywhere but in the Avatar universe.

The emotional core and drive of “The Puppetmaster,” however, belongs entirely to Katara, and the rise and fall of her relationship with Hama. This episode is the first in what should be called the Katara trilogy (followed by “The Western Air Temple” and “The Southern Raiders”), which constitutes Katara’s darkest hour in the series.

We know that Katara is not quick to forgive those who betray her (as witnessed in the case of Jet and Zuko), but her betrayal by Hama is the absolute nadir. This sweet old lady was just too good to be true: a Waterbending gal from the Souther Water Tribe. The last of her kind. Just like Katara! Hama is more than just a kindred spirit and a generous mentor: she’s the quintessential maternal figure for a girl like Katara, especially since she’d lost her real mother.

So why, oh why did she have to turn out to be evil?

Hama has the distinction of being the only villain in Avatar to successfully gain our sympathy and then lose it once she is indeed revealed to be a villain (it’s typically vice versa, as in the case of Azula and even Ozai). The flashbacks to her young days–in which Fire Nation raids ultimately led in the capture and imprisonment of every Waterbender in the Southern Water Tribe—is gut-wrenching, especially in the single shot that reveals Hama to be the last captive. That she surrenders without a fight is simply heartbreaking.

But for every cloud there’s a silver lining: Hama never in all her years imagined she’d ever see another Waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe. (It should be noted that the fate of all the other Waterbenders is never made clear.) As an noted bonus, Katara is young and eager to learn: the perfect soul to pass on Southern traditions and wisdom before she passes away.

I don’t even have to mention how ecstatic Katara is about this. It’s all there in Mae Whitman’s vocal performance, the best she ever gave in my opinion. The excitement and sympathy she conveys is absolutely touching in and of itself. On subsequent viewings, however, that same emotional performance becomes absolutely devastating, especially since we know Hama’s true intentions. (Compare it to Grey DeLisle’s performance as Azula in the finale—particularly in her twisted devotion to her father—in light of her mental breakdown, and you’ll see what I mean.)

By the time Katara realizes the full extent of the wickedness she’d embraced so openly, it’s too late: it is the full moon, and Hama will teach her how to Bloodbend, whether she wants to or not.

What’s absolutely amazing about the flashback to Hama’s gradual discovery of Bloodbending is how subtly and logically it also explains her descent into psychopathic madness. She’d been locked up and isolated, her only contact with human life being the guards who served her water while she was in chains.

The genuine pigs of her Bloodbending experiments were the rats* that entered and left her cell at will. I think it’s fair to say that anyone willing to put any form of life through the torment of Bloodbending has pretty much forfeited a large chunk of their humanity. In Hama’s eyes, there’s no real difference between a rat and a human being: both are merely an obstacle, unworthy of trust and sympathy.

This would explain why it was so easy for her to Bloodbend Katara after the poor girl refused to Bloodbend herself. Unlike Katara, Hama doesn’t consider empathy a virtue, especially if that empathy is wasted on the very people who imprisoned (and presumably killed) their Waterbending brothers and sisters. It’s the old “if you’re not with me, then you’re against me” line of thought.

And if Bloodbending one of her own surviving sisters wasn’t enough—though, thankfully, Katara is able to overcome Hama’s power thanks to her youth—Hama attempts to subdue Katara by turning her own loved ones against her and each other.

While the last-act action sequence is not without its excitement and humor (“It’s like my brain has a mind of its own!”), it’s a real downer. Yes, Katara manages to stop Hama from killing her brother and Aang. Yes, Katara brings Hama down with her own technique. Yes, Hama is finally arrested and presumably brought to justice.

But this is by no means a satisfying victory for Katara. It came at the cost of having to perform a vile act on her own kind, the one person in the entire world she should have been able to trust with all her heart. In a weird way, Katara’s suffering is much worse than Aang’s. Sure, he lost his entire people, but at least he has good memories. Katara had no contact with anyone like her until Hama, and she turned out to be evil. How can the world be so cruel?

This is ultimately why “The Puppetmaster” remains so frightening, and only gets more frightening with each viewing. This is pure psychological horror; it is the loss of innocence–rather than the loss of life–that we are witnessing on screen. And there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop it.

Watching this episode again just yesterday, I nearly had a breakdown. The moment I heard Katara’s initial eagerness to learn from Hama—in full knowledge of how it would end—I was trembling. The trembling continued for the rest of the episode, and it didn’t stop until hours later. The shocking moment in which Hama demonstrates Bloodbending for the first time—on Katara, no less—drove me to tears. I was just as sad and angry as Katara was, but unlike her, I was powerless to do anything. It absolutely tore me up to see have to her Bloodbend—and thus, figuratively, kill—her own maternal figure, but what other choice did she have?

Some things are just beyond our control.

*As much as I hate hybrid animals, I must admit that the elephant-rat is pretty funny. Not as funny as the spider-fly caught in its own web, but still pretty damn funny.

All screenshots courtesy of piandao.org.


Chapter Six: “And The Winner Is…”

The Legend of Korra is a much harder show to judge on an episode-by-episode basis than Avatar: the Last Airbender. Avatar had the slight disadvantage of being conceived in such a manner that, while the average episode contributed to the overall story, their individual plots were almost always self-contained: whether it was dealing with pirates or canyon crawlers, very little carried over from one episode to another unless the plot required it. Unfortunately, this meant filler of any size could slip in and screw up the show’s overall quality. This inconsistency of quality made for intriguing viewing from a critical standpoint–great episodes could be GREAT and bad episodes could be HORRIBLE–even if it wasn’t always enjoyable.

Now here’s Korra, which displays creators DiMartino and Konietzko’s tremendous growth as storytellers. Every episode, save for the first—which I still believe does a fairly lousy job of acquainting us with our title character—is pristinely crafted and entertaining. And to top it all, each one successfully builds on what came before. Maybe the twelve episode limitation forced DiMartino and Konietzko to truly give their story the kind of focus and economy that their sixty episodes of Avatar didn’t have. As a result, Korra is a wonderfully consistent show.

For that reason, my approach to Korra has been radically different than to Avatar. The big question is no longer, “Is this episode good or bad?” (Namely because every episode of Korra is good.) Now it’s, “Is this episode a high point or a low point?” How much does the episode do for me emotionally? Is this turning point in the story as effective as it could be?

Which brings us to “The Winner Is…,” the best episode of the show thus far, and an obvious high point. Hell, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a perfect episode. Everything works. The humor, the thrills, the action, the character moments, etc. There are little things I could nitpick—and I mean really little things—but I can easily disregard them because not once do they detract from the full emotional impact the episode has on me. It’s the same way I feel about Star Wars: I could complain that the acting and dialogue mostly sucks, but the truth is that it’s still entertaining and kind of charming. Besides, once the heroes are fighting to blow up the Death Star, I’m already totally invested and hoping they succeed.

Granted, the nitpicks I have are not as blatant or all-encompassing as the flaws of Star Wars. In fact, it’s really just one thing.

In a word, fans. In a thousand…

Thankfully, a second viewing of the episode has rectified what was, once again, an initial overreaction. The sight of cosplaying nonentities triggered unwanted memories of the Avatar episode “The Ember Island Players,” one of the worst things to ever come from that series. Why do DiMartino and Konietzko feel the need to pander/troll their fans with these uncharacteristically bizarre gags?*

Thank the unseen makers of the universe that the gag in Korra is nowhere near as offensive. In fact, it’s not offensive at all. It’s not funny either. Nor does it seem to have a point. At least, not beyond the useless “We have fans who sometimes like to dress up as our characters.” Maybe some fans won a contest I knew nothing about and got to be animated in the show. If so, good for them, but it still doesn’t benefit me in anyway. They don’t do anything.

Granted, this is pretty funny.

Alas, I’ve wasted precious space complaining about something that is, frankly, totally irrelevant. I’ll stop there so I can actually talk about the episode.

On the eve of the Pro-Bending championship match, Amon broadcasts another ominous message on the radio: call off the match, or suffer the wrath of the Revolution. It seems the city counsel (Tarrlok included, strangely enough) want to give into Amon’s wishes, but thanks to the surprising interference of Lin Bei Fong—who promises on her badge that no harm with come to anyone during the match—they all agree to let the games go on. Just as Amon planned.

The night of the match, the Fire Ferrets quickly discover that Tahno and the Wolf Bats have rigged the game: the referee refuses to call the clearly illegal moves of the Wolf Bats, so that—despite the incredible effort put forth by Korra, Mako, and Bolin—they are assured a disappointing victory.

This victory, however, is swiftly upset by the uprising of Amon and the Equalists, who quickly take out of Lin, Tenzin, and the other guards, and then proceed to take away Tahno and the Wolf Bats’ Bending. With that, and the destruction of the Pro-Bending arena, the Revolution has officially begun.

Top it off with a fantastic last-act action sequence, and you’ve got the entire plot of the episode, which is fairly simple. Or simple enough. The plot flows smoothly and the twists and turns are a joy to behold, but as is always the case with great episodes, it’s the characters, their interactions, and how we feel about them that makes it so wonderful.

The big revelation here is most definitely Lin. It’s amazing how devoted she is to her job, and even more amazing to actually see her in action. Who knew she was so agile and could hold her own in a fight? (A moment’s thought would reveal that…well, of course she’s a good fighter. Not only is she the chief of police, but in this harsh Avatar world, you’re either a fighter or you’re dead.)

We also get to find out more about her and Tenzin. In one scene, Korra pretty much figures it all out: Lin is the person from whom Pema “stole” Tenzin, her soulmate. That explains why Lin is always on Tenzin’s case about being a big pushover (which he kind of is). (It doesn’t quite explain why she hates Korra so much, but never mind.) This scene is also funny because of how Korra manages to almost get Tenzin to confess everything about his love life, only for him to stop abruptly, wondering why in the Hell he’s even telling her any of this. That’s the moment when I become eternally grateful that J.K. Simmons plays Tenzin: no one else could have pulled that off better than him.

Also, regarding Tarrlok. There’s a brief moment where he considers something, smirks, and then changes his mind about shutting down the stadium in favor of Lin protecting it. What could that look mean?**

The Pro-Bending scenes are, of course, fun and suspenseful, but we also get gags before the match starts.

Pabu the [insert hybrid animal speculations here] does a cute little cheer that I doubt anyone in the Pro-Bending audience could actually see. Aw well. I saw it. I thought it was cute.

But then the Wolf Bats come on with the most overzealous entrance ever, complete with costumes and fireworks. I’m sure this is a sendup of wrestlers’ entrances, but having not watched much wrestling to know, I’d personally liken it to the entrances and shows of the most artsy and pretentious 70s glam and progressive rock bands. The Wolf Bats’ entrance is just as bizarre and overdone, and thus just as hilarious.

With all the effort the Fire Ferrets put in the match after finding out the Wolf Bats are cheating—as the commentator and, surprisingly, Tenzin point out many, many times—it’s a rock shocker to see them lose.

Well, at least we get to see the incredibly smug Tahno take a blast to the face. Priceless.

The victory signals the Equalist to reveal themselves and revolt. It is an effectively frightening sequence, seeing the Equalist posing as civilians suddenly, one-by-one, showing their true colors. (Say, wouldn’t it have been something if those Korra fans were Equalists, too? Sure, it would make little sense, but at least then they’d actually have done something.)

It’s funny: Tenzin is the first and only person to realize what’s going on, but it’s too late. The very moment he shouts, “Look out!” to Lin is the moment she gets zapped. And seconds later, so does Tenzin.

Gee, the male protagonists are kind of…let’s say “ineffective” in this show. Hmm…

It’s a good thing the Fire Ferrets didn’t win that match (and, judging by Amon’s speech, they weren’t expected to). Amon shows up, immobilizes the Wolf Bats, and takes away their Bending. This despite rather desperate pleads from Tahno for Amon not to do it. It’s impressive how they get us to suddenly sympathize with Tahno for a second: he may have been a dick, but he still didn’t deserve that.

Interestingly, Amon’s speech highlights that the Wolf Bats have been cheating their way to victory and somehow uses that as a metaphor for how Benders have always had an unfair advantage in situations with non-Benders. First of all, it was Benders on Benders, so the Wolf Bats aren’t despicable for being Benders, they’re despicable for being cheaters. (They chose to cheat, unlike Benders who can’t choose to be Benders.) Secondly, anyone could have paid off that referee. You don’t have to be a Bender to be a cheater. Maybe I’m just missing something, but Amon’s speech and logic seems skewed. Then again, he is evil.

As he makes his getaway before blowing up most of the arena, Korra—having escaped unconsciousness and being tied up—attempts to go after him by flying up to his zeppelin (the Equalists have zeppelins now?). She seems to have forgotten, though, that Airbending is still theoretical at this point. If Lin wasn’t there to save her, she probably would have fallen to her death. I think.

I won’t go over every point of the last-act action sequence except to say that Lin has to save Korra from a death fall a second time, which prevents her from going after Amon, so he escapes again. Thanks, Korra.

To tell the truth, there are too many elements of this episode that are worth discussing. (I could write an entire book on the masterful filmmaking alone.) Before I wrap up, there are three last points of interest.

Shiro Shinobi’s demise at the hand of an Equalist surely has to rank among the most brilliant moments in the series. Rather than surrender or go down peaceful, the man just continues to commentate on his own peril until the Equalist finally shuts him up with electricity. Bless his soul for going down like a pro.

After Korra, Mako, and Bolin are knocked unconscious—they were electrocuted by Lance Henriksen while in water—and they’re tied to a post, it’s Pabu who comes to the rescue. That is, after Bolin makes strange animal sounds to communicate to Pabu to chew through the ropes. It’s a funny moment, and it really reminded me of…

Coincidence? Homage? Parody? Social commentary?

Lastly, before Korra goes after Amon, she tells the guys that she’s doing so. Mako says, “Be careful!” What I find most interesting about this moment is that we don’t get a close-up shot of Mako saying this, rendering and his dialogue insignificant. She is going to do what she’s going to do whether the others like it or not. It reminded me of a key scene in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Our female protagonist isn’t asking for permission or for forgiveness for what she’s about to do, nor is the man present in any real position to argue with her. She is independent of his influence.

This might as well be the show’s master shot.

Ultimately, on the side of good, it’s the females who are calling all the shots. For better or worse.

*Wouldn’t you know Konietzko himself decided to address what constituted trolling? Frankly, what he writes says more about certain audience members than it does about him.

**Yeah, yeah, just because these reviews are behind doesn’t mean I am. Tarrlok’s motives should be clear by now.

All screenshots taken by me.