Because fans should be critical, too

Chapter Forty: “After All These Years”

I can’t make a solid judgment on this episode alone. They used to air the first two episodes at once, and the second was always better than the first. I feel that, had the show still been broadcast on television, the first two episodes would have premiered side-by-side, thus given us a much stronger indication of what direction the season would take.

Consider this a disclaimer of sorts: if my thoughts tend to ramble, it’s because I’m still not entirely sure how I feel. But in the meantime, here are a couple of thoughts.

Let’s start with the positives, shall we? For one thing, this is a much better season starter than the horrid first episode of Book Three. I don’t recall a single thing that made me angry or made me want to stop watching. If that’s not a hopeful sign for the future, then nothing is!

There are some potentially wonderful ideas brewing in this one, too. I’m intrigued by Kuvira, or “the Great Uniter” as she’s called. She’s got a great Metalbending technique, an interesting voice (provided, for some inexplicable reason, by Zelda Williams), and a domineering personality (evident in that she seems to get her rocks off on having people “pledge their loyalty” to her). What’s not to like? She may prove to be a truly worthy villain as long as Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko and company don’t fuck it up like they’ve done the first three times.

And for the first time in forever, I actually care about what Korra is going through. After three years in the Southern Water Tribe, she’s returned to Republic City without letting anyone outside her father know about it, and now fights in underground street Bending matches where she constantly loses (but gets paid for it). No one there seems to recognize her as Avatar Korra, which seems highly unlikely, considering she’s got a huge statue erected in her likeness, and we’ve yet to see any other dark-skinned, muscle-bound young ladies waltzing about Republic City. But perhaps that will be addressed in later episodes. For now, I’ll just eagerly wait to see where they go with this Skyfall-esque story element. (I completely agree with JMR that this is the development we’ve wanted since Book One but haven’t gotten until now.)

The Airbending glider suits worn by Kai and Opal are a little silly, but it’s still a cool idea, and a nice upgrade from the gliders of old. I’m interested to see more action sequences featuring these two. (And who knows: maybe Korra will have her own glider suit adventure at some point!)

So that’s the good news. What about the negatives? There’s really just one.

I don’t like Prince Wu. And it’s pretty clear that no one is supposed to like Prince Wu, but unlike with Kuvira, this has nothing to do with the potential threat he poses to our heroes’ goals and desires—that’s good for drama—but with the cheap, manipulative manner in which the writers and voice actor Sunil Malhotra portray his character. There’s nothing earnest about this guy: he’s off-putting in such a calculated and self-conscious way that any interest in him as a character immediately disappears. It doesn’t help that he’s not entertaining.

He’s just the spoiled and arrogant great nephew of the Earth Queen—which only adds to his unlikability—who is soon to be the new Earth King. Mako is currently his personal bodyguard, and his usual stoicism should generate some nice comic tension between him and the extroverted prince, but it never does. Even some potentially funny business involving pie and assassination attempts falls flat because Malhotra and the writers are so busy trying to make Prince Wu look stupid that they neglect to make him real. I hope that changes as the season goes on, but something tells me it won’t (which means the best we can hope for is that Prince Wu is assassinated just like his great aunt).

That’s the only major negative point. Otherwise, in terms of overall quality, Book Four doesn’t seem like it’s going to be that much of an improvement over Book Three.

Among other things, this episode contains the same painfully obvious dialogue that’s infested the series since Book Two (how many times do the characters mention the three-year time gap between the seasons?). The problem is not that there’s too much exposition, but that it’s exposition that is too often delivered without style or personality. That and there’s been too much talking since Book Two. There have been very few moments where a character simply reacts through body language or a facial expression—you know, the kind of moments usually sought and relished by animators*?

I don’t think the situation will improve: Book Three and Four were essentially written and produced at the same time, so I fully expect the same flaws from the previous season to re-surface as Book Four goes on. On the plus side, though, Book Three and Four may end up being the most consistent and cohesive seasons in the series. Depending on how satisfying the final episode is, there’s a slim, but honest chance that Book Four could redeem the entire series!

But let’s not make any hasty judgments yet. Those will have to wait until the second episode has aired**.

*Speaking of animation, Grindal mentioned in the previous post that the animation for this episode was slightly below the usually good standards of Studio Mir. To my eyes, the animation quality is about the same its been since the second half of Book Two—once Mir returned to replace Studio Pierrot. But while the animation has been mostly good, it’s never topped the work done during Book One. I’ll like to elaborate on this in a separate post.

**Is “aired” the right word to use for new episodes posted on the Internet? Is “uploaded” more accurate?

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27 responses

  1. Hey Marshall Turner, firstly “I don’t the situation will improve: Book Three and Four were essentially written and produced at the same time,” you should correct this sentence since there’s clearly a missing word.

    Secondly, I’ve always had disagreements with your writing despite the fact I found it very interesting and eloquent. I’ve recently written a book three review on Change and I even borrowed a point that you made about Zaheer in it. If you would like to read it then here’s my link stanleyching.wordpress.com

    Thirdly, I basically agree with everything you wrote, Prince Wu is a horrible character but he’s done so on purpose but without any real intentions instead of cheaply making the main characters look likable and mature. He would of been much stronger if he was more reluctant, wise and reserved and not a card board cut out of the Earth Queen.

    October 5, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    • I’ve edited that sentence so it makes sense now. Thanks for telling me!

      I’m going to respond to your piece on your blog once I have a free moment to read and consider all of what you’ve written.

      Prince Wu honestly doesn’t even need much changed about him to work as a character. All he needs are writers and a voice actor who treat him with the same respect and dignity as all the other characters. In a better written show, he could have been the Avatar equivalent of Dudley Moore’s Arthur.

      October 6, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    • tox

      “Prince Wu is a horrible character but he’s done so on purpose but without any real intentions instead of cheaply making the main characters look likable and mature.”

      He’s basically the equivalent of Kai from last season. A pain in the ass (though Kai was more believable) who’s going to very, very obviously make a character change and end up being “worthy” of whatever role he’s supposed to fill (Jinora’s love interest in Kai’s case, the future leader of the Earth Nation in some capacity).

      I’m expecting for Kuvira to be beaten in the end game, and for Wu, cheered on by the common people after his growth, to ascend to the throne, before he acknowledges the issues with autocracies, benevolent or not. It’ll probably end with him proposing a constitutional monarchy or something to that extent.

      I mean I might be wrong here, but I think it’s painfully obvious that that’s the direction they’re going in (just like Kai’s growth was obvious, if quicker than I imagined).

      Also do note that no matter how insufferable he is as a character, he’s also not a complete dick to Mako, who’s just a street urchin. If the writers planned on killing him off, they’d make him as irredeemable as the Earth Queen.

      (And I know this is a fairly cynical post, but TLOK has always been formulaic with its character exposition; did anyone actually think Desna and Eska wouldn’t join up with Team Avatar at some point? I suppose I’ll just be happy that it doesn’t really seem to bother me as long as the execution isn’t horrible.)

      October 7, 2014 at 1:25 am

  2. Nautilus11

    The problem with Prince Wu, and what was the problem with P’Li and the Earth Queen, is that he’s less a character than a very obvious plot device calculatingly placed where he needs to be. This really is merely one of the symptoms that plagues Legend of Korra, in that the plot drives the characters rather than the characters driving the plot, as is the case in most well-written stories. Characters not being obvious plot devices is a number one requirement of good writing, unless they are insignificant side additions, which neither P’Li nor the Earth Queen were, nor it would appear Prince Wu is.

    You say Prince Wu getting assassinated is merely the best we can hope for, if his character doesn’t improve. I’d say it’s pretty much guaranteed that he’s getting offed.

    Also, just as a side-note, I finally figured out why I don’t like Bolin, and it’s the exact opposite problem I had with Sokka.

    Sokka had great lines, but his voice actor was terrible at comedy, and the impact ended up being flat.

    Bolin had a voice actor that’s great at comedy, but gets cringe-worthy lines that make him annoying instead.

    October 6, 2014 at 2:08 am

    • That’s a fantastic point on why neither Sokka nor Bolin work as comic relief (most of the time). I’ve enough about Jack De Sena to spare him this one time, but P.J. Byrne is a genuinely funny guy, and one of my favorite contemporary character actors. He didn’t share the same breathing space as Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street for nothing! And bless the man, he tries very hard on Korra, but he’s constantly let down by the script. At least in Maria Bamford’s case, they just flat out stopped writing anything funny for Pema to say.

      October 6, 2014 at 9:05 pm

      • Huh, I always thought all of the funny bits with Pema were her facial expressions not her lines.

        October 6, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    • tox

      I don’t really agree with your assessment on P’Li or the EQ. They’re both obviously plot devices; the former humanizes Zaheer, and the latter serves as a stepping stone to establish Zaheer and also to set up Book 4. That doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing. P’Li might have no personality, but the Earth Queen’s characterization was fine. She’s a dislikable autocrat who doesn’t care about the peasants, is concerned with trivial matters, and has daddy issues from her dad preferring a bear to her. Guru Pathik from ‘The Guru’ is obviously a plot device too, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a great addition to his role. Or to draw from outside of the Avatar universe, the Nazis in Breaking Bad were literally devised as the end game enemies. But were it not for them, we wouldn’t have had the magic of ‘Ozymandias’ (or really, the final half season).

      The problem with Korra isn’t really the writing. Season 3 was really tightly plotted, so it’s hard to say there’s anything that could have been deleted. ‘Original Airbenders’ was necessary to establish the primary thematic arc about the airbenders’ sense of community, as it formed the thematic climax of the show (the airbenders rejection Zaheer’s anarchism when they saved Korra). The issue is that 13 isn’t enough episodes to flesh out the wide cast of characters on the show; one more episode, mirroring ‘Original Airbenders,’ about the Red Lotus’s backstory (including Unalaq) would have done wonders for the show.

      October 7, 2014 at 2:01 am

  3. Grindal

    I rechecked the animation for the episode and I admit it was quality problems with the stream rather than the actual animation. However, I’m very interested to hear why you think the Book One animation is superior to the rest of the series (besides Pierrot’s infamous but thankfully short-lived reign). I wonder if it has anything to do with the brighter contrast that seems to be in most frames, though I’ll just wait until you post your thoughts and discuss with you then. All I’ll say is I disagree with you bar one aspect, the integration of CG with the 2D animation.

    October 6, 2014 at 3:16 am

    • Dman

      If you don’t mind my two sense, I too feel the animation degraded after Book One. And while none of Studio Mir’s later work ever equated to the disaster that was Studio Pierriot’s animation (I shudder at the thought) I do feel the animation got noticeably… rushed. For example, compare the animation work from 1×01 to 3×01. In 1×01, the animation is fluid and smooth. The colors are rich and immersive. The overall ascetics are spectacular. In 3×01, however, characters are rushed in design (just watch the Korra/Asami car ride), the colors are more bland, and the animation is far less fluid.The only consistently good aspects are the awesome backgrounds and fight scenes.

      And with that said, I also feel Mir spends more time perfecting the animation on some episodes as opposed to others. From Book Two, I felt “Beginnings Part 1&2” and “A New Spiritual Age” were noticeably better animated than the rest of the season. In Book Three, the two part season finale was also clearly animated better than anything else that season. And its not just because of the fight scenes, it is in the fluidity of the character movements WHEN NOTHING EXCITING IS HAPPENING. This is one of the main things I think Mir basically lost after Book One. Throughout the entirety of Book One, and in the five episodes I just mentioned, I am able to forget I’m watching a cartoon and be completely immersed in the story. When the animation isn’t up to par, it pulls me out of it. I think this is (one of) the reasons I was so invested in Book One. I was able to forget i was watching drawing on paper as opposed to people.

      I recommend you rewatch some of Book One (and in Blu-ray quality for the best experience) to see some of Korra’s best animation. If you don’t have a Blu-ray player at home, you can download Blu-ray rips of this website: http://avatardownloads.tk/atlok.php
      Once you realize how good Book One’s animation was, its hard to accept Book Three’s, and presumably Book Four’s, lackluster animation.

      October 6, 2014 at 10:57 pm

  4. Clander

    I am quite certain Korra is not in Republic City. I was under the impression that Korra simply told her father she was going to Republic City but instead went elsewhere. Which is why nobody recognizes her.

    October 6, 2014 at 4:30 am

    • You may be right, and the cut from Tenzin and company to Korra’s whereabouts was probably deliberately vague on purpose. We shall see in the next episode.

      October 6, 2014 at 9:13 pm

  5. Ian

    I know that you felt that they ruined Zaheer in the finale, and no one liked Unalaq, but when did they ruin Amon in your eyes? Because as far as I remember you loved that guy.

    And yeah, this episode to me was worse that book 3’s opening, not a bad episode, a very solid B if I had to rate it. But book 3’s opening really made me laugh and feel something for Tenzin and Korra’s new plight to restart the air nation and also had a fantastic action scene and villain intro. This episode, the only thing I really cared about was Kai and Opal and Kuviras fight (which was flipping fantastic) but I dont know that I’m sold on Kuvira yet.

    So thats my thoughts, please reply Marshall 🙂 (or anyone else)

    October 6, 2014 at 8:41 am

    • Gabriel

      I guess the Deus ex machina in the end made Amon’s threat become less than nothing. If Aang could bring Korra’s bending back and teach her how to do it since the beginning, she could just let Amon take people’s bending and follow him from city to city in order to restore people’s bending, just like she did with Lin (which reduced her sacrifice to nothing since nothing really changed, plus Tenzin’s family and airbending were never in real danger because Korra could “heal” them later). I know that it wouldn’t be a practical plan and Amon could decide to kill the benders instead of only taking away their bending, but my point is that in that context he was no real threat thanks to the Deus ex machina. Korra’s biggest fear reduced to nothing in a matter of seconds.

      October 6, 2014 at 9:18 am

      • Ian

        I totally see that point and agree in terms of Amon’s overall threat. I was meaning more in the character himself, which I thought was the best part of book 1. Though I know some hated his back story, I thought it made him more sympathetic and a Iove that we have a waterbending villain who only really seems to use him bending to take it away. I know Mako says he can redirect it (and I have no doubt he can) but when looking at fights, Amon clearly just dodges (also the creators clarified that what they meant by Psychic bloodbending is that he could sense their movements but still had to react like a skilled fighter that he was) (this was in an interview with Avatarspirit.net I believe.

        Thoughts?

        October 6, 2014 at 10:09 am

      • I’m with Gabriel on this, because I still really like Amon’s character, his arc and his backstory, even if the Book One finale rendered it all kind of pointless.

        As for Book Four, I’m just going to wait patiently for the next episode and see what happens before really jumping the gun. Lord knows that didn’t help me last time.

        October 6, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    • tox

      Maybe I can offer some insight, since I hate the ending to Season 1 so much that I actually like the overall season less than Season 2 (which has a shitty first half and poor finale but just overall felt better in terms of its internal/ thematic cohesion).

      After the end of the penultimate episode of Season 1, we see Amon as a fascinating character: He’s this morally ambiguous, threatening guy who uses the exact curse that ruined his life to try to bring equality in the world and end the suffering caused by benders. And in fact, it’s the idea that he’s using this horrible curse as a necessary means to an end (a much subtler, more nuanced Machiavellian argument), sacrificing his own moral righteousness in his view. It’s brilliant as a foil to Aang’s actions in the Finale of A:TLA (removing bending to bring peace). It also ties in really nicely to the backstory of the characters.

      But what happens in the finale? Well two damning things: First we see that he actually has no problems using bloodbending in the shadows, even though he previously showed himself agile enough to fight against benders. Now he suffers not from a necessary hypocrisy for the sake of something good, but an exercise in laziness, as he doesn’t even bother winning without bending. Still, I could buy it on account of pragmatism; it is more reasonable to get rid of the number one threat.

      Then what happens? The Lieutenant calls him out for bloodbending. This, to me, is a brilliant moment, were it not ruined seconds later. For some unexplained reason, Amon bloodbends his second-in-command and probably kills him. He doesn’t even try defending himself and appealing to his sincere investment in the cause; it’s this action that makes him lose his moral ambiguity and turn into a Disney villain. I don’t know if Amon was truly sincere in the cause, or if he was simply looking for power (Tarrlok as a foil to Amon suggests both, some sincerity in the cause but also some general power-hungriness under the legacy of their father). I don’t really think it matters; at this point, Amon went from an ideological symbol to just another human (and an evil one at that). As if to hammer in the point, Tarrlok (our reformed character) acknowledges what a monster his brother has become and kills them both, which would be a nice moment if it weren’t the show’s final framing of Noatak as a villain.

      The failure in Amon’s characterization doubly hurts Season 1 because it goes from a really great thematic exploration of injustice in the bending world, to one that is completely hand-waved away besides for the election of an incompetent president. There’s no resolution on the Equalist arc, and so any political message the show had to offer is wiped away as well. This was also a problem in Season 3, where Zaheer’s ideas of anarchy were so moronic and simplistic that the show’s lack of acknowledgement that not every leader is as bad as the Earth Queen or Raiko undermined any message the show had in its climax (the unity and community of the airbenders being a rejection of Zaheer’s anarchist ideals)… but that’s a matter for another time.

      October 7, 2014 at 1:46 am

      • Ian

        The thing with the lieutenant may be confusing but if we take into consideration what the show tells us than this becomes more of an issue with rushed scripting than Amon being an evil disney villain. Amon, as we know from Tarrlock, believes bending is the source of all evil and believes in equality for everyone. We know Amon is a radical, this is evident from the get go, and he probably has an attitude of “your for me or against me”. “You served me well Lieutenant” is a great send off line and shows, I think, some respect Amon had for Lieutenant, but since he now knew (and also remember Lieutenant attacked Amon first, giving him no time to explain) there was no reason of keeping him around. In the end, the fact he used bloodbending was just the writers quick fix so they could move on to rushing other parts of the finale…

        In regards to Tarrlock, obviously he beleived that both of them ended up as tools of revenge for their father. Both had pure motives and neither intended to be who they were, but in the end they both were so messed up as kids that in response to it when they were older they botched it up and took it to far. Amon wanted to help others and destroy bending becaues it ruined him and his brothers lives, this created his radical view and is why he must think that whatever he’s doing must justify the means of what he believes is equality.

        Don’t know if that in anyway helped but Id like a response if it did or didn’t 🙂

        Just know I disagree with your opinion, but I respect it.

        Please reply

        October 8, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      • Gabriel

        Great insight. I think it all would have been different if the writers had more episodes to expand this story (the same with the Red Lotus).

        October 8, 2014 at 11:07 pm

      • Ian

        To Gabriel

        Was that to me or Tox?

        October 8, 2014 at 11:12 pm

      • tox

        The format here sucks… but this is directed @Ian:

        Firstly, I agree with you on Tarrlok! I thought it was a beautiful moment of subtlety, and I wasn’t criticizing the moment. It’s not really relevant for me to try to clarify what I mean so you can ignore that.

        Now re: the lieutenant, you are correct that he attacked Amon. But he talked for a while before attacking, and Amon didn’t even try to defend himself, which is where my issue lies. They could have also easily had him chi block the Lieutenant’s attack. I also get why Amon did what he did; the whole “You’re with me or against me” part as a political radical makes sense. I’ve never argued that the presentation of Amon doesn’t make sense My issue is with the character himself. Him attacking the Lieutenant and him trying to explain himself would both be consistent with his character but would lead his character down a different path, one making him a villain and the other keeping him amoral. The writers chose the direction that I didn’t like, as I felt it undercut the political messages of the show and also made him a less compelling character (thus also ruining the resolution of the show to me).

        If the Lieutenant ignored Amon’s explanation, and Amon killed the Lieutenant then (or better yet, he chi blocked him into submission), while Korra meditates after being broken by Amon (thus unlocking airbending), I’d be happier. Everything else could happen as it happened, and it would have been a more satisfying resolution—except Korra wouldn’t be an unquestionable good guy (unmasking Amon who was sincere to his cause), which I guess was the problem.

        TL;DR My issue isn’t that the story/Amon’s character was inconsistent, but rather they framed Amon’s actions in a way that undercut everything he stood for, which really hurt the season as a whole in my eyes.

        October 11, 2014 at 7:19 pm

  6. Gabriel

    I also like Amon as a character more than I expected and his death was sad. He had a development that the members of the Red Lotus didn’t have. I think the writters did something wrong with the villain (indirectly), not the character in this case.

    October 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm

  7. Ian

    Marshall, I know its no where near your priorities list, but when do you think you will revisit your Boiling Rock review? I know in the review you say its not your best work and like the puppetmaster Id really like to see what you think in full detail (Boiling Rock Part 1 and 2 are my favorite episodes of ATLA)

    Also, will you please give your thoughts on the Legend of Korra video games story when it comes out? Its actually canon and takes place between book 2 and 3 so Id like to hear your thoughts 🙂

    Please Reply

    October 7, 2014 at 4:42 pm

  8. JMR

    So there’s a new clip out for the next episode:

    http://www.nick.com/videos/clip/korra-215-clip-128376218.html

    Anyone else here a fan of Film Brain on That Guy With the Glasses? Because if you’re anything like me, there’s a part of the clip that will having you shouting SYMBOLISMMMMMM!

    October 8, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    • I don’t watch him but is the obvious symbolism a bad thing?

      October 8, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      • Clander

        Subtlety is usually the best way to go.

        October 9, 2014 at 1:13 am

  9. JMR

    Not necessarily, just made me think that when I was watching it and was wondering if anyone else thought the same. Though I do think sometimes getting too “hit you in the face” obvious can be a bit distracting.

    October 8, 2014 at 10:03 pm

  10. Gabriel

    Ian: to tox. The comments organization is really messed up…

    But your idea is interesting too.

    October 9, 2014 at 9:43 am

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