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?