Because fans should be critical, too

Quick Impressions of “Kuvira’s Gambit”

Has it come to this? Is this what we were waiting for? Were Avatar: the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra nothing more than an extended preview to a video game? Have we finally reached the final boss? Will Korra have to hypercharge into her Giant Mega Form (as last seen in the nauseating finale of Book Two)?

Perhaps I’d be more open to accepting this new plot development if the Giant Mecha Suit looked like it belonged within the Avatar universe on at least an aesthetic level. As executed in the episode, this lumbling CG travesty looks like it was imported directly from a PlayStation 2 release. Where were the Miyazaki-inspired intuitions of creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko when this came into development? (Or maybe they were thinking of Neon Genesis Evangelion.) Maybe this would have played out better with a cinema-level budget, as opposed to the comparatively meager budgets of television animation. Then again, this isn’t the first time something was compromised by Book Four’s budget cut. Remember the clips show episode “Remembrances?”

Forgive me if I dwell too much on my hatred of the very existence of this Giant Mecha Suit. My judgment of this entire episode has been clouded by it. I could have sworn that the rest of the episode played out like video game cut scenes, complete with strategies on how to defeat the giant boss (for the multi-player effect), and even a concept for a stealth level: kidnapp Bataar, Jr. and bring him back to the hideout.

Speaking of Bataar, Jr., my tribulations with voice actor Todd Haberkorn’s performance have proven justified. The entire sequence in which his love for Kuvira proves to be his undoing –she’d rather lose him trying to defeat the Avatar rather than save him to secure a happy relationship during peace time–loses much of its power thanks to his unconvincing slimeball delivery. (Zelda Williams, on the other hand, provided just enough nuance to her short lines with Bataar, Jr. to make you feel her dilemma.) Had Haberkorn been up to snuff, this could have been a nice little scene. It may have even redeemed the stupidity of the Giant Mecha Suit by attaching it to an emotional beak of the story.

I’m afraid, dear readers. We only have two more episodes to go. Every season finale has gotten longer and more horrible. Book Two’s finale was twice as bad (and lasted much longer) as the Book One finale. We’re approaching the finale of Book Four. Will this finale be twice as bad as Book Two’s? Mathematically, it seems feasible. What are we in for?

Maybe I’ll just being silly. What did you all think of this episode?

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20 responses

  1. I think this episode accomplished what it set out to do. It raised the stakes and set things up for the finale. I think your apprehension is understandable. The show has a habit of going so big and over the top that the emotion gets lost and pulling the rug on things. I’d argue the book 3 finale is better in retrospect with how book 4 followed up but even so, bigger does not always mean better. Or so I’ve heard. But on the other hand this season seems way more focused on character than the others and so I think if the show pays enough attention to the characters core emotional arcs and doesn’t go too ridiculous I think it can stick the landing. Here’s hoping.

    December 12, 2014 at 8:54 pm

  2. JMR

    Alright guys. I come here tonight with a desperate plea to you: please, for the love of whatever god you hold dear, convince me this episode isn’t the stupidest thing this show has given us since Unavatu.

    The episode is a completely graceless, procedural rush. It sprints breathlessly from plot point to plot point, giving absolutely no time for anyone, character or audience, to absorb what’s happening. Because of this, about 80% of the dialogue consists of some variant of “I’m going to do x! You do y!” Moments that are supposed to be touching or poignant are instead blunt and heavy handed. Aw, look, Wu really might make a good king (and thanks, Lin, for making sure we realized by stating this in precisely those words). Or look, Kuvira is slightly torn about killing Bataar, but in the end she’s the villain and we need a moment for her to show herself as truly irredeemable. As such, that choice carries no weight because it was a foregone conclusion.

    And don’t even get me started on the Giant Mech. I’ve had no love for the mech suits ever since their initial introduction in The Aftermath and making a really big one hardly makes me like them any more. As incredible as Mir’s animation may be overall, they’ve never been able to integrate the computer generated stuff with the hand drawn. It ends up giving the mechs an alien, out of place feel, like they’re borrowed from some other show, and that has the effect of ripping away my immersion in the story and killing my suspension of disbelief.

    With my suspension of disbelief gone, all the little nagging questions come flooding in. Some of them, in fact, aren’t so little. Such as: How in the bloody hell does a giant mech suit make any sense as a weapon system? How does it make any sense in this setting? How does it make any sense as anything other than a poorly conceived expression of Bryke’s love of anime?

    So:

    1) While I understand that Kuvira controls it with Metalbending, when she wants to stop the mech she bends back a lever, suggesting that there’s something else powering this thing. So how the hell, in a setting where the internal combustion engine is a relatively new invention, has someone come up with a system not only powerful enough to propel this monstrosity, but compact enough to fit inside? And I know, yes, it carries around a giant, plant based laser gun! Why should I care about its goddam power plant?! Well, the laser gun is understandable within the setting, an extension of what we know about this world. An engine powerful enough to move a 500ft tall metal construct like this isn’t.

    2) The human form is hardly an optimal weapon design. It’s tall, thin, and awkwardly balanced. Strap on a giant, heavy laser gun to one side and you’d just make those balancing problems even worse. Beyond the technical limitation, there’s a reason that large, humanoid, powered suits to this day exist only in fiction: there’s precious little they can do that a smaller, cheaper, easier to produce, better protected, and better balanced weapon can’t and so they’ve been consistently relegated to the realm of “cool things maybe we’ll work on someday” with the likes of jet packs. But, you might ask, without her super tall vantage point how would Kuvira have so effortlessly destroyed the United Republic fleet? Just like Amon did: with a squadron of bombers, which brings me to-

    3) Everyone acts like this thing is some indestructible, unbeatable juggernaut, when in fact any military commander with any sort of sense would take a look at it and immediately scramble the bombers. Such a large, slow moving target (with the command center up top, no less) would be completely helpless against a concentrated aerial attack. It’s the same reason that in the real world, tanks have incredible difficulty operating where their side doesn’t have air superiority. I think there’s little reason to wonder why nobody brings up the fact that this setting has established heavier than air powered flight beyond those those odd looking flying suits: if they did, the show would be over.

    And to cap off the pettiness I’m going to complain about how Zelda Williams says the word “Empire”. She does this weird thing where she doesn’t properly enunciate the last two syllables, and so it comes out as something like “Empahr”.

    This is how much this episode lost me. I’m here complaining about one actor’s pronunciation. Also I was mad enough about this episode that I wrote this in advance. Please send help.

    December 12, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    • Brian

      JMR, I agree completely with all you’ve said here. Human form suits suck as tactical weapons. (The human body is way more efficient at walking and balancing than a Quadraped. but not a suit of armor shaped like a human. They do not have the reflexes and the instantaneous balance correction that human muscles and nerves have.) (kind as ridiculous as that movie Pacific Rim if anybody ever saw that).
      and can someone please explain to me how Kavira is able to control that suit? they say that it is made entirely of platinum, so she wouldn’t be able to control it at all yet she is bending it.
      Is it just the levers inside the cockpit that she is moving? Which control the suit. If so couldn’t another metal bender just start moving the levers around and messing with them, to make the giant Mecha suit stumble all over the place and make random movements?

      July 1, 2016 at 1:12 pm

  3. rosemon

    Nice to see Korra as violent and overbearing as always, particularly in that scene with Baatar Jr. Really makes the whole first half of the season pointless.
    “You’ll never see your loved one again.” Is this really our hero?

    December 12, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    • tox

      Are we watching the same show? She literally refused to deal him bodily harm. Instead, she tried to use the one thing that she thought could stop Kuvira from expanding her reign of terror to the United Republic. I’d say she had a pretty clever idea, and frankly we don’t even know if it was a bluff or not (which is exactly what makes it clever).

      Is she supposed to be acting like a saint to someone who built the Avatar equivalent of a WMD, even as the clock is ticking for her to find a way to prevent the conquering of her home? Yeesh, I swear to God people will criticize Korra for anything.

      December 13, 2014 at 7:40 pm

  4. I wasn’t surprised by the giant mecha suit since they revealed the final episodes’ titles a week ago, and when I saw that the twelfth one was called “The Day of the Colossus”, I immediately knew what that last word was referring to.

    But even if I was prepared for what Bryke had in store for us, I couldn’t take this episode seriously for reasons already stated by others in this entry and in the comment section.

    Also, I’m quoting Stanley Ching from one of his previous comments on this blog: has the voice actor of Mako just given up? In the last scene, when Kuvira points her weapon at the hideout, he sounds like he doesn’t care anymore and just says what the script tells him to say to get it over with.

    December 12, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    • Can you blame him?, he doesn’t exactly play the most well liked or interesting character.

      December 12, 2014 at 10:41 pm

  5. Clander

    Yeah this episode was pretty dumb and so was the mecha but in a way I’m kind of glad they introduced something like that. It finally feels like there is a real sense of danger. I have never really been convinced that Kuvira is a real threat by the actions of the show. I don’t feel like the struggle is genuine. They do their part to be defeated by her. So this mecha makes Kuvira seem much more powerful than before so I’m at least glad for that. Even if it was probably the stupidest way ever. I also want to commend the scene with Kuvira and Bataar Jr. finally giving them some romantic development. It makes Kuvira’s betrayal have a bit more of a sting. Though not much because they haven’t really done it until now…huh I’m getting a Zaheer and P’li deja vu…

    I also agree with you on the voice acting again, Marshal. I never really liked Bataar’s voice actor that much or at least he didn’t stand out to me in a positive way but this…I just didn’t buy it. I don’t get why the voice acting is so slipshod in this series. I wonder if they have the same voice acting director from the previous series. My guess is not. Which is a shame because from what I have seen of her she seems very good for the job. Then again I don’t know, and am too lazy to look it up

    December 13, 2014 at 2:57 am

    • It’s the same voice director. Andrea Romano is her name.

      December 13, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      • Clander

        Damn!

        December 13, 2014 at 11:18 pm

  6. Brian

    The mech doesn’t really seem to have the intimidating presence to be inspired from Evangelion. It’s just… a very big robot with an arm cannon.

    December 13, 2014 at 5:54 pm

  7. tox

    I agree with JMR my bigger issue with the episode was how oddly paced it was. It literally was just moving from one plot point to another. The latter half was a little better, when the episode got to settle into a rhythm. I guess if the purpose of the episode was to set up the finale, then it’s succeeded pretty well in raising the stakes. But I didn’t think it was really effective as an episode.

    As far as the giant mecha tank goes, I also don’t like it aesthetically, the same way I didn’t like the Season 2 finale aesthetically. In fact, like others here, I never liked mechas in Korra, period. Even though I did get the Evangelion vibe from it, it definitely felt more like homage to Bryke’s love of anime (as someone else said) than as an extension of worldbuilding, which is a criticism.

    That said, the stakes are high so it accomplished at least that goal. I’m optimistic the finale will be okay, but we’ll have to see.

    December 13, 2014 at 7:49 pm

  8. Gabriel

    “Now we have megazords in the Avatar franchise… what should I think about it?” My thoughts when I saw it coming from the horizon. It was actually funny to see that giant robot alien piece of awkward thing in the middle of the scene. I’ve been saying since Book 1 that I don’t like how technology evolves so fast in LoK, it just doesn’t feel possible even in a world with bending. Lightning generation is so common in Book 1 that the industries use firebenders to generate energy. It was supposed to be a rare ability possessed by those who had inner balance, right? There are entire armies of metalbenders now. Metalbending should be special since it took ages for someone – Toph – to get it, and also it was hard to find her first three apprentices, people who were sensitive enough to metalbend. And 7 decades later, they can produce a megazord with limitless spiritual death ray…

    But what bothers me most is the relationship between Baatar and Kuvira. It never felt real to me, especially on Kuvira’s side (except for that moment of silence before deciding to explode her fiancé, which was a nice touch indeed). It seems that they had so little time to develop the characters – individually and as a couple – that it all ended up looking so forced, like everything we know and are supposed to feel about these two was revealed via dialogues that certainly weren’t enough to set a real relationship. Kuvira deciding that it was worth losing Baatar to win the battle was predictable, and this kind of story has been done a lot of times in fiction. Lack of time for proper emotional and human development is one of Korra’s biggest problem.

    I wish we could have seen more of Pema and Wu with the citizens, maybe even some funny interaction. Also, adults look even more terrible in the new Air Nomad suit. Poor Tenzin and Bumi. It’s a red flying squirrel with Tenzin’s bald head, so sad. XD

    December 13, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    • Toph created metalbending in just one day, and it didn’t take her ages to get the hand of it. In fact, she mastered it pretty fast…

      As we’ve seen in the comics and in the series, anyone can metalbend with the right instructions. It was easier for Toph to do it simply because of her natural talent.

      December 14, 2014 at 12:53 am

      • Gabriel

        No, I mean no one before Toph found out they could metalbend. The Fire Nation even used metal during the war to imprision earthbenders because none of them ever figured out they could metalbend. She was sensitive in a different way.

        December 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

  9. PsychoPass

    I’m beginning to wonder if Mike and Bryan’s realized that their aim to have “mini bosses” and shorter, self-contained arcs was in direct conflict with their desire to have a fleshed out world and characters. ATLA had 3 seasons to make us become emotionally detached to a relatively wide range of characters; Korra, however, has more characters and much fewer time. As a result, character relationships such as Kuvira-Bataar feel empty and Korra’s emotional troubles at the beginning of this season feel like a distant memory, even though it was supposed to hold more significance this season.

    It worked when we could look back and see that our little boy in the iceberg had come so far, but Korra was been going through so many different arcs in such little time, and competing with screen time with other characters, that it makes me ask, “Who is this show actually about?” Korra’s non-violent threat of Bataar was very striking and showed growth, but it’s the end of the line now and I don’t feel like I’m looking back on anything.

    December 13, 2014 at 8:45 pm

  10. @Gabriel: Sorry, I misunderstood. But still, just because it took ages for someone to discover it, it doesn’t mean it has to be an incredibly rare skill that not a lot of people can master. It IS hard to learn, but as I’ve already said, anyone can metalbend with the right instructions (as seen in the comics and in the TV show).

    It was thanks to Toph that so many people started to metalbend. Didn’t you see how there were tons of new students in her academy in the last chapter of “The Rift”? Her goal was to teach anyone who wanted to learn the ability, and by the end of “The Rift”, her training school was already pretty popular.

    Taking all that into consideration, it’s no surprise the Metalbending Police Force of Republic City was founded by Toph some years later, and that Zaofu was founded by none other than her own daughter decades after that.

    December 14, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    • Gabriel

      Ok, I understand. But still, a megazord? (I’m gonna call it megazord forever). It looks so far from that reality. Maybe they could have used some time to show more about all that metal technology if they had time, especially in Republic City. Could’ve made us accept it all better somehow.

      December 14, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      • Oh yeah, the mecha suit is just stupid. I agree with you on that.

        December 15, 2014 at 12:57 pm

  11. tox

    I gave the episode another watch. I think the giant mecha (which I still detest) blindsided me and negatively colored my impression of the episode as a whole. The pacing is still a little bit strange in the middle, there are still some key static shots (Pema and Wu evacuating the city particularly), some of the dialogue still feels unnatural (Kuvira & Bataar Jr)… and yeah I still detest the mecha. Also, I’m not a fan of how Bryke tends to put in scenes specifically for juxtaposition, e.g. Zaheer & P’Li and now Kuvira & Junior.

    But I thought Kuvira’s character was done really well, actually. I know a common complaint is how totally irredeemable she is as a character at this point. I won’t disagree there. It’s a totally valid complaint how the writers have made all the of the villains (barring Zaheer, arguably) totally evil, thus removing any amount of moral ambiguity.

    Still, if we don’t view it from that meta-perspective, her character was handled nicely in the episode. They really emphasized her arrogance (which is important because otherwise there’s a gaping plot hole of why she wouldn’t fire twice to be safe), they emphasized how torn she was about the decision to take down Bataar, and they emphasized how cold she was to be able to get over it. Part of this was the animation, where there were a lot of subtle cues about how she was feeling (wasn’t this a complaint many of you have had about the show?), and part of it was Zelda Williams’ excellent voice acting. I also thought Junior’s voice actor was quite good (disagreeing with Marshall here), especially the sappy, groveling part to Kuvira.

    Finally, the music was great! I really got used to the dissonance in Kuvira’s theme—it’s always nice to hear dissonance used properly in pop culture. And one of the remixes of Korra’s theme was really pretty.

    December 16, 2014 at 6:35 pm

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