Because fans should be critical, too

The Legend of Korra

Thoughts on the Series Finale of “Korra”

There are two specific moments in the Book Four finale that resonated with me in contrary, but peculiar ways.

The first moment occurs at the end, and it involves everything with Korra and Asami. Now, let’s say you’re an unsuspecting viewer with no prior knowledge of The Legend of Korra, and you just happen to catch these last few minutes of the series. You’d be excused for thinking this was the culmination of a relationship between two women who’d been through Hell and back together, and now wanted to take some time away with to relax and enjoy each other’s company. On it’s own, it’s a touching moment. (And I agree with JMR that the implications of a lesbian relationship in a kid’s show is pretty damn cool.)

Unfortunately, as seasoned viewers of Korra know, this moment is supposed to be the pay-off to four seasons worth of material. But where was the set-up? Where in the rest of the story did the writers plant the expectation in the audience’s head that these two should be together like this? Perhaps it counts as a hint when Korra and Asami wrote each other letters during the three-year gap between Book Three and Book Four. In one episode, Korra specifically states she only felt comfortable writing to Asami. But even that development comes out of nowhere (though it does get addressed in another episode, which helps). As much as I’d love for this ending between Korra and Asami to work, from a narrative standpoint, it doesn’t. It feels forced and unnatural. I can’t go, “Aw, isn’t that sweet?” because my brain is making me go, “Where the fuck did that come from?”

Contrast this with the second moment, which occurs right after Korra has saved Kuvira from her own death ray gun, opened a new spirit portal, and transported them both to the Spirit World. Upon entry, Korra is holding an unconscious Kuvira in her arms (in a manner uncharacteristically maternal for Korra, which adds to the effect). Here’s the kicker: Kuvira wakes up, realizes she’s in the Avatar’s arms, releases a genuinely terrified whimper and jumps out of Korra’s arms.

Initially, I expected Kuvira to stay weak and vulnerable in Korra’s arms as they went into the usual spiel of “You saved my life! Why?” That expectation was usurped by Kuvira simply because she’s not the kind of person to allow herself to be weak and vulnerable, especially not in the presence of her greatest enemy, let alone in her arms. (Listen to that whimper Zelda Williams does once Kuvira starts pulling away from Korra. It sounds frightened, but also embarrassed. Since when in the Hell is Kuvira ever embarrassed?)

This little window into Kuvira’s psyche reveals more about her than even the following sob story about her childhood as an orphan (that said, it does make her repulsion at being in such a child-like state in Mama Korra’s arms that much more intriguing). Like the best and most effective bits of character development, our understanding of the character comes from not what she says, but from our expectations being subverted/affirmed by her emotional reality. In this brief little moment, Kuvira has no choice but to be herself, even if it’s completely irrational. In hindsight, what else would she have done?

These two relatively brief moments are the only ones that really stood out to me in the entire two-part finale. Had you checked my pulse throughout the rest of the finale, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was dead. That’s how bored I was. Not that there weren’t nice little touches here and there—the fight between Kuvira and Korra in the head of the Giant Mecha Suit was brilliantly accomplished, and I personally loved everything having to do with Varrick and Zhu Li, but they really deserve their own show—but for the most part, it played out so blandly. Moments that should have been tense and exhilarating don’t have the impact they should. Moments that should be emotional lack characters and motivations strong enough to warrant such investment (particularly bad when it comes to the fate of Hiroshi Sato, who the writers reconnected with his daughter only so he could take part in the final boss battle). Any scene involving the Giant Mecha Suit comes across as silly and non-threatening (watching that thing try to swat away its airborne attackers falls somewhere between being really funny and really stupid). And on top of everything, the level of destruction in these episodes damn near made me sick. This could just be a personal thing, but after enduring Transformers, The Avengers, Star Trek Into Darkness, Godzilla, and especially Man of Steel (one of the absolute worst movie-going experiences of my life), I’m tired of all this reckless property and collateral damage. They should have spent less time destroying Republic City and more time making sure we actually cared about the folks caught in the chaos.

Much like the rest of the series, the finale contains one wasted opportunity after another. As much as I despise the Giant Mecha Suit, it did provide a brilliant conceit: because Kuvira is Metalbending to the Suit, she can feel everything that happens to it. That explains how she could tell Hiroshi was cutting into her leg with the Hummingbird ship (because she certainly couldn’t look down to see it). The idea that Kuvira was personally enduring the damage brought upon the Giant Mecha Suit would have made for some interesting drama, especially in the scene where she rips her right arm off when the gun no longer works. None of this really comes into play, though, probably because they didn’t have time (or the budget, for that matter) to fully realize the potential of all their ideas. What a pity.

Still, what works does work well. Despite the typically stilted dialogue, I rathed liked Korra’s final scene with Tenzin, even though it reminded me that Tenzin was one of the worst casualities of Korra‘s messy, unfocused execution. And it was nice to see Kuvira, if not redeemed, at least surrender on her own terms. And seeing the Bei Fong sisters in action is always fun.

Overall, though, this was the most disappointing finale of the entire series, which is odd to think about. Book One’s finale infuriated me. Book Two’s finale baffled me. Book Three’s finale physically made me sick. And now this finale made me feel almost nothing. Unless I’ve just grown numb after four seasons, I simply don’t understand how this could happen. How could a series with so much going for it from the start devolve into such a mess? How is this a worthy follow-up to Avatar: the Last Airbender? I honestly wonder if creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko just stopped caring at some point, and just wanted to get the whole thing over with. What will their next project be? Will they try to separate themselves from the Avatar universe as much as possible? Or will they be stuck having to make those Avatar comics for the rest of their lives?

Whatever the case, Korra is finally done, and all I’m left with is the nagging regret of someone whose wasted a good part of their life devoted to a relationship that was never really there to begin with. (Now I’m just being dramatic, and I apologize.)

The good news, though, is that now I’m that much more excited to re-watch Avatar!

I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Over…

It’s a bit strange to think that, in just a few days, The Legend of Korra will come to an end. After four seasons and two-and-a-half years, the spin-off of Avatar: the Last Airbender will no longer be around.* No more new episodes to tune in to, on the Internet or otherwise. No more adventures of Korra, who only just started to grow on me this season. No more relevant updates from creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who will probably forever be caught in the existential trappings of a hardcore fandom and anime conventions. No more bizarre developments to bitch and moan about (like that Giant Mech Suit, which I’ll talk about in a moment). No more missed/wasted opportunities to tell a good story within the confines of an American animated children’s program.

I’m actually tearing up just thinking about it.

To alleviate (exacerbate?) my grief, I started leafing through the “Art of” book for Book One of Korra. Every new page made me more wistful than the last. Here I am going through the selected concepts, ideas, sketches, background paintings, key animation sheets, etc., of what will probably be the last great traditionally-animated television show ever produced (and it wasn’t even that good). How did a show with the potential to revolutionize what could be done with American animated children’s programming devolve into such a joyless and pretentious enterprise? How did we go from the Equalists (who, for all their dirty tactics, made some damn good points about the marginalization of Non-Benders in the Avatar universe) to a Giant Mech Suit straight out of C-grade anime?

And let me make this absolutely clear: I hate Kuriva’s Giant Mech Suit. It fails on every possible level. Aesthetically, it doesn’t match up with the mostly traditionally-animated atmosphere of the series. Viscerally, it lacks any sense of weight and scale necessary to make us feel its terrifying presence. Thematically, it’s silly and obvious. Dramatically, it reduces the human drama to a video game.** Intellectually, all bets are off: Kuvira is most definitely crazy, and beyond redemption and empathy. Emotionally, it’s void: how am I supposed to be invested in something I don’t believe has any right to exist in this universe? How am I supposed to relate to the characters if they can’t even relate to the gravity of their own situation? Not one character seems bothered that a giant robot being controlled by an evil dictator—on the face of it, a gruesomely nightmarish idea—is going to destroy their city. Wouldn’t the very sight of such a monstrosity cause even a hint of shock and awe? By comparison, Seth Rogen’s reaction to the giant, well-endowed demon of Hell in This Is The End was more plausible. Yes, a Seth Rogen comedy about the apocalypse was more believable than this new development in a serious fantasy drama. (And you know what? I bet Rogen’s new film The Interview will contain a much more nuanced portrayal of an evil dictator than we have here in Kuvira.)

Are my tribulations unfounded? Could the last two episodes actually save the series from utter disgrace? Have DiMartino, Konietzko, and company found a way to redeem the many missed opportunities and mistakes they’ve made up to this point?

I honestly don’t think so. History certainly isn’t on their side: every single season finale of Korra has been horrendous, and they’ve gotten worse each season (though I’ll give Book Three a pass because it finally helped humanize Korra in my eyes). First, Aang gave Korra back her Bending when she was in no position to deserve it. That happened in the last three or so minutes. Then, there was the completely nonsensical (or “spiritual,” as Konietzko called it) fight between a giant blue Korra and a giant red Unalaq. That lasted almost an entire episode.

Now here’s a Giant Mech Suit that Korra must find a way to take down (only because she promised Dante Basco that she would). Two episodes to go? What’s going to happen? Will Korra become the Blue Giant again and wrestle it out with the Giant Mech Suit? While that’s happening, will the others and Bataar, Jr. sneak into the suit, find Kuvira, and distract her with Bataar, Jr.’s presence? Maybe Bataar, Jr., having nothing else to live for—he betrayed his family, and now his own lover just tried to kill him—will initiate the second known murder-suicide in the Avatar universe by destroying himself, Kuvira, and the Giant Mech Suit. Maybe Blue Giant Korra will deliver an uppercut that sends Kuvira and her Giant Mech Suit to spend their remaining breathes in outer space. (Now I’m just getting silly.)

If this wild speculation tells you anything, it’s that I hungrily await these last two episodes of Korra. Good or bad, redeeming or damning, tear or rage-inducing, whatever they are, I’ll be tuning. I don’t know if it’s for completionist’s sake (I mean, it’s only two more episodes), or masochism, or plain curiosity to see how much worse (or better!) it could actually get, but facts are facts: for two more episodes, I am a faithful viewer. Only when it’s over will I be able to adequately evaluate what exactly it was I was faithful to.***

*On television, anyway. As far as I know, they’ll still be making Avatar and Korra comics as long as they make money from devoted fans.

**In all fairness, while the Giant Mech Suit itself is beyond idiotic, from a strictly formal standpoint, its reveal was absolutely brilliant. Despite their flaws as storytellers, DiMartino and Konietzko are masters of the element of surprise. Maybe they learned it from working with M. Night Shyamalan.

***On a completely unrelated note, happy 40th birthday, P.J. Byrne!

Take Two:

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?

Quick Thoughts on “Operation Beifong”

A very good episode! It definitely has the best Bending duel (between Kuvira and Suyin) that I’ve seen in a long time. All the action and suspense worked wonderfully. And it was good to see that Zhu Li was trying to sabotage the big gun all along (even if she did help build it, but she was just trying to keep up appearances, or maybe she changed her mind in the process of building it, speculation, speculation, etc.).

I was afraid that Toph’s re-appearance would be intrusive (in a bad way), but it wasn’t. It actually felt quite natural. Seeing the entire Bei Fong family together was actually kind of sweet. (I loved that Suyin’s husband tries to call Toph “mom.”)

By the way, I think I know why Opal bugs me. It has nothing to do with her anger at Bolin. It’s her voice actor, Alison Stoner, that irks me. She was fine last season, but here, she’s being asked to convey emotions that are beyond her capabilities (compare Stoner to Mae Whitman as Katara back in Avatar: the Last Airbender, where a similar grudge was held against Zuko until “The Southern Raiders”).

Maybe it’s just me. In any case, what did you all think of this episode?

Quick Impressions on “Beyond the Wilds”

Let’s start with the good news.

The good news is that the final four episodes of The Legend of Korra will be on television! There’s a slight compromise here–they’ll be on Nicktoons instead of the official Nickelodeon channel–but don’t let that cloud the issue. Korra is back on the televised grid, and that’s cause enough for celebration.

The bad news has to do with “Beyond the Wilds.”

The problems I have with this episode have been addressed in one way or another in previous reviews, and to address these now, with four more episodes to go in the series, would be unseemly. And let’s face it: after the horrors of “Remembrances,” the series can’t possibly sink any lower than that. As such, I’ll try to refrain from nipping at poor formal choices unless something truly egregious happens.

So for now, I’ll just discuss what’s good about “Beyond the Wilds.” And there is plenty.

For one thing, the reunion of Korra and Zaheer came as a complete surprise, yet made perfect sense within the logic of the story. Even more remarkable is that it is he who is responsible for helping Korra out of her spiritual block, thanks to their shared goal of ending Kuvira’s reign of power. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but seeing Korra finally get back into the Spirit World after all this time was actually cathartic. I haven’t been this happy for Korra in a long time.

Actually, I’ve never been happy for Korra before. Guys, I think this girl is starting to grow on me! (And only four more episodes to go? How cruel!)

Meanwhile, Varrick and Bolin have made it to Republic City and gone their separate ways. The dynamic duo may have split, but at least they’re still very funny (if John Michael Higgins and P.J. Byrne had a podcast, I’d listen in, no matter the subject matter).

All-in-all, a good episode. Let’s see what next week has in store for us.

Before I end this, I do have a quasi-criticism that I’ve been meaning to address for some time now: what is the deal with Opal? She seems so…angry and narrow-headed, especially towards Bolin. She strikes me like one of those college-level environmental activists who just recently became an environmental activist, with all the passion and none of the poise of a veteran activist, spouting their beliefs and statistics, guilt tripping unsuspecting passerbys with almost fascist glee. And what’s with that ultimatum that Bolin can “win her back” (what is this, the 50s?) on the condition that he helps her rescue her family? Bolin, buddy! You need to stop falling into these unhealthy relationships!

Am I the only one who feels this way about Opal? Or this episode, for that matter?

Quick Impressions of “Reunion”

Starting with “Battle of Zaofu” and continuing with “Reunion,” The Legend of Korra is rapidly turning into The Varrick and Bolin Show. Having escaped Kuvira’s clutches, the two goofballs now have a single objective: get to Republic City and warn the officials of Kuvira’s plot. Their subplot clearly lacks the narrative and thematic complexity of the main story, and that turns out to be its greatest asset. Instead of careening through obvious dialogue and contrived emotionality, the characters and their situation are allowed to breathe and develop in interesting and hilarious ways. It helps immensely that voice actors P.J. Byrne (Bolin) and John Michael Higgins (Varrick), two natural comic actors, are consistently getting material worthy of their talents. The same goes for the animators, who haven’t been allowed this much visual comedy since Book One. If the adventures of Varrick and Bolin seize after this episode, I’ll gladly cherish what we’ve been given.

I can’t say the same for the main story, which reunites Korra with Mako and Asami after three years. They’re accompanied by Prince Wu, who has become more tolerable, though still unfunny (that said, his attempt to join in on the group hug in the end was adorable). I think it’s the voice actor that’s letting him down. Perhaps a young Christopher McDonald could have pulled off the sleaziness required of Prince Wu, but not Sunil Malhotra.

The exciting train sequence notwithstanding, the main story felt flat and perfunctory, especially compared to the Varrick and Bolin antics. Much of the characters’ interactions reeked of melodrama and bad action serials, especially in the absolute need to spell out everything with dialogue (the most egregious example being the “just like old times” prattle near the end). It’s quite amazing how poorly the episode portrays their alleged friendship (meanwhile, the bond between Varrick and Bolin gets stronger by the minute).

Aw, well. At least this episode has yet another great cliffhanger. What will become of the great swamp? Will it all be plowed away, or will we get a sequence of Toph Bei Fong fighting against (and likely losing to) the unstoppable onslaught of fascist industrialism? We’ll just have to wait and find out.

What did you all think of this episode?

Chapter Forty-Four: “Enemy at the Gates”

“I know people have been angry about the decisions I’ve made.” – Korra

This line of dialogue is uttered in the middle of the scene in which Korra attempts to dissuade Kuvira from attacking Zaofu. It might as well have come straight from the mouths of creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and directly to its loyal yet ambivalent viewers. Watching The Legend of Korra, especially as a fan of its predecessor, Avatar: the Last Airbender, is a sometimes delightful, mostly disappointing experience in which the viewer constantly wades through wasted opportunities and bizarre choices made by its creators. The elusive charm of Avatar may have been missing as early as Book One, but what’s more troubling is that they never found a satisfying alternative to it.

The promise of a more mature and more intellectual show was nothing more than a put-on. Certainly Korra is more heady than Avatar on a thematic level, but emotionally and formally, it’s actually less mature and less engaging.

Part of the problem may be the negative stigma of the “children’s show” label. Since the beginning, Avatar was primarily geared towards children, and rather shameless about it, too (sometimes too shameless, as “The Great Divide” demonstrates). They probably didn’t become aware of their much older fanbase until after Book One or Two of Avatar. Maybe they felt pressure to make something consciously darker and more mature than Avatar, yet still functional as a Nickelodeon children’s show.

Unfortunately for them, it hasn’t really worked. The dramatic possibilities created by the thematic material are savagely undercut by the constant reminder that their primary audience should be the average child, and not the vocal and fickle fandom. Whereas Avatar took a simple story and embellished it with complexity, Korra took a complex story and neutered it with simplicity. And that doesn’t even get into the issues of fandom appeasement.

While the average child these days is pretty savvy about certain things, especially pop culture (hence why The LEGO Movie was even remotely conceivable as a good idea), expecting any new viewers to take in all the specific references and callbacks to a whole other series–in addition to heavier story material–is asking way too much. There isn’t a stable point of entry that would make Korra accessible to the unsuspecting viewer looking for a new television series to tune in to (you could watch any random early episode of Breaking Bad or Mad Men and get the gist of it even if the specifics are unknown; that’s hardly possible with even the first episode of Korra). Korra has always been too dependent on the goodwill created by Avatar for its own good. (This is the part where I’d like to dissect Avatar as a “modern” show, and Korra as a “post-modern” show, but I have neither the time nor the wit.)

In this sense, Korra‘s banishment to the Internet was probably inevitable. It lacked its own internal infrastructure necessary to survive the time slot shared by it’s far less ambitious, far more horrid, and far more accessible competition on Nickelodeon. Considering that most older and more hardcore fans probably watched Korra online by default anyway, the switch was highly appropriate.

Before I actually discuss the actual episode, I’d like to draw your attention to a comment by JMR, who makes an extremely interesting point:

My issue with this episode is one that I’ve had with the series for a long time: the fact that it’s a straight up action adventure series attempting to teach it’s protagonist a moral about non-violence. The action adventure format’s demand for, well, action and adventure consistently trumps any attempt by the characters to solve problems in a non-violent way. As such, all of Korra’s character development in this direction, here and elsewhere, has always rung very hollow to me.

After all, this is the series finale. Do we really believe that the conflict here is going to be solved at a Diplomatic Summit over tea and biscuits? Of course not, it’s going to come down to a fight in the end, likely involving Korra going into the Avatar State and beating the crap out of Kuvira.

As such, this episode wherein the central plot element is Korra attempting to solve the Kuvira problem diplomatically doesn’t really know what to do with the idea of actually solving a problem diplomatically. Because of this, the entire episode revolves around the weak exchange between Korra and Kuvira that boils down essentially to:

Korra: “Hey Kuvira, would you please leave the city alone?”
Kuvira: “No.”
Korra: “Okay.”

Just like all of the previous seasons, we have to set up Kuvira as this extremist who won’t listen to reason and so needs to be put down violently. We need Kuvira to justify any violence committed against her. At best, we can hope for this sort of limp, half-hearted nod to non-violence while knowing that in the end, violence will be the solution to the problem. The episode is all about saying, “Hey, look, we did the non-violent thing! Can we get to the fighting now?” Yes, you can show. And in doing so you will again undermine Korra’s character development because violence is always the answer to your big conflicts, no matter how much you may bluster to the contrary on occasion.

I completely agree, sadly. In fact, it’s easy to see how Avatar had the opposite problem: it’s an action-adventure show whose protagonist is a pacifist who learns that sometimes fighting is necessary (which both satisfies the action quota and provides an interesting morality play). Ending that show with Aang sparing the Firelord’s life—but taking away his Bending—was nothing short of genius (how it revolved the morality play, though, is debatable). Korra, in contrast, wants to fight all the time. But there’s no balancing act with a morality play this time. Instead of growing and learning to find peaceful solutions, every season of Korra has ended with a giant battle between good and evil. The few scenes where she appears to be growing up are just plot place holders masquerading as “thought-provoking” dialogue and character development, the equivalent of playing a video game in which a cut scene or a power-up must be unlocked before y couan go on to fight the final boss.

JMR’s condensed version of the conversation between Korra and Kuvira is spot-on, as it perfectly captures the insipidness of most of the dialogue in Korra, as well as reduces her moment of “development” to what it really was: bullshit.

I truly hope DiMartino, Konietzko and company have some trick up their sleeve that won’t be pulled until the finale, because the rest of Book Four isn’t looking too hopeful.

Now, about the episode itself.

It’s fine. It’s about as good an episode as we can expect this late in the game. That doesn’t mean a true stand-out episode can’t sneak up on us like it does every season (Book One’s “And the Winner Is,” Book Two’s “Beginnings,” and Book Three’s “Long Live the Queen”); it just means that expecting any real nuance and faith in the audience’s intelligence on a consistent basis isn’t a smart strategy if you want to gain any satisfaction from watching a new episode of Korra.

Take the scenes with Asami and her father Hiroshi, for example. The conceit is that Asami, after three long years, has finally decided to visit her father in prison. Hiroshi seems resentful for his actions—as well as proud of his daughter for doing well for herself—but Asami won’t accept his apology. However, she does want to at least try to rebuild their relationship, even if it means just a few games of Pai Cho, the game he taught her to play as a little girl.

Someone on the writing staff must have realized that Asami never really got a chance to develop as a character after three seasons, and they concocted this moment with her father to set things right. While I appreciate the attempt to give Asami something meaningful to do—and the notion of father and daughter reuniting over a shared childhood game is quite potent—it’s too little too late.  And it really doesn’t help that their reunion is filled to the brim with the sort of on-the-nose and expository dialogue that became acceptable ever since Christopher Nolan became successful. The scene in which Asami returns to her father for a game of Pai Cho has her explaining the intentions of her first visit (“To hurt you the way you hurt me!”) when all she needed to do was show up and ask him to play some Pai Cho. Every single emotion at play here—Hiroshi’s surprise and then joy at his daughter’s return, as well as Asami’s reluctant determination to make things a little better—could have been made explicit by the character animation, thus saving the writers and the voice actors the time and effort of telling us things they could, more effectively, be showing us.

(That said, even showing can be trite. Did we really need to see Asami see that father and daughter in the park playing Pai Cho themselves? Were the writers afraid that Asami’s return would seem unmotivated without such obvious symbolism? Come on, guys! Have a little more faith in your remaining audience!)

The rest of the episode is marginally better, though. Any scene with Kuvira is bound to be entertaining in one way or another, especially since the writers have gone out of their way to assure us that, yes, she is crazy, and like all crazy dictators—fictitious or real—she has the potential for a very scary and very funny character. Her funny side hasn’t gotten too much action, sadly, but it’s there, particularly in her scenes with Bolin. Those scenes—in which our earnest hero catches on too late that his superior office is a nut job—felt very reminiscent of a similar scenario in Dr. Strangelove (without any of that film’s subtlety or humor, but still). Poor Bolin’s attempt to escape with Varrick and Zhu Li ends with him being sent to a concentration camp of sorts. We’ll have to wait patiently to see what that entails.

By the way, that escape and subsequent action scene has Bolin and the others fighting in giant mech suits. Those mech suits are among the most embarrassing and horribly animated CGI ever featured in this show. Perhaps they’d be more acceptable in the Korra video game that came out recently, but not in the television show (though, to be fair, even Book One had trouble animating giant mech suits).

I’ll refrain from discussing other details from the episodes (I’ve repeated myself enough for one review), but I will say that, against all odds, I’m still eager to see what happens in the next episode. Whatever course of action Suyin plans to take on Kuvira—and whatever Korra tries to do to prevent that—will likely result in an exciting action-filled episode. Those kinds of episodes have always fared much better than those dealing with ideas and/or emotions. Besides, getting through another episode of Korra brings us that much closer to the end, and once that finally happens, we can go back to watching Avatar!