TV Review: Legend of Korra (S2/E3)

“Civil Wars: Part 1”

Frequently the very best television shows are about a group of people coming together to form some kind of family. Deadwood was about a camp coming together. Buffy was about forging bonds, both friendly and romantic. The original Avatar series was about Aang, after losing his entire culture and support structure, coming to grips with that and finding his own way with a new family (all the while saving the world, of course). Legend of Korra tackles family in a much more literal way, and so far it’s done wonders (mostly) in fleshing out the world and the characters. But let’s come back to that.

The episode opens with Korra asking Unalaq why he needed to bring his soldiers, and he fed her some BS line about ensuring peace and uniting the tribes, which she swallowed whole. In fact, later in the episode after she needs further clarification, he says, “I’m uniting, not invading,” which is a particularly telling line regarding his motives. Someone who was really uniting, and not invading, would never need to clarify that. And Unalaq’s actions would say otherwise: his soldiers roam the streets picking fights and they block in the Southern Water Tribe harbor. Once again, shades of the Fire Nation soldiers from the original series.

Unfortunately, Korra just doesn’t see it, which all comes back to family. In a conversation with her mother, she says, “I never wanted a normal childhood. All I ever wanted was to be the Avatar.” In saying so, she betrays both intense desire for recognition as well as a profound sense of insecurity. She is the Avatar. That she feels like she has to try to be is extremely telling. It’s no wonder that she can’t see what’s going on around her; her uncle (who has promised to teach her how to commune with the spirit world, mind you) is pulling her in one direction, while her mother and father seem to be pulling in the other. Add on top of all of that that she’s pissed with her family for making her stay locked up near the South Pole her entire childhood without a real reason (which is, admittedly, kind of a dick move), and I can see from where her confusion and indecision may stem.

However, her indecision plus the way Unalaq is characterized kind of hurts the show. He’s become a little bit of an over the top villain. When Korra goes to try to persuade him to prevent a civil war, he’s sitting in a darkened throne room for God’s sake, awash in deep blues and blacks, almost mirroring Ozai’s fire chambers from the original series. To the audience he’s so clearly a creep and a manipulator, so it’s frustrating to see our heroine be swindled by him; dramatic irony can be used to great effect, but it becomes very annoying in the long run. I just want Korra to actually think about what’s happening for a minute. There are soldiers roaming the streets. Plus, anytime there’s a rebellion happening, it’s usually good to take a look at why said rebellion is happening: frequently there’s a reason.

At episode’s end, though, Unalaq may have taken things a step too far even for Korra’s gullibility; he arrests Tonraq and Senna for essentially no reason, with Korra watching. The look of surprise on her face may just be a sign that she’s about to come to terms with what’s really happening. Thankfully. Hopefully in “Civil Wars: Part 2” we’ll see a fully empowered Avatar, with her mind made up.

Stray(ish) Observations

-Not much Bolin or Mako in this episode. Without Republic City/pro bending, they seem a little out of place. Sure they each have small subplots, but each has been based around romance: Mako with Korra, and Bolin with Eska. Give them something to do, please!

-Speaking of relationships, I’m going to be sorry to see Bolin/Eska come to an end (Beska? Eskin?). Aubrey Plaza is hitting all the right note and them some (did you hear that terrifying laugh?!) and P.J. Byrne’s panic induced rambling is hilarious.

-It’s fascinating to me that Aang was not the greatest father. That he would, even unintentionally, pick a favorite child seems a little against his characterization. However, it adds volumes of context to the relationship between Tenzin and his siblings (which were, frankly, my favorite parts of this episode).

-Ikki randomly running away seems a little bit like a plot device to me, and that we didn’t even see the alleged teasing take place is a little suspect. I get that it opens up avenues of conversation for Tenzin and his siblings, but I think that could have happened in a less obviously manipulative way. However, maybe next episode we’ll find out that Ikki running away leads to something amazing and I’ll eat my words.

-Great Direction of the Week: The slow fade from Korra’s extremely excited face to Korra’s extremely pissed face was so funny. Plus, Korra’s ability to fight with literally anything around her is kind of astounding. Leave it to LoK to make a visceral fight scene with a banner.

-“Laugh at my humorous quip!”

Written by: Michael Dante DiMartino Directed by: Colin Heck

Overall Score: 7