TV Review: Legend of Korra (S2E4-5)

“Civil Wars: Part 2/Peacekeepers

So . . . Korra kind of sucks. All through this season so far she’s been a little much, as if the writer’s are just going to let her do and say whatever she wants. And that’s a problem.

Korra is the Avatar and is the main character (obviously), but that doesn’t give her license to be a dick all the time. One of the biggest problems I’ve had with the series so far has been the treatment of Korra as a character: she’s just kind of mean. She’s rude or cruel to almost literally everyone around her, and while that might work if we were actually able to see the character progression or her being ostracized by friends and family, we didn’t get to see any of those things. We were tossed into season 2 and confronted with a main character who gave her family crap, who treated her boyfriend like dirt, who sent away her mentor and one of the few adult characters who trusts her completely, and who was generally too pigheaded to see what was going on around her.

Such a character type can work, but not like this. Buffy was kind of a dick in the early parts of seasons because she was dealing with emotional fallout from the season before. Walter White could act like a dick because we got to actually see his degradation from family man to power hungry empire builder. We’ve got neither of those things in Legend of Korra. Last season ended happily enough for Korra: she got her bending back, was able to return everyone else’s bending, got a boyfriend, and learned how to enter the Avatar state at will. All in all, that seems like a pretty sweet ending. But no. This season, Korra’s just an ass. It’s frustrating to see all of the characters bow to the wisdom of the Avatar when it’s so clear to the audience that she’s full of it. It cheapens the secondary characters, and throws the narrative off balance: if I don’t believe these characters would act the way they do, why would I watch the show? It would become an exercise in frustration. (Can I just point out that every time Korra’s mean to Mako, and he takes it, I want to punch one of them in the face? I don’t know which one, but I definitely want to.)

So as a consistently pigheaded and frustrating character, Korra becomes predictable in a way that’s not very fun to watch. Her father tells her not to do anything rash. Guess what? She attacks a judge. Unalaq believes that as the Avatar, Korra will stay neutral in any civil war. Guess what? Not going to happen. And yes, I do realize that her rash actions in these episodes propel the A plot forward. By attacking the judge and threatening him with decapitation via polarbear-dog, we learn that he’s on the take, and that Unalaq got Korra’s father banished. (In what is a pretty dark moment for her. More on that in the Stray Observations.) And yes, her taking a side in the civil war means that in “Peacekeepers” we head back to Republic City, about which I’m pleased. I really enjoyed spending time at the South Pole, but I got a little tired of all the ice and snow. I’m happy to have some architecture.

I get using her pigheadedness as a way to move the plot along. But it’s just so predicatable. Of course Korra was going to try and bruise her way through every situation. Of course she’s going to threaten people with violence and try to steal an army behind the back of the President of Republic City. Clearly, she’s going to do stuff like that. And that indicates a lack of character progression. It indicates a lack of the ability to learn. To me, it would be far more interesting to have a plotline based around Korra, as the Avatar, trying to stay neutral. That would represent a way for her to mature as a character/woman, and it would lead to a lot of great inner and outer conflicts for her character. It would mean a story based on character growth, not character stagnation. Currently, she’s being rewarded for acting like a brat.

However, there is some hope. Having finally revealed Unalaq for what he is, Korra is made to understand the scope of her mistakes and misunderstandings. She has to realize that through her own issues and selfishness, she’s helped her uncle take over the South. Perhaps now, she can begin the process of looking inward and understanding herself, which would actually tie back in to the name of the season: “Spirits.” There’s still time for Korra to snap out of whatever’s eating her and to have a truly important moment of personal insight. Without the Unalaq-created fog of war surrounding her, I’m hoping that she can have some self-agency.

Secondly, there’s some hope stemming from the romantic subplots. Up until this point, we had more of a focus on Bolin/Eska, which was great for some laughs. Bolin’s sheer terror at the sight of Eska, along with his being dominated by her in every aspect of the relationship (he wore the traditionally female betrothal necklace, for God’s sake), is a real delight, and at least it’s given his character something to do, which is more than I can say about Mako and Asami (who I had forgotten was even in the South). But finally, in “Peacekeepers,” Mako gets some self-respect. He stands up for what he thinks is right, which means he has a different opinion than Korra. Which is good, because Varrick’s/Korra’s plan to steal an army is really stupid. After finding out that Mako told the President Korra’s plan to steal a fleet, she screams at Mako in the police station and, growing a pair, he breaks up with her. Finally. God. So of course she airbends his desk and stomps out of the station. I’m hoping that this may act as a wakeup call for Korra and maybe clue her in on how ridiculous and self-centered her actions are. I’m hoping that will happen, but it might not. Because it’s Korra, and this is season 2, in which Korra is a dick now for some reason.

But on a lighter note, let me just quickly say that I found these episodes to be extremely funny. Almost every cut to Varrick or Bolin was absolute gold, and the sight gag of the platypus-bear pooping money makes me laugh even now, almost a week after I watched the episode for the first time. So for these episodes, the comedy really was what pulled me through, and despite some chaotic and frustrating characterization and plotting, I still really enjoyed watching these stories unfold. I trust Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, so I’ll just have to trust that these episodes will act as catalysts for a better final two thirds of the season.

Stray(ish) Observations/Things I Couldn’t Make Fit into the Body of the Review

-I’m really not sure about the “Ikki Runs Away” storyline. I get that it drives home a larger theme of family and trust, and the tea party with the baby flying bison was adorable, but it seemed like it was there just to give Tenzin and co. something to do. And that’s never a good sign.

-Give Asami something to do, please.

-Can I just say for a second how weird this show has gotten? I mean, at the end of “Peacekeepers” we had Korra fighting Eska and Deska, the former of whom was riding a giant waterspout and screaming about Korra stealing her husband. Come on. If you had no idea what this series was about and you were just flipping through channels and came across that scene, you would probably never watch the show again. Or you would make it a point to watch every episode. Depends on who you are, I guess.

-Speaking of that scene: Finally, spirits. Thank you. It’s only the name of the season. Also, the fact that Korra couldn’t calm the spirit even in the Avatar state is extremely telling. I’m beginning to think that Unalaq has an even bigger role to play on the spirit side of things: maybe he’s controlling them? Maybe he has some special bending ability that can enrage a spirit and give it more strength and speed than normal? Kind of like giving it spiritual PCP.

-I wrote about how dark this show is in an earlier review, but it just keeps getting darker. Korra threatens to have her polarbear-dog eat a man’s head, the Water Tribe apparently is a fan of the death sentence, and there was an explosion at the Water Tribe cultural center. My first thought at seeing that: “Oh God, there’s explicit, ripped-from-the-headlines terrorism now.” Those things combined with family betrayals and a civil war? This is a dark season of what is ostensibly a children’s television show. I was actually reading elsewhere on the internet, and I read somewhere that some people think that Korra is going to turn out to be the first evil Avatar. How cool would that be? To be so anxious to end the civil war and see the wrongs righted, that she just goes totally overboard and becomes Darth Vader? So cool. I doubt it’ll happen, but what a fun story arc.

-Something else that struck me about “Civil Wars: Part 2” was how static all of the character animations are. The first scene of dialogue between Korra and Unalaq was so boring to look at. They didn’t move for like forty seconds. It was just a two shot of them talking at each other. After I wrote this review, I looked up some other reviews online to see if anyone else had noticed it, and I ran across this article, where the reviewer talks about how the characters don’t blink anymore. Now it’s all I can see.

-Joaquim Dos Santos was a co-director and producer on every episode of season 1, and I’m really missing him. He is such a brilliant director, particularly for action, and this season the action has been nowhere near as imaginative or frequent as it was last season. It’s a shame.

-Being someone who absolutely loves film and film history, I totally geek out every time this season talks about film in its early stages. I love Bolin telling Korra not to worry, because what she’s seeing on the screen isn’t real. The first time the Lumiere brothers showed this 1895 short of a train arriving at a station, the audience freaked out because they thought it was going to come out of the screen and run them over.

-I was so happy at the return of Lin Beifong: “Thanks for starting a war.”

-“That platypus-bear is pooping money!”

-“What’s the money for?” “Bribery, of course!”

-“No honey?! We’re in a bear, for crying out loud!” Varrick and John Michael Higgins are just the best. Although, every time I hear his voice, all I can think of is Wayne Jarvis saying, “I shall duck behind that little garbage car!”

-I’m sorry this is late. Apologies, friends.

Written by (respectively): Michael Dante DiMartino, Tim Hedrick

Directed by (respectively): Ian Graham, Colin Heck

Overall Scores (respectively): 6, 7.5