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Legend of Korra Mega-Recap: “The Terror Within” and “The Stakeout”

Chapters 8 and 9!

korra-season-3 My poor Avatar fandom! You’ve been through a rough two weeks with all the kerfuffle about Korra going straight to digital. The show has always had a larger audience online, so in a way the change does make sense. I will be the first to admit that it seems scary;  it’s understandable to be shaken up about this turn of events. It seems a little too poetic that the title of this season is “Changes,” but there it is.

ep8-titlecard Speaking of changes, life is really going to be different around Zaofu without Opal. It’s kind of sad to see Opal float away on her airship towards the Northern Air Temple, especially considering how helpful she could have been in this episode. Zaheer & Co, or “The Red Lotus,” have seemingly done the impossible by sneaking into Zaofu. For a city that’s considered the safest place in the world, these four convicts didn’t seem to have any problem breaking in.  Metal enclosed city? Guards? Giant Polar Bear Dog? PSH. These guys are pros! Korra is expertly disarmed and hauled off. And when you think about it, the fact that they did this without much fight from her is all the more unsettling.

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The Avatar is down for the count! Where’s that announcer guy when you need him?

The Red Lotus doesn’t get too far, thanks to Pabu. You’ve really got to give everyone in this sequence some credit for fighting in their freaking pajamas! These guys are holding their own in little more than tanktops and boxers (plus Asami’s likely flammable nightie). Shot for shot, the chaos and tension in this fight scene is beautifully animated. The Avatar effects team has always been top notch, but lately they’ve been really blowing it out of the water. Between Ghazan’s lava bending, Bolin taking out P’li in slow-mo, and the beautiful air bending/wire dance between Zaheer and the Beifong sisters, this is easily some of Studio Mir’s best work.

omg slomo

True Fact: Everyone at Studio Mir are animation gods.

Of course, nothing this good can last long. With a word from Zaheer, The Red Lotus disappears, leaving us to wonder: “How the heck did they even get in Zaofu?!” Actually, that’s what’s on everyone’s minds as Korra recovers. The Truth Seer, Aiwei, is brought in to question guards, Varrick, and even Suyin. There’s little to show for all the questioning until Aiwei grills a young guard named Hong Li. The poor kid is pinpointed as the liar, and when team Avatar searches his apartment, they find enough evidence to incriminate him. This is the point when both the audience and Mako become suspicious for the same reason: that was way too easy.

sideeye

Detective Mako detects a disturbance in Zaofu.

There’s a saying my family likes to throw around: “Never trust a bad liar. They know how to lie when it counts.” I couldn’t help but think of that as I watched Aiwei slink away from Team Avatar. Detective Mako’s police senses are tingling, and he’s letting everyone know about it when Varrick shows up. It’s a short conversation full of feet, pumice, and good points, but by the end everyone’s convinced Aiwei could be hiding something.

When the team searches Aiwei’s home, they find an empty book (invisible ink?) and a suspicious SECRET TUNNEL doorway hidden behind a bookcase. It could lead to a bunker, a pantry, or out of the city, but there isn’t much time to investigate after Aiwei crashes the party. They cover up as well as they can, but the Truth Seer can see right through them.

whats coming for you

Aiwei knows he’s been caught and quickly escapes through his hidden cellar. One of my favorite moments in this scene is when Mako loses his patience as Korra’s trying to break through a metal wall. It’s nice to see Korra, this prodigy of bending, still working to feel her way around metal bending. When they finally get past the blockade, they’re met with an unwelcome sight.

boomboom

Aiwei has betrayed the Metal Clan, allowing The Red Lotus into the city to kidnap Korra, and with one big boom, he’s on the run. Suyin takes the news really hard. It’s easy to see she’s crushed by Aiwei’s actions. Lin wants to take Korra back to Republic City (apparently forgetting the Avatar was told to GTFO) and Suyin agrees…for about five minutes. Aiwei’s disloyalty doesn’t sit well with Suyin, and she’s determined see him pay for his treason. While Korra and company are moping, Suyin shows up and hands them the keys to a jeep. With Naga on the scent and Team Avatar hot on Aiwei’s heels, viewers can’t help but wonder how far this rabbit hole will go.

 

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Aiwei’s trail ends at a recognizable place from the first series, the Misty Palms Oasis.  As Team Avatar begins their search of the town, they find their own faces plastered on wanted posters. The Earth Queen is pretty ticked about Team Avatar stealing “her airbenders,” and has put a bounty on their heads. It’s clear that local bounty hunters would be perfectly happy to turn in Korra and company for a quick buck. After a quick retreat from the bounty hunters, Naga manages to find Aiwei’s getaway car (but doesn’t get much for her trouble).

Naga's sass is showing

Naga’s sass is showing

Mako and Bolin decide to head back into town in hazmat parkas disguise, while the girls wait for Aiwei to come back. Dressed in their disguises, the boys manage to find Aiwei camping out in a seedy motel. At the car, Asami searches it and finds out that Zaheer is meeting the Truth Seer that evening. The only problem is they can’t find the meeting place on a map.

Masters of disguise TingTing and Cop

Masters of disguise TingTing and Cop

When Bolin and Mako return with the news that they’ve found Aiwei, the team decides to stakeout his room. This scene could easily be one of the slowest parts of the show, but once Bolin and Asami break out the Pai Sho board, we’re given an unexpected treat. It’s kind of awesome to see just how well Asami manages to wipe the floor with Bolin, but the part that really gets me is the metaphor wrapped within the game itself.

You know, when you get around to it...

You know, when you get around to it…

Asami is convinced Pai Sho is all about strategy. Bolin is positive the game is all about chance. When the rule book is brought out, we learn that Pai Sho is a game of both strategy and chance. There have been countless variations of Pai Sho through the centuries, and each culture has its own rules and customs based on the game. Replace the word Pai Sho with say…ruling governments…and suddenly you’ve got an interesting metaphor for how societies are governed throughout the world. This idea comes further into play once Korra and Zaheer finally meet.

When Korra loses her patience and finds Aiwei meditating, the team realizes the meeting place isn’t in the physical world but the Spirit World. From the moment Korra slips into the Spirit World, things get really interesting and philosophical. But first, Aiwei’s arc is unceremoniously ended when Zaheer tosses him into the Fog of Lost Souls (say hi to Zhao for us, Aiwei).

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Every episode this entire season has teased the motivations behind The Red Lotus. Why did they try to kidnap Korra? What do they want? Who are they, and how did they even form? The first surprise is that Zaheer is more than happy to talk to Korra and answer her questions. There’s something classy about that. It’s not often you get villains in shows, much less “kids'” shows, that actually seem to respect the protagonists. This is something I love a lot about the characters in the Avatar universe, because they’re never black or white. There is always some shade of grey behind them – Zaheer and The Red Lotus are no exception.

We find out that The Red Lotus is a corrupted offshoot of The White Lotus, and that their true goal is one of perfect balance through anarchy. It turns out that good ol’ uncle Unalaq was part of The Red Lotus, and central to the kidnapping attempt of young Korra. The plan was to raise Korra under The Red Lotus’ warped philosophy, but the kidnapping failed and Unalaq bided his time.

Things get more interesting as Korra questions The Red Lotus’ motives. Zaheer simply wants to see the world back in true balance, and has several good points about how the world as it is isn’t working. His observations on the flawed nature of the leadership within the four nations leaves us all at least understanding where The Red Lotus is coming from. After all, if it wasn’t for the separation of the nations, the Air Nomads may have never been wiped out to begin with.

destruction of the old

Zaheer goes on to say that the world is in need of chaos, because without the destruction of change, balance cannot be restored. This is a pretty common idea throughout philosophies world over: change can’t be made without doing away with the status-quo on some level. That’s what change is all about: the destruction of the old to give rise to the new. In short, Zaheer gives his own version of Littlefinger’s “chaos is a ladder” speech. For anyone who isn’t a Game of Thrones fan, it basically boils down to this:

watch the world burn

By this point, Korra’s lost patience with Zaheer’s philosophical mumbo-jumbo, though it’s easy to see his words have shaken her.

Meanwhile, Ming Wa and Ghazan come looking for the Avatar through a tip off from Zaheer. With Mako and Bolin keeping them busy, Asami manages to spirit Korras body away. The bending battle is beautifully choreographed, and full of the details that make these sequences such a treat to watch. From the slow-mo movements to the way Bolin slides and recovers, everything is easy to follow and fun to watch. The brothers do all they can but ultimately lose, becoming captives of The Red Lotus. Events take a turn for the worse when Asami and Korra get captured by the Earth Queen’s forces.

this sucks

Well, this sucks.

The good news is that Lin’s on the trail (no thanks to Suyin), and it looks like everyone is headed to Ba Sing Se. With only four more episodes to go until the finale, I’m left wondering just how much story can be packed into roughly two hours. With the themes of change and renewal tied so close to the story, there has to be some serious destruction on its way. There’s a long way to go before any balance will be achieved.

Will Mako and Bolin team up with The Red Lotus to save Korra and Asami? How do you play Pai Sho? Will Lin figure out where everyone is? What in the world are the new airbenders up to? Leave your thoughts and theories in the comments!

Best game 2 out of 3?

Best game, 2 out of 3?

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