The Legend of Korra Newbie Recap: “Civil Wars, Part 1”
I’m starting to see why several people told me season two would be a slog.
We kick off this episode in the immediate aftermath of last week’s: With Unalaq’s Northern Water Tribe forces rolling into the South to not at all try to invade them, nope, nosirree. Oh, and BTW Korra, there’s another spirit portal in the North that needs opening. I THOUGHT YOU HAD YOUR SPIRITUAL SHIT TOGETHER IN THE NORTH, UNALAQ, hmmmmm? Once the two portals have been opened, transportation between the North and South Poles will be instantaneous. You could transfer anything in seconds. Puppies, teddy bears, an army.
This show is really missing some Asami and Lin Beifong right now—seriously, my patience for Water Tribe politics is wearing thin, and it’s only episode three—but we do get my brand new ray of sunshine Varrick, who thinks it is shocking—NAY, SICKENING!—that Unalaq has booted the Southern chieftains out of their palaces and blockaded the harbor, which seriously messes with Varrick’s ability to do business.
Korra defends Unalaq to the pissed off Southerners, using the “can’t we all just get along?” defense. It’s not particularly effective. Still, she takes her diplomacy to Unalaq, pointing out that the way he’s bringing about unity maaaaaaaybe makes it look like he’s trying to start some shit. Y’think?
Unalaq shuffles right around the point, playing his SPIRITUAL CHAOS!!1!!!1 trump card and telling Korra that, as the Avatar, it’s her job to prevent war … by convincing the Southerners to bend the proverbial knee. He pumps her up, saying “Oh, you’re the Avatar, you’re so wonderful, only you can save us, I appreciate you like no one else does,” but he’s clearly manipulating her. Look at this fucker’s creepy-ass throne room, Korra. You think he’s on the up and up?!
Mise en scene is your friend, Korra.
I’m not going to have to wait long for the villain reveal, right? Please tell me they’re not going to drag this out much longer.
Just when I need a bit of fun, look, it’s Bolin! Asking Mako for advice on how to break up with Eska, because he’s “so good at breaking girls’ hearts.”
Later, Korra tries to break up a fight between Southerners and Northern guards and fails miserably. Why is everyone putting this on her? I mean, I get that she’s the Avatar, but isn’t her jurisdiction more spiritual shit than political squabbles? Granted, she’s ultimately the one responsible for ~~the general wellbeing of the world~~, but you’d think they’d want to get some diplomats in here to help her out. Unless, of course, Unalaq wants to take advantage of her naivete and inexperience to manipulate the situation to his benefit.
KORRA, HE’S EEEEVILLLLLLLLL. Why are you not getting this?
I do, however, appreciate Korra’s “bitch please” face when some little kid tells her she’s a shitty Avatar and throws a snowball at her:
Tonraq shows up and diffuses the fight, which causes Korra to yell at him, because teenager. Korra unloads to her mom about the fact that Tonraq lied to her, both about his banishment and the fact that he kept her isolated during her training with the White Lotus. Her mom explains that they were just trying to give her a normal childhood, and that shit’s been brewing between the North and the South for centuries, and she can’t expect to be able to fix all of it. (Thank you, Korra’s mom.) Further, Varrick my blessed son is planning a rebellion; Tonraq was asked to join, but it’s unclear whether he accepted.
Korra runs off to tell Unalaq about the rebellion and finds him being abducted by a group of masked Southerners, one of whom she assumes is her father. They chase, they fight, it’s not Tonraq, and the Southerners get arrested. Unalaq puts a hit out on Varrick and demands that the conspirators be locked up for life, only (reluctantly) agreeing to that whole due process thing once Korra asks whether they should… maybe… get a trial…?
No red flags here, Korra?
Korra goes back to her house and makes up with her father. There’s a family group hug, and then Unalaq shows up to arrest his brother and sister-in-law for conspiring to assassinate them. CUE THE DRAMA ZOOM.
Again: This entire plotline needs Lin Beifong. I don’t care how the writers make it happen, but they should. This isn’t a bad episode, but… eh. Ehhhhhhh. Three episodes in, and we’ve lost virtually all momentum.
The most interesting part of this episode is its b-plot, which sees Tenzin and his siblings—waterbender Kya and non-bender Bumi—trekking around the Southern Air Temple looking for Ikki, who ran away after Jinora and Meelo picked on her. Not much happens, per se, but we get a lot of insight into the relationship between the three siblings, their childhood, and Aang’s post-adolescent personality. Specifically, he was so devoted to Tenzin and his training that he basically neglected his other kids. He went on vacations with Tenzin, leaving Kya and Bumi behind. He was an expert at “cutting and running when things”—presumably the business of maintaining familial relations—”get tough.”
Guys. Aang was a shitty father.
I really like that, for some reason. It… humanizes him, a little bit? Aang has a flaw. A pretty big one, from the sounds of it—Kya and Bumi make no bones about being bitter because of Aang’s pretty obvious favoritism. That favoritism is understandable, if not condonable. I imagine Aang feared that none of his kids would be airbenders, that after he himself died there’d be no one (except the Avatar… I mean except for himself… dammit) who could carry on the traditions of the Air Nomads. Kya’s right when she said it should have been up to all Aang’s kids to carry on the traditions, but it makes sense that Aang would be so jacked when he finally had an airbending kid that he’d get a little tunnel vision-y about his training. It fits what we know about him: His massive guilt complex about the destruction of the Air Nomads, the Hundred Year War—everything bad that happens ever, basically—and his determination to not fuck up that at times verges into the debilitating.
And Tenzin never realized that. Never realized that Aang treated him way better than his siblings, and that he, like Korra, was to a certain extent manipulated by his father. Both Aang and Tonraq meant well, and they’re both good people, but it’s still there. Tenzin thought that Bumi and Kya had gone on all those family trips with him and Aang, because he thought those trips were a normal father/child thing. But they weren’t. They are a father/child-who-is-the-only-one-like-me-and-has-to-carry-on-my-traditions-and-have-a-lot-of-airbending-kids,-thereby-fixing-the-mistake-I-caused thing.
Bumi and Kya know that; they’ve long since reached that stage of adulthood where you realize that your parents had flaws. Tenzin’s, what, in his 40s? And he never got there. He never got the extent to which his father put pressure on him, and in such a way that was so constant that Tenzin never even noticed it was happening. (I’d say Aang probably wasn’t entirely conscious of it either, but you know Katara pointed that shit out.)
That’s a hell of a thing to come to terms with. Can we get more of Tenzin dealing with that, less of bullshit water tribe politics? I don’t care if it’s five-minute stretches of him looking through photo albums and sighing occasionally.
Rebecca has newbie recapped Avatar and Battlestar Galactica for The Mary Sue before. She photoshopped The Rock’s head on a dolphin once. You can find her at Film Journal International, Pajiba, or on Twitter.
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