The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 05 Review

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I’ve watched the season-premiere for Elementary’s third season yesterday and it was kinda frustrating to watch. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great episode for that show but the really frustrating thing was watching that episode handle a time-jump between seasons the way you’re supposed to handle such a dramatic shift. If you do something as drastic as a time-jump, there needs to be some serious change happening! And yet, in what way has this season actually developed its main-characters…? Korra’s weaker… as if we hadn’t seen that before in this series… Everybody in this series really just sort-of remained the same. Any changes that did happen mostly happened for plot-reasons. Mako didn’t become Wu’s bodyguard because he wanted to, Bolin just sort-of joined Kuvira because he was able to help people that way and Asami just did her thing like usual (without anyone in the universe really giving a shit). Meanwhile, Korra who was kinda forced to change immediately learned to become her old self again within a couple episodes of this season. Really, for being a season named ‘Book Of Change’ that third season didn’t have as much of an impact as you would’ve expected after the last episode of that third season. I really believe that this season should’ve been bolder with the way it has reintroduced its main-characters and how different those characters are.

Review:

The presentation of Kuvira as this series’ villain is one of the most interesting elements of the show up to this point. It’s hardly surprising that she’s supposed to be some sort of dictator and that she ultimately is an evil person. And yet the portrayal of Kuvira is hardly the kind you would expect to see with a villainous character. It begins with the fact that we’ve never seen her do anything obviously evil before this episode. Even in this episode, she doesn’t do anything outright evil. It’s always just the threat of either giving in to her demands or make her take certain measures to address the situation. When Kuvira threatened Varrick, she didn’t simply say “Do as I say.”, she basically ‘made him an offer he can’t refuse’ (to borrow a Godfather-quote). But the point is that she gave him a choice.

She also has given the same choice to Suyin and her city Zaofu. It’s an interesting situation when Bolin is supposed to act as a mediator between Kuvira and Suyin but his presence is basically pointless. Opal once again accuses Kuvira of carting off dissenters to work-camps and to basically turn a lot of innocent people into slaves for the Earth-Empire. What’s striking about these accusations is that the audience shares Bolin’s naïve perspective in that regard. The series never has truly shown the way Kuvira deals with political dissent in her Empire.

That portrayal is a double-edged sword. This creative decision sounds better in theory than what it projects to the audience in the end. By not showing Kuvira do anything outright horrendous the moral ambiguity of her characters gets heightened. And it gets only further heightened with the backstory she has gotten in this episode. Kuvira as a person is a fully-formed characters at this point and with that her words do have a real dramatic weight. But since the series never showed us Kuvira, the dictator, it feels almost unreal to imagine that she is actually ruling an Empire. The way she dresses, the pragmatic interior design of the train she’s riding and the way she only ever talks about controlling an Empire instead of actually being shown how she does just that – it all leads to a rather distant feeling whenever her crimes come up. And with ‘distant’ in this case, I mean the distance between what the audience has experienced and what the series is talking about. The audience never has been confronted with Kuvira’s crimes up to this point and so the good guys’ accusations ring as hollow for the audience as they do for Bolin until Kuvira had threatened him personally with becoming a victim of her ambitions.

It gets even weirder when the audience is expected to believe that Bolin would actually take THAT long to realize what an evil person Kuvira really is. And it would take more than her lying to Bolin to keep that a secret. But Bolin defending Kuvira has never rang true, although it didn’t help that anyone opposing him in that regard was just telling him that he’s wrong. Instead of actually trying to turn him into some mole by showing him what Kuvira is really doing, characters like Opal and Mako just argued with him.

But this actual episode had a ton of plot and it never paused even for a second. The tension of Kuvira arriving with an army to conquer Zaofu is really high and right from the start it’s clear that a battle is inevitable. For the most part, this episode feels like the slow-moving car-crash it should be but the episode doesn’t get it completely right.

The first thing is that this episode never has a strong sense of cohesion. Rather than being about the tension before the inevitable battle, this episode is more about setting up stuff. Characters do stuff and get into various positions, there’s a bit of a back and forth as to what should be done about the situation and… well, that’s it. Oh, no, wait, I forgot… Asami sort-of reconciles with her father in a couple scenes as well, because naturally everybody was dying to see that resolved.

All these various individual plot-threads don’t really work together very well. It’s like a weaker episode of Game Of Thrones where just various characters do things that would forward their own stories but all those little stories never feel connected or seem meaningful as a whole. You can’t have all these multiple perspectives with different characters and then let the plot be just this assembly of various incidents. There needs to be a strong theme at the center of the whole thing. And that theme isn’t there in this episode which leads to this expectant feeling that at any moment something drastic should happen that would unite everyone on a plot-level at least. But that ‘drastic event’ never happens in this episode. It’s clear that this is really just the first half of a little story-arc within this season and that you would actually need to watch the next episode immediately to get the whole picture. Considering how this episode is so closely tied to the next one in terms of action, tension and drama, the simple absence of not being able to see the next episode immediately certainly doesn’t help the impression this episode leaves.

Bolin’s, Varrick’s and Varrick’s assitant’s storyline is a bit problematic as well. It led to a great action-scene with mechas, though. Really, after what happened in the first season the series really missed the train (haha, topical joke for this series, am I right…? well, it’s just a little pun, but you know…) in regards to non-bender-weaponry. I’ve mentioned before how Asami could’ve played a far bigger role for example, if they had allowed her to become the ‘Iron Man’ of the Avatar-universe. You know, she could’ve been someone who uses technology and innovation to grant herself superpowers that could match the fighting-abilities of benders. And the way this mecha-battle goes, you really wonder why no one had even considered using machines sooner. I don’t know how many non-benders there are in this series’ universe compared to benders but it would really change the militaristic dynamic of that world if it wouldn’t take a bender (or very well-trained non-bender) to defeat a bender anymore. Well, the point is that the fighting-scene was as entertaining to watch as all fight-scenes are in this series.

But their plot did feel like it was running in circles a bit. They’ve basically escaped their imprisonment just so that they could ultimately end up imprisoned once more. I assume that they will find a way to escape during the events of the next episode but as for this episode their actions felt a bit pointless. Well, it wasn’t as seemingly pointless as Asami’s scenese but hey…

There’s another character appearing on the eve of battle as well, of course and it’s none other than Korra! Really, I don’t dislike her character. It’s a REALLY solid character and I’ve mentioned a couple times already that Janet Varney sells that character really well but for God’s sake… Why does Korra have to be ALWAYS Korra? A snail would’ve experienced more character-development than her after three seasons! Korra has changed in such small-minded ways that she always just seems to exchange one problem for another. In this episode we see her desperately trying to keep peace between Kuvira and Suyin and it’s done in the most Korra-like fashion imaginable. She goes to Kuvira and is like “Stop fightin’ and shit!” and Kuvira’s like “Hey, it’s not me who wants to fight, just talk with Suyin that she should give up and everything will be dandy!” and Korra’s like “Yeah, good point, I will do that.”. Korra seems so egocentric in just wanting nobody to fight. Especially when she says that fighting has always made the situation worse as she has learned in the past, I’m not sure that she has really understood what Toph had been talking about in the last episode. Only because she personally has suffered in the past, there’s no reason to believe that trying to stop any suffering from happening at all costs is a reasonable goal to strive for. If she had said that in the second season, I would’ve bought it, but at this point…? It really feels like Korra is still thinking about how to fix her past mistakes instead of dealing with the situation she’s currently facing. And it could’ve been an interesting character-driven story-development but at this point it just feels like Korra has been stuck in the same place character-wise with similar problems for way too long. Each season has shown us little variations of the same character. Instead of moving on, the series just comes back to the same core-themes of Korra’s character again and again. And like I’ve said before, I guess, we apparently get the usual “simple person overwhelmed by complex problems”-shtick with Korra’s decisions here yet again.

This episode still nails the character-portions for the most part (Korra’s being the exception) and with Suyin explaining Kuvira’s background, the latter has certainly become a more interesting character. On a plot-level the episode does move around a lot but it really feels like it’s not really reaching any significant goal despite all the business this episode projects. Instead, characters just get moved into certain positions in preparation for the battle in the next episode. Also, Asami talks with her dad in prison – which is as sentimental and dull as it sounds.

Episode-Rating: 7.0/10

Random Thoughts:

  • Asami actually gets a couple scenes this episode, hurray! Except… at this point I don’t really see what the point of those is supposed to be. Look, I get it: there’s value in having Asami reconnect with her criminal father who looks for some sort of redemption but… For fuck’s sake! That thing dates back to the FIRST season! For two seasons Asami hasn’t given a rat’s ass about her father and now all of a sudden she wants to try to forgive him?! I know, I’ve been clamouring for her to have a bigger presence in this series but… not like that. Also, those scenes could’ve been powerful… but the timing for those scenes is just bad.
  • Varrick has grown a conscience… out of nowhere. I mean, it’s not like his character seems like a sociopath but the writing in this episode doesn’t sell him becoming a good person suddenly. That little speech he has where he describes having a conscience while also describing how he’s surprised to find out about having such a thing is just too blunt and straightforward to really work. He might as well have just said “I have a conscience now, get it?!”. A perfectionist-angle, for example, would’ve seemed more appropriate like him thinking that the energy of the spirit-vines can’t be stabilized in a way to effectively weaponize them, so why even bother with continuing the research? But Kuvira threatens him that he should continue his research despite that being not really the most logical decision and with that he realizes that Kuvira is kinda insane. Varrick shouldn’t have to become a good guy to be on the good guys’ side after all.
  • Also, Varrick’s assistant definitely has a plan to help Varrick escape, I imagine. Her display of anger at the end of this episode was probably just an act.
  • I’m really eager to see what Korra is gonna do about Suyin trying to assassinate Kuvira. It probably won’t be the smartest course of action…
  • In that scene where Suyin and her family argue with Kuvira, her fiancee and other guys while Bolin stands in the middle… It’s nice imagery, but it’s also kinda too on-the-nose for me. The imagery really just makes something visible that should be obvious to everybody who had followed the plot up to that point.

 

 

About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on November 1, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance (S04) and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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