The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance – 09 Review

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The pacing of Legend Of Korra is a real mixed bag. Sometimes I feel like the series should spend way more time on one thing and other time I feel like they should just move on already. I guess, that’s the problem with a series whose strength are its characters. The perception of such a story is bound to be very subjective as it relies heavily on how much you like the characters of the series. Just take the “Korra Alone”-Episode… Many loved that episode and yeah, it’s a great episode. But for me personally, I just didn’t like the direction of that character. There wasn’t enough commitment there for me. If you actually want to show Korra running around incognito in search of a new identity after she had lost most of her Avatar-prowess, I would want to see some radical changes to the traditional Avatar-formula. How about becoming a bender who incorporates technical gadgets into her bending? You know, stuff like that. But instead the arc has been for Korra to somehow return to her old state and her problem really just her lacking ability to be like her old self. Toph and (in this episode) Zaheer may talk about her having to move on but she’s still stuck in the past pretty much. This episode shows at least some progression in that regard and once again it uses its opportunities to focus on characters wisely.

Review:

It’s poignant how the series considers Korra’s diminishing power a thing she needs to revert in order to restore her old self. But I’ve already talked at length about my gripes with this “cyclic character-development of Korra”, so whatever. The difference this time around is, though, that the episode is actually going somewhere with it. Even when she managed to remove the poison in the Toph-Episode and when she faced Kuvira fully realizing that she would probably lose, all these moments of self-awareness didn’t change anything. Korra would still remain weakened and traumatized, she would remain a victim of her circumstances. But visiting Zaheer didn’t only remind her yet again that she needs to move on but it actually led to a moment of acceptance where she regained enough of her inner balance to travel into the spirit world. It’s a bit weird to say this but Korra’s plotline has been going nowhere until now. A lot happened to her and character-wise her interactions with the other characters were great but in terms of change nothing really happened. There were moments where you would expect a character-development to happen (like in the Toph-Episode) but then nothing really came out of it. Korra more or less has been just wandering through the story in that regard. Her meeting with Zaheer was the first time she actually made a step forward again regarding her Avatar-duties.

At least, the series finally feels like it’s going somewhere again. What this episode did better than previous episodes of this season is the way it brings the character-stuff and the story-stuff together to form a plot that feels meaningful. The episodes until now always felt very single-minded when it came to their A-plots and then had mostly separate B-plots. And since the series kept itself from resolving Korra’s issues while also letting those be one of the main-concerns of this season, a lot of the storytelling felt like it was stuck. That led then to this sensation of incoherence as the plot was moving forward while the story centered around Korra’s problems didn’t move forward at the same speed. Kuvira did all those nasty villain-things and it felt like the heroes were just standing by helpless because of that. If there was any movement at all, it went into the other direction AWAY from the plot. This episode and the previous two episodes were really about how the good guys were finally regrouping to get ready for fighting back. In terms of dynamic, though, this had really hampered the pacing of the middle of this season.

If you look at the A-plot of this episode you actually get a variety of incidental scenes. One is the spirit-vine-forest kidnapping people, another is Korra unable to help them and the third one is her meeting with Zaheer again. The beginning of the episode clearly opens with a comic-relief-sequence and it’s actually one of the better ones (that aren’t centered on Bolin or Varrick). Ryu as an emo-teenager who has to do a guided tour for tourists (and his Mom and Dad) is a nice little bit. This leads to the spirit-vine-problem which then later gets worse as Jinora gets trapped also. But before that Korra finds out what Kuvira is doing to the spiritvines at the swamp and so she storms into a world-council-sitting she hadn’t been invited to.

There’s a lot going on in this A-plot but this episode is structurally one of the best of this season. This episode finds a very organic way to not let this storyline focus on one thing but instead it lets the plot determine which issues come up that Korra has to deal with. And through that, this episode is able to cover a lot of ground story-wise despite not having some world-shaking plot.

The council Korra disturbs is the best scene of this episode in that regard. It addresses the issue of Kuvira’s actions and shows how the world is unwilling to start another war without provocation. I actually would wish that they would’ve elaborated on that point a bit more even to show that it may sound easy to see Kuvira as a threat and just invade her Empire but then the world would have another war to deal with that won’t end swiftly considering that they’ll have to conquer a LOT of land if Kuvira indeed controls the whole Empire. Although fortifying Republic City’s borders against Kuvira might as well be a declaration of war in that regard. And Republic City also still harbors the exiled king of the Earth-Empire. In fact, the Fire-Kingdom under Izumi is very generous if she even offers to bolster Republic City’s defenses. But that whole thing is just nitpicking and not that important.

A far more subtle but also potent story-point is the simple fact that this council happened without Korra. Even if Tenzin is doing it out of concern for Korra, it’s nice to see this change in attitude expressed in that way. Without the full power of the Avatar Korra is considered to be just a fragile girl. Korra is right to be angry but it’s also understandable for everyone to look at Korra’s current state and be like “Yeah, how about you take it easy for a little while…?”. It’s just this little exchange where Korra realizes what’s going on and where Tenzin tries to explain his reasoning – and that’s enough! You could almost call it a good example of “show, don’t tell” for the remarkable brevity it shows. There isn’t any unnecessary soap-opera drama and Korra doesn’t immediately feel like she needs to prove her importance. I wish, Korra would’ve had a more poignant retort ready when confronted with the assumption that without her full power her job as the Avatar is irrelevant now but fine, it did the job.

And that notion of Korra being irrelevant continues when Tenzin hears of his daughter’s predicament his first thought isn’t to ask Korra for help but instead think of some convoluted plan involving Korra’s father and the spirit-portal there to help Jinora. This episode is really good in connecting all those little dots with the plot and show off the nuances of the various characters. That has always been the most important point of this series: characters. As long as the series focuses on a character-driven perspective for its plots, it will be fine, maybe even great. And that’s when Korra decides to face Zaheer – which is actually a way more potent character-moment than Korra meeting Toph in the swamps. It’s clear how that bit was used for a little bit of character-development and story-progression by removing the poison from Korra but in terms of characterization it wasn’t very powerful. Korra actually meeting with the villain who had tormented her so much feels more relevant in contrast to that.

Korra’s confrontation with Zaheer… Again, it was good, it did the job but I really would’ve wished for more poignant writing. The whole spiel with accepting things is basically the same thing that Toph had told Korra when she had told her to let go of her fears. This sequence shows that Korra is basically afraid of dying. But she not only clings to living, she also clings to her powerlessness as a way to protect herself from the responsibility of her power and her death. It is expected of her to sacrifice her life for her duties as the Avatar and that means accepting that maybe she will have to die in order to bring balance to the world. So… I guess, it’s likely that Korra will have to sacrifice herself for the greater good at the end of this season.

The B-Plot of this episode centers around Bolin and Varrick returning to Republic-City. It’s a bit weird how they just suddenly appear at the council-meeting without even mentioning the other refugees from the Earth-Empire who actually would’ve made a good case for the need of invading the Earth-Empire, I would assume. Anyway, the structure of this plot-line is just as well-done as the A-plot-line centered around Korra as Bolin basically gets mixed up with Opal’s search for revenge. She directs her anger at Bolin who’s very upfront about how he has made a mistake, though. It’s a very sentimental plot-line that also serves as a bit of comedic relief but the ending of the episode offers a sweet conclusion for the whole thing. As Bolin outright confesses his love for Opal she rethinks her aggressive attitude towards him and asks him for help in their secret mission to free Lin and Opal’s relatives.

This episode really knew how to turn a lot of incidents that would seem like filler into great setups for character-development and story-progression. Even if the episode didn’t really cover a lot of ground when it comes to Kuvira, this episode and the seventh episode have been highlights of the season for that very reason. I would say this season has treated its villain better than the way the third season had treated Zaheer but thanks to this the third season actually had more opportunities to focus on its characters And whenever this series can stop and actually create purely character-driven storylines, it starts to shine.

Episode-Rating: 8.5/10

Random Thoughts:

  • It was a bit of cheap writing that when Korra and Mako rushed into the spirit-vine-forest, they would just stumble upon the bubbles that would contain the victims. But with all that stuff this episode needed to cover, I guess, they had to cut some stuff from this episode to fit it into one episode. Also, one has to remember: the budget wasn’t that great. That doesn’t mean this episode hadn’t been finished before they had learned about the budget-cuts. The production of this series was hardly a cakewalk.
  • Varrick and Bolin really should have brought the refugees to that council-meeting.
  • That council-meeting seemed very… sparse. If four people sitting at a table constitutes all the governments of the Avatar-world, then it’s a small world indeed.
  • There’s a scene with Varrick and Asami and I don’t mention this purely because it’s the one scene with Asami in it. I like the notion that the president of Republic City would go away from the council-meeting with the thought that without Izumi’s support he would need to find help elsewhere. It’s really just another example of how dense the storytelling of this episode is.
  • Zaheer’s expression when he learnt of his “contribution” to the Earth-Empire was priceless. It was quite understandable how he would feel some remorse about how his actions brought about a dictatorship instead of the freedom he strived for.

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on November 28, 2014, in Anime, Reviews, The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Balance (S04) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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