A little Toph love can go a long way.
I griped a bit last week about how LoK handled Korra’s physical trauma (TL;DR: it struck me as rather rote and unimaginative), but what I forgot to mention was how much I appreciate the way they’re handling her psychological trauma. They’re depicting a lot of symptoms common to those with PTSD (nightmares, flashbacks, lashing out, withdrawing from others both emotionally and physically) but in a way that’s unique to Korra herself—particularly with the phantom berserker Avatar—and we see that again this episode in the time she spends with Toph.
I admit that I groaned a little when Toph blamed Korra’s struggles on the “bits of metal” still in her body, because I was really worried that LoK was going to take a deus ex machina shortcut to Korra’s recovery. But I should have more faith in this series, because ultimately the metal is just another physical manifestation (like the phantom Avatar) of Korra’s internal struggle with her own past pain.
“I can’t deal with all your issues for you,” Toph finally tells her, something which we’ve known and which Korra has suspected for some time as well. There are people around our Avatar more than willing to help her as best they can, but ultimately Korra herself must continue to work through her own fears and anxieties. This is turning into a fantastic character arc for Korra and a really thoughtful, well-paced examination of trauma and overcoming barriers (both the ones that appear on their own and the ones we create ourselves), and I’m loving that the show is taking its time to work through them.
But this week wasn’t just about Korra, and while I’ve spent much of my Book 4 reviews discussing her and her current challenges, it’s high time we turn our attention to the struggles going on in the Avataverse’s community. If Korra’s journey has been an individual one so far this season, then the rest of the characters are very much fighting a battle with society and the rapid pace of changing ideas and technologies. As with Book 3 we’re faced with a difficult conflict with no easy answers and no obvious choices.
There’s no denying that Kuvira has stabilized the Earth Nation while Wu has done nothing but flirt, whine, and party, but has the Earth Kingdom Empire’s freedom from other nations come at the cost of the freedom of its citizens? It strikes me that Kuvira’s methods rather neatly display the two sides of nationalism, for while her fierce patriotism has certainly united the country and strengthened it against outside influence, it also allows no dissent within the country (the “you’re either with us or against us” mentality, if you like) and as such severely damages individual liberty even as it strengthens national independence. Bolin (ever the optimistic) can only see the positives of this movement while Mako (ever the pessimist) can only see its negatives, but neither is exactly wrong, which is what makes this conflict between both the brothers and the Earth factions so compelling.
It’s unclear just yet whether Kuvira truly believes what she’s doing is right or if this is nothing but a callous power grab (I’m leaning towards the former), but ultimately I think the Book’s primary societal conflict centers around the same damaging force that’s been a problem in every LoK season: Zealotry. It’s not that equality or spiritualism or individualism or nationalism are inherently destructive (in fact they can all be incredibly positive forces), but that when any of them are taken to their extremes—when the people fighting for these causes become so consumed by them that they’re willing to do anything to those who disagree—then the world becomes unstable. Out of balance, if you will.
And that’s where the Avatar comes in: To stand between the opposing forces with compassion and reason and find the middle path that’s most beneficial for everyone. But before any of that can happen, she’ll have to spend some time in the swamp finding a little balance for herself. And after this excellent episode, I’m once again excited to see where that journey takes her.
This, That, and the Other
- Remember last week when I grumbled about Grandma Katara’s lackluster characterization? Take that and reverse it for Toph. Glowing reviews all around. She’s a fascinating and unique individual, growing in her understanding of the natural world (and her bending prowess) but still as saucy, stubborn, and no-nonsense as ever. While last week’s interactions between Korra and Katara felt very commonplace (as if you could have put their words into pretty much anyone else’s mouth and they would have worked just as well), everything that happens between Korra and Toph could only happen between these two unique individuals butting heads and sniping at one another, and it was an absolute joy to watch.
- And speaking of, someone should get Toph and Kuvira in a room together. Five minutes alone and Toph would have that big head of hers deflated right proper.
- So many great lines this week. My favorite? “Wow, and I thought Beifong was grumpy.” “I’m the original Beifong!” And Toph is so happy about that, too.
- …Okay, and one more: “My royal broach is a lie!”
- Ju Li spoke, you guys! I think there’s an LoK drinking game somewhere that requires we all take a shot now.
- At first I thought he was just throwaway comic relief, but thanks to Mako’s Truth Bombs, Prince Wu may actually end up having a meaningful character arc before this season is over. The creators have written him to be silly enough that I find more amusing than obnoxious, so I’d definitely be okay with that.
- Oh for the spirits’ sakes, Varrick, what doomsday device are you building now?