If you love your children, send them on a journey.
Bryke & Co. have a knack for writing episodes that can feel like filler but actually provide you with some valuable information and character development along the way, and I think “The Calling” is a good example of that. I spent the first 10 minutes or so of this one becoming increasingly annoyed—partly because Meelo is very funny in small doses but borderline insufferable in large ones, and partly because I just couldn’t figure out why we were dedicating an entire episode to the kids’ Korra hunt.
But this is an episode about making connections—connecting Korra to a location, connecting the kids to one another, and then finally connecting Korra to the world and, specifically, to the kids searching for her—so perhaps it’s important that we see those connections failing for a time so that, when they do finally start to come together, we understand how difficult that process can be and how important it is to keep trying even so.
Things improved significantly once Korra went on her own hunt, seeking mushrooms but instead finding visions of her lowest moments. I admit that I find the quasi-sentient swamp to be an awfully convenient plot device (I thought that during its brief appearance in A:tLA, too), but the creators use it here to give visual representation to Korra’s fears, and to allow her to finally express them to another person.
Korra doesn’t discuss her healing process much in this episode, but we see it happen gradually, as she first acknowledges her past and why it’s troubling her, then opens up to Toph, and then at last seeks to reconnect with the world and—most importantly—with the people she loves. And as soon as she does they connect right back, a beautiful moment that proves to Korra that she isn’t alone, that there are people who care about her and want her back in their lives. All she had to do was reach out to them.
All of which is incredibly important for Korra’s personal journey. Yet the one connection that may prove the most vital for the world at large is one that Toph made, as she encourages Korra to connect with her past enemies and see them as as more than just “the bad guys.”
She points out that each of them had worthwhile ideals and goals (equality, bringing back the spirits, freedom), and that they weren’t harmful because of those ends, but rather because of their means. They were “out of balance,” she says, because they took their ideologies too far. This is a point that a lot of viewers (self included) have remarked upon, and I’m very glad (and a bit relieved) that someone in the show acknowledged it as well. Hopefully Korra will take this to heart as she works to aid the Earth Nation in their current crisis.
And rest assured, a crisis is what awaits her. In an episode that was primarily character development, the Earth soldiers still managed to throw us (and Ikki) a huge piece of plot: Kuvira is gathering her troops to march on the Metal City of Zao Fu, the only place that still hasn’t sworn allegiance to the Earth Empire. In an episode about the importance of connections, this is one connection that feels wrong—a forced unity between city-states by a leader who doesn’t reach out so much as grab and pull, regardless of what the other side wants.
It’s an imbalance of both power and will, and if LoK (and Toph) have taught us anything over the past few seasons, it’s that this imbalance—this unwillingness to communicate or empathize, to destroy anyone or anything that stands between oneself and one’s goal—is, more than any specific ideal, the true danger that threatens the modern world. Healed or not, Korra will have her work cut out for her.
This, That, and the Other
- So Meelo might have annoyed me nonstop this episode, but damn, you guys, the kid’s one heck of an artist.
- “Avatar? We still have one of those?” Korra could really use a good PR rep.
- I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the great strengths of the Avatarverse—and one of the reasons why the world feels so lush and real and has enchanted so many viewers—is that there’s almost never a throwaway character. The Earth “Empire” soldiers who capture Ikki are never given names and only have maybe 5-10 minutes of screen time, but they feel like fully realized individuals with distinct histories, personalities, and lives beyond their jobs. Fellow writers, take note: It’s little details like these that bring a fictional world to life.
- And speaking of those soldiers, their scenes with Ikki were the highlight of the “Airbender Adventures” part of the story. Ikki’s my favorite character in this episode: She’s so cheerful and friendly that people tend to think she’s nonthreatening or even unintelligent (including her siblings), but she plays those guards like a fiddle, and the ease with which she slips in and out of the ropes proves that she’s never in any real danger. This gal just might grow up to be the most fearsome of Tenzin’s kids.
- This week in Look At How Much Detail They Put Into This Show: The Kuvira posters hanging on the buildings, reminiscent of historical dicators; Ikki slipping out of her ropes to wipe her (probably fake) tears when the guards aren’t looking; and of course, Poki the Lemur eating his own berry vomit.
- “It was hot. I was on a blimp. And I think a giant turtle showed up. Wow. What a day.” Grandma Toph should write all the episode summaries.