Review: The Legend of Korra – Book 4, Episode 5

How do you solve a problem like Kuvira?

This is a difficult episode for me to discuss because my opinion of it is going to vary significantly depending on where the show takes us from here. I can tell you that right now I’m intrigued, cautiously confident in the creators… but also, a little concerned.

We seem to be building towards a new kind of resolution for Korra – she describes violence as the method the “old her” would have used and regrets it, convinced that it only “made things worse.” She also has faith in Kuvira, given that she saved Tonraq and certainly seemed reasonable the few times we saw her during Book 3. If nothing else, Su trusted her and cared about her, once (although Su also trusted her traitorous advisor, so maybe that isn’t saying much). And I very much like the idea here, that the series wants to depict a peaceful resolution, to show that two opposing sides can come to terms and achieve compromise and understanding, and that the Avatar’s job is more about building bridges than tearing down buildings.

But boy, if that’s where we’re going, then LoK has a long path to take before it can get me to believe it. The problem I’m having with this episode is that, for all that both Korra and the series itself seem to be implying that we’re heading towards peace and balance (the scenes between Asami and her father this week were surely a part of this overarching theme), everything we’ve seen of Kuvira so far suggests that she is, as Bolin and Varrick put it, “crazy!” Slave labor, “reeducation” camps, ruthless weaponization, a total unwillingness to bend in any direction, and particularly the way she treats the people who are actually her allies… right now this looks like fascism in its most destructive form, and I’m having a hard time seeing how Korra can resolve this peacefully. Hell, at this point, as much as I like the idea of compromise, a part of me would really like to see Korra (in her own words) “watersmack” Kuvira in the mouth.

Now the good news is that we still have half a season. Most of what we’ve seenof the new Earth Empire is fairly positive, and the truly negative aspects are all hearsay – we haven’t actually been to the reeducation camps or visited the towns Kuvira left behind (except Ba Sing Se, which if nothing else didn’t look any worse off than it was under the old Earth Queen). More to the point, we haven’t really seen any of this from Kuvira’s perspective, or gotten a true grasp on her motivations or ultimate goals. If she truly thinks she’s doing the right thing, then there’s at least a chance to reach her, but if this is all an egomaniacal power grab, then Korra’s only option may be a militaristic one.

I guess all of this is a long, rather ramble-tastic way of saying that I very much hope we get a little more backstory and fleshing out for Kuvira herself in the coming weeks. Unlike previous antagonists, we’d already met Kuvira, and so it’s more important than ever that we understand her character arc, and see how in the span of three years a woman who seemed friendly and reasonable could turn into the harsh, unyielding dictator we see today. She seems to have started with good, even noble intentions, and I find her disappointment in Su completely warranted, given the chaos going on in the rest of the Earth Kingdom (Su’s decision to sit on her hands while the rest of the nation suffered doesn’t sit well with me either, to be honest). But I need to see more of the steps between those well-intentioned beginnings and where we are now, if I’m to truly believe that Kuvira can (and should) be reasoned with.

And hey, maybe I’m wrong and Book 4 has nothing to do with peaceful conclusions. Maybe the whole point will be that sometimes you do have to use violent means to help the world achieve “balance.” But if that is the case, then it will make Korra’s journey seem a rather unfulfilling one, and all of her peacekeeping efforts this episode will only paint her as naive instead of as a cool-headed leader seeking a middle path. I’m still invested, and I still have faith that Bryke & Co. will pull this all together into a satisfying season and series. But I’m none too sure how they’re going to get there at this point.

This, That, and the Other

  • Aaaand Su and her sons are sneaking into Kuvira’s camp to “put an end to this.” Man, Korra has got her work cut out for her on both sides of this deeply personal conflict. 
  • Poor, sweet Bolin is trying so hard to do the right thing, and he just keeps getting deeper into trouble. The objective, story-focused part of me hopes that he does get sent to one of these reeducation camps so we can see what that’s all about, but the subjective part of me just wants Opal to bust him out and snog him furiously, because HAPPY ENDINGS FOR BOLIN, DAMN IT. Happy freaking endings. 
  • I appreciate LoK’s willingness to try out new animation and fight choreography styles, and really, the cell-shaded mechas looked way better than they usually do in anime, but… well, they still look out of place among the lush 2D backgrounds, and the animation felt a bit stilted. Call me an old fogey, but I vastly prefer old-fashioned standard 2D animation. 
  • “Guards, do the thing!” I can’t decide if Zhu Li has really given up on Varrick or if this is all a ploy, but either way, this had to be my favorite line of the episode. 
  • You guys. YOU GUYS. Varrick is building an ACTUAL SPIRIT BOMB.On the bright side, it WILL take him five episodes to fully charge it, so…

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