Do the thing!
The overarching season concerns I discussed during last week’s review are still very much present, but I’m not going to worry about them right now, because this is a review for a single episode, and the episode was spectacular across the board.
First we have a “single combat” battle for Zao Fu which, if not the most impressive fight scene of the series (to be fair, they’ve set the bar ridiculously high after the Book 3 finale), provided some important character beats for both Kuvira and Korra.
We’ve seen that Kuvira is willing to lie (“Bolin is totes on my side in this!”) but that she’s also determined to keep her word (at least in public) and to ensure that others keep theirs as well. And she is right: Su and her sons broke the treaty and have been rightfully captured, she defeated Korra and won the battle for Zao Fu fair and square, and the airbenders did interfere after promising they wouldn’t (although that last one’s debatable, as I’m not sure anyone but Kuvira intended this to be a fight to the death). I don’t approve of her methods on the macro scale, and her “with us or against us” ideology is clearly dangerous, but on the micro level it’s hard to fault her in this episode. It makes her an interesting antagonist, and more than just an evil dictator figure.
As for Korra, it appears her personal journey isn’t over just yet, as removing the metal was only one more step on a long path to healing. The Avatar visions haven’t subsided, and the shock of the illusion sends her careening out of the Avatar state and losing pretty handily to Kuvira in the process. While it’s upsetting to see Korra still struggling like this, I’m glad that the series isn’t attempting any shortcuts or “quick cures” for her—recovering from trauma is a long, slow process, and it’s refreshing to see a show acknowledging that.
But for all the importance of that one-on-one battle, the real stars of this episode weren’t our primary pro- and antagonists, but rather a pair of wonderful side characters who manage the double-duty of comic relief and gradual, dynamic character development. Varrick and Bolin are a treasure in this episode, playing off each other with hilarious energy (I could seriously watch an entire buddy comedy about these two) but also displaying simple, genuine decency, as they fight to stay true to their values while also struggling to stay alive using what wits and abilities they possess.
If Book 4 is going to be something of a redemptive season (as seen with Asami’s father in the previous episode), then this may very well be the climax of Varrick’s character arc, as he makes the complete shift from an amoral profiteer to a man willing to die to prevent his technology from falling into the wrong hands. (“You have no idea what it’s like to give birth to genius only to have it kidnapped and raised by fools!” he laments, and then destroys his creation rather than see it used to harm others.) We’ve seen this progression happening slowly over the course of the past three-ish seasons, and it’s proven to be one of the more engaging character arcs of the series, and proof that a person really can change for the better.
Sure, he’s still something of a self-centered eccentric, but that’s part of what makes the transformation so believable—he’s still the man we met in Book 2, just with new experiences and ideas that have gradually affected his worldview. And perhaps the “mad scientist finds his conscience” is a well-trod path, but LoK finds patches on the path without footprints, and manages to make Varrick not only an immensely likable rascal, but also a steadfast moral rock in a world that is increasingly willing to compromise its values.
It’s taken a while, but Bryke & Co. are once again proving themselves adept at redemptive storytelling, and it’s a welcome sign going into the final half of our final Book. If we can get more of that sense of growth and humanity over the next six weeks, this season could be something truly special.
This, That, and the Other
- I am now taking bets on Zhu Li’s alignment. Loyal to Varrick? Loyal to Kuvira? Loyal to her own self-preservation? Let the debate begin!
- Whoa, Kuvira was really planning to kill Korra there at the end, wasn’t she? I think there are some arguments to be made for exactly how “evil” Kuvira is, but there’s no denying that she’s a serious hardass.
- Varrick’s handling of that “I need an assistant” moment with Batar was absolutely brilliant—there’s no acknowledgment of it, and I’m not sure Bolin even realizes it, but he played up the necessity and dangers perfectly, all but guaranteeing that Batar would give the job to Bolin. All of which is to say that Varrick totally saved Bolin from the reeducation camps when he certainly didn’t have to, adding just one more feather into his good-guy cap.
- Curious to see how hard the series pushes on Opal’s conflict between her airbender family (and that “oath of nonaggression”) and her flesh-and-blood family. There’s a good story to be had in that, but with everything else that’s going on, I’m not sure how much of it we’ll actually see.
- “He Varrick’d himself because some girl Zhu Li’d him.” Unfortunately for Varrick we already have a name for someone blowing themselves up in the Avatarverse: It’s called “Tarrlocking.”
- So the writers have pretty much just forgotten about Mako at this point, haven’t they?
- “Get your hands off me! You’re crushing my individuality!”