About Last Night: The Legend of Korra “Peacekeepers”

During the second season of The Legend of Korra, Mike Mazzacane and I teamed up together to provide weekly recaps of the season for Screened.  These posts contain my half of each entry.

I have one major complaint about this week’s Korra episode, and this season in general in fact, that I need to address before I get into the nitty gritty of “Peacekeepers” proper.  It’s the show’s constant insistence that the avatar must remain neutral throughout the North-South Water Tribe conflict.  That Korra must be neutral and cannot be seen favouring one side over the other.

Two problems with that: 1) the Northern Water Tribe, led by Unalaq, is pretty much just plain evil.  There haven’t been any scenes shown yet that can paint this issue as anything other than black and white.  You could argue that that’s because of the fact that our Big Bad is the head of them, but then you’d be forgetting how strangely sympathetic The Equalists were last season.  The bad guys can have a point, but it’s the methods that you should disagree with, which is what Korra managed to pull off last season but seems to have just regressed to “POWER! EVIL!” for the NWT’s (I’m just going to abbreviate them from now on to save on effort and word count) motivation this season, which is a shame.  And for 2) if the avatar remained neutral, then wouldn’t Aang have pretty much had to let Fire Lord Ozai off the hook?  He was clearly evil, but apparently the avatar can’t take sides in a conflict which, according to the characters in this universe, makes Aang a bad avatar.  I’m sorry, I just get annoyed at such a massive disconnect between what the characters think and what the show wants the viewers to think.

Other than that, I mostly enjoyed this episode and not just because Korra and Mako finally broke up, but let’s tackle that first, anyway.  I give this show a lot of stick for the writing of its relationships, but I am able to give credit where said credit is due; the breakup was handled excellently.  Whereas Season 1 spent an inordinate amount of time trying and failing to convince me, and a lot of the viewers, that Korra and Mako are perfect for each other, Season 2 has spent a reasonable amount of time demonstrating that maybe they aren’t after all.  And I buy it, and not just because Mako is still a very poorly written character 80% of the time.  Despite what they both think, they’re too incompatable for each other.  People with personalities that headstrong, and who are never capable of seeing anyone else’s viewpoint, will find it hard to agree on anything and that makes relationships hard work.  Especially for teenagers like Mako and Korra which leads to Mako, like most teenagers who come across hard work and most people who are confronted with people too stubborn for their own good, ending things with the pair of them.  I have pretty much no doubt in my mind that they won’t end up back together again by season’s end, but Janet Varney and David Faustino still sold the living hell out of it, anyway.

Bolin, meanwhile, who seems to have officially become the Xander Harris of Korra and turns out to be a master of the Mick Foley cheap pop, is slowly factoring his way back into the show thanks to the efforts of Varrick, who is now the best forever whenever Lin Beifong isn’t around (who finally returned this week and got the best line of the night).  The show seems to be making Bolin’s lack of… anything, really, to do an actual plot point without devaluing the character, with Varrick trying to turn him into a war propaganda star thanks to his latest invention of “movers” and his accidentally being the catalyst for Korra and Mako’s break-up.  It’s a far more worthy use of his time than being the chew toy for some remarkably uncomfortable Eska sequences.  Incidentally, I am glad that she and Desna are having an actual use here beyond that romance subplot, although Aubrey Plaza’s line readings during that final, stunning water chase/fight were surprisingly wooden and unnatural in an unintended way.

If the first four episodes devoted themselves to tearing down the father figures of Korra’s universe, this one spent its time tearing down the notions that its authority figures may actually be halfway competent at their jobs.  In Lin’s supposedly crack police force, only Mako seems to give a crap about the act of policing.  The president of Republic City cares more about photo ops than the pressing concerns down south.  Even Korra herself is demonstrated as being too personally invested in the conflict and too stubborn to believe anything other than the NWT being evil that must be stopped (as evidenced by her cold dismissal of Mako’s announcement that one of those responsible for the bombing during a peace rally was a firebender).  The only one who seems to want to act is General Iroh but his hands are forcibly tied by the president.  If all of this is giving off any major impression to me, it’s that the Avatar/Korra universe is kind of a crappy place to live.  Whatever sense of wonder and discovery that Avatar fostered is slowly being ripped off and replaced with a colder, more cynical view of the world.  It’s become far more apparent that this series is designed for those that originally watched Avatar and have aged accordingly, in regards to its worldview; those who are becoming far more realistic and bitter about the world but are still susceptible to base enjoyments, like a platypus-bear pooping money.

Other than the whole neutrality thing I mentioned up top, the only other thing I can majorly knock against this episode is that the Tenzin subplot felt incredibly superfluous and a waste of time.  Other than the sight of Meelo ordering a whole squadron of trained lemurs to pull off a highly choreographed flight sequence whilst Tenzin looks on in despair, it added nothing to the episode and just felt like unnecessary padding or someone realising that they had JK Simmons booked for an extra day and, dammit, they were going to make use that time!  It sticks out especially because this episode was otherwise extremely well-paced and tightly plotted, as evidenced by the credits not running whilst the episode was finishing up for once, and Tenzin’s subplot just smacked of filling out the run-time.

Still, a very enjoyable episode.  Having looked around the Internet (which is a dangerous thing that you should avoid at all costs), I can see that I’m being way kinder to this season, so far, than, well, everyone else.  Maybe that makes me easy to impress, maybe that makes me less of a nitpicker, maybe that means I’m a bad critic or maybe I just like fun; whichever the reason, I’m enjoying this season of Korra.  More so now that the return of the dark spirits should hopefully signal a full steam ahead approach in regards to getting a real Big Bad.  Because, seriously, you don’t tease me a Grey DeLisle voiced character with an ominous name and not follow through with everything you’ve got.

Callie Petch is just so literary.

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