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The Legend of Korra – Battle of Zaofu Review

""I know, I'll base the fate of this city on a fist fight!""

The fourth season of The Legend of Korra marched on this week with its new episode “Battle of Zaofu”. What a strange episode this is. It had a couple of strong points but the majority of the plot itself seems so weird to me. I’ll get into it later, maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, here we go:

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So in a pretty centralized plot, Su and her sons are caught by Kuvira’s forces while in the middle of a sneak attack. In response, Korra travels out to try and negotiate their release. Talks fail almost immediately and Korra challenges Kuvira to a fight for the fate of Zaofu itself.

Meanwhile, Varrick and Bolin are forced into working on the Spirit Vine Weapon, but Varrick has a few tricks left up his sleeve.

Korra’s High Stakes Bending

Here’s my problem with Korra fighting Kuvira for the city. It doesn’t make much sense. Almost none, in fact! I was actually expecting Korra to have some sort of plan in mind when the fight began. She was stalling for some reinforcements, she had called in Tenzin and some airbenders, something. But lo and behold, no. She literally was betting on her broken fighting skills alone.

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That is how her character has usually been, but it looked like she learned something the last couple of episodes. She even spoke about how immediately resorting to violence was “the old Korra”. I suppose you could say that Kuvira gave her no choice, but that doesn’t explain why she would risk everything on a one-on-one fight. That seems a lot like the Old Korra to me.

Maybe it was too much to expect Korra to have a plan outside of “well I’ll just bend rocks at her till she stops”. I mean she hasn’t shown a proclivity for such planning before, but isn’t that kind of the point? To show her progress? To develop her character? I don’t mean have her suddenly become the best, I’m saying show her improve. You don’t even need to have her plan work, just show that she’s formulating one. Eventually, you’d think, she’d set down the path to become a wise spiritual leader. A part of that would be realizing how dumb just fighting her would be.

And it was dumb. Did Korra really, deep down, believe she could win? The logic is spotty at best. She was roundly beaten by  average benders in the underground circuit and couldn’t even touch Toph. Korra had to have known that Kuvira was an especially skilled bender because she fought along side her. She had to have known she would lose! It wasn’t even like she was planning on using the Avatar State. She had plenty of opportunities to, but only went into it once Su told her to. Once she did, she almost immediately started to win. I’ll get into what happens next, don’t worry.

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The fight itself was well done. It was exciting and well animated. I think it’s just… I don’t know. Frustrating? I feel like this happens every season. Korra thinks she can win on strength alone and then has to get taught a lesson. She then kind of learns that lesson and we’re back to square one. I just want her to grow. To do something different.

Speaking of something different.

Varrick’s New Dimension

Varrick has been a mixed bag for me. He’s definitely not my favorite character, but he’s not the worst. Although he’s the 108th comic relief character in the show, he’s saved by the occasional show of hidden depths. In the second season I was almost instantly tired of him and his Wacky Hijinks™, but when he was revealed to be a murderous war profiteer I warmed up to him. He became interesting. A real character.

However, in the next season he’s out of prison and the murderous opportunist is gone. It was just him and his Wacky Hijinks™. Luckily he was in it sparingly, sacrificing some his screen time for the dozen other comic relief characters. When he started to become a bigger and bigger part of this season I got worried. I wouldn’t be able to stand him like this. Especially when, last episode, he inexplicably became a good guy.

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I think we’ve changed another corner this episode, however. Forced to build another Spirit Vine weapon for the Earth Empire, Varrick instead builds a bomb. A bomb that’ll both destroy all his work and, because of Zhu Li’s betrayal, kill himself. When the the Earth Kingdom’s men retreated, I fully expected this to be a trick. I’ve seen this stunt a bunch before. Then came the real twist that sold the whole thing. Varrick actually made it into a bomb. There was no shutoff switch. He fully intended this to end him. What a development! I was in.

I think this is a really interesting way to go for a character, and especially not one we’ve seen before in a show like this. He’s no longer just a wacky character, he’s kind of tragic too. Lost without his put upon assistant. Lost to the point of suicide. Not only that but kind of noble? I’m still kind of bummed he just became a guy with a conscience instead of showing him getting there, but it was a cool idea having him sacrifice himself by destroying his work so that the Earth Empire couldn’t use it. This all kind of turns him from a zany comic relief character into a crazy genius who’s just barely keeping it together. That’s how you tell a story.

Are We Going Through This Again?

So as Korra’s in the Avatar State, ready to deal Kuvira the killing blow, she hallucinates her past self and loses control of her Avatar State, leading to her defeat by Kuvira. Sigh. The thing is, I get that this is the arc this season and she’ll have to fight her demons before the final boss fight, but I’m not happy about it. The moment with Toph where she bends out the poison felt like such a triumph. It felt like we moved past something.

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So why do we need to keep retreading this issue? Since it was wrapped up rather nicely earlier this season, can’t we move on to something else. Like what The Avatar means in this new world? How Korra’s supposed to find balance in her role? How she has to be more than just the strongest? Something?

I have this fear that we won’t be getting a satisfying end to this arc. We’ll probably get the fight scene where she beats her demons and defeats Kuvira, but I mean, that’s kind of the lame ending. I want to see her become a better person. I want to see her struggle to be better. I don’t want her to beat her demons, I want to see her forged by them. To accept them and rise above it. I’m just pretty sure it won’t happen.

Rating
6.5
Pros
  • Korra vs Kuvira Fight
  • Varrick's New Dimension
Cons
  • Strange Motivations
  • Some cringe-worthy dialog
  • Retread into old problems

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