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We were treated to another installment of The Legend of Korra‘s fourth season, an episode titled “Reunion”. While the subplot was good, the main story suffered pretty greatly from artificial, all too forced character conflict. Most of my problems with this show have been, for the most part, nitpicky, but my issue this episode is pretty substantial.
Let’s get into it.
In this episode, Korra finally returns to Republic City after three years. While out to a reunion dinner, Prince Wu is kidnapped, forcing Korra, Asami, and Mako to chase him down. Still, they find time to fight amongst themselves! Meanwhile, Bolin and Varrick run afoul of some Earth Empire fugitives and hatch a daring scheme to get them all across the border. However, as is to be expected, things don’t go according to plan.
Man, you guys, this reunion. So Korra arrives at Republic City and meets back up with Mako and Asami. They go out to dinner and everything is going pretty smoothly. Then all of a sudden Asami snaps at Korra. Really, go watch the episode. It’s no exaggeration to sum it up like:
“Big news, I went to my father and I think I’m going to forgive him.”
“Do you think you can trust him?”
“YOU THINK I HAVEN’T THOUGHT OF THAT?! YOU’VE BEEN GONE THREE YEARS YOU HAVE NO RIGHT!”
It’s so strange! I get that she’s probably at war with herself over the decision to forgive her father, but that doesn’t really excuse a sudden and dramatic mood swing. There’s stand-offish and then there’s irrational. It’s made worse considering how out of character this is for Asami. For the entire series up to this point she’s been portrayed as this stoic, understanding business woman. When she was legitimately betrayed she was angry, yes, but she didn’t fly into a barely-contained rage at the drop of a hat.
But it doesn’t stop there! When the three isolate Prince Wu to a single train, Mako questions following Korra’s powers (despite the fact that he followed them almost the entire way there and her direction led to the capture of an Earth Kingdom flunky) which causes Korra to question his bodyguard abilities. Bickering ensues. It’s so out of left field. Mako had aired no skepticism of Korra’s abilities ever in the show. Korra’s instant snap back seems weirdly out of place, especially since she has been trying to be less hot-headed the last couple episodes. It all seemed so forced. So artificial.
I think the problem is that there was no real conflict set up for this reunion. Well, that’s not entirely true. While Korra was gone, she only wrote to Asami and made her swear that she wouldn’t tell Bolin or Mako. For no reason. Really, she says in this episode that she didn’t know why she did it. So Mako is clearly hurt by this and Korra apologizes and that’s it. Conflict over. Water under the bridge.
So now you have a situation where it’s just three good friends getting back together. There’s no inherent conflict or drama. No real drive. So, to compensate, the characters are forced into uncharacteristic behaviors in order to add to the drama and set up an obstacle to be resolved at the end. From some shows, this wouldn’t surprise me, but this is an Avatar show. I expect much more.
It’s made weirder when you consider that it’s not like the story had no where to go. There are plot points to play into this reunion, but none of them were explored. No one ever confronted Korra about disappearing for years leaving the world to its own devices, or the fact that she tried to defeat Kuvira without help and has now doomed an entire city to a brutal war of attrition. Instead they briefly fight about letters.
Bolin and Varrick’s escape is by far the strongest aspect of this episode. Bolin continues to showcase his combat skills while still finding new ways to annoy me with the gross misrepresentation of the effects of lava. And Varrick? Once one of my least favorite characters, he’s now growing on me more and more. His shenanigans are a bit contrived, but he can be legitimately funny on occasion. Even better, he’s proving himself to be pretty useful. Not in an Asami kind of way, but in an actual contribution way. Bending and being rich are great traits for teammates, but it’s hard to beat being an absolute genius.
Beyond just Bolin and Varrick, this plot dealt with stronger themes and actually pushed the story forward. The frustrating part is that this is happening to two of the least main characters. In effect, the two goofy comic relief characters. Why could they have not found a way to incorporate the main characters, or at least, you know, Korra into this? I think Avatar: The Last Airebender had a pretty great advantage in that its main characters stuck together almost all the time. This way, the people we’re supposed to be following are right in the middle of the conflict. It makes everything more compelling.
We got a lot of the bending action in this subplot as well. It was well animated, and had some fantastic direction. You could clearly follow the action and its progression on screen. Which isn’t too surprising, The Legend of Korra has usually had top notch animation. However, I feel the need to point out — again — they gravely underestimate the power of lava. I know it’s not a huge deal, but when someone dodges a wave of lava by a few inches it takes me out of it a little bit.
So at the end of this episode we’re treated to a scene in The Swamp with Kuvira and her forces. It appears those spirit vines are much more powerful then the ones in Republic City so Kuvira wants those to complete her super weapon. As her mechs began to chop them down I had to wonder. Is this supposed to mean something?
I mean, sure, it shows that her superweapon will be even more dangerous and that she may have to fight Toph, but I mean something deeper. The Avatar franchise is known for its attention to detail and the way it plays with themes. Perhaps this is showing Kuvira’s rule as a cold, mechanical one that values power over spirituality. Her machine soldiers ruthlessly sever the supernatural tethers that run all over the world. So that would make Korra’s fight against her a spiritual one as well. She’s not so much fighting Kuvira herself, but the spirit-free, industrial world she represents. That’s some deep jazz, you guys.
Also, as I said above, there’s a strong chance Toph is going head-to-head with Kuvira and/or her army. She’s lived in the Swamp for years and if she loves anything, it’s her privacy. In the back of my mind, I’m pretty pumped for this, but I fear that Kuvira will miraculously beat her and take her prisoner so that Korra has a motivation to fight again. Regardless, could you imagine seeing grandmaster Toph taking out whole platoons of Earth Empire soldiers with her bending? It would rank among some of the best fights of the franchise. I’m just too scared we won’t get it. Which, if you think about it, says a lot about the show.