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As revealed in last week’s premier, this season’s thematic conflict is about parental authority. We’ve seen Korra get angry at her father for both being banished from the Northern Water Tribe and hiding his shame from her. Korra’s father badly upset the balance of the spirit world and the human world, then lied (by omission) about it, so she has the right to be angry. But this week we also learn that everybody’s favorite Avatar, Aang, wasn’t a very good father either! It’s interesting to see the writers of Korra show that sometimes being a good Avatar comes in conflict with being a good person.
The title may tell you that Korra’s current duty is to prevent prevent a civil war between the Southern and Northern Water Tribes. Her uncle, Unalaq, sent Northern troops to occupy the Southern tribe. Unalaq says the Southern tribe needs monitoring in order to re-align the South with the spirits (this is probably a lie). However, the South is indignant at being occupied by brutish soldiers who hurt civilians and bully children. Is Unalaq a bad guy? Almost definitely. In fact, a lot of Korra fans I talked to complained that his characterization as a villain is too heavy handed. I’m going to reserve judgement until later in the season, since Unalaq might be right about the spiritual imbalance.
A more interesting question is: why does the Southern tribe want independence so badly? One reason is that, with independence, they get to make more money through free trade with other nations. Remember, the South is overly-concerned with making money, as evidenced by the tacky commercialization of the spirit festival. However, it also seems that the Southern tribe has more resources than the North. Remembering back to the original Avatar series, the Southern tribe was less industrialized than the North, but they supplied the northern continent with resources and food. In the last hundred years between the two series, the South upped it's industry and resource exploitation to make more money; this is likely what upset the spirits. It seems like the North wants to be the “superior” tribe in terms of money and military, while exploiting their Southern counterpart. Understandably, the South is angry, but is it fair if they too want to be the tribe on top?
And most challenging of all, Korra must stay neutral and can’t take sides. Uncle Unalaq reminds her of this, but within the mythos of the show, he’s totally right. The Avatar’s job is to promote peace and prosperity throughout the world. The Avatar must maintain no alligence to any particular nation. This wasn't much of a problem for Aang, since Airbenders don't have a nation, and all nations had the common enemy of the Fire Kingdom empire. But Korra has a home country and doesn’t have a global enemy. She can't play favorites with her tribe because, as Unalaq again reminds, a Water Nation civil war could cause a global conflict forcing the other nations to choose sides (remember that money-making trade balance we were just talking about?). I absolutely love how complicated the representation of global politics comes across in this cartoon.
The B-plot in this episode focuses on Tenzin's looking for his lost daughter, Jinora.
Right as Tenzin starts to relax on vacation, Ikki and Meelo tell him that Jinora is missing (maybe she’s stuck in that creepy statue room?). As Tenzin searches the woods with his brother and sister, we learn that Avatar Aang was a great Avatar and a terrible father. He gave preferential treatment to Tenzin, simply because he was an airbender - albeit only about 20 people in the world can airbend. While Kya may have had her mother to teach her to waterbend, it seems like Boomy was totally neglected since he can’t bend at all which might explain why Boomy's always trying to get attention. Aang was more focused on saving the world than raising his children. Even though Aang is one of the best cartoon characters, like, ever, it’s great that the show’s creators are complicating him and showing that no one is benevolent. Another great thing about Korra is there is no clear distinction between good and bad.
Finally, the C-plot details Bolin's silly relationship with CREEPY TWIN GIRL. I don’t really like these twins yet; they look creepy and the voices sound too young and gentle for the character. I’m pretty much sick of the abusive girlfriend gag: GIRL making Bolin carry her, pull her rickshaw, etc. I'm glad Bolin's already sick of dating GIRL because I’m sick of it too. Of course, Bolin can’t dump her lest he be frozen in a block of ice.
While I wish there was a little more action in this episode (the credits roll at the most exciting moment), but usually there's a respectable slow burn to Korra/Avatar. Plus, giving all this context means that when the outcome of civil war hits, it will hit really hard. Will the Water Nations start a world war? Find out next week!