Joey Sack ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
As the title suggests, this week’s episode of The Legend of Korra, “The Battle of Zaofu,” sees the battle for the fate of the metal city take place, as well as the first physical confrontation between the Avatar and the Great Uniter. This episode not only has some of the great action that has been missing from previous episodes this season, but also great character moments for Korra, the airbender kids, Varrick, and even some great moments for Suyin Beifong’s family as they face the consequences of their resistance to the Great Uniter’s demands.
One thing that has been consistently good this season, but that hasn’t been addressed yet, is the music; the score perfectly expresses the mood, with a lot of drums and heavy notes throughout, almost like the drums of war marching across the Earth Kingdom. In addition, the music during the lighter moments is also very well done, with some of the music harkening back to the musical style of Avatar (which is a bit of a given at this point, but it’s really highlighted in some of the more dramatic moments). Now on with the review!
When the episode begins, Suyin Beifong (Anne Heche) and her twin sons Wing and Wei sneak into Kuvira’s (Zelda Williams) camp in an attempt to take her out and end the Earth Empire once and for all. This, somewhat predictably, doesn’t work, as Kuvira anticipated this kind of sneak attack, and Su and her sons are captured. Kuvira, with the matriarch of Zaofu in her custody, calls for the unconditional surrender of the city to Earth Empire rule, though Korra (Janet Varney) isn’t about to let that happen. Kuvira and the Avatar face each other in a duel: if Korra wins, she can do what she wants with Zaofu, but if she loses, she must stay out of the Earth Empire’s way from then on. This is where the majority of the action in this episode comes from, though the amount of action isn’t as much as you would expect with an episode title like “The Battle of Zaofu.” With that said, though, it’s still good action and it’s a much more personal battle, as Korra struggles to gain the upper hand in her fight against the Great Uniter, a metalbending master in her prime.
It’s nice to see that Korra still retains her need to prove herself in combat as well as in diplomatic situations, but as you can imagine, after three years of physical recovery, the Avatar is a bit rusty when it comes to fighting. Spiritually, she’s better, since she can go into the Avatar State again, and physically, she’s improving, but her fight with Kuvira shows that removing the remaining poison from her system was only another step in her recovery from her battle with Zaheer, not the final step. Korra, whether she likes it or not, is still apprehensive about being the Avatar, and therefore tries to shield herself from the immense power at her disposal; it’s like what Toph told her in a previous episode: “if you don’t get better, you can’t do your job, so you don’t have to worry about being hurt again.” However, her problem fighting could also stem from her continued doubt about her place in the world; Kuvira brings up the fact that while Korra was recovering in the Southern Water Tribe, it was the Great Uniter and her army who brought stability to the Earth Kingdom, not the Avatar. Kuvira even says, to Korra’s face, that “[she’s] not relevant here anymore.” Korra, at least subconsciously, needs more assurance that the Avatar is still needed in the world.
Meanwhile, Varrick (John Michael Higgins), under the “close, armed supervision” that Kuvira promised him last episode, continues work on his experiments to weaponize the energy of the spirit vines, against his will, obviously. Without Zhu Li (Stephanie Sheh) to help him, Varrick depends on fellow prisoner Bolin (P.J. Byrne) to be his assistant. These two deserters may agree that Kuvira is crazy, but Varrick displays his own brand of insanity when he uses the vines to create a time bomb to threaten Bataar Jr. (Todd Haberkorn) and the other people onboard the train. Varrick seems quite bitter about Zhu Li betraying him, even though it’s quite clear that he really needs and misses her (“Without Zhu Li, I’m helpless!”). The lines that Varrick had in this episode are hilarious and are right up his alley in terms of mad genius talk (“Bolin and I are prepared to go down with the ship, or train, in this case”).
All of the stuff with the spirit vines feels reminiscent of World War II and the development of nuclear arms; near limitless power, uncontrollable, and creating an explosion that leaves a sizable crater in its wake? It’s the Avatar franchise’s equivalent to the nuclear bomb for sure. It’s interesting that Varrick is able to use science to mess with spirit energy, and it shows more instances of the Physical and Spirit Worlds being reunited as being a good thing; Varrick says that he first wanted to use the spirit vines to create clean, unlimited energy, and that discovering the vines’ hidden destructive power was an accident. It shows that the people in the Avatar world still need to be careful about how they tamper with spiritual matters; working together, humans and spirits can bring peace and prosperity to everyone, but if people meddle too much in powers they don’t understand, it could spell trouble for all.
The pacing of this season has been very fast and very tight, and it’s handled wonderfully. This episode feels like the proper culmination of all the political and militaristic turmoil that has been going on since the season began; now things can get only more crazy and intense for our main characters.
“The Battle of Zaofu” is a great episode of The Legend of Korra Book Four, giving us more of the action we’ve been missing as well as showing the emotional trials and tribulations of our main heroes. Korra may not be full of poison anymore, but she still has some inner demons to work out before she’s fully back to her normal Avatar self. New episodes of The Legend of Korra premiere every Friday on Nick.com and the Nick app. We’re halfway through the final season; this is going to be intense.
Overall Episode Grade: B+/A-