Joey Sack ’17 / Emertainment Montly Staff Writer
The latest episode of The Legend of Korra, “Enemy at the Gates,” sees the armies of the Earth Empire march to Zaofu, poised to take the city by force but first wanting to try and reason with its matriarch. We have moments with characters on both sides of the conflict and we see events occur that set up what is sure to be a non-stop fight next episode.
As she promised, Kuvira (Zelda Williams) brings her entire army right to the doorstep of Zaofu, as both a show of strength and a threat to the city’s leader, Suyin Beifong (Anne Heche), that if she doesn’t surrender control of Zaofu to the Earth Empire, there will be dire consequences. Through a flashback, we see the events that led up to Kuvira’s betrayal of Su and her departure from Zaofu three years earlier to help stabilize the Earth Kingdom, which helps to shed more light on the rift between these two metalbending masters. Meanwhile, Bolin (P.J. Byrne) and Varrick (John Michael Higgins) start to have second thoughts about their roles in Kuvira’s army, mainly because of the metalbender’s planned use of military force to take Zaofu and the implications of Varrick’s experiments with samples of spirit vine. The spirit vines, when altered properly, create a destructive beam of energy similar to the beam that the dark spirit Vaatu used in Book Two. In a rare display for Varrick, he actually realizes that this technology is too dangerous to fall into the wrong hands, and tries to back out of developing it. In these scenes with Varrick, there are also some great character moments for his assistant Zhu Li (Stephanie Sheh), who is really developing beyond the role of a mostly-silent assistant.
Meanwhile, having removed the residual metal poison from her body and fully reconnected with Raava, Korra (Janet Varney) decides to head to Zaofu with Tenzin’s kids instead of returning to Republic City, in order to try and talk Kuvira into a diplomatic solution to this problem. This is indicative of Korra’s realization that she needs to be more about the conflict-resolution aspect of being the Avatar as opposed to the conflict-instigator aspect. More importantly, Korra wants to show the world that the Avatar is back and better than ever, no longer having to necessarily depend on force to restore balance; though, with everything going on, it’s more than likely that Korra will wind up fighting Kuvira sooner rather than later. This episode highlights what the creators wanted highlighted: Korra and Kuvira are very similar.
The creators of the show have stated several times that, when designing Kuvira, both in terms of physical appearance and personality, they wanted to make her similar to Korra. Both women are incredibly skilled fighters who are very determined to accomplish what they think needs to be done. That’s why when they talk to each other in this episode, Kuvira is able to play off of the fact that the world was in chaos while Korra was healing, and that the “Great Uniter” had to “make some tough choices” to stabilize the Earth Kingdom. These are all things the Korra understands because she has had to make some tough choices as well, such as leaving the spirit portals open and not clearing away the vines in Republic City; she knew that these things would make life difficult, but she made the decisions she made to benefit everyone. Both of these women are set in their beliefs that what they are doing is right, and the victor will ultimately be decided by who is more confident in their stance on which direction the Earth Kingdom should head.
And while all of this is going on, we also see Asami Sato (Seychelle Gabriel) visit her father Hiroshi (Daniel Dae Kim), who has been imprisoned since the end of Book One for conspiring with the Equalists. Hiroshi, it turns out, is not only sorry for what he did, but has also been writing his daughter letters over the years, which the businesswoman has refused to open. If Hiroshi regrets anything, it’s that his involvement with the Equalists and his lust for vengeance for the death of his wife cost him his relationship with his daughter. He wants to make amends with Asami, but she has her doubts that they can ever have a relationship again. Asami, at first, just wants to give her father back his letters and tell him to never contact her again, but then he tells her how sorry he is, and that when he looks back on his life, he realizes that his daughter is “the greatest thing I ever created.” It’s nice to see the writers bring Hiroshi back into the story, and it’s great to speculate over what role this former CEO is going to play this season.
This episode could have been the big bout of action that fans have mostly been missing since this season began, but in a lot of ways it’s good that this episode also took it slow with good character moments and sprinkles of action here and there. It’s allowing for the pressure to build and build; the audience knows that there’s a big battle on the horizon that will very likely decide the fate of the Earth Kingdom and the rest of the world, but the more they set up the characters behind that battle, the more emotional impact that battle will have, regardless of what ends up happening.
In this episode, we see the gray ambiguity that defines Kuvira’s current agenda become a darker shade of gray, making it a little easier to see her as a bad guy; she not only threatens Varrick’s life to force him into building a super weapon using the spirit vines, but she also threatens to send Bolin to a “re-education camp” for showing even the slightest bit of doubt over their plans to invade Zaofu. In addition, there is a line that Kuvira says during the flashback to three years earlier, where she suggests to Suyin that the matriarch lead the efforts to stabilize the Earth Kingdom: “Zaofu has always been a beacon of modern progress and now you can share that with everyone.” That sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it? Where have Avatar fans heard that before? Oh yeah: that was the same reasoning that Fire Lord Sozin used to start the Hundred Year War; he saw the Fire Nation’s prosperity and wanted to “share it with the rest of the world.” But people who didn’t want his brand of prosperity were imprisoned or destroyed. And what happens when people don’t want Kuvira’s brand of progress and prosperity? Apparently, they’re thrown into prison camps or sent to be “re-educated.” It is a bit of a shame that Kuvira is starting to become less morally gray as the season progresses, but we can’t expect to have things remain gray forever; eventually, lines have to be drawn, and a definitive hero and villain must be defined.
“Enemy at the Gates” may continue a relative lack of action for The Legend of Korra this season, but there’s still enough action to please fans, as well as great character moments, great animation, and a great story that will hold people over until next episode, where we will surely get a whole lot of action crammed into 22 minutes of bending awesomeness. New episodes of The Legend of Korra premiere every Friday on Nick.com and on the Nick app. It’s headstrong dictator vs. headstrong Avatar; find out who wants balance more.
Overall Episode Grade: B+