Joey Sack ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Gambit. Noun. A device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage. With that definition, it’s no wonder that things start to hit the fan for Team Avatar in this week’s episode of The Legend of Korra, “Kuvira’s Gambit.” In this episode, we see tense moments brought about by the knowledge that, at any moment, the Great Uniter will turn her spirit energy superweapon on the United Republic and wreak complete and utter havoc. This episode has a fair amount of action and even some good character moments, but mostly builds up to next week’s one-hour series finale, and the buildup is done very well here. In order to talk about some key elements of the episode, there will be some spoilers ahead. You have been warned. Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the episode yet, skip down to the grade, then stop reading, go watch it, then come back and read the full and proper review. Everyone hold onto your hats; we’re gearing up for the big finale.
As revealed in last week’s episode, Kuvira (Zelda Williams) plans to invade the United Republic to claim it for the Earth Empire, ironically using the same rationale as the Earth Queen for not recognizing the United Republic as its own sovereign country. She states that Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko stole land that rightfully belonged to the people of the Earth Empire in order to create the United Republic, and that it is her duty to take that land back to ensure that the only government ruling on the Earth Kingdom continent is the Earth Empire’s military dictatorship. This is perhaps an example of Kuvira using an altered version of history to convince her followers and the rest of the world that what she is doing is right, much like the Fire Nation’s propaganda during the Hundred Year War. Anyone who reads the Avatar comics, which take place after the original series, will tell you that Earth King Kuei, who ruled the Earth Kingdom during Avatar and up until the Earth Queen assumed the throne, gave up the land that would one day be made into the United Republic willingly. He wasn’t manipulated or threatened in order to give it up; he saw that the former Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom had become so dependent on people of both Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom descent that it was impossible to un-mix them, so he gave the oldest Fire Nation colonies away to form the United Republic. While it only makes sense for Kuvira to want to expand her empire, being a power-hungry dictator and all, it seems a bit out of character for her. When we saw a flashback to her arguing with Suyin Beifong (Anne Heche) in the episode “Enemy at the Gates,” she talked about wanting to share the modern progress that Zaofu represented with the rest of the Earth Kingdom; it seems pretty archaic to create total isolation from other nations and, essentially, strive for racial purity in your own nation (remember those waterbenders and firebenders that escaped with Bolin and Varrick?). It’s unclear what has caused Kuvira to crave the kind of world that sees walls stretching across the borders and anyone who isn’t of Earth Kingdom descent being locked up, but it paints her a much darker shade of gray than she was when the season began. She had to become a full-fledged bad guy sooner or later, so there’s no better time than right before the finale.
Meanwhile, Korra (Janet Varney) and the rest of Team Avatar are working to fortify Republic City’s defenses, a task that becomes even more important when Zhu Li (Stephanie Sheh) returns and reveals Kuvira’s plan to attack the United Republic in two weeks’ time. While the evacuation up to that point was not going too smoothly, Prince Wu (Sunil Malhotra) gets on the radio and calmly tells the people of Republic City that everything is going to be okay and that they will get out of the city safely. This is another example of Wu stepping up to fill the shoes of a respectable Earth King, as it seems that he is through doing things to impress women, and that he is ready to do things because they are the right things to do. He and Tenzin’s wife, Pema (Maria Bamford), then help lead the evacuation efforts and they manage to get a good chunk of the citizens out of the city. The shots of the city being evacuated are animated in a way that are reminiscent to motion comics, though with the same caliber of animation as the rest of the show, and they’re pretty interesting shots, made to give a sense of how much time is passing. Through these shots, we see, over the course of a week, trains, airships, and United Forces battleships, under the command of General Iroh (Dante Basco), take citizens out of the city, until the city is almost entirely abandoned. It’s a good thing too, since Kuvira’s army shows up a week earlier than anticipated, and her spirit energy superweapon is now attached to a giant mecha suit (which may explain what happened to the metal that made up Zaofu’s domes), controlled through metalbending by Kuvira herself. One thing that this series, and these previous two seasons in particular, have done well is showing how much metalbending has evolved since the Hundred Year War. When Toph first developed the skill, she could only roughly tear metal apart and roughly put it back together; but now, metalbenders are unbelievably precise, with Kuvira operating levers and switches in her mecha giant with impressive finesse. Her armor is also very impressive, with her being able to form it into arm blades and metal cables and, as we saw in the season premiere, she can use small pieces of metal to take down a whole group of bandits. Needless to say, even though Korra is back to full fighting form, the Great Uniter is still going to give the Avatar a run for her money.
Zhu Li reunites with Varrick (John Michael Higgins) in this episode, and Varrick makes himself somewhat unlikeable by immediately assuming that Zhu Li will go back to being his assistant when it would be painfully clear to a 5-year-old that Zhu Li has feelings for him and wants to be treated as an equal. Also, Zhu Li’s new outfit is really nice; just throwing that out there; it’s nice to see her dressed in semi-normal attire as opposed to being dressed as an assistant or a soldier. And just because she wants to be treated like an equal by Varrick doesn’t mean that she doesn’t help him and the rest of Team Avatar as they try to build one of Varrick and Asami’s (Seychelle Gabriel) new weapons: a flying mecha suit. Will we see these suits in action? We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s fairly certain that one thing fans are going to be looking forward to is a proper conclusion to Varrick and Zhu Li’s story arc together.
The World War II undertones this season quickly became World War II overtones as the story progressed, and this episode cements that, with Kuvira demonstrating her weapon on United Forces battleships in Republic City’s harbor and then calling for President Raiko (Spencer Garrett) to surrender to her terms (Hiroshima and Nagasaki, anyone?). As Baatar Jr. (Todd Haberkorn) heads to Air Temple Island to discuss the terms of surrender with Raiko, Korra, Tenzin (J.K. Simmons), Bumi (Richard Riehle), Jinora (Kiernan Shipka), and Kai (Skyler Brigmann), mount a secret mission to kidnap Baatar Jr. to either force him to tell them how to beat Kuvira’s mecha giant or force Kuvira to surrender to save her fiancé. When threatening his life doesn’t work, Korra changes tactics: she promises him that if Kuvira takes Republic City, she will make it her life’s mission to ensure that Baatar Jr. never sees his beloved fiancée again. This is what ultimately drives Baatar to try and call off the invasion.
Now, how about that gambit that the title mentions? Well, (and we cannot stress this enough, SPOILER ALERT), to everyone’s surprise, Kuvira, after learning of Baatar’s location, doesn’t abandon her plans to take over Republic City; she aims and fires the spirit energy weapon right at Team Avatar, destroying everything in the general vicinity (but since there’s a two-episode finale next week, it’s likely that, at the very least, Korra and her immediate group of friends made it out okay). This paints Kuvira as even more heartless than she was perceived to be; first, she subjected her own nation to a military dictatorship, then she took over her hometown, imprisoning the woman who raised and trained her in the art of metalbending from the time she was eight years old, and then she stole vines from the Foggy Swamp, likely damaging an ecosystem that has existed since the era of Raava (the time before the Avatar). And now, even though you see that it pains her to do it, she decides that it’s worth sacrificing the love of her life to rid the Earth Empire of the Avatar’s interference. Fans should have expected something like this to happen, seeing as this episode starts with Baatar and Kuvira sharing a touching moment where they talk about getting married and ruling the Earth Empire together. These two really haven’t shown that much compassion towards each other, especially since they were so close to getting married, planning on doing so once the Earth Empire was united under their control. This isn’t the first time that Korra has had problems with portraying romance; we all remember the disaster that was Makorra (Mako and Korra dating), and last season, Zaheer and P’Li only shared two intimate moments in the whole season, which makes it a little tougher to feel bad when something happens that damages or destroys their relationship. With that said, though, you still feel really bad for Baatar Jr.; here is a man who has dedicated his life to his fiancée’s goals for the Earth Empire, even betraying and imprisoning his own family, and when he asks Kuvira to choose him over Republic City, she sees taking over the United Republic as being more important than the love of her life. We can assume that if it were Kuvira who had been captured and Baatar Jr. the one who had to make the call, he might have abandoned the invasion to save his future wife. If Baatar Jr. survived Kuvira’s attack, it’s safe to say he isn’t going to be happy with Kuvira and will likely help Team Avatar take her down.
“Kuvira’s Gambit” is another great episode for the final season of The Legend of Korra, perfectly building the hype for the series finale next week. The final two episodes of The Legend of Korra, “Day of the Colossus” and “The Last Stand,” will premiere together as the series finale on Friday, December 19th on Nick.com and the Nick app, and the finale will air on Nicktoons at 9 p.m. that same night. With the finish line in our sights, Avatar and Korra fans had best grab some tissues practice their tearbending; next week’s finale will make them masters.
Overall Episode Grade: A-