Joey Sack ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Legend of Korra made a strong entrance onto the digital stage this past Friday with “The Stakeout,” the first episode in the Avatar franchise to be released exclusively online. In this episode, we see Team Avatar hot on the trail to finding Zaheer and his friends. Along the way we see some great bending action, the return to a familiar location, we have some laughs, and we are treated to some intense moments that start to reveal what exactly this group wants with Korra.
A quick side note before getting to the proper review: one thing that hasn’t been brought up enough in these reviews is the animation, so let’s address that now. From the very first episode of this season, the animation has been beautiful. Every frame is crisp, the characters are animated perfectly, the colors and backgrounds are vibrant, and the bending has been some of the best this franchise has ever seen. This episode is no exception; every frame and background is colored perfectly. Okay, side note over; now, let’s get to the review…
Picking up where the last episode left off, Team Avatar travels via polar bear dog and jeep to look for Aiwei, revealed in the last episode to be a mole for Zaheer’s gang who was responsible for getting the criminals into Zaofu. Their search leads them to the Misty Palms Oasis, first seen in season two of Avatar: The Last Airbender in the episodes “The Library” and “The Desert.” When they arrive, they find out that the Earth Queen has declared them enemies of the Earth Kingdom. While that doesn’t factor into the events of the episode too much, it does mean that our heroes have to be careful about who sees them. While Mako and Bolin search the Oasis for clues (in pretty humorous disguises), Korra and Asami scout around Aiwei’s jeep and find clues about Zaheer’s plans. What’s interesting is the inclusion of spirits wandering around the Oasis in this episode; they don’t play a huge role, but it shows that the spirits have not only settled in Republic City and at the Air Temples, but also in different places in the world, really emphasizing the change that the world is going through.
After the lengthy eponymous stakeout, there is, at long last, a confrontation between Zaheer and Korra, but not in the form of a bending battle as you might expect; Korra wants answers, and surprisingly Zaheer obliges, sitting down and promising to answer as many questions as he can. Along with Korra, we finally get some answers as to who Zaheer and his friends are: they are part of a secret society known as the Red Lotus, which was founded following the Hundred Year War by a disillusioned member of the White Lotus. According to Zaheer, the Red Lotus is working towards restoring freedom to the world, and he claims that their group is what the White Lotus was meant to be. When you hear what the Red Lotus wants, you’re inclined to agree with them, to a point. Like Zaheer said, Korra has had to deal with a “moronic president and a tyrannical queen,” showing that there are problems with governments where one person has too much power or is ill informed. While their methods are a bit extreme, the message behind them is somewhat understandable even though they take the idea of restoring balance to the world to an unhealthy extreme.
While Korra’s confrontation of Zaheer is more exposition than anything else, you don’t mind it since you don’t know a lot about the Red Lotus; after eight episodes of knowing relatively little about this group, it’s refreshing that in the ninth episode we start to learn more about them. One thing that was great to learn was how much the plots of Book Two and Book Three influence each other; between season one and two, there is a disconnect between the story. Not here–everything fits together almost perfectly. While you watch Team Avatar staking out and gathering clues, it’s not too boring for viewers as you are in the same boat as our main characters. You want to know more about Zaheer and his allies, you want to know what their master plan is, and when the episode doesn’t focus on that, there are still some good funny moments, especially when Bolin and Asami play several games of Pai Sho (“Best two out of three … 17 out of 33?”).
There is a fight scene between Mako, Bolin, and two members of the Red Lotus, the armless waterbender Ming-Hua and the lavabender Ghazan. The fight is intense and you really have to respect Mako and Bolin for holding their own in a fight against these world-class criminals, albeit for only a short time. The only fighter who really hasn’t had too many moments to shine this season is Asami, who so far, has only fought in one of this book’s major fights. However, given the end of this episode, it’s more than likely that this CEO of Future Industries will get her chance to showcase her fighting skills, though it would be nice to see more of that soon. The fighting in this episode is kept to a minimum, which shows that the writers are still working with a good balance: there is action and comedy for the kids, and there is mystery and interwoven stories to keep older fans coming back for more.
“The Stakeout” is another great episode of The Legend of Korra, with comedy, mystery, action, and a great cliffhanger of an ending to keep fans waiting for the next episode to be posted online next week. The remaining episodes of Book Three of The Legend of Korra will be released on Fridays at 12 p.m. on various websites, including Nick.com, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video. With such a strong entrance for Korra’s new digital outlet, Team Avatar will surely do well on the Internet from now until the season finale on August 22nd.
Overall Grade: B+/A-
Long Live the Queen
The latest episode in The Legend of Korra, “Long Live the Queen,” sees Team Avatar split into two captive groups, with both parties on their way to Ba Sing Se; Korra and Asami are in the custody of the Earth Queen’s forces, while Mako and Bolin are hostages of the Red Lotus. There are several aspects that make this episode one of the best this season. Let’s see: Korra and Asami working as a team with Asami having subtle moments to shine? Check. Funny and serious moments with Mako and Bolin where Mako tries to build his little brother’s self-confidence? Check. An awesome fight between the Red Lotus and the Dai Li? Check. One of the darkest moments in the entire Avatar franchise? Check, check, and definitely check.
The episode starts with Korra and Asami being taken by airship to be delivered to the Earth Queen, though they soon find themselves stranded in the Si Wong Desert with a damaged airship and a mysterious moving creature circling them beneath the sand. While that’s going on, the Red Lotus, with Mako and Bolin in tow, head to meet with the Earth Queen with their own agenda. After learning what the Red Lotus wants in the previous episode, you know that something is going to happen in Ba Sing Se, but you don’t know what.
To see Asami and Korra work together to solve their problems is great to see, and their subplot shows how essential to Team Avatar Asami really is. Sure, she can’t bend, but her quick thinking and technical know-how are what keep Korra from being taken to the Earth Queen, and she comes up with two plans to get everyone out of the desert. While it’s not much, it’s enough to keep this daughter of a diabolical genius from being just another member of the team.
Mako and Bolin’s subplot is both humorous and serious, because while they are in a jail cell in Ba Sing Se, Bolin is there, so there are bound to be some funny moments. Mako knows that they need to get out of their cell so they can save Korra from the Red Lotus, and tries to convince Bolin that he has it within himself to finally metalbend. The scenes with the two bending brothers are brief, but they still add to the plot in some ways.
The main focus of this episode is the Red Lotus, who offer to tell the Earth Queen the location of “her” airbenders in exchange for custody of the Avatar. Zaheer continues to be a really interesting character to watch. The way that he is able to go from a kind, charismatic, and sage-like man to a brutal, unforgiving anarchist really keeps viewers on their toes; they know that if someone makes one wrong move around him, this philosophical warrior just might go berserk. But at the same time, he can be kind to the people he wants or needs help from, telling his fellow Red Lotus member Ming-Hua not to hurt a man who finds himself in her water tentacles (“we’re here to help people like him, not hurt them”). It’s also great to see this new airbender continue to develop his airbending skills. Whenever he uses airbending, it’s a real treat, because we’re seeing someone use airbending in a particularly aggressive manner. As a general rule, airbending is the most peaceful of the four elemental bending arts, so to see someone use it as aggressively and to such great effect as Zaheer is an exciting thing to behold.
That being said, however, the other members of the Red Lotus are not as fleshed out as they could be. P’Li, the combustion bender and Zaheer’s girlfriend, has a bit of a personality, though not much. Ghazan, the lavabender, has a couple of impressive bending moments and even some funny lines, as does Ming-Hua, the armless waterbender. But these three members of the Red Lotus feel more like henchmen than fully developed villains. With the original series, even the new villains for each season were often very developed characters, you understood why Zhao was the way he was, and you felt badly for Mai, Ty Lee, and even Azula, to a certain degree. But with the Red Lotus, the only one you feel a real connection with is Zaheer, because even with his twisted idea of balance, he is very philosophical and shrouded in quite a bit of mystery, even though you know more about him now than you did when the season began. While it’s not necessary to learn more about the other members of the Red Lotus, it would be nice so you could feel like this was a group that worked off of each other and were actual friends, and not just members of a secret society who work together out of necessity.
One thing that’s worth bringing up is the number of episodes remaining in this season: three. If the creators and writers are following the same set-up as the first two seasons, then the story arcs with the Red Lotus and the new Air Nation are going to be resolved in just three episodes (two if you count the two-part season finale as one episode). However, this might not be the case, since the team behind this show knows how many episodes they have left. There are several ways that this season could end: First, the story is resolved too quickly, leaving fans disappointed in the wasted potential of these villains and new characters. Second, the story is resolved, but only partially, leaving threads from this season left over in the next and final season. Third, the story isn’t resolved at the end of this season, and fans wait with baited breath for the conclusion.
Since this season takes place mostly in the Earth Kingdom and Ba Sing Se, one can’t help but draw parallels to Book Two: Earth of Avatar; that season ended with our heroes defeated and with the bad guys on the verge of absolute victory. Could this season end in a similar way? Given how great this season’s story has been, it wouldn’t be surprising if they wanted to keep it going. Maybe they could make the entire Red Lotus the main villains of the next season, with Zaheer and his team being dealt with this season, which would fit into the claim that each season would have its own villain and story. If the Red Lotus could have members as prominent as a truth seer in Zaofu and the recently deceased Chief of the Water Tribes, it stands to reason that they have members in every walk of life and in every corner of the World; it would be quite easy to make the final season be about a war between the Red Lotus and the White Lotus and to set it up in such a way that would increase the hype for the final season considerably.
“Long Live the Queen” is yet another great episode for The Legend of Korra, and might go down in history as one of the darkest in the entire Avatar franchise. The Red Lotus means business, and fans will be waiting with anticipation to find out how much business they mean in next week’s episode “The Ultimatum,” as well as the two-part Book Three finale on Aug. 22, “Enter the Void” and “Venom of the Red Lotus.”
Overall Grade: A-/A
If last week’s episode seemed like finale lead-up material, you haven’t seen this week’s episode, “The Ultimatum,” in which we see Mako and Bolin deliver Zaheer’s message to Korra who has to deal with the consequences of that message. This episode continues the dark streak that this season seems set on, and we are all glad that it is. “The Ultimatum,” in terms of bending fights battles and emotional resonance, is perhaps one of the best episodes that the entire Avatar franchise has to offer.
A quick side note to talk about before getting into the review (don’t worry, this isn’t going to be something that happens every review): In the last episode, we saw Zaheer pull the air out of the Earth Queen’s lungs and watched her suffocate. She hasn’t been “overthrown,” she hasn’t been “taken down;” she has been assassinated. She is dead. If you’re going to allow a fairly brutal murder scene in a Y-7 rated TV show, have the guts to say what Zaheer did: he killed the Earth Queen. Side note over. It’s high time we get to the review.
In the first part of the episode, we see Mako and Bolin escape Ba Sing Se on an airship (with their family in tow), and reach the Misty Palms Oasis, where Korra, Asami, Tonraq, Lin Beifong, and Lord Zuko are waiting. While Mako and Bolin’s departure from Ba Sing Se seems a bit rushed, it’s understandable, given the importance of the message that the brothers carry. That message, spoiler alert, is this: the Red Lotus is heading to the Northern Air Temple. If Korra doesn’t surrender to them, the Red Lotus will wipe out the new Air Nation. The whole team then heads back to Zaofu in an attempt to radio Tenzin to get the airbenders to safety. While that’s happening, Korra gets some advice from Lord Zuko, one of her only remaining connections to her most recent past life, Aang (“I was often Aang’s counsel and I’d love to be yours”).
What’s nice about Korra and Zuko’s conversation is that it ties into the original series without being too blunt; we all know that Aang was, above all else, an Air Nomad, and that rebuilding the Air Nation was his ultimate goal in life. We know, from what we saw in the original series, that Aang would be just as divided on what to do as Korra is now, since he had a responsibility to the world as an airbender and as the Avatar. It shows that, while she can’t contact her past lives anymore, she isn’t so different from those Avatars who came before. Also, the look on Zuko’s face when Korra mentions a mutual acquaintance of theirs is priceless.
We then cut to the Northern Air Temple, where the Red Lotus has just arrived. This part of the episode treats Avatar fans to a sight that they have never witnessed before: two airbenders fighting each other. In the original series, Aang was the only airbender around, and until this season of Korra, the only other airbenders were Tenzin’s kids and Korra. Now, there are two, fully grown airbenders aggressively blasting wind at each other. It’s always a treat to see Tenzin fight, as it’s clear that despite being a pacifist at heart, when his family and culture are in danger, he springs into action with some of the most impressive airbending we’ve ever seen from the Avatar franchise.
The fight scene between the Red Lotus, Tenzin, Kya, Bumi, and the new airbenders is one of the most intense in the entire series so far. Tenzin’s family has been in danger before, but this is the first time we see these characters in grave danger on-screen. In Book One, Tenzin and his family were captured off-screen, and in Book Two only Jinora was ever in real danger. But now, in Book Three they are all pawns in the Red Lotus’ game against the Avatar. What this whole situation shows is that Zaheer really wants Korra for whatever plan he has for the world; he keeps saying that he has “always admired the culture” of the Air Nomads, but now he seems willing to wipe that culture out, just to get to the Avatar. True, he may be bluffing, but the way he and the Red Lotus go about their attack indicates that if they are bluffing, they’re doing a great job of not showing it.
The episode may seem a little overcrowded, but the way that the storylines of this season converge is actually quite impressive. We don’t need to see Mako and Bolin escape Ba Sing Se on foot when there are airships ripe for the commandeering; we don’t need to see a long journey back to Zaofu; we don’t need to spend too long in the Spirit World with Korra and a certain spirit we’re all familiar with; the main focus of this episode is the Red Lotus’ attack on the Northern Air Temple, and the airbenders’ efforts to avoid capture. We care about these characters whether we’ve known them since the beginning of the show or if we’ve only met them this season. These past few episodes have been the most heart pounding due to these characters being put into dangerous situations.
Kai has really come into his own this season: he was just a common thief when we first meet him, and in the episodes he’s in, he has fully embraced his role as a member of the new Air Nation. Moreover, Kai and Jinora have, without being too forced, become a cute couple. While they mostly act like really good friends, there have been several hints that their connection has only gotten stronger since they met. In some ways, Kai has some of the character traits that Aang showcased in the original series; he’s fun-loving, but willing to do what he must to save the people he cares about. To see a little bit of Aang in this former thief is promising for the future of the new Air Nation.
It is worth noting that, given that there are only two episodes left in this season, it’s becoming more and more likely that this season won’t be as wrapped-up-in-a-neat-little-bow as the other seasons. If The Legend of Korra is ever going to have an Avatar-style cliffhanger, it has to be at the end of this season. The season could end with everything resolved, some things resolved, or almost nothing resolved; at this moment, it could go any of these three ways, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
The last episode before the season finale, “The Ultimatum” does what every great lead-up to a season finale should do: it brings our favorite characters to their lowest low, while also allowing for glimmers of hope that will no doubt play into how the conflict is resolved, if it’s resolved at all. The two-part Book 3 finale of The Legend of Korra will be available online on August 22nd. Tune in this Friday to see the two final episodes of the season, “Enter the Void” and “Venom of the Red Lotus.”
Overall Grade: A