Legend of Korra: Book 4, Episode 5, “Enemy at the Gates.”

Preconceptions fade in this episode of Korra. Varrick and Bolin finally realize that Kuvira is “crazy” while Asami decides to reevaluate how she see’s her dad, who she’s been actively hating for about four years now.

One thing that struck out to me is that we finally have a Korra who has come to appreciate the possibility of talking things out as a first step to resolving problems, instead of using blunt force. That this realization comes after Korra was left paralyzed and even after healing being at the mercy of even common thieves, is not surprising. Korra’s view of the world was dramatically altered when she no longer was able to see it as someone with power, someone who could and did use their power to defeat enemies and overcome problems. Incidentally, talking things out was the former Avatar’s, Aang’s, very first step with force/violence as the last (See the Book 1 episode The Great Divide as Aang’s determined position that people can talk things out).

Kuvira, however, at least portrays herself as wanting to talk things through with Zaofu. In this regard I am very suspicious, because she’s savvy enough to know that bringing her army to Zaofu is big obvious Kyoshi Medal of Freedom to hang over the city. Did she really expect Bolin to convince Suyin to join the Empire willingly? Given everything we know about Kuvira, my real belief is that she wanted to simply portray herself outwardly as someone who tried the “peaceful” resolution and then had no other option than to attack. She plays this same role in front of Korra at the end of the episode, when she declares a 24 hour truce to allow time for negotiations, rather, Korra to convince Suyin instead of facing Zaofu’s defeat.

The inner circle. Yes. So now we know that Bolin has not been privy to how things had been doing and how things were being done. Bolin has unfortunately been just a useful puppet for Kuvira and has been kept out of the real goings on with her unification of the Earth Kingdom. There were a couple of things about the scene when Kuvira, Baatar Jr, and Bolin meet with Suyin and her family. First, and this was pretty awesome writing/directing decision, the meeting took place in the room with the scale model of Zaofu. One party was on one side and the other party was on the other. The fate of Zaofu was up in the air and the city, albeit miniature, was literally between them. Then when Bolin was urged to bring both sides together, he walks between them before getting rebuffed by Opal. Opal could also be seen to represent the Metal Clan, indicating once again how Kuvira and everyone with her have been rejected by the Metal Clan. Not the least, also, the romantic problems were highlighted with Opal and Bolin, but I think it’s safe to say it will be patched up when Opal realizes that Bolin is now on her side.

You also had the family division at the meeting. Avatar, The Last Airbender or Legend of Korra, is always super big on family or family-like units. When they’re divided or fractured, nothing good comes of it, be it Zuko and his sister or Bolin and Mako. Here, we have a woman who was like a daughter to Suyin, and Suyin’s son, in obvious opposition to the rest of the family. Again, split apart in the frame. It’s incredible to see such venom from Bataar, Jr, for his family, and as a result of Kuvira “opening his eyes.” Bataar, Jr, is a true believer in Kuvira, and heck, he’s literally marrying himself to the message. You cannot get more believer than that. There’s also the kind of sick element of incest, too, in that Kuvira was raised like a daughter by Suyin, so in a way, Bataar Jr and Kuvira are symbolic siblings, and their love is incestuous. Another reason to recognize what they believe and what they do in a negative light, their love is flouting societal expectations, and their actions have been flouting the expectations of the Metal Clan and the world at large.

What was great was Suyin immediately recognizing why poor Bolin had been dragged in. She saw through the ploy and more so, it’s questionable if her anger was entirely about using Bolin as a mere puppet or if it was also dedicated to the realization of Kuvira playing her game of trying to be the “peaceful uniter who only resorts to violence when nothing else is left to do.” Which, by the way, is another comparison to our current Avatar. We have already had Kuvira and Korra compared by Bolin in the Coronation, and now we have a good example of how they’re now opposites of each other. Kuvira does not want to truly talk to resolve anything, but to rely on force. As a matter of theater, she pretends to do otherwise.

The talks fail. Bolin, back in Kuvira’s tent, questions her about the things that Opal raised, slave/conscription labor, reeducation camps, etc., and our earth bender’s loyalty is immediately questioned. In an ironic contrast, Kuvira is behaving as much like the former Earth Queen, despite claiming to dismiss monarchies. She’s conscripting her people to serve her will, and instead of demanding taxes out of them, she’s demanding minerals and other materiel useful for war. The only real difference is that the focus of these demands are not on the individual, but on a mission to “restore” the Earth Empier (or is it just Kuvira?). Bolin talks his way out of a trip to the newest form of Lake Laogai and runs off to find Varrick.

Varrick has erstwhile come to the same conclusion as Bolin, that Kuvira is CRAAAAAZY. We find him experimenting on the spirit vines, positing that it’s full of untapped energy with which he can create batteries from, a new energy source. His attempt to do so results in an explosion in the form of a beam of spiritual energy, which sounded awfully like the beams of energy that were shot back and forth in the conclusion of Book 2 by Korra and Unavaatu in kaiju form. The explosion nearly knocked Zhu Li out of the back of the train, but Varrick saves her, pulling her up and out. She lands on top of them and for a minute, there’s a moment, and Zhu Li uncharacteristically, and for the first time I think, addresses Varrick by his name, not sir. It’s then that it comes apparent, and here’s the hypothesis that will come up later, that Zhu Li serves Varrick and puts up with everything he does, because she’s in love with him. For as much as she may have wanted him to kiss her or anything to reciprocate her own unstated feelings, it doesn’t happen and Kuvira appears to demand that Varrick get back to work.

We are now informed that the spirit vines are a super weapon, but it’s still unclear whether its just their energy source (since Kuvira wants Varrick back to doing what he was doing) or whether it will be an actual spirit energy weapon. Kuvira goes all Darth Vader on Varrick, lifting him up with the metal from his epaulets, choking him in mid-air over the moving train tracks. This ability, the use of the metal decoration of the uniforms, adds a much darker and twisted perspective on their inclusion on the uniform. It allows any metal bender, especially the Great Uniter, to have a blade at your neck at any time. How’s that for convenience?

Thus, Bolin and Varrick are now of the same mind, they need to get out. We have an awesome battle of mechs, which exhibit a lot of the same weapons and abilities of the Sato Equalist Mechs from Book 1 with the addition of being able to actually fight hand to hand/foot to foot. Zhu Li reveals herself to be one of the top fighting assistants in all time by essentially fighting off two mechs at once, hampered only by her useless boss who can’t even figure out how to work his own creation. Bolin goes against Baatar Jr,, but only starts succeeding when he leaves the mech suit to bend. I was convinced for a moment that Bolin had killed the two mech pilots with his use of the lava bending, but we had our GI Joe parachute moment. Nonetheless, the three are captured and brought back to Kuvira, with Bolin and Zhuli sentenced to the worse “re-education” camp and Varrick ordered back to his lab. Here is where my earlier hypothesis comes to play. Zhu Li turns on Varrick and begs forgiveness from Kuvira, claiming that she was done with Varrick, as he was no longer the most brilliant person in the world next to Kuvira and that she was a true believer in Kuvira’s cause. She drops the a-bomb of flattery on Kuvira, a woman who’s ego has been growing at a pace measurable by miles. It works. But what does Zhu Li really accomplish? She manages to remain close to Varrick. For all that she finally got to say, “Do that thing!” I sincerely believe that Zhu Li has not abandoned Varrick, but will continue to work to try and save him. I also think as a sign of Kuvira’s hubris, she really believes that someone would say as much and mean it. She IS the Great Uniter, after all.

In our B-storyline, excellently dedicated to entirely to Asami, we see her decide to attempt reconciliation with her father. Not a lot that wasn’t apparent, but the place she goes to think about what’s going on in her world is the one place in Republic City where a giant statue of her best friend is situated. Asami went to Korra’s park to reflect, which was nifty, and indicates that she might find a bit of solace or peace with Korra’s presence, statute or no, nearby. I also appreciated that Hiroshi Sato, who had a bit of a belly in Book 1, was now leaner and definitely grayer after a number of years in prison. It’s fantastic when animators take the time to draw a character again with consideration to things happening off screen. Going back to Asami, we have another example of someone choosing to move away from an extreme position and the opposite of what’s going on with Suyin’s family, the family members moving together. Ironically, the bridging element between Asami and her father is a game of strategy and conflict. In the message of balance, as explaiend by Toph previously, it’s okay for Asami to be mad with her father, but perhaps it’s not a position that she should take so far as to exclude him from her life. While this obviously isn’t always the truest take on such familial situations in the real world, by doing so for Asami, she’s helping to resolve the angry emotions that she has carried with her since she was betrayed by her father.

One thing I haven’t touched on yet was Suyin’s turning down of the request to save the Earth Kingdom. She really was the perfect person in the world to do so, as Tenzin and Raiko explained, given her abilities and her family name. I had the feeling that this really turned into a message that is often attributed to Edmund Burke that I now terribly paraphrase, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” In this instance, when Suyin rejected the request to do something, it opened the door for evil, in this manner, Kuvira, to triumph. Her inaction allowed Kuvira to build an army and conquer the Earth Kingdom, create reeducation camps, enslave/conscript citizens to mine, craft, etc. Had she taken the offer up, the world would have been far different than the one we now face.

A few asides, Bolin had some awesome quotes, be it not being suited for inner circleness to thinking the reeducation camps were just to teach people new trades. The animation was magnificent as usual with lots of small touches, such as things passing by a window on the train in the background as Varrick worked. The window could have simply left blue or white or static even, but Studio Mir decided to have something pass by. So nice. Of course the music rocked. Was I crazy or did the sound of people talking, when inside a metal room, actually echo as if someone was talking inside a barrel a little bit? The fighting style of the mechs was incredible, and kind of reminiscent of elemental bending, be it electricity, fire, cable for metal, and steam for water. The steam powered punches were just fantastic. The tents/buildings in the army camp, from above, looked a lot like yurts, the same tents that were used by the Mongols who conquered quite a bit of the known world.

Our first introduction to Zaofu and the Metal Clan came in episode 5 of Book 3, by the way, as a continuity thing. As much as the city was generally open like flower blossoms in Book 3, now the blossoms have closed up, the city literally has withdrawn in upon itself, and by Suyin’s thinking, from the events going on in the Earth Kingdom. It’s a populace under a dark sky (of their own invention) existing in the twilight of artificial stars.

I enjoyed this episode and it ended on an appropriate cliff hanger, which I think we all know will end up going badly. As usual, can’t wait for next week!

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