Legend of Korra: Book 4 – The Battle of Zaofu

The Battle of Zaofu offered our first dueling fight between the Great Uniter and the Avatar, in which Korra was soundly beaten without the use of the Avatar State and then inexplicably compromised by the return of the doppelganger Avatar State Korra that had seemingly vanished after Korra had found her way to Toph.  It’s a lesson that physical wounds can be cured, but mental, emotional, or perhaps in this case, spiritual, wounds may not heal nearly as quickly as one would like.  Be it Raava trying to contact the Avatar or simply a manifestation of Korra’s damaged psyche remains to be seen.

The episode begins with the ill-fated attempt by Suyin with her twin sons to capture, if not assassinate, Kuvira.  Dressed in black, the trio successfully sneak into the center of the camp and with the sonic foot stamp (copyright Toph Beifong), Suyin determines that Kuvira sleeps inside the virtually unguarded metal tent.  Like badger moles, they pop up inside from below and wrap the sleeping woman up with metal cable, only to be surprise a Zhu Li.  TRAP SNAPS SHUT.  The walls collapse and Kuvira appears in her new standard form of address, half gloat and half sneer, stating that Suyin’s refusal to tackle the problems of the Earth Kingdom head on obviously indicated she wouldn’t fight Kuvira in a fair fight and would attempt such a cowardly strategy.  Perhaps Kuvira should go into psychology, as it’s quite an incredible leap, but none the less, Suyin and her sons are quickly captured and locked away in metal coffin-like cages that restrict all but their heads.  This might be time for a lesson from the original Bumi about neutral jin, Suyin just needs to wait it out.

A quick thing to point out, Kuvira now has tanks, tanks which look incredibly similar to the tanks employed by the Fire Nation in the first Avatar show.  While it’s not likely they’re exactly the same, it does seem as if the writers are wanting us to start making these comparisons between the Fire Nation’s conquering military and Kuvira’s.  They’re both of the same ilk.  It’s all in the tanks.

The leader of the Metal Clan in mint packaging, Kuvira demands the surrender of Zaofu, which prompts Korra, Opal and Jinora to meet her on the valley plain before the metallic art-deco city of the Avatar future.  Prior to this moment, Opal ran straight into one of the rarely mentioned aspects of being an air nomad, non-attachment, for which she was chastised by Jinora based on her urgency to attack Kuvira to protect her home and family.  It was definitely a great moment to see Jinora step up and into her tattoos as an air bending master. 

In the small talk, weighted heavily with some observations by Kuvira, we learn the following.  One, equality is now on the table.  The last time we heard about equality was from a masked man who ultimately was blown up by his brother in a murder-suicide to conclude Book 1.  Equality in this instance involves sharing the technology and innovations of Zaofu with the rest of the Earth Kingdom Empire, which indicates that Kuvira is implying the Metal Clan has been hoarding their inventions and developments in their own personal Galt Valley in the Avatar World.  This also raises a very interesting perspective, given that Kuvira implicitly claims to have stepped into the role of the Avatar for past three years in her work to rebuild the Earth Kingdom.  She tells Korra that she’s no longer relevant, which happened to also be a call back to the end of Book 3 when Korra was suspended in chains above a pool of lava with poison in her veins.

This season has now officially been sledgehammered by Toph as explicitly about balance.  Toph referenced equality, spirituality, and freedom, as all good things, but things that the previous villains had tried to do with an imbalanced manner.  Incidentally, these are all things that a good Avatar does, but balanced, and here, Kuvira who is now the anti-Avatar, is declaring one of them her own field to dabble in.  We might expect to see Kuvira touch upon these other fields, but never an a balanced manner.  As an aside, the Anti-Christ, the counter example to the Christ, is supposed to be a deceiver, and that’s exactly what Kuvira is in this episode and has been for a while now.  In this instance, she lies directly to Opal about Bolin.

Speaking of Bolin, he’s currently locked up in a metal cage (perhaps he wishes he had had that metal bending break through after all) with Varrick.  Varrick, meanwhile, through the course of the episode goes through the various stages of grief over the loss of Zhu Li.  We first see him reminiscing on what Zhu Li would do for him in the morning, next we see him frustratingly complaining to Bolin that Zhu Li always knew what “thing” he would want her to do, then next how Zhu Li’s name would become synonymous with betrayal and in the contest that he provided, tellingly in a romantic sense, and then finally, remorsefully wistful like, of seeing her again in the after life.  Let’s put this dog to rest people, Varrick is in love with Zhu Li with emotions more powerful than he realizes.  She’s also in love with him.  This is the romance of Book 4, not Makorra or Kainora or Korrasami. 

None the less, Bataar, Jr, aka Doctor Science, forces Varrick to return to his work, where we finally learn the original purpose for the spirit vine experimentation, clean energy.  However, since the blast that wiped out the caboose of the caboose, it seems that Kuvira is more intent on weaponizing the spirit vines than using them solely to power her trains or other odds and ends.  Bolin, drafted into the role of Zhu Li, spends most of the time attempting to find happier alternatives for everyone, and unlike Baatar Jr, who almost figures out, fails to completely realize that Varrick has created a bomb out of his spirit vine power device.  He also makes a timer and a remote, because hey, he’s crazy and they knew that when they hired him.  Varrick successfully forces Baatar, Jr., to evacuate the back half of the train as the bomb ticks away, which allows Bolin the chance to grab Varrick and escape from the train car seconds before the spirit vine bomb incinerates everything within hundreds of feet.   

The explosion did more than create the false belief that Varrick and Bolin were dead, however, it wiped out Kuvira’s supply of the spirit vines.  There’s only one place left in the material world where spirit vine is available, Republic City.  Too bad for Kuvira it’s not conveniently connected to the Earth Kingdom via a railroad line.  Er, wait.  Yep.  We now have our reason for Kuvira to invade Republic City, not less because it was once part of the Earth Kingdom and uniting parts of the Earth Kingdom is kind of a hobby for the Great Uniter.  Zaofu under thumb, Kuvira will definitely be turning her eyes to the city that Avatar Aang helped to found.

Before Kuvira could take Zaofu, however, she had one woman standing in her way, Korra.  Korra, a bit too excited at having her mojo back, refuses to rely on the Avatar State initially in her duel with Kuvira and pays painfully for this choice.  The continually excellent scoring by Jeremy Zuckerman raised the tension of the moment as we watched Korra attempt again and again to land a blow on Kuvira, who effortlessly dodged each attack and counter attacked with an incredible speed.  Perhaps why Korra opted to fight without the Avatar State may be based on her own desire to see for herself that it was the poison that had been holding her back, not her own psychological desires.  Poison or not, she was not prepared and only as a last minute defense turned to the spiritual ace in the hole and with ease sent Kuvira reeling across the ground.  Right at the moment of finishing off the Great Uniter, the doppelganger suddenly reappears, distracting Korra, who falls to the ground and is promptly captured by Kuvira.  Only the interference between the air benders saves Korra from joining Suyin in the metal cages, but that is the only saving done this day, as Zaofu quickly submits to Kuvira’s control.

Next week we return to Republic City and the chess pieces prepare to realign with the city as the most likely centerpiece of the next campaign for Kuvira and the opportunity for Korra to try to come to terms with the doppelganger or at least, understand why she keeps seeing it. 

Random thoughts.  Korra was held up in the air by Kuvira very much in the same manner as she was chained up in the air by Zaheer prior to his poisoning of her.  There totally should have been a Yip Yip! From Meelo after they rescued Korra, Jinora, and Opal.  If this is the last major focus on Meelo, then I will be fine with it.  Kuvira in Suyin’s garden, playing with her meteorite collection, the ultimate statement that she has taken everything from her pseudo-mother. 

Animation and other highlights:

–  The flashlight flying out of the hands of the guard when Suyin yanks him up a tree before they sneak into the military camp.  It spirals away with its beam of light flashing.  It’s a short but nice touch. 

–          The background passing by in the window behind Baatar Jr and company as they watch Varrick’s car fall away.  However, it seems like the image may have been reversed as the landscape appeared to move in the wrong direction.

–  The bed head of Skrallax.  Fantastic. 

–  The painting contrasts between Meelo and Ikki and the kind of sincere artistic criticism which went with them.  The “crown” so to speak sitting on the table next to Meelo, looked extremely familiar, but I can’t place it.  It did look like his robe was based on the Fire Lord’s robe.

–  The music.  Enough said.  One of the greatest injustices done to Legend of Korra is the failure to release more soundtracks for the show.

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