Legend of Korra: Book 4 – Operation Beifong

The fan boy speaks for the fans in Operation Beifong, the tenth episode of the final season of Legend of Korra.  In this case, Bolin asks the question that many have been dying to know the answer to since the first season, who is Lin Beifong’s father?  The answer? Kanto, and it didn’t work out.  The name seems very familiar, but at this time, I simply cannot place it within the history we know so far.  Thus, in providing one answer, the writers have simply replaced one question with another.  One might ask, are there plans to one day depict the Toph and Kanto romance?  Or, were the creators simply tired of everyone asking for a name and simply tossed one out there?  (If so, I fear they did nothing to save themselves from questions that will come for years onward.)

We begin with Lin, Opal and Beifong overlooking Zaofu, a city which has had its beautiful lotus flower inspired domes stripped away.  Kuvira’s goal was to force Zaofu to share its technology and advancements with the greater world and here, by removing the domes, she has literally opened the city to the world.  For what purpose, the question is asked by Opal, did she do so?  While future episode titles give a pretty clear clue, for the sake of spoilers, I won’t go down that line.  Needless to say, she apparently wanted a lot of metal. 

Toph’s arrival signals the fanboy explosion of joy, excitement, and adrenaline in Bolin, as he meets his hero for the first, and hopefully not the last, time.  Toph being Toph, she immediately gets to the point and informs everyone that the prisoners have been moved to a factory/camp, something she learned via the spirit vine network.  We also now have an understanding as to why Toph did not emerge from the jungle to let loose bending hell on the invaders in the swamp, she was on her way to Zaofu to try and save her family.  This aside, I do hope she gets a chance to return to the Swamp and take care of any lingering Kuvira forces, but I expect this is a pipe dream.

We also have a rather awkward moment at the fire, set off by the question from Bolin above about Lin’s parentage.  The directors/storyboard artists of Avatar are never afraid to hide or diminish their characters for the purpose of delivering wonderful scenes and this is one such case.  While Opal and Bolin sit side by side, filling the screen with merely a small fire and tea pot between them, Lin and Toph (mostly Lin), have an angry exchange concerning Lin’s father and Toph’s inability to understand why Lin is so upset.  There’s first, the animation of Opal and Bolin, as both watch the argument unfold, shifting their eyes and heads back and forth from one party to the other.  Bolin even quietly slurps his noodles, as someone might be want to do, to find something to do, when they know they really are best to sit back and stay out of an argument.  Second, besides making a rather tense and emotional sense a little lighter with the reactions of Opal and Bolin, it also establishes a distance between Lin and Toph.  They’re emotionally separated and in this instance, physically separated where they don’t even share the same frame of the show.     

Based on Bolin’s former knowledge, the Beifongs plus one, fly off on Juicy, Opal’s air bison.  For the first time in the history of the Avatar series, I deliberately averted my gaze from an air bison, because, well, an air bison sucking up snot, is actually less adorable than an air bison who isn’t.  For purposes other than personalizing Opal’s air bison, and perhaps for the joke of her admitting to find a different air bison, there really can’t be a good reason for the mucus inclusion.  Perhaps with Meelo slightly more grown up, the gross joke factor had to be met else where.  I do hope Opal finds a means to cure Juicy’s nasal drainage.  It might be indicative of Opal’s ability to look past immediate “gross” or negative aspects of an individual and love who they are underneath (ahem, Bolin). Regardless, onward!

Team Beifong arrive at the camp and factory, courtesy of Bolin’s prior knowledge, and discover the super weapon that everyone had feared Kuvira was in the process of creating.  Under the direction of Baatar, Jr, and aided by Zhu Li, a giant spirit cannon has been invented to harness and fire the incredible energy stored within spirit vines.  The actual cannon is extremely similar to super guns built by the Germans in the First and Second World Wars, complete with transportation by railway (see the Paris Guns for WW1 example, which is more in time with our show).  Also, in a way, the weapon is slightly reminiscent of the guns on the Battleship Yamato (see the show of the same name), which had World War Two cannons that fired lasers. 

Contrastingly, there’s also something reminiscent of America’s own super weapon program during World War Two, the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos.  This is a theme that I initially missed and it’s why I love hearing other fan’s perspectives, but there’s definitely an atomic weapon vibe to the spirit vines and it’s hit on in two different ways in this episode.  First, the location of the super weapon is in a desert-like spot, just like Los Alamos, and the test target?  Second, we have an empty and abandoned town, which stands in place very much like the fake towns or villages built by scientists to understand the destructive power of their weapon.  The third allusion comes later in President Raiko’s complaint with Asami and Varrick over the lack of spirit vine weapons.  If Kuvira has them, he needs them.  It’s Nuclear Spirit Vine Weapon proliferation!  Who expected an anti-proliferation message in Avatar?

Perhaps one of the disappointments of this entire episode was the fact that we were at a re-education camp, but never actually saw it.  It was a great chance to really see the cruelty of Kuvira on the common people who dissented from her rule, but perhaps, the world isn’t ready for an animated concentration camp.  One reason we didn’t see the camp was because Suyin and her family were not held in it, but in a wooden cage suspended in a vast cavern beneath the factory.  Team Beifong cannot rescue them immediately and as such, we get a glimpse of Baatar and Zhu-Li working together on the weapon. 

If there’s one thing that can be said of Baatar, he’s brave, or at least, fearless of danger.  During a test start up of the cannon, alarms shriek and Zhu Li alerts everyone to the danger that the weapon is about to explode.  Everyone runs, but Baatar, who calmly opens up the machine and spots the problem, saving lives, but also, the weapon that’s intended to take them.  Due to Kuvira’s imminent arrival the next day, the team is ordered to work out the kinks over night. 

Back in Republic City, we once again find a meeting organized by President Raiko to discuss the safety of Republic City.  In attendance are Tenzin, Korra, King Wu, Mako, Varrick and Asami.  Primarily, Raiko wants to know the status of Asami’s and Varrick’s plans to defend against Kuvira’s attack.  The result? FLYING MECH SUITS.  The Mech Suits knob has officially been turned up to 11.  While somewhat impressed, Raiko pushes for information on spirit vine weapons and to his own frustration, learns that no such efforts are being made, a decision defended resoundingly by our now morally charged Varrick.  Korra. in a continuing display of her maturity, offers a new suggestion to avoid the need for spirit vine weapons, the enlistment of spirits to help defend the city.  This satisfies the president.  At the same time, in an almost great display of Wu emerging as a leader, our Earth King brings up the point that the populace of the city should be evacuated.  The greatness is considerably diminished when we learn he suggested as much entirely for the purpose of trying to get Korra to become interested in him.  Interestingly, Wu defends his actions to Mako by saying all the great things done by men are for women, and this was immediately back-echoed, if you might, to our last episode, where Bolin volunteers to go on a high risk mission to save Suyin and the Beifongs in the hope of saving his relationship with Opal.  One also wonders if this is a sign post for Mako doing something in the finale for Korra’s sake, given he’s the beneficiary of Wu’s “wisdom.”

After the meeting, Korra sets off to a nearby spirit wild and attempts to communicate with the spirits.  Her efforts are for not, as the spirits simply disappear.  Showing off her reconnection to the spirit world, Korra meditates to the Tree of Time and pleads to an assembly of spirits, some wonderfully new faces and a few familiar friends (I’m looking at you Carrot Man Spirit).  One spirit, a flying eagle faced serpent type creature, responds to her entreaties by comparing her to Kuvira, someone who wants to use spirits as weapons to fight a human war.  Korra points out that spirits fought for Unalok, but we now learn that they were essentially forced to do his bidding by our former Water Tribe Chieftain using the power of Vaatu at the time of the Harmonic Balance.  For all that Korra attempts to convince the spirits to help protect their new home, none listen and they all disappear from her one by one.  This pretty much means that we will be seeing spirits appear in the final battle with Kuvira and her army.  They might well come waving the flag of Deus Ex Machina, i..e, the giant eagles of the Avatar World. 

Back to Team Beifong and the rescue mission, Kuvira assembles virtually all her forces at the factory to listen to her pontificate and demonstrate the new super weapon, allowing our heroes to reach and rescue Suyin and her family.  The scene is pretty straight forward with a few points of interest.  One guard appears in this scene and appears to have taken hair style cues from Bolin, not Baatar, Jr., for a change.  The expression on Bolin’s face when Suyin’s son pats him on the cheek; is her son gay and being a bit surprisingly friendly with Bolin?  Baatar, Sr,’s fear of heights.

The family reunion lasts only so long as they discover Kuvira is present and has to be stopped.  Toph, surprisingly, pulls out, announcing that Suyin and Lin can get themselves captured, but she will have none of it.  She remains behind with Baatar, Sr, and Huan, and wonderfully responds to Baatar, Sr,’s gracious, “How are you doing, mother?” with an angry “I  thought I told you not to call me that!”  The down fallen expression by Baatar, Sr., again, wins points. 

The super weapon, now rolled out on its tracks, is the platform for Kuvira’s speech on the power of the Earth Empire.  It’s been a while since the Earth Kingdom was invaded and colonized, so it’s a bit curious as to why Kuvira is so hung up on showing the other nations of our small Avatar world the mighty power of the Earth Empire.  One might say she went a bit Grand Moff Tarkin with the canon representing her own personal Death Star.  The test firing is set into motion and once again, the machine’s alarms shriek and once again, Baatar, Jr., dives into the mechanical beast and discovers a missing metal pin.  A pin that could not have fallen out and Kuvira’s eyes fall on Zhu Li.   Earlier, Kuvira had questioned Zhu Li as to why the weapon had its troubles and we learned that Zhu Li’s response was a lie.  The level of Zhu Li’s loyalty to Kuvira is fully established, there never was loyalty and Varrick’s former assistant is a saboteur intent on doing what she can to stop the Great Uniter, declaring her a monster.  The manner in which Kuvira metal bended the pin from inside Zhu Li’s uniform and held it suspended before her the entirety of her anger was a nice touch.  One might say it represented the nail being driven into Zhu Li’s fate, as Kuvira orders her sent to the abandoned town to experience the power of the fully operational battle station cannon first hand.

Zhu Li’s plight does not go unnoticed, as Bolin and Opal set off to save her, while Suyin, Lin, and Suyin’s twins, set off one more attempt to take down Kuvira.  Baatar, Jr.,’s own character is redeemed as he experiences remorse and concern when Opal is spotted in the target town right before the cannon is about to fire, and fortunately, the Beifong attack on Kuvira rock’s the cannon and shifts its aim to the mountain behind the city (boring a hole straight through it).  The fight between the Beifongs and Kuvira is truly a match up of Suyin and Kuvira, Master versus Apprentice.  It’s a duel that was teased earlier in the season and it’s just as exciting as we would hope with Suyin taking an early advantage and displaying a metal bending ferocity unmatched except, perhaps by Kuvira. 

The choreography of the fight was beautiful with Suyin artfully adapting surrounding metal to serve as a shield, darts, and then armor.  Kuvira, meanwhile, skips past the problem that the Jaeger pilots had in Pacific Rim, and goes straight for the sword that extends from her forearm like an extra appendage.  Quickly, Kuvira assumes control, and Suyin would have faced defeat again, but for not being rescued.  In turn, her rescuers, Lin, her sons, and herself, are surrounded by Kuvira forces, when a wave of earth bending topples everyone but the Beifongs.  Toph has appeared. 

While Kuvira cooly eyes the founder of metal bending, Toph simply dismisses her with the comment that the Great Uniter gives metal benders a bad name.  For all that we ache for a confrontation between these two, it does not happen and for a couple reasons.  One, would anyone believe that Toph could be defeated in the art she invented? Kuvira has to remain undefeated until she and Korra face off again in the finale (it’s going to happen, ever since Korra loss to her earlier).  Second, Kuvira likely also knows that she could not defeat Toph and does not engage her, probably for that purpose.  One has to wonder what is Toph’s position in the Earth Kingdom?  Could the Great Uniter fight her and not receive an instant backlash?

The Beifongs retreat from Kuvira and we learn that Toph has no intention of going to Republic City for the show down.  There will not be a White Lotus-style attack of the geriatrics in the conclusion of this Avatar show.  Toph’s back hurts, for one, and as she points out, these fights are for the younger generation.  The writers toss in a response to all the fan cries from Book 2, why didn’t Katara, one of the greatest living water benders, fight Unalok? It wasn’t her place to fight in this generation’s conflict.  In a way, it’s the writers’ point that the adventures and heroics of the original Team Avatar are over and Legend of Korra belongs to these heroes.

The episode wraps up with Zhu Li announcing that Kuvira plans to attack Republic City in two weeks.  In a fun twist of the real world overlapping with the animated one, the season finale of Korra will air in two weeks, December 19th

Quick asides…apparently Toph’s metal bending academy did not survive the departure of its founder, or at least, in Toph’s mind it ceased being hers or its work was continued by Zaofu.  Korra’s selection of the Tree of Time as her place to seek help in the Spirit World, huh.  It seems it was chosen more to reflect Vaatu’s previous presence to compare Korra to Unalok than for any other purpose.  Though, the plains was also the place where Wan, the first Avatar, truly bonded with Raava, so literally, the place where humanity and spirits were forever united as one.  Pabu is back! And now he disappears again.   Lastly, no indications of Korrasami or Makorra!  The shippers can take a breath from the war for now.

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