By: Michael Dante DiMartino (story)

The Story: Talk about your cold wars.

The Review: I must confess, I have a really hard time dealing with Korra as a protagonist.  In my head, I know that fictional characters shouldn’t have to be perfectly sensible or intelligent or even likable.  But in my heart I also know that I can never respect someone who lacks that much perspective on her many flaws, or seems incapable of learning anything from her mistakes.  It’s a raging war between me the reviewer and me the reader, and it’s never certain who will triumph.

In this case, though, I think my prejudices have some real support.  I’ve already pointed out how incredible it is that Korra, having already been burned by a charismatic waterbender, would so easily go along with Unalaq’s flow.  You wouldn’t imagine her naivety could be so enduring, yet she seems unyieldingly blind and deaf to the red flags.  Upon confronting her uncle about the blockade of Northern troop ships and the way its soldiers treat the Southerners like second-class citizens, Korra misses in the most painful manner the symbolic significance of Unalaq seated upon a throne, telling her, “I need you for something more important.”

Instead, Korra remains steadfastly assured that her uncle wants the best for not only the Water Tribes but the world at large.  Though she’s disturbed enough to persuade Unalaq into a few superficial concessions—a trial for a gang of ultra-rebellious Southerners instead of an indefinite lock-up, for instance—her upset over the imminent civil war between her peoples doesn’t actually manifest in much action.  This, despite having witnessed firsthand the tyranny Tarrlok exerted over non-benders during the first season.

And this reveals one of the most obvious weaknesses of these newest episodes: too much thematic similarity with the previous season.  It’s no wonder Korra’s development seems to have stagnated; she’s basically in the same position she was before, desperately trying to be a unifying figure for two conflicting forces while simultaneously figuring out her purpose as avatar.  Part of the problem, of course, is that she wants it too much.  When her mother explains how her seclusion of Korra was intended to provide her a normal childhood, Korra snaps, “I never wanted a normal childhood.  All I ever wanted to be was the Avatar.”  It’s arrogance, plain and simple, and this may explain why Korra has such a hard time appreciating others’ feelings.

She’s not the only one.  The tensions among Aang’s children reveal that all three have inherited their father’s stubbornness to a certain degree: Tenzin’s insistence that his family got along better than they did, Bumi’s attempts to overcompensate for his lack of bending; Kya’s blunt attacks on both her brothers.  These are much more interesting issues than whatever drama Korra brings upon herself, not only because of the three siblings’ age, but also because of what their long-festering problems reveal about Aang and Katara’s parenting.*

On the other hand, Aang’s children most likely have a long ways to go before they work things out among themselves, while Korra takes an important, crucial step towards maturity by the end of the episode.  Her self-evolution probably won’t change the direction of the Water Tribe conflict much (the next episode is titled “Civil War, Part 2,” after all), but at least it gives us some assurance that this season won’t simply be a flat repeat of the last.

Conclusion: There are strong shades of first season plot developments in this episode, but also some signs of more interesting new material to come.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Katara probably knew all along what was going on with her kids, which makes her smiling placidness towards them seem a little disturbing.  I suspect the only way she can save this whole sorry situation is by bringing them together with her own death.

– “You’re the worst avatar ever!”  As they say, from the mouth of babes…

– Of course, getting rid of Varrick means that Asami’s business hopes are now dashed.  At some point, we should probably address Korra’s habit of ruining Asami’s life.

– Speaking of which, Mako’s comparison of breaking-up to “pulling off a bloodsucking leech” is probably not the most appropriate metaphor, considering the fact that Asami did nothing wrong and he basically jilted her for an emotionally draining shrew.

– This is probably one Musing too many, but it must be said: I think Bolin may be doomed/destined to be with Eska forever.  They’re just too hilariously ill-paired for the relationship to not last way longer than it should.