By: Joshua Hamilton (story)

The Story: Bolin gives Mako his first taste of method acting—and it is not good.

The Review: It’s a testament to the strength of the character work on Avatar: The Last Airbender that some of its best episodes didn’t revolve around Aang at all.  When it comes to The Legend of Korra, it’s not so much that the supporting players have reached a point where they can support an episode by themselves, but rather that your patience with Korra has gotten so exhausted that it’s just a relief to not have to deal with her for a while.

Either way, this is the strongest episode of Korra this season, and much of it has to do with the fact that you still have some affection and respect for the featured characters.  Besides Tenzin, Mako and Asami are the most centered characters on the show, with responsibilities and goals that remain personal and constant, no matter what kind of nonsense they get embroiled into.  Without Korra around, they have an opportunity to get some actual work done, free from the distractions of temperamental outbursts or unnecessary complications.

That’s not exactly the same thing as having plot free from artificial obstacles, however.  The pushdown Mako experienced last week from his department comes out in full force here, with his coworkers and Beifong shutting down all attempts to pitch an alternative theory to the alleged Northern Water Tribe attacks.  Considering this is the guy who once saved her life and whom she once told could someday become a detective, it seems bizarre for Beifong to kick Mako out of her office, shouting buffoonishly, “I don’t want to hear your lame-brain rookie ideas!”

Granted, conducting a secret sting operation and soliciting confirmed gang members for help probably doesn’t help Mako’s case any, but at least it shows some serious commitment on his part.  Keep in mind, though, that it’s Asami’s heartfelt guilt trip that pushes Mako into taking this big a risk.  As the plight of her company, which she describes as “all I have left of my family,” becomes increasingly desperate, Asami seems more than ever the show’s biggest victim.  Little wonder that she turn to Mako for support and comfort and that he, having spent most of the season trying to offer both to his girlfriend and fending off barbs as a reward, willingly receives her gratitude—by mouth.*

While Asami and Mako are thus productively occupied, Bolin keeps busy with the continuing “mover” (read: movie) adventures of “Nuktuk, hero of the South.”  These are hilariously obvious propaganda pieces Bolin’s gotten himself into (note “the evil Unalaq” and his “waterbending doomsday device”), but they offer him some measure of pride, which means more than brotherly loyalty after getting marginalized for so long.  As much as his disappearance into the Nuktuk persona is played for laughs, there’s definitely something pitiful about his attempts to exchange actual and fictional identities.  “Nuktuk is Bolin!  I’m a hero!” he insists to his disgusted co-star.

For Bolin and, to a lesser extent, Mako and Asami, this episode demonstrates how deeply Varrick has insinuated himself into their lives.  The show has tried to blow smoke into our eyes on this point, aiming for humor each time Varrick manages to slip his way into a scene.  But this level of unwanted interference has always hinted at more sinister ambitions, which he displays once Mako catches on to his game.  It’s not clear whether Varrick’s motivations are driven purely by corporate greed or if nationalistic sympathies plays a part, but at least they give him a more substantial role than just creating chaos for its own sake.**

Conclusion: Without its star, the episode is that much more focused and digestible, with stakes that actually feel deserved instead of self-inflicted.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * One way the show can make me a believer again is if it has the guts to keep Mako and Asami together instead of the inevitable reconciliation with Korra.  How about promoting a stable relationship for once?

** This also makes the third treacherous waterbender we’ve had on this series.  It’s enough for you to start developing some prejudices, huh?

– A makeshift fire-dagger—nice!   It’s been a while since we’ve seen some innovative bending moves on the show.