Last episode represented something of a high water mark for the show in terms of psychological gravity, but if there’s one area in which the show still has little experience, it’s politics. From the season premiere, almost any viewer could see that Kuvira’s control issues and Prince Wu’s utter incompetence was going to lead to some kind of coup, yet it takes nearly every other character in the episode by surprise. Even for politicians, that’s a new low of shortsightedness.
Tenzin’s mostly a spiritual world leader, but at least he voices some misgivings about Kuvira. Leave it to the seasoned official to totally get the wrong call. In response to Tenzin’s concerns, Raiko says matter-of-factly, “She gave me her word she’d step down.” That pretty well sums up the level of sophistication in government affairs for the Avatar world: global power handed over on the basis of essentially a pinky-swear. Even Suyin, who’s openly hostile to Kuvira’s power grabs, labors under the assumption her future daughter-in-law will eventually relinquish that power. Thus the season’s biggest conflict arises from everyone else’s stupidity.
If Kuvira’s motivations strike you as vaguely familiar, you’re probably thinking of Fire Lord Sozin from Last Airbender, who had the same authoritarian attitude about government. Kuvira may be sincere (and accurate) in her belief that the Earth Kingdom has been host to some truly ineffectual heads of state and that the citizens deserve better, but that doesn’t change the dictatorial nature of her actions. Her way may lead to greater order, but at the price of everyone’s free will. Besides, no one knows what Kuvira’s vision of order looks like, which is even more reason to be nervous about her imposing it.
Bolin seems oblivious to these subtleties, or else he’s willfully blinding himself to them. Right now, he’s playacting the grown-up, able to insert such words as “rhetoric” into everyday conversation, but he’s still the same, simpleminded pawn who receives his grand ambitions from others then bristles when those ambitions are questioned. He’s not at his most likable so far this season, blowing off the upset of his girlfriend and brother just to preserve his own importance, but the real problem is how predictable it is that he would do so.
Kuvira’s combination of steeliness, bending mastery, and military strength is so potent that no one can seriously counter her—except Korra. Last week, I suggested part of her depression stems from the feeling of uselessness, a sentiment Toph tactlessly shares: “Get over yourself! The world doesn’t need you one bit!” But actually, it does. It needs the avatar to earth/fire/air/waterbend that smug look off Kuvira’s face, and probably to help the spiritual world in some way, now that Kuvira’s enlisted Varrick in experimenting on those vines that sprouted everywhere after the spirits returned.
So it’s a good thing Toph reluctantly agrees to help Korra out, though mostly she spends the time cackling at the avatar’s expense—and it’s fantastic. The blind crone gets a lot of excellent lines this episode, probably exhausting the entire season’s supply, but her finest has to be, “Of all the Avatars I’ve worked with, you’re by far the worst! I know that’s only one Avatar, but still.”
To be fair, she proves very helpful as well, identifying not only the physical source of Korra’s problem (lingering traces of metal still in her body), but the psychological one as well: a subconscious desire to hold onto the crippling poison to avoid the dangers and responsibilities of being Avatar. That explains Korra’s vison of her hostile Avatar self; that part of her is trying to get her to shape up and do what she was born to do. Toph is also the perfect mentor to Korra because she’s as prepared to indulge Korra’s hang-ups as her ambitions: “The good news is if you’re looking for a place to hang, where no one will bother you, you picked the best swamp in the world!”
A slight return to formula for the show, but Toph’s guest appearance is worth it.Some Musings: - “I’m the original Bei Fong!” Yes, Toph. Yes, you are.- Frog-squirrels. Me no likey.- Years later, Eska and Desna really ought to be finding someone to look at their perpetual slouches. They may have scoliosis of some kind.