In this week's Legend of Korra, our Avatar finds herself stuck between her father and her uncle as the Water Tribe threatens civil war. Meanwhile, Tenzin is dealing with a much more mundane issue: the realization that Aang wasn't the world's greatest dad.
As a television series, The Legend of Korra still hasn't quite settled into itself. It's still messy, uneven, and not quite certain what all of its characters should be doing. But despite that, I find that I'm really enjoying this season of the show, and for reasons that I didn't expect.
I especially appreciate the ambition of the story Book 2 is trying to tell. The Last Airbender was, after all, aimed at a slightly younger audience than Korra is, and Firelord Ozai was a bit of a mustache-twirling villain. I'm not sure that Unalaq is wearing his Good Idea Anorak (wouldn't it be easier to win over the Southerners with love than the appearance of an occupation?), but I can see why he thinks his "unification" (read: conquest) of the world is for everyone's own good. And while his arrest of Korra's parents at the end of the episode solidifies his position as her antagonist, he also builds Korra up and gives her a confidence in her abilities that she hadn't received before. Just because he seems to be her enemy doesn't mean he can't do her some good.
Korra is also a difficult character in a difficult time. The Avatar: The Last Airbender comics do a nice job of showing that the world without Fire Nation supremacy is more morally complicated than the world under the thumb of Ozai, and it's the same in The Legend of Korra. It's not easy for the relatively sheltered Korra to understand whom to side with, especially when she's torn between her family and her chief and new mentor. But we're starting to see some glimmers of the Avatar in Korra, a slowly emerging sense of balance and justice. I may be reading too much into the scene composition, but after the capture of the rebels, Unalaq positions himself beside Korra, but when she disagrees with him, she stands sideways to him, not yet ready to give herself over to allegiances. Her bending abilities have deepened as well; it was lovely to see a fighting sequence in which Korra skillfully avoids causing any harm while still thwarting her opponents.
Korra also realizes that, while she has tried to separate herself from her parental figures, she still has something to learn from them. Katara and Sokka's father was a hero, a morally upright veteran of the war against the Fire Nation, and it was important for his children to live up to his example. Korra's parents, on the other hand, longed for a quiet life after Tonraq's banishment, but found themselves the parents of the Avatar. Tonraq is still struggling with what that means, but perhaps he and Korra will grow into their roles together.
Still, the ties of friends and family can be hazardous for an Avatar, whose role transcends national and personal ties. We saw that in Avatar Roku's relationship with Ozai, and in our B-story, we understand that being the Avatar made Aang an imperfect family man. Yes, he loved his wife and his children, but he had responsibilities that were, let's face it, more important than they were. It left his three children with a dysfunctional family dynamic, however, one in which Tenzin was resented as the favorite child as Aang impressed a clear duty to the Air Nation upon him. I do appreciate that, after seeing Aang as a fun-loving kid, we now hear about an Aang who failed to be as playful with his own children. It's an important reminder that responsibilities and circumstances can change a person, just as we anticipate Korra will have to change.
I suspect that will mean unhappy things for Mako down the line. We're on our third half-hour in and Mako still doesn't have much to do. Back in Republic City, we saw Mako was starting to become a person with a sense of self and obligation, something Korra has taken him away from. In order to grow into the people they need to become, Korra and Mako will probably need to separate from one another. (Which probably won't upset the Mako haters.) Of course, I'm very curious to see what sort of role Bolin carves out for himself.
- Bumi is clearly related to Sokka. Duty.
- So Bolin is basically dating both of the twins at this point, right?
- I have a more adult version of Korra in my head in which one of Tenzin's obligations is to knock up as many Air Nation ladies as possible in the hope of repopulating the world with Airbenders. I'm half expecting that we'll someday come across a stray surviving Airbender with a harem.