I’ve rewatched “Civil Wars, Part 2” four times. Something about this episode just didn’t gel with me. The unnerving sense of calm in the first half is all gone. Replaced with a mile a minute pace that must get us and Korra on the path to a Water Tribe Civil War. At first I thought it was the rapid pacing, giving the feel that a lot was happening. At the sametime I found the episode to be incredibly thin, with what we didn’t see, and thematically shallow in the ideas put forth. These two things appear to be opposing to one another but they actually feed into one another rather well. After spending the better part of an hour hashing this all out, “Civil Wars, Part 2” is overstuffed and thin all at the sametime. Making for an odd piece of television to watch.
By the end of “Civil Wars, Part 2” it feels like Spirits is finally starting to open up. Like it just got out of the starting area in Guild Wars 2. The end of this two parter doesn't mark the end of conflict and a storyline, but the beginning of an ongoing conflict between Northern and Southern Water Tribes. Korra now must travel to Republic City and win over the new President. Only with the United Republic Forces can the South stand a chance of defeating the North. It’s very Mass Effect of Bryke.
I’m not sure what to make of Varrick. Voice actor John Michael Higgins, plays up the shipping moguls exuberance and eccentricities, to hide the darker ideas being put forth. Varrick is the yin to Unalaqs yang. Both seemingly united in a vague quest for power. Where Unalaq makes his moves with Machiavellian craft. Varrick is set up as the series Plutocrat and only relies on the power of money to get things done. “There is always someone willing to look the other way for a few yuan.” Bribery is his plan to make sure his rebels go free. It is the thought of losinga few yuan that pushed him to suggest armed resistance in the first place. Money is all that he cares about. Varrick is a character that is being played for laughs, disarming viewers to the possibly equally extreme kind of views that Unalaq has.
Now let us contrast Varrick and his style with the cold calm easy nature of Unalaq. Adrian LaTourelle plays the the Chief of the Water Tribes with an eternal calm. At first it seems like Unalaq is icy cold, but he doesn't sound like Desna and Eska. This utter calm comes from the self righteousness that propels him. Any good villain believes their actions are for the greater good. Tonraq would have been made full Chief of the Water Tribes but he is utterly devoid of spirituality ergo Tonraq must go. Unalaq used duplicity to achieve his goals. Varrick just throws around all of his money to solve a problem.
Book 2 seems to be surrounding Korra with a wide societal spectrum. All with their own extreme wants and needs, which will come into conflict in physical and philosophical ways. Forcing Korra to find her own middle path and thread the needle to achieve balance in the world. Be it: government, businessmen, or religious leaders they are all duplicitous entities that can not be trusted. All Korra can trust is a select familial unit( and that does not always work smoothly).
Unalaq is a great continuing example of this show purposely undercutting the seriousness of events. In “Civil Wars, Part 1” Unalaq is shown on the throne bisected by shadow, looking all types of evil. Which was the first example of overt narration by the show to garner an emotional response from the audience. Sure his actions up to this point seemed suspect at best but from a narrative perspectiveKorra had been neutral. All of this creates tonal chaos to match Korra’s own self doubt. The shows perspective is tied with Korra’s, so when she isn't certain the show is not certain.Korra isn't certain for most of this episode. Unalaq believed in her but also used her. Tonraq asks his daughter not to act rash. And she goes and puts the judges head inside Nagas mouth. After finding out about her Uncles actions, Unalaq is shown to be considerably darker in nature. We and Korra see clearly Unalaq for what he is. And even then I’m still expecting some reveal of a power behind the throne.
Being in a family is hard work by all involved. It’s a simple, extremely true, point that director Ian Graham illustrates by showing Twinkle Starchild and Princess Rainbows fighting but in the end coming together as a familial unit. This is audibly pointed out by Ikki. To which Tenzin can only agree with the wisdom found within it. At first blush this moment of understanding between two runaways as the kind of saccharine sweet truism expected in the majority of childrens film. It isn’t cloying. It’s god damn warm and adorable! It also got me to briefly imagine a My Little Pony-esque series with those baby airbison.
That scene between Bumi and his fathers statues was well done. Simply put. The little note of hesitancy in Richard Riehle’s voice as he communes with the statue. Seeking his dead father's approval, had me go back and reevaluate what I’d thought of Bumi previously. Here we have the oldest son of the Avatar and he isn’t a bender of any kind. That’s gotta give a kid some mental hurdles. Bumi does gain approval from Kya who reassures her big brother that, yes, their father is proud of him.
Bad “Good” Advice From Varrick
Honesty is for fools.
Just ditch girls. Don’t explain how you find them emotionally and physically entrapping.
Build a really fast boat to help in the execution of advice number 2.
There is always someone willing to look the other way for money.
The Bits At The End
As always you can discuss the show here in the comments thread or in the discussion thread.
I loved the use of sound (or lack of sound) in the short fight between Korra and Unalaq. The lack of sound slowed the initial water bursts down considerably. Making a very nice effect. Also Unalaq doesn't look maniacal or evil in that point he is forever calm.
Higgins needs to do a Dibiase-esque laugh at some point.