Korra has swapped Unalaq out for Varrick, in the role of: Bad Mentor. Like Unalaq, Varrick has swooped in and started to reinforce and “help” the young Avatar. Replacing the spiritual guidance with commercial and strategic advice. As the Water Tribe Civil War begins in earnest.
Around the discussion of Korra it has been reasoned that Korra is largely who she is, an impulsive and stubborn child who attacks everything (literally) head on. That’s largely true and actual character change isn’t what TV is about. TV deepens a character overtime so that the audience and possibly the character have a better understanding of themselves. Once a character really changes the show has to end. Walter White and Heisenberg both died and their amalgamation, Mr. Lambert, had a deeper understanding of both personas failings and changes...and then died. The Legend of Korra still has 2 more Books, so Spirits seems to be about pushing the young Avatar down a peg in terms of her ferocity. Korra at her core will always be that fierce warrior who attacks things. Just maybe by the end of Book 2, she’ll use a bit more variety in her tactics. Learn some flanking maneuvers.
Last week I argued that the point of view of Korra was tied to the titular character. After the Judge spilled the beans in “Civil Wars, Part 2” everything became more coherent and honest. The North and Unalaq were finally called on their aggressive actions. In an episode titled “Peacekeepers” it was anything but peaceful. The Water Tribe cultural center was bombed in an act of terrorism and the episode ends with the Avatar being eaten(?) by an angry spirit in the form of a squid. “Peacekeepers” also continues the mile a minute, turned up to 11, pace; which is starting to tire me out. After the sense of clarity last week it would be expected that it would follow into the next episode, making the end of an opening act.
“Peacekeepers is no where near as clear or peaceful, it’s a frantic mess. Because now instead of acting out of rebellion, Korra is acting out of FEAR. Everything comes back to saving her family from an icy death and putting that action on all of those around her she deems to not be helping. Winding her way down from saving the world to saving her nation and people to finally saving her family. This entire conflict is a mixing of the macro and micro aspects of drama in Shakespeare esque fashion. Everything comes back to her family. Korra’s fearfulness pushes everything forward in a panic. In many respects she is starting to resemble Anakin Skywalker has he gives into fear and turns to the dark side. Both desperately trying to gain firm ground on their own without the help of friends. If Korra is Anakin Skywalker, who is the Sith Lord in this analogy? Varrick? Unalaq? Or someone else?
The only thing Varrick has done “wrong” is be the ultra capitalist - biz bender - that he is. But there is a colossal difference between calling a spade a spade and giving out bad (good) advice, and moving into being a war profiteer with utter delight. “If you can’t make money during a war, than you flat out can’t make money!” Is another Varrick-isim he shares with Asami who is once again meeting with the shipping mogul about their business arrangement. Varrick razzle dazzles Korra, Asami, and Bolin with his brainstorming techniques, once again getting them to agree with the action that serves his self interest. He doesn't even get to come out and say “Let’s go to the United Army forces” before Korra jumps on it and sets a meeting with General Iroh. Korra also jumps in at supporting Asami joining the war business by selling her Mecha Tanks to the South. “That’s great you (two) get to make all the money while helping defeat Unalaq! Isn’t capitalism stupendous!” sounds like a line that could have been cut.
For Varrick, maximising these war profits will be his top priority. Leading him to make propaganda films by cutting together documentary footage with his own narrative story starring Boling as NaTuck(sc) Hero of the South (also starring Ginger and Varricks hair products). Everything about that situation is one big vertically integrated money making machine. I’m not even going to touch the implication of Bolin, and earthbender and equivalent of white in Avatar world, playing a Southern Water Triber and the stereotypical a costume he and Ginger wear. For now lets just read that as a reference to say The Jazz Singer and the use of various “face” during early film. And not a bit of fun at the expense of a similar major motion picture that cast white for the equivalent of inuit.
All of this has me continuing to question the overall tone of Book 2. This is some serious subject matter and ideas being expressed with many literary/film and real world parallels.It’s the kind of stuff you see satires with this kind of tone. I’m not sure they are making a bit of satire. It sn’t like Brkye and Co. aren’t known for dealing with dark subject matter, the first series is kicked off on the genocide of a people and near genocide of another along with plenty of other complex emotional problems. It gave those subjects the right amount of weight. At the heart of all this is Varrick who dresses all this darkness in camp and a smile. Pink mint tea, radio for animals, lets go to the United Forces and manipulate them into fighting the North for us without going through proper channels. One of those things is not like the other.
Seeming lost in all this and pushed to the side if Mako. In Book 1, Mako wasn’t all that interesting to me compared to the bro of bros, brother Bolin. He just never grew beyond being an archetypal character in Book 1. Now by contextualizing him as a cop (soon to be detective) and showing him to be right, Mako has grown on me in a big way. Mako is the only one who is right and actually doing something of importance. Not running around like a chicken with its head cut off like Korra. Or being razzle dazzled by Varric's theatrics. A lack of helpful friends it the least of his problems. His theory that firebenders on the orders of someone else not Northern Water Tribers bombed the cultural center just isn’t conforming with the much more consumable narrative that this was an act of terrorism by the North. What little evidence he has, an eye witness account, is brushed to the side by bureaucratic stagnation in the form of the detectives on the case.
Now that all the socio-political deep reading stuff is out of the way, I’ve got something to ask. Was it just me or did some of the exterior scenes and others in “Peacekeepers” look kinda bad? The backgrounds just didn’t look right to me. The layering of background and foreground at times just didn’t look right. The moving images in the foreground looked like movable stickers placed on a static blurry background. All of these in turn had me listening to Janet Varney’s delivery more and it made me cringe a bit. If anything it is apparent that the budget went into thoes final 5 minutes where Korra and her cousins, Eska and Desna, fight it out while streamign across the water only to be attacked by that angry spirit. That proceeds to eat(?) Korra. That entire sequence was beautiful and makes me want to own the blu ray. Korra talking with General Iroh not so much.
Bits at the End
You can comment below or discuss the episode and all things Korra in our Discussion Thread
by Callum Petch -
I have one major complaint about this week’s Korra episode, and this season in general in fact, that I need to address before I get into the nitty gritty of “Peacekeepers” proper. It’s the show’s constant insistence that the avatar must remain neutral throughout the North-South Water Tribe conflict. That Korra mustbe neutral and cannot be seen favouring one side over the other. Two problems with that: 1) the Northern Water Tribe, led by Unalaq, is pretty much just plain evil. There haven’t been any scenes shown yet that can paint this issue as anything other than black and white. You could argue that that’s because of the fact that our Big Bad is the head of them, but then you’d be forgetting how strangely sympathetic The Equalists were last season. The bad guys can have a point, but it’s the methods that you should disagree with, which is what Korra managed to pull off last season but seems to have just regressed to “POWER! EVIL!” for the NWT’s (I’m just going to abbreviate them from now on to save on effort and word count) motivation this season, which is a shame. And for 2) if the avatar remained neutral, then wouldn’t Aang have pretty much had to let Fire Lord Ozai off the hook? He was clearly evil, but apparently the avatar can’t take sides in a conflict which, according to the characters in this universe, makes Aang a bad avatar. I’m sorry, I just get annoyed at such a massive disconnect between what the characters think and what the show wants the viewers to think.
Other than that, I mostly enjoyed this episode and not just because Korra and Mako finally broke up, but let’s tackle that first, anyway. I give this show a lot of stick for the writing of its relationships, but I am able to give credit where said credit is due; the breakup was handled excellently. Whereas Season 1 spent an inordinate amount of time trying and failing to convince me, and a lot of the viewers, that Korra and Mako are perfect for each other, Season 2 has spent a reasonable amount of time demonstrating that maybe they aren’t after all. And I buy it, and not just because Mako is still a very poorly written character 80% of the time. Despite what they both think, they’re too incompatable for each other. People with personalities that headstrong, and who are never capable of seeing anyone else’s viewpoint, will find it hard to agree on anything and that makes relationships hard work. Especially for teenagers like Mako and Korra which leads to Mako, like most teenagers who come across hard work and most people who are confronted with people too stubborn for their own good, ending things with the pair of them. I have pretty much no doubt in my mind that they won’t end up back together again by season’s end, but Janet Varney and David Faustino still sold the living hell out of it, anyway.
Bolin, meanwhile, who seems to have officially become the Xander Harris of Korra and turns out to be a master of the Mick Foley cheap pop, is slowly factoring his way back into the show thanks to the efforts of Varrick, who is now the best forever whenever Lin Beifong isn’t around (who finally returned this week and got the best line of the night). The show seems to be making Bolin’s lack of… anything, really, to do an actual plot point without devaluing the character, with Varrick trying to turn him into a war propaganda star thanks to his latest invention of “movers” and his accidentally being the catalyst for Korra and Mako’s break-up. It’s a far more worthy use of his time than being the chew toy for some remarkably uncomfortable Eska sequences. Incidentally, I am glad that she and Desna are having an actual use here beyond that romance subplot, although Aubrey Plaza’s line readings during that final, stunning water chase/fight were surprisingly wooden and unnatural in an unintended way.
If the first four episodes devoted themselves to tearing down the father figures ofKorra’s universe, this one spent its time tearing down the notions that its authority figures may actually be halfway competent at their jobs. In Lin’s supposedly crack police force, only Mako seems to give a crap about the act of policing. The president of Republic City cares more about photo ops than the pressing concerns down south. Even Korra herself is demonstrated as being too personally invested in the conflict and too stubborn to believe anything other than the NWT being evil that must be stopped (as evidenced by her cold dismissal of Mako’s announcement that one of those responsible for the bombing during a peace rally was a firebender). The only one who seems to want to act is General Iroh but his hands are forcibly tied by the president. If all of this is giving off any major impression to me, it’s that the Avatar/Korra universe is kind of a crappy place to live. Whatever sense of wonder and discovery that Avatar fostered is slowly being ripped off and replaced with a colder, more cynical view of the world. It’s become far more apparent that this series is designed for those that originally watched Avatar and have aged accordingly, in regards to its worldview; those who are becoming far more realistic and bitter about the world but are still susceptible to base enjoyments, like a platypus-bear pooping money.
Other than the whole neutrality thing I mentioned up top, the only other thing I can majorly knock against this episode is that the Tenzin subplot felt incredibly superfluous and a waste of time. Other than the sight of Meelo ordering a whole squadron of trained lemurs to pull off a highly choreographed flight sequence whilst Tenzin looks on in despair, it added nothing to the episode and just felt like unnecessary padding or someone realising that they had JK Simmons booked for an extra day and, dammit, they were going to make use that time! It sticks out especially because this episode was otherwise extremely well-paced and tightly plotted, as evidenced by the credits not running whilst the episode was finishing up for once, and Tenzin’s subplot just smacked of filling out the run-time.
Still, a very enjoyable episode. Having looked around the Internet (which is a dangerous thing that you should avoid at all costs), I can see that I’m being way kinder to this season, so far, than, well, everyone else. Maybe that makes me easy to impress, maybe that makes me less of a nitpicker, maybe that means I’m a bad critic or maybe I just like fun; whichever the reason, I’m enjoying this season of Korra. More so now that the return of the dark spirits should hopefully signal a full steam ahead approach in regards to getting a realBig Bad. Because, seriously, you don’t tease me a Grey DeLisle voiced character with an ominous name and not follow through with everything you’ve got.
Callum Petch is just so literary. He goes by on Screened. Follow him on Twitter (@CallumPetch) and read his weekly gaming column Petchulant and his Eurogamer Expo pieces over at GameSparked (site link)!