Legend of Korra Book 4:Balance Episodes 1 & 2

Korra came back early.

Was it anticipated. No.

I was genuinely, pleasantly surprised 🙂

I was not happy with Season/Book 3 and I was hoping that Korra Book 4 would be better. So far, it is. It is asking integral questions about authority and also how misshapen and totalitarian authority can be when power is not rightly exercised.

As fans has suspected Kuvira from Book 3 is the main antagonist of this Book. Like Ozai and also Hyoung-Ting, Unalaq and Amon (won’t include Zaheer as he was not trying to be leader rather just get rid of the Avatar), Kuvira has become corrupt with power. In so far that she is now exiled from the Metal City of Zang Fu (I think that was what it was called) and is trying to reunite the Earth Kingdom and being labeled as “The Great Uniter” by her supporters and enemies alike, both with admiration and disdain.

This is shown in Episode 1 titled “After all these Years” which is taking place after three years of the Book 3 climax. A lot has happened, Republic City has finally accepted Spirits and the Spirit Wilds are flourishing with a good coexistence (we also see the homeless guy that Korra met on the very first episode make good friends with many; funny that he is still homeless right though?) .  Asami has become a person charged with a trans territory rail line construction which she successfully completes that allows Ba Sing Se and Republic City have constant travels. She is hit on by Prince Wu whose Aunt was Hyoung-Ting and though he is not as eccentric as his aunt he is as prideful and foolish. Mako is ordered to be his bodyguard and this is a job that he wants desperately to get out off though does properly (though by the penultimate moments of this episode we hear that Wu wants Mako too much to be his bodyguard and personal relations to be secured doesn’t allow Mako to get out of it).

The Air Nomad are now dressed differently. Their clothes now accentuate a wandering nomadic aerial mobile design as in acrobatic with gliders attached to their clothes like stunt performers. Kai has grown up and is in a long distant relationship with Jinora and Opal with Boilin. Boilin has become from comic relief to Earth Kingdom soldier, so has Varrick and Ju-li. Batar, Opal’s oldest brother is engaged with Kuvira, which is also a cause of family friction. Opal thinks Batar and Kuvira has betrayed her mom. If you guys recall Suyin was anti-monarchy all the way and now her own are beelining for it — not a good situation.

Opal and Kai has come to aid a kingdom that are being attacked by robbers. Ever since Zaheer killed Hyoung-Ting we saw Ba Sing Se in chaos and now still some remnants remain. Opal and Kai are not warmly greeted as the village leader wanted more recruits but they show themselves capable of administrative fair ways of solving a situation. This is antithetical to Kuvira who has a lot of authoritative power. She captures a bunch of bandits by putting metal around their arms eyes and feet then bundling them up as heavy sacks (how Nowatak and Torlak were shown to abuse wolves in Book One). Then when one of the bandits try to apologize she even seals her mouth with metal. Then she says the only way they can save themselves is by relinquishing this lifestyle and just opt to join her. The bandits, fearing for their lives, do as they are told. Kuvira smiles that despot’s smile of triumph.

Then she attempts to bully the village leader into signing a contract of protection (like Yakuza and Mafia and dirty politicians do) saying that she will help them with food, water and troops only if he supports her. There is a campaign for her also by many people who want her as new Earth Queen and not Prince Wu (leading to  a humourous pie in the face in crowd where Mako saves the dude and reminds him, while he gasps, that he is allergic to bee stings not strawberry). The village leader rejects her offer.

There is a gulf between Opal and Boilin because of this. Opal is angry at her brother and Kuvira for ditching her mother, the matriarch of the steel clan and also going so far out away from all the clan stood for (and then suddenly hearing they are engaged made her angry). She does not like Boi8lin helping Kuvira but Boilin believes reuniting and helping the Earth Kingdom is his calling. Then Opal and Kai attempt to get supplies but they are stolen by robbers (bet Kuvira was behind that) prompting the village to sign the contract making Opal become more frustrated and Boilin more confused.

The end shocks everyone. Everyone thinks after three years Korra is finally making a full recovery reappearance to Republic City. Tonrak is surprised and says that Korra has been writing for six months from Republic City and that she is okay and doing well.

So, where is Korra?

Hair cut short. Using only one bending style. Earth. And Wearing green clothes of the Earth Kingdom she is fighting in a cage match of sorts with another woman but loses. The owner comes and angrily gives her due but of course  says she lost him some. Then remarking that she loves “like that Avatar girl” and what happened to her. Korra truthfully answers she doesn’t know.

While in episode we see the ravages of power and totalitarian that Zaheer and even Amon was afraid of (yeah their execution was batshit crazy but not all their ideas were) we also see the vulnerabilities and caustic repercussions that comes through poverty. The fact that in three years no one is really helping these villages is sad.

Also while Kuvira is getting mentally and physically strong, psychologically preparing herself for power, authority and the confidence she is earning in getting a chance to be Queen — Korra has lost a lot of Avatar qualities and is now shown to be unstable and weak. I think this is why they decided to pair off two women in the end as a form of acceptable dichotomy. After all all the main villains has been male and she defeated all of them but none of them were once her protector and comrade but now this one is. This fight I think is going to be the most important and difficult fight that Korra will ever fight as both the Avatar and Korra.

This is where, if the series pulls it off,  LOK is going to be more mature than TLA. Yes for once they got some stuff down after Book 2 right. Yes, more mature. Because Balance isn’t about I think learning any new bending or just making a tyrant pay for their crimes. It’s about Korra keeping her title, spirit, selfhood, body and soul intact, focused, preserved, synchronized and finally evolved. Because all the battle she is fought now has attacked her personhood in these ways and it has made her break — Kuvira may do more damage than all three guys combined. How will Korra survive this? Will she herself break the Avatar chain to show that people can make hope for the future without avatars? I am actually excited to see what happens.

That is why the episode 2 is rightly called “Korra Alone” (a nod to ATLA’s “Zuko Alone”) and like Zuko who decides to travel alone to reclaim his title and earn it as noble, just prince of the Fire Nation Korra too now reclaim herself and also earn her Avatar title. Korra’s body is so badly undone after the poison that she can’t walk and she can’t properly eat or sleep. Her mother becomes rightly worried and says though they had agreed not to interfere with her recuperation she is not getting better so she must go and visit Katara.

It is a grueling process of recovery with Katara. She gets frustrated but when after six months of physical therapy at least allows her to walk she decides to go off to Republic City because she wants to be Avatar again. Actually, she first loses with fire benders in a training (a nod to first season’s first episode where she was able to completely take each and every one out) then on her journeying she loses to common bending thieves (a far cry from Book One Korra who takes on Triple Threats and actually throws a fire bender throw  a store’s glass window). Not to mention what also gets to her is that Tenzin thinks that she should not be ashamed of her convalescence but Korra isn’t used to feeling weak. Unlike Aang who fostered a sense of vulnerability losing his culture, kin, fellow benders (which Katara mentions as a sense of spirit uplifting so Korra can finish her therapy)  Korra has been strong o entitled to strength so she cannot understand how weak feels.

This was the epiphany I was waiting for the entire Book 3 so I am happy Book 4 delved into it. Korra has been avoidant of her weakness in situations; she tries to forget Amon, Unalaq and even the Red Lotus but she can’t anymore. Korra must acknowledge that she is human and that she has both weakness and strength. She must acknowledge her spirituality. Of course, Korra doesn’t necessarily at first. After losing the fight with bandits she cuts off her hair to sever her ties to Avatar position and throws away her water tribe arm band and decides to fight in underground Earth Kingdom battles. She had tried to meditate in the Spirit World’s tree of time unable to reach Raava. The spirits, a cute yellow and green one especially, wants to help. But Korra refuses. Like Zuko she is used to feeling alone or doing things alone.

This episode was a masterpiece in showing Korra; of all the Books this one episode actually did a magnificent character sketch on Korra. Who and What she is and feels. Korra thinks by fighting she can reclaim herself and that is where she errs. The spirits have rightly realized that Korra’s problem is spiritual.

Korra’s mind now emits an old, poisoned still long-haired Korra all wild as she was in the end of season 3 and that Korra is winning the battle because she is strong and ruthless with a vengeance. Korra encounters her especially when she is weak or is in horrendous doubt about what to do. And she gets beat up a lot by this chaotic Korra projection.

The yellow and green spirit, disguised as a dog, comes to Korra and growls at the chaotic emittance making Korra realize that this is real. The spirit wants Korra to acknowledge that her problem is spiritual. Then he skillfully if not without a fight with chaos Korra leads her to a periphery between Spirit and Normal world where Korra succumbs to her wounds and collapses. Person who helps her get better as she awakens after some time is none other than an old Toph who affectionately says it’s good to see “Twinkle Toes” again.

This was a very well written episode. I am happy they finally acknowledged that Korra needs a spiritual overhaul. But one thing I think as a fan I notice is that Zaheer is not really her only “mad man” that enabled a weakened Korra. All her opponents till now has gotten through to Korra in a bad way. In this way I think LOK is more mature than TLA because Ozai did not feel so personal to Aang as all these villains were. Now I wanna see how Kuvira and Korra fight.

It was nice what Katara said to Korra during her therapy that she doesn’t know what is beyond the pain but wouldn’t it be interesting to know?

Korra now must become a balance of both her as a person and Avatar and to do that she must be united in mind, body and spirit. And maybe then in the end she might be the last Avatar. The world’s balance might be decided as a new era of people being people and the Avatar cycle coming to a fruitful and good end.

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