Re-Avatar State: “The Metal Clan” & “Old Wounds”

The Metal Clan

As the title of the third season has so helpfully reminded us, one of the driving themes in The Legend of Korra is change. This is a show built on the inherent premise that it is different from its predecessor, that the elements from the original series have evolved in new (and sometimes) exciting ways. The concepts laid out before extrapolated upon in thrilling and intriguing manner. The tension undergirding the entire series built upon a world of magic rapidly enter a modern industrial age.

As such, outside of Republic City, we haven’t actually visited many new places in Korra specifically. Instead the creators have opted to show how familiar locales have evolved over the course of decades.  From the expanded Water Tribes, to the gilded squalor of Ba Sing Sae, it’s been a evaluation of what the audience has come to expect from the Four Nations. Until now, as we are introduced to perhaps the greatest designed location the franchise has ever wrought. The glittering futurist metalbending utopia of Zaofu.

Metalbending has always been the form of magical martial arts that makes the most sense in a rapidly modernizing world. It’s entire conception built around bending an element already forged and formed by human intervention. A refinement of a refinement. So it’s not surprising to see a whole city devoted to the form become an art deco wonderland indebted to the pursuit of the improvement of both the self and the community. Metalbending takes discipline, but it can also build monorails and airship platforms. The possibilities are endless.

Zaofu also serves as another swerve in the political world that Team Avatar has to navigate. For the first time on their journey to rebuild the Air Nation they are greeted with open arms and every level of respect. That’s because the matriarch of Zaofu is none other than Suyin Beifong. Toph’s second child, and Lin’s half sister. So while the group is greeted with good cheer, there is still tension bristling because Lin and Suyin have not fully reconciled their own relationship issues. Just when things are looking up, personal family baggage rears its ugly head.

So Lin is with Team Avatar to provide extra protection in case Zaheer show’s up, so far things on that front have been pretty smooth for Korra. She knows Zaheer is out there, but for now he’s a distant and unknown threat, so The Avatar is taking every opportunity to get more airbenders to join Tenzin, and new one has popped up in Zaofu. Everyone is stoked to see the city, but Lin is reticent, instructing Korra to lie about her presence.

This move gets Korra into a bit of trouble when she meets Suyin when the city’s truth seer Aiwei reveals that the Avatar has been less then honest about Lin’s presence. It’s a minor bump between Korra and Su, but Lin curdles in the background of every conversation. Still Suyin graciously welcomes the group and introduces them to her family: her jock sons Wei and Wing, her goth son Huan, her architect son Bataar Jr. and her new airbending daughter Opal. The gang is immediately impressed by what Su has accomplished, and Bolin is quickly smitten with Opal.

Suyin proposes that Korra train Opal in Zaofu, but Korra knows that the new airbender would be better suited under Tenzin’s tutelage. Still Korra offers Opal her first lesson, and it’s a small and smart character beat for the Avatar. Passing on her knowledge to somebody else. It, in a minor way, partly justifies Korra’s pursuits. As she is one of the few people who can offer the opportunity to mentor in the expanse of the world. She may be cut off from the past, but Korra still can teach.

Later the topics of political leadership are expounded upon further at a dinner that Su hosts. She gripes about The Earth Queen, notes that monarchy is an outdated mode of governance and turns to Korra for an opinion. Korra is kind of at loss for what to say, despite being the most powerful figure in the world, she doesn’t really have the experience needed to navigate a political world.

Anyway such talk is interrupted by the return of Varrick and Zhu Li, who after their daring escape from Republic City, have decided to do tinkering in Zaofu. Team Avatar’s relationship with the manic billionaire is still complex (Bolin is thrilled, Asami and Mako not so much), but Varrick sees magnets as the wave of the future, and can’t wait to put them to use. This moment would be humorous in and of itself, but it highlights a quality of Su’s that Lin can’t stand. Her lax attitude to those with questionable pasts. Even the chef was a pirate. Su believes people can change, Lin isn’t so sure. And this difference ruins the dinner.

Bolin takes the opportunity of meeting a cute new girl to once again try his hand at the romance game. And while I was properly girding for more absolutely dire romantic material, the turn here is fairly smart, and buffs out some of the more head smacking elements of the last season. Bolin is good when he acts like himself and doesn’t try to perform for a person, and when he does and gets mixed messages from Opal, he should immediately adjust his strategy. It doesn’t fix what came before, but it’s a marked improvement.

Bolin isn’t the only new person Opal wants to have a relationship with. She actively wants things to be better with her aunt. For such an extended family it’s rough to know one member is totally on the outs. But Lin can’t reconcile herself to Su’s life yet, and she actively tosses Opal out. This rightly pisses off Korra, and leads Lin to realize that she is making a mistake in this matter.

All the way back in Republic City we get Zaheer slithering his way into Air Temple island to try and find out where Korra is located. His recently shaved head and new airbender abilities are enough to fool Ikki and Meelo, but Kya is suspicious from the jump. This sequence is great because it shows that our side characters have greatly smartened up since the second season. Instead of dithering about in a miasma of idiocy, our heroes cotton on to the villain’s plans pretty quick.

Kya sniffs out Zaheer because he’s a suspicious man snooping in Tenzin’s office. Thus we get another excellent action sequence. Complete with twinning pieces of wind and water as Zaheer and Kya do combat. Zaheer manages to escape, but Kya puts up a good fight, especially with some neat moves like a water drill and and shield she can shoot ice from. Still the threat lingers, slowly moving closer to Korra’s orbit.

Odds and Ends

  • I Know That Voice: Suyin is given a Mid-Atlantic sheen by 90’s indie darling Anne Heche, who gives a real great voice turn here.
  • To give a greater sense of art deco grandeur many sequences in this episode are direct references to the paintings of Maxfield Parrish.
  • Suyin appears to have Sokka’s detective pipe and figure of The Painted Lady.
  • We get to here more poetry from the wise Guru Lahima, looks like Zaheer wants to become like wind.
Spoiler

  • Lot of track being laid down here for the rest of the show, especially noticeable on revisit. We see Kuvira a couple of times, first at the dance rehearsal and then later in a newspaper.
  • Su mentions that she wished the Earth Queen would just go away, which she might come to regret later.
  • Varrick and his magnets, and high speed rail, will be foundational elements of the Earth Empire. Fascists sure do love trains.
  • Su’s blase attitude to people’s background will bite her in the ass with both Aiwei’s betrayal and Kuvira’s rise.

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Old Wounds

When you give a character visible scars you are asking the audience a question. An implicit question to be sure, but one that will linger in the mind for as long as these marks are visible. What happened? This question is then up to the writers to make a decision, explicate the markings or leave them mysterious.

For all intents and purposes the scars on Lin’s cheek were nothing more than a piece of character accouterment. An implicit acknowledgement of some difficult moment in her past. One that might clarify her mostly hard ass attitude. Because the show never planned to get to a third season when it was first in production, and the design of Lin was merely to meant to evoke a complicated past rather than to delve deep into it. But things have changed, and the show has found the time to give it’s characters more background and shading, and here we get a dive into where the resentments between Lin and Su formed.

Lin’s aggression at her extended family is having an adverse impact on her health. Her stress and anger balling up in knots. Aiwei suggests Lin take a gander to a local acupuncturist to help resolve her issues, she begrudgingly obliges and goes to get things set right. It’s a bit of a walk for what is justification for a series of flashbacks into Lin’s life, but the details  of the acupuncturist are clever. A therapy that can be intrinsically built around the art of metalbending.

What we learn of Lin’s past is mostly in line with what Su and Lin have both said. Turns out that Lin was a young detective in training under the wing of Toph. She played by the rules and was a hardline law following individual as one would expect from the child of the chief of police. Su not so much. She galavants with the triads and makes a mockery of Lin’s attempts to reign her in. The two just can’t get along.

The tension is heightened when Lin catches Su in the middle of a robbery. Lin uses her metal cords to apprehend her sister, but Su resists, snapping them and causing the whiplash that strikes Lin’s face. Lin’s scars are not from some daring raid or battle, but a petty sibling squabble. Toph decides to bury the whole thing, unable to accept the negligence of Su, and wanting to move past any repercussions. It’s a striking moment from Toph, where her deterministic frame is fully challenged by her children. This stressful remembrance doesn’t mollify Lin much either. She drastically leaves the acupuncturist, and goes to confront Su.

Elsewhere we have Su offering to teach Korra the concepts of metalbending. Korra notes that the past year has been kind of hectic, and she didn’t really have the time to learn from Lin about the art. Su offers to train her, and extends the invitation to Bolin. Bolin is much more reticent, amusingly diverting the conversation away from wanting to actually metalbend.

Turns out Korra is a fast learner when it comes to the earthen arts (not too surprising given her headstrong nature). Bolin tries to sneak a lesson from the matriarch, and comes out and admits his embarrassment at not being able to metalbend at all. Su promises to teach him, but all that action will have to wait as Lin marches in to break up the lesson.

Lin is still angry about Su’s inability to learn from her flippant youth, but Su rightfully points out that these issues have been put to rest with Toph through time and conversation. Lin is the one holding on to her grudges, perhaps because she’s the only one who has to bear the marks of the past. And so the sisters fight, and the audience is treated to the first metalbender duel in the series. It’s an exciting moment, as plates, wires, and sculptures are whirled about like ribbons in the air. A demonstration of the powerful and commanding nature of metalbending and the destructive possibility it contains.

Korra is concerned about the fight, but Bolin reassures her it’s all a part of the sibling process. Still Opal steps in and forces the sisters apart and reprimands them for taking their issues to blows rather than resolving it like real adults. Lin faints at the end of the fight, and hours later is rejuvenated and ready to talk. This transformation is abrupt, but pointedly so, Lin is aware that her problems with her family aren’t going to magically vanish after one fight, but progress to at least a starting point of reconciliation.

This turn is also hinged on Opal’s decision to leave Zaofu to go and study with Tenzin at the Northern Air Temple. Su was worried about losing another family member, but has to accept that the choices people like Opal and Lin make are part of their own identities. Certainly Su will miss her daughter as she is off training, but it’s the right thing to do for the new airbender.

Back in Republic City, Zaheer and company have to hatch  a new plan to escape and track down Korra after the aborted subterfuge at Air Temple island. Ghazan seems to offhandedly mention an option to assassinate Raiko, but the rest of the group is focused in on Korra. So the team decides to do a bit of kidnapping. They sneak into the back of a track, and ram their way out of town when the cops cotton to their activity. Outside the city Zaheer makes an announcement while meditating. He knows Korra is in Zaofu.

Odds and Ends

  • I like that the old metalbending uniforms have yet to be refined and contributed to Lin’s accident.
  • The drink that Lin has after recovering is a parody of Bryan’s last name.
  • Varrick’s magnet suit sure looks like a Darth Vader cosplay. Certainly nothing bad will come of this.
  • I don’t know if it was intended as a joke, but it is really funny that Ming-Hua is driving the truck at the end of the episode.