Re-Avatar State: “Reunion” & “Remembrances”

Reunion

Korra’s never really had a full Team Avatar. Though the group comprised of Korra, Mako, Bolin, and Asami have undergirded much of the action of the show, their ability to stick together and work as a unit has been fleeting in many ways. This is partly the result of some less than ideal writing (making them all romantically entangled at one point made things more messy), but there’s something else hit upon that I think is fairly smart. This group represents Korra’s closest friends, but they aren’t always on a singular quest together like the Gaang. Their lives drift in and out of whatever events occur to them. Time marches forward, and incident pulls them apart.

What makes “Reunion” potent is the recognition of this dynamic, these people have deep and personal bonds, but ones that were imperfect and complicated. That going back to the good old days requires a step into the world of international mischief and danger, all topped off with a dash interpersonal drama. The reconstruction of the characters that formed the dread love triangle will of course lead to conflict, but these people are no longer teens, but full blown adults, and while they may bicker there’s a sense of understanding that flows through all of their interactions. We have and will make mistakes, but that shouldn’t deny the importance we have for one another.

After three years Korra finally arrives back in Republic City. Tenzin, Bumi, and Naga warmly welcome the return of The Avatar, but things aren’t looking so hot on the foreign affairs front. Korra has to admit that she whiffed at Zaofu, so much so that the rest of Beifong clan’s lives are in grave danger.  Tenzin admits that things aren’t great, but allows Korra the day to reconnect with her associates.

First on the board is Asami. Who fashionably waits for their lunch with an engineering magazine in hand. You can tell that the depth of relationship between the two has remained strong despite Korra’s absence. A warm embraced is shared by the two, and Korra even blushes when Asami compliments her hair. The catchup with Mako is a little more fraternal and formal, but the hug is still appreciated by just reconnected Korra. What’s not appreciated is the presence of Prince Wu, who pesters The Avatar until he needs to take a trip to the bathroom.

What should be a friendly lunch quickly turns bitter as Mako learns that Korra only wrote to Asami. Korra can’t justify her actions other than her emotional stability was greatly out of whack. And just as quickly as the band is back together to they start to get on each others nerves. Things aren’t really helped by the fact that Wu’s fears do actually come true as he is kidnapped during his trip to the bathroom. But this band was made for fighting, and a thrilling chase peruses.

So just like the good days of season one, the crew barrels down the roads of Republic City to chase their enemies, flinging elements from car to car as Asami screeches around corners. It’s again a nifty piece of action, heightened by the addition of the spirit elements to the cityscape. Unfortunately it looks like the Green Shirts have spirited Wu somewhere else. Luckily Korra picked up something in The Swamp and uses the vines in Republic City to track down the prince’s location. Mako and Asami are suspect of Korra’s newfound powers, but they play along.

This eventually leads them to train station, and the group has an old fashioned showdown on the top of the car with some of Kuvira’s supporters. The sequence isn’t super long, but it demonstrates the delights of having Korra being able to metalbend. She can rip apart compartment walls and fling blades aways like nothing. Eventually the group has to jump to save the skin of the hapless prince, and things end up okay. Mako, Korra, and Asami commiserate on their less than stellar reunion and realize that it’s fine that their emotional problems haven’t been fully solved. Their older, and yes even a little wiser, and a few more hugs will get things rolling in the right direction, even if they don’t resolve everything right now.

Notably missing from the action is Bolin. Who is still currently lugging Varrick around the edges of the Empire. Bolin is sick of the inventor’s eccentricities and forces the man to stand on his own two feet for once. Varrick agrees, but almost immediately the two are capture by a group of escaped Empire convicts. Bolin now discovers that Kuvira has partaken in some gold old fashioned ethnic cleansing, as the escapees are all fire and waterbenders. You never want to go full fascist.

Bolin is still reckoning with this fact as he tries to convince the prisoners to let them free and/or help them escape past Empire borders. They’re wary, but do allow the two to lead them through a checkpoint. Bolin and Varrick might be a little worse for wear, but they still have uniforms to sneak through a guard tower. Bolin seems like he can breakthrough with pure gumption, however Bolin and Varrick are recognized, and the mechs are out in full force.

Again Bolin’s lavabending is mighty powerful against the giant suits, but it’s Varrick who steps up to the plate this time. Using the items left in the guard post to rig up an old EMP to knock out the mechs. It’s quite the thing to see the inventor think on the fly and use his abilities in a proactive and vital manner. The events that have transpired since “Enemy at the Gates” really did shift his perspective.  Bolin also realizes that if he wants to shed his association with Kuvira he will fully have to act against her, and so blocks up the checkpoint with lava and assists with the prisoners escape. It’s been noted how similar Bolin’s situation is to where he stood in season two, what I appreciate now is that the younger bending brother is taking active steps to fix his mistakes.

And his mistakes have big consequences as the episode ends with Kuvira in The Swamp ready to tear down the Banyon Grove Tree for spirit energy.

Odds and Ends

  • I love that the magazine Asami is reading looks like a ladies focussed engineering periodical.
  • Korra’s look from now until the end of the show is probably my favorite design of the character. Short hair, fingerless gloves, and Water Tribe garb.
  • Mako has set up his extended family quite nicely at the Sato estate.
  • “I’m in laundry”
  • I also find it interesting that Republic City has become a spiritual hot bed, counterbalancing it’s mage from the beginning of the series.

Remembrances

Ugh.

So it has come to this, an Avatar clip show. It’s hard to say if “Remembrances” is the worst episode of Korra. While it contains none of the aggravating storytelling elements of season two, it has the dubious distinction of completely kneecapping the pacing of this season, and eating precious time with an unneeded reflection.

So as the story is stalled out, there is no better place to talk about this but here. The absolutely horrible treatment Korra received from Nick. This is the most obvious example, as the network slashed the budget for the season at the last second and forced the showrunners to make a choice. Clip show or cut staff. From a moral perspective clip show was the right option, and I’m happy no one lost their job from the wretched situation Nick put Bryan and Mike through. When I say that the production of Korra was tumultuous that is true to nearly the very end.

Production is just part of the story though, because Korra was just screwed because of the sudden renewals, shifting animation studios, or dropped budgets, no the airing of the show was also an absolute nightmare. The first season was, at least from a rating perspective, a total success. Shocking to consider for a program that aired on Saturday mornings sandwiched between Spongebob and Annoying Orange. The show was covered like much prestige TV at the time, a Mad Men to go with one’s breakfast cereal.

The chicanery really entered with season two, where Nick moved the program to the Friday night death slot. Then they moved it to a different time, and then another new time. The situation only caused an already consternated fan base to get riled up even further. Then season three comes along, as excellent as it was, it’s airing was also a nightmare. For before the show graced screens four episodes leaked online, and whether out of fear of falling behind or not Nick rushed the show on air, and then quickly moved the whole thing online.

What was once the creme of the network was now relegated to a god awful video player on the company website, with episodes debuting at awkward times. Just as the show entered it’s period of extended excellence it was suffocated from the audience it was meant to reach. Certainly the dedicated Avatar fanbase always found a way to watch it, but the mess of a release is why it wasn’t till its Netflix debut this year that it felt like it had a full hook in the culture.

“Remembrances” is the (penultimate) indignity of the show. 22 minutes of wasted airtime where the show could have used it to expand on its story. There’s a rumor that this episode was going to delve deeper into Kuvira’s backstory, a bit of character work that I think would have kicked this season up to the level of the previous. Despite the dedicated work and excellence now engendered by the show, Korra’s popularity sputtered in the end, we can even see it now as interest wanes at the show’s more fascinating juncture.

So what to make of what we actually have. Despite the harsh limitations there’s some enjoyable stuff here. For example I think Mako training Wu is pretty smart use of both characters. I like how Yin is protective of the Prince, and I love how Mako’s family roasts him for his romantic foibles. Korra and Asami share a nice moment together, tea at sunset is always a delight. Tenzin provides a good bit of pep to our heroine as well.

However I must admit that the final section, with narration from Varrick and hastily chopped and screwed old animation, is legitmately one of the funniest things that either show has cooked up. If “The Ember Island Players” was a cheeky send up of the foibles of Avatar, than this section is a smarmy evisceration of Korra’s many obvious flaws. A wild and incomprehensible patchwork of villains and plots that sometimes just barely hang together.

The highlight of course is four way teleconference with previous villains. It’s so amusing to see Vaatu hold a phone, and the group mercilessly mocking Unalaq as a totally useless character. Another highlight is Bolin’s face grafted onto Korra’s kaiju form. Again there’s a sense of understanding about what does and doesn’t work in the show here, and the lengths that the writers go, and the performance from Higgins gives the last seven minutes of this episode a real kick in the pants.

And yet none of that can save “Remembrances,” because it will always be a lost opportunity, a story hobbled at the worst possible time. It’s a shame, and representative of how Korra was treated by the studio and subsequent reception by the general public.

Odds and Ends

  • Guess what, the next two episodes are both top five entries in Korra, so not all is lost. However I will be covering “Beyond the Wilds” as a singular entry because the finale really makes sense to talk about as a two-parter.
  • “The evil Unalaq. The diabolical but incredibly boring and unpopular sorcerer from the north, who’s listening in on the other line!”
  • Varrick directly quotes Mark Twain here, “Never let the truth get in the way of good story.”
  • Amusingly you’re able to get a lot out of the fact that two of the big bads don’t have animate faces and thus can say anything.