Published on November 10th, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee0
The Legend of Korra – The Battle of Zaofu review
The Battle of Zaofu marks the midpoint of the season and typically we would expect it to deal in a large dose of action and the interim conclusion of a main plot point; the episode, in fact, delivers, but not in the way you’d expect. This is the first time in the season where we see Korra actively engaged in being the Avatar in her attempt to stave off the invasion of Zaofu, and from the events last episode, we’ve been anticipating a fight. But the fight we anticipated is not what the creators have delivered.
The episode continues where the last left off: Suyin and her twin sons have snuck into Kuvira’s camp in an attempt to take her out. Zhu Li’s continued deception since her change of loyalties leads to their capture and Kuvira demands the city’s unconditional surrender by dawn in order to avoid retaliation for the attempt on her life, and the breach of their truce. Opal, Korra and Jinora head out in the morning in last attempt to work things out but in doing so, Milo voices what’s in the minds of many of the other characters, and I think, many of the audience as well: “When are we going to see some action?”
It’s all good and well that Korra wants to work things out peacefully, especially when violence has backfired on her in the past but we all have to admit violence produces results. I don’t see conversation ever being able to sway Amon, Unalaq, or Zaheer, and Kuvira seems equally as steadfast in her beliefs. In many ways, she is an amalgamation of Korra’s previous antagonists. Kuvira echoes Amon in her talk of equality, Unalaq in uniting the Earth Kingdom and Zaheer in her zealous political views. And Korra wants to win by talking to her? As you can imagine, it doesn’t work out.
While all this is going on, however, we regularly get side-lined to Bataar Jr., Varrick and Bolin on the train of questionably ethical scientific progress. Bataar is forcing Varrick to continue his work on the spirit vines to produce a weapon and Bolin is roped in as his replacement assistant after all the guards are scared off by the possibility of a spirit energy blast blowing off their hands.
Varrick is truly at his best here and I can honestly say, I have never loved him more. He remains characteristically hilarious, dubious but optimistic and well intentioned and paired with Bolin, the two of them make a great team. Similarly, now that Bolin is out from under Kuvira’s thumb, he goes back to being the trustworthy, lovable goofball who can always help get you out of a jam. It also shows how Bolin has matured that he has such great back and forth with so many diverse characters, and that he’s not just Mako’s little brother. Hey, speaking of Mako, we haven’t seen him in a while, have we? I’m putting my money on seeing him again next ep, as well as Tenzin and Republic city, but more on that later.
Back to Korra and her negotiations with Kuvira. As I said before, things don’t go well. Kuvira challenges Korra to a fight for the future of Zaofu and despite all her recent problems and reluctance, Korra accepts and there’s even a moment when you think she’s going to win. It is disappointingly short-lived. Remember how Toph agreed to train Korra so she wouldn’t look so bad getting her butt beat all over the Earth Kingdom? Remember when Toph called Korra pathetic and the worst Avatar ever? Well, there are some cringworthy moments in this fight that Toph is no doubt face-palming over down in Foggy swamp, watching the whole thing through the roots of the Banyan Grove tree.
Despite her hesitancy, and at Suyin’s urging, Korra finally gives up trying it on her own and goes into the Avatar state for a bit of spiritual assistance. And it gives her the upper-hand she was lacking for the entire fight, and maybe she would have won if she could only have kept it going. But something’s still not right. Korra is still not healed. Maybe physically. But not emotionally. And that’s the kicker this episode. I thought we would be looking at all-out war between Zaofu and Kuvira’s army, but no. The Avatar goes up against one metalbender and loses. That’s it. Sorry, Zaofu. It’s all over.
Perhaps the most painful thing about watching Korra fail, watching the city’s last hope flounder, is the music. Zuckerman kills it with the score this episode. I cannot wait for the soundtracks to the later seasons to be released because every episode the music shakes me. But nothing has stood out in the past three seasons as much as the score that plays during Korra and Kuvira’s fight. The lament that carries through the action just makes it all the more brutal, including a reprise on the Avatar State theme that just jacks up the hurt. On top of that, the art from the action scenes is some of the best I’ve seen, making it all the more bittersweet that Korra isn’t the one kicking ass but being crushed.
So, by episode’s end we have the midseason conclusion and perhaps the result we were expecting considering we’re only half way, but this is not how I saw things going. It’s not the feeling I anticipated, going out with a fizzle rather than with a bang, but that’s what I love about The Legend of Korra. I can trust the creators to hit home even if the strike is coming in from right of left field. And with the season’s first story arc at an end, we can still only guess where the rest of the season will be coming from. Hence my earlier suggestions: Korra still needs help recovering, and the gang needs to regroup. We’re almost back to where we were at the start of the season, in terms of characters and story. Separation has been a huge theme throughout this season. Will we soon finally see Team Avatar back together?