Published on December 18th, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee0
The Legend of Korra – Kuvira’s Gambit review
It’s the beginning of the end. This week’s episode, Kuvira’s Gambit, marks the third to last episode and as the show heads towards the finale, I want to briefly recap the season so far. Book Four began with Korra separated from her friends, struggling physically, spiritually and with her sense of identity; she was no longer the Avatar she had been, strong and sure of herself. While the rest of the gang in Republic City dealt with the turmoil in the Earth Kingdom in the aftermath of the Queen’s demise, Korra struggled to come to terms with almost dying– the two great consequences of Zaheer’s actions last season.
We have watched Korra fight against her traumas, running away to avoid making peace with what happened to her, fighting her detached spiritual self and failing in her duties as the Avatar. Meanwhile, Kuvira has accumulated power, built an army out of threats and manipulation, condemning anyone who didn’t comply with the new Earth Empire to prison camps and abusing the power of spirit vines to produce a weapon of unimaginable destruction. And team Avatar has been divided, ideologically as well as physically as each took their separate paths: Mako as bodyguard to Prince Wu, Asami as infrastructural engineer to Republic City, and Bolin believing in a mission of restoration in the Earth Kingdom.
This season has been about divisions of self, friends and nations. Bolin and Opal’s relationship struggled in the face of ideological differences, wherein we saw the show’s moral compass potentially compromised by his association with Kuvira; Opal was torn between her passivism as an airbender and her loyalty to protect and defend her family; Varrick chose not to develop the spirit energy weapon only to seemingly lose his assistant Zhu Li to Kuvira; Kuvira captured Su’s family and Zaofu to complete her Earth Empire, only to set her sights on the United Republic right after.
This has all been forefront with the animation and storytelling, from the more reserved change of tone compared to earlier seasons, to costume design. From the beginning, Korra’s Earth Nation clothes and severed hair served to symbolise her crisis of identity. The constant redirection of expectations has kept audiences off balance, delaying a sense of gratification or satisfaction by prolonging Korra’s struggles and separation from her friends. Costume changes in particular have come to represent group allegiance and as we near season’s end, we are starting to see more characters wearing strikingly different, more individualising styles. For a season entitled Balance, looking back, we can see how imbalance has been forefront all along.
But divisions have also meant reconciliations: Asami and her father, Korra and her friends, Opal and her family, and now Varrick and Zhu Li. However, these instances are still the exception. Kuvira’s Gambit opens with a speech about the recovery of stolen Earth Empire land with her planned attack on Republic City. Bataar Jr. admiringly tells Kuvira he loves her, and noticeably she doesn’t return the sentiment but rather talks longingly of her completed Empire.
Meanwhile, fully reunited team Avatar continues the evacuation of the city and defence preparations. Korra and the gang decide to fly ahead to take out Kuvira’s spirit energy weapon before it reaches the city, only to come across a twenty-five story mecca-suit with the weapon mounted to its arm. Kuvira controls the mechanisations from the cockpit with metalbending. The shots of the suit lumbering like the Iron Giant, massively intimidating and overwhelmingly impressive, are something to behold.
The art is uniquely impressive throughout this episode, in fact. Throughout the preparations and evacuation, beautiful, lingering slow shots present a time-lapse of apprehension and stress a heightened sense of anxiety in the build up to Kuvira’s attack. Small asides such as Tenzin’s family’s decision to stay in the city serves to raise the stakes. Realising that Kuvira’s attack is coming a week early, in a manner other than they expected, and with additional firepower, team Avatar is playing bad odds that they can defend the city. After capturing him to force him to reveal a weakness to the mecca-suit, Korra makes a gamble on Bataar’s feelings for Kuvira, promising never to let him see her again unless he urges Kuvira to back down and leave the city in peace. Unsurprisingly to those paying close attention at the start of the episode, Kuvira uses the carrier signal to track down Korra’s position and aims her canon at it, Bataar included.
This season is easily the most mature, both in terms of narrative and production, in a show that is already one of the most sophisticated television series of the moment and despite the troubles that Nickelodeon has given it. This week’s episode runs so smoothly, never misses a beat, constructs itself beautifully and visually amazes; I deny anyone not to have been gripped by tension at the end. Only two weeks to go. I’m already planning my DVD boxset four seasons marathon for when this is all over, with a bit of leeway for possible recovery time.