Television

Published on December 12th, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee

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The Legend of Korra – Operation Beifong review

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This week’s episode, Operation Beifong, continues after events of last week wherein Lin, Opal and Bolin head off in secret to rescue the Beifong family from Kuvira. The subplot involves Republic City shoring up defences in preparation for Kuvira’s attack. It starts with Lin, Opal and Bolin arriving on the outskirts of Zaofu, meeting up with Toph and planning the rescue of their family from one of Kuvira’s prison camps doubling as a testing site for her nearly completed spirit energy canon.

These scenes are heightened by the presence of the Beifong women, who show incredible composure, courage and compassion in their mission to protect family, suitably complimented by Bolin’s total fanboy moment when he meets Toph, his hero, as well as in his declarations of promise to earn back Opal’s favour. Having the original matriarch back in the mix really stresses to viewers the strength of the female characters in this family, and it’s truly incredible to watch them do their stuff.

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Costume design in this show is another one of their great strengths, and we see it here through the evolution of style. Toph is still dressed in her traditional cuts and colours, next to the Chief in her armour, Opal’s airbending uniform and Bolin’s new brown jacket. And the steampunk influence pokes through in Bolin’s jacket, a neat development of his earth tones signifying his and the show’s developing maturity.

Then, returning to Republic City, Varrick and Asami have come up with a new technological marvel with which to defend the city. It’s just a shame that it had to be another weapon, because we’ve seen so many great designs in transportation and engineering that reflect the vibrancy and modernity of this technological hub. What Varrick draws the line at in the design, however, is any application of the spirit vine energy utilised as a weapon.

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Yet, this is exactly what Raiko is pulling for. And it’s great to see Varrick put his foot down. The moral modulation in characters like Varrick and Raiko really stresses the ambiguity at the heart of this series, and the struggles that Korra is facing in knowing what the right choices are. Speaking of which, when we flip back to the major plot thread, as small errors and complications threaten the completion of the spirit energy canon in time, it seems that Zhu Li has been lying about her pledge of loyalty to Kuvira all along.

After the shock of Zhu Li’s betrayal, and all of Varrick’s lamentations, this is a plot twist that intrigues me. While I was proud of Zhu Li for finally rejecting Varrick’s exploitation of her, she seemed to just be trading one boss for another even worse boss, but by manipulating Kuvira and calling her out, Zhu Li demonstrates her own power of choice and responsibility. She does not follow blindly, but with better foresight than most.

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Meanwhile, in a neat aside as they eat dinner the night before their rescue attempt, Bolin manages to bring up the issue of Lin’s absent father. Toph is brilliant as she casually shocks everyone with a name, Kanto, while giving no other information other than “it didn’t work out”. Lin is right to be furious that her mother denied her the chance to grow up with a father, even as Toph challenges expectations of motherliness in women or dependence on men in romantic relationships. But by refusing to see from the other’s point of view, they risk their relationship. This is a powerful message that stretches from the original series, through the comics and into The Legend of Korra, and is brilliantly demonstrated here.

And then in the morning, the Beifong women once again prove their metal as they break their family out of a suspended prison and acrobatically swing everyone to safety. Once outside, we see a fantastic showdown between Lin and Kuvira, with the Beifongs taking on her army, rocks and metal flying, the twins showing their stuff and even Toph offering a little help. This will go down as one of my favourite fighting scenes from the series.

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Lastly, as we witness again the destruction caused by Kuvira’s weapon, the spirits inform Korra that they will not be weapons in a human war, regardless of which side they are on. I can see Korra’s point in sharing the responsibility for Republic City between humans and spirits, but the dragon spirit is also right in refusing to be exploited. As I think this will be a conflict that features again in the series’ conclusion, we can also look back and see how the themes of balance and perspective have ranged throughout.

With incredible action and escape scenes, badass women being badass, and some hefty doses of ambiguity, this fairly straightforward story is delivered along with some of the best animation and clean storytelling of the season. It really feels like a mature and crafted set up to the end of the series, answering some questions, providing some surprises and cementing some of the themes. Now we’re entering into the home stretch.

Lauren McPhee

Lauren McPhee

Writer. Reader of comics. Martial artist. From Republic City.
Lauren McPhee

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