Published on November 4th, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee0
The Legend of Korra – Enemy at the Gates review
Things are about to boil over in The Legend of Korra. This weeks’ episode, Enemy at the Gates, sees Kuvira and her army stationed outside Zho Fu, prepared to accept Suyin’s surrender or take the city by force. It’s an episode that really harks back to the Avatar’s role as impartial mediator as Korra attempts to negotiate peace between the two sides. Unfortunately, the tension and poorly veiled threats present throughout the episode means that war seems inevitable.
The episode opens with Kuvira’s forces arriving at Zao Fu. Kuvira, knowing that she is being watched by the other nations, needs to make conquering the city look legitimate but it’s clear from Baatar’s resentment of his home town that things are personal. They plan to use Bolin in order to sway Suyin. The world leaders won’t be able to question his role as negotiator because he straddles both sides of the divide, and because Bolin is trustingly moral; the audience especially has come to know Bolin as a sort of moral compass to be guided by.
Meanwhile, Korra is also headed towards the city. She wants to make it clear to Kuvira and the world that the Avatar has returned. Except, there’s something lacklustre about Korra’s attitude: she means to reason with Kuvira, a plan that seems foolish when Kuvira has the force of her army behind her. In healing herself in the swamp, Korra may have finally accepted her spiritual role as the Avatar, but this situation might be one better suited to the old Korra. As Milo says: “Why did we go through all that trouble to save you if you’re not going to beat someone up?”
Trouble starts to escalate when Varrick’s spirit vine experiments end up producing more energy than he could have hoped for: in fact, dangerous levels of energy, to the point where he immediately insists that the project be shut down. You know things are serious when Varrick, a guy happy to exploit others for money, is thinking about the dangers of his project and not the rewards. Kuvira isn’t having any of it, however, and she is determined that the spirit energy be weaponised. Her ruthlessness is on full show as she threatens to drop Varrick on the train tracks unless he bows to her wishes.
Moreover, the negotiation for Zao Fu’s surrender goes as you would imagine. Despite Bolin’s best intentions, he cannot answer for the slave labour or the prison camps Opal accuses the Earth Empire of employing. And Suyin sees right through Kuvira’s plan to have Bolin speak on the Earth Empire’s behalf rather than openly declaring their colonisation of Earth Kingdom towns, and declares that Zao Fu will never accept Kuvira as their leader. Kuvira gives Zao Fu a deadline of twenty-four hours to surrender or be taken by force.
This is the situation Korra arrives into, blindly asking how she can help, and taking up where Bolin has already failed to mediate compromise. This is not how we wanted to see our Avatar return, but you can sense that Korra is trying. She wants to compromise where before she would have imposed her own ideas, and communicate instead of fighting. This mirrors the flashback to the schism of Suyin and Kuvira: Suyin refused to impose her own ideals on the Earth Kingdom, whereas Kuvira chose to conquer. The question is, which method is ultimately more affective?
Either way, we are headed towards war. At this point, it seems unavoidable. Kuvira has proven herself untrustworthy, ruthless and power hungry. Bolin and Varrick are forced to confront their loyalty to her. And Korra is lacking the will to deal with the whole situation. By episode’s end, it’s clear that bad things are coming, and Korra will need to take some kind of decisive action before it’s too late. Passions were reigned in this episode but next week, they are set to erupt.
Overall, this is another episode slowing down the story but it feels needed to build tension, frustration and uncertainty. We get more backstory into Kuvira and Baatar’s exit from Zao Fu and it’s bitter and filled with resentment, and the sad feeling that it needn’t have happened. Similarly, Bolin and Varrick’s realisations that Kuvira is not the benevolent leader they had thought come all too late, and with painful consequences. That Korra’s intervention proves so futile, on top of everything, is the final disappointment that makes it all so doomed.
There is one bright point, a hopeful aside, in all of this. In many ways, Asami’s confrontation with her father feels out of place, an additional thread amongst the others that only serves to conflate an already busy episode. Moreso, it’s reversal of feeling and action sets it apart and isolate its. Asami starts out with the aim of telling her father she never wants to see or hear from him again, dividing them officially, but the reality of cutting herself off from her father proves too painful and she relinquishes, agreeing at least to try and forgive him. It’s not certain what this aside brings to the narrative at this point, but to me, her reconciliation with her father paints the separation within the Beifong family in an all more tragic light.
So, at the end of the episode, we are left feeling a little hopeless and with that, I think this episode succeeds in its purpose. There’s a lot going on, and not much action to speak of until nearer the end, but that is the nature of the calm before the storm. There is a huge sense in this episode of the atmosphere tightening, the wind increasing and the clouds rolling in before the storm breaks. By the end, we are in darkness and a cruel night is ahead.