The Legend of Korra: “Enemy At The Gates” & “Battle Of Zaofu” REVIEW
Kuriva and Korra finally meet face to face in “Enemy at the Gates.” However, good storytelling etiquette dictates their epic showdown must come later. The episode title could not be more fitting, as Kuriva’s massive army sits at the gates of Zaofu, a constant reminder of events around the corner. This episode isn’t another tease, but more pieces being maneuvered on a chess board before the real battle begins.
Besides the face off, “Enemy at The Gates” gives us a good chance to experience how both Korra and Kuriva have changed over time. Once Korra arrives in Zaofu, it’s clear she has to step in. Su’s advice to her is to enter the Avatar state and wreck house on Kuriva’s army. Maybe a younger Korra would have no problems doing so. This Korra has sent the last few weeks meditating in the swamp with Toph, learning even though she defeated her enemies, she did not defeat their ideas. Using force to remove Kuriva wouldn’t stop the movement she had created. Beside Korra still wants to give Kuriva the benefit of the doubt. She owns her that much, given she saved Korra’s father from certain death and Korra has not experienced any of Kuriva’s harsh tactics yet. To her, that good solider she met all those years ago might still be there.
So how did Kuriva turn from good solider to fascist dictator? Suyin Beifong is partly responsible. It’s never easy being a Beifong in Zaofu, even surrogate ones, Su will find some way to disappoint you. Not long after the fall of Ba Sing Se, Riko and Tenzin came to Su to see if she would lead the efforts to stabilize the Earth Kingdom. Su did not want the job, feeling forcing Zaofu’s ideals on the rest of the Earth Kingdom would not be the best solution. Kuriva saw this as a betrayal of everything Su taught her. Kuriva would gather the support of some of Zaofu’s best fighters and wealthiest citizens to start her own campaign to take back Ba Sing Se. After taking back the city, Kuriva got the support of the other nations to clean up the Earth Kingdom. The three years of battle changed Kuriva, as we can see it in her demeanor and especially in Zelda William’s performance, whose delivery is much softer before she left Zaofu.
Kuriva is a master politician, whose public image revolves around this “Great Uniter” cult of personality. Korra, like most of the public, has not seen her true face and it’s why so many fellow her. Bolin was the same, a big believer in the work they have done to help clean up the Earth Kingdom; he makes the perfect PR guy for The Great Uniter. However, once Opal and Su hit him with some hard truths, even Bollin has to question some of Kuriva’s actions. Varrick on the other hand, has been having his own crisis of thought. Since Book Two, many have painted Varrick as a trickster, really he’s a pure capitalist, doing whatever or going wherever he stands the greatest chances to serve his interest and pockets. Creating a super weapon is not good for business and it makes sense he would not be down with wanting to make one. Once the two bring up their concerns to Kuriva, the Uniter shows her true face and lets them know that either loyalty is absolute or there are dire consequences.
Given their options, Bolin, Varrick and Jhu Li try to desert Kuriva’s army and are chased by Baatar Jr and a few soldiers in mecha-suits. The mecha-suit are a new addition this book and they look great in combat. Bolin holds his own with smart bending and some excellent lavabendding. However, it is Jhu Li who does steals the battle, proving just how much of an asset she can be. Unfortunately, Varrick’s uselessness causes them to lose the battle resulting in their capture and return Kuriva, where things get very interesting. Jhu li has a heel turn!
More than any other character (besides Mako) Jhu Li has the best reasons to turn on Varrick. All her grievances are more than valid and she has skills the new Earth Empire can use. Still, there is something about the look in her eyes that makes audiences wonder if this is all a ruse, a deep cover mission to protect Varrick’s interest from the inside, right next to Kuriva.
Closing out the episode, Asumi had to make the tough decision whether or not to reconnect with her father. The years in jail have been kind to Hiroshi, who now looks strangely like Hayao Miyazaki. Jokes aside, it’s great to see Asumi get some more character development and excellent she came to this decision on her own.
The next episode, “Battle of Zaofu” picks up right where “Enemy at the Gate” left off. Su and her sons Wei and Wing sneak into Kuriva’s camp at night hoping to take her out before she can attack Zaofu. Clearly, Suyin’s emotionally compromised, her brashness is similar to a young Korra and it is no wonder her plan to capture Kuriva back fires. Putting up a good public image, even in the face of massive bullshit, is everything to a politician. Su’s failed assassination makes for the perfect spin for Kuriva, who can now claim Zaufo was the aggressor during peaceful discussions. While that statement is missing massive context, what would politics be without statements missing massive context?
This makes Korra’s job even harder. Su has forced her hand and now she has to fight if she has any hope to save Zaofu. Even with the poison removed, Korra is still weary to do battle. Kuriva on the other hand, will gladly face the Avatar. This once again is a political act by Kuriva, challenging the authority of the Avatar and questioning her relevance in front of the eyes of the entire world. The time could not be better. Kuriva has spent the last three years sharpening her skills, while Korra has spent much of the same time struggling to walk. The Avatar is rusty and it shows. Korra constantly throws out random attacks, while Kuriva avoids her offense with the minimum effort needed. Instead of trying to defeat her, the Earthbender attacks are designed to embarrass the Avatar in the face of her massive army.
Finally Korra is forced to enter the Avatar State and quickly over powers Kuriva. However, before Korra can land the final blow, she is haunted by the ghostly image of herself in the Avatar State. Cleary she hasn’t fully recovered from her PTSD but more telling on some levels Korra see some of herself in Kuriva and it scares her. Unable to finish the fight, Opal and Jinora are forced to step in and save Korra before a deadly blow could be landed. Zaofu maybe be lost, but this is only the beginning of a larger conflict.
Meanwhile on their way to a “reeducation camp” Varrick is busy planning rebellion against Kuriva. You have to hand it to him, for a man who admits he’s only productive for around fifteen minutes in the afternoon, he sure does cover all this bases. Varrick’s face features some of the slickest animation and his subtle winks and nods clue in audiences and Bolin he has a plan. Instead of making Kuriva’s super weapon, he rigged all the spirt vines in his lab to blow on a timer and to prove he’s serious he’s also made a trigger. Varrick may be ready to go down with the train but Bolin is not. So once they are far enough away from the Earth Empire’s forces, Bolin makes a quick escape, seconds before the massive spirt explosion.
Back in Zaofu, during Kuriva’s victory march, Baatar Jr, continues to have his ego damaged, with this father hitting him with a gut wrenching “I am so disappointed in you” which send Jr. into fits of anger. The man has helped create an empire and even in defeat, he still cannot get the respect he craves from his family. So he seeks it elsewhere, in the court of Kuriva. If Baatar Jr cannot get the recognition from his family, he’ll get it from his lover. To prove his value to her, he promises her to recreate Varrick’s work with the help of Jhu Li to make the super weapon she desires.
Book Four of Korra so far has been one fascinating look at the world of Avatar. Once again, Korra and friends appear to have their backs against the wall to an overwhelming foe. While it may sound familiar, something tells me the Avatar will not simple solve this problem with her fist.