The Legend of Korra: “The Stakeout” REVIEW
“New growth cannot exist without first the destruction of the old”
Zaheer’s quote speaks volumes not only about the ambitions of his plans but the real situation surrounding The Legend of Korra. If this show is going to survive, it’s going to have to be in this new digital world (as stated by the show’s co-creators) It would seem that Nick is going to have to burn down all the old methods and thinking of distribution. Maybe when Book Four premiers, they will have learned from their mistakes, because as it stands, Nick’s transition to an all-digital airing is still kind of half assed. Nick’s streaming player isn’t really built for Hi-def and the promotion is still lacking and boy this that disappointing, given how brilliant and beautiful this season has been.
With the exceptions of Ozai and Azula (and even with these two, this doesn’t apply 100 %) The Avatar franchise doesn’t have villains just being villains. Fire Lord Sozin’s original wish was to share the wealth of the Fire Nation with the other Nations but this would turn into the Hundred Year War after trying to force change on the other cultures. The show often deals with the grey area, showing how good intentions can have bad consequences. Slight differences in thought can lead to radical changes in action. This principle is layered all over “The Stakeout.”
Co-creator Michael Dante DiMartin is the writer for this episode, showing his mastery with excellent pacing, constant misdirection, intense action and a revelation that changes everything we thought we knew about our central antagonist. The episode picks up with Team Avatar on the trail of Aiwei. The search leads them deep into the Earth Kingdom, where they discover the Earth Queen has placed a bounty on them for their capture. Bummi warned them freeing the Airbennders was technically illegal and now The Earth Queen has made good on her promise to make The Avatar an enemy of the state (so disrespectful.)
The first two thirds of the episode are not action packed, but that is part of the brilliance of the pacing. Team Avatar’s new status as criminals makes every encounter a tense one, like the saloon they first walk into, one never knows when a fight could break out. Their search brings them to Misty Palms Oasis. Given their new status, Mako recommends they keep a low profile. Bolin sees this as a chance to wear disguises. Bolin’s choice of disguise, bright yellow ponchos with green goggles, is just as ridiculous as his backstory “I’m an ex-United Forces Operative named ‘Tin-tin.’ War was the only woman I ever loved, until Ivy came into my life.”
Korra and Asumi discover a note with a meeting location between Zaheer and Aiwei, while Mako and Bolin fear they have been found by a pair of bounty hunters. During their escape, the brothers find the truth seer heading into a hotel room. The group plans a stakeout, but first they’ll need a room. The Owner of the hotel isn’t keen on renting a bunch of teenagers a room, but she changes her mind after the bounty hunters who were after the brothers, turn out to be huge Nuktuk fanboys, revealing Bolin’s star status in a hilarious, slightly awkward encounter.
What happens next is subtle, but clearly foreshadows Korra’s eventual meeting with Zaheer. After finding a Pai Sho board, Bolin and Assami play a few games with two vastly different styles. Each thinks their play style is the correct way of play, but after consulting the rule book, they realize there are many difference styles and variants, with no one right or wrong way to play. Not long after, the team discovers Aiwei’s meeting is in the spirit world and Korra goes after him; only to find Zaheer calling him a “loose end,” throwing Aiwei into the valley of lost souls. Now alone in the presence of the Avatar, Zaheer offers to answer all of Korra’s questions.
Zaheer reveals he and his team are part of group called the Red Lotus, a section that broke off from the White Lotus after the Hundred Year War because of a fundamental disagreement of thought. The Red Lotus believe the White Lotus should have never revealed themselves. This reveal has caused them to lose their way, now openly serving the oppressive governments they once fought. Zaheer even compares his goals to Korra’s and her past actions, demonstrating they are fundamentally the same. However, it is Zaheer’s ultimate solution Korra cannot fully agree with. He wants to throw the world into chaos, “the natural order is disorder.”
This is where all the tension of the episode builds to a climatic fight, as Zaheer’s discussion with Korra is a diversion tactic so Ghazan and Ming-Hua can capture Korra’s physical body. This fight is stunning to watch and the colors help showcase how beautiful Ghazan’s lava bending can be in motion. Mako and Bolin are outclassed from the beginning and the franticness of their movements always shows this. Bolin is constantly on the defense, with Ghazan instantly turning his earth bending against him. Mako is off balance, barely able to get shots out. The brothers are defeated, but they do their part in allowing Assami to escape with Korra’s body.
It appears Ghazan is about to capture the two, but in another bit of brilliant misdirection, the last shot reveals it was In fact the Earth Queen’s Forces that capture Assami and Korra.
Book Three is working with some complex political and revolutionary ideas. How the core beliefs of a philosophy could split into two radically differences schools of thought is definitely something most American animation shows do not tackle, much less a show on Nickelodeon. When they titled this Book “Change” they really meant change. I doubt many could have seen this coming, but with this franchise anything is possible.