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Everyone was so worried about the spirit weapon, they never even thought about what Kuvira was going to use to transport it. Not the rail lines, like Team Avatar suspects. Those are way too easy to shut down. Kuvira is thinking bigger. Much bigger. Like 25-stories-tall bigger. Using the metal domes that used to protect her home state of Zaofu, Kuvira has built a mecha colossus and installed her spirit cannon in the arm of the machine, creating a weapon that is impossible to destroy by traditional means. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Kuvira has also moved up her timetable to attack Republic City by a week, catching the heroes off-guard and putting them in a very vulnerable position.

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“Kuvira’s Gambit” is primarily concerned with raising Kuvira’s threat level by introducing her towering mecha suit and revealing how ruthless she can be in her quest for power. Those two plot developments both involve Baatar Jr. in a key role: He created the mecha colossus for his fiancée, but ends up being a victim to its power when Kuvira sees an opportunity to dramatically increase her chances of success in Republic City. He trusts that love is more important than power to Kuvira, and his ignorance regarding Kuvira’s actual priorities may mean the end of his life.

Books Three and Four both feature antagonists with romantic entanglements whose storylines ultimately require them to give up on love in order to realize their individual missions. Zaheer could only fly when he was completely detached from all personal connections, and P’Li was the thing keeping him grounded until Suyin blew up her head. Kuvira won’t stop until she’s completely reunited the old Earth Kingdom, and when Baatar Jr. becomes another person telling her to turn back, she decides that she doesn’t want him in her life any longer. Kuvira needed Baatar Jr. to build her spirit weapon and mecha colossus, but now that she has her hands on both, her fiancé is expendable.

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In case anyone had any doubts, this week’s episode firmly cements that Kuvira is a power-hungry tyrant with few redeeming qualities. Her campaign to reunite the broken Earth Kingdom after the damage caused by the Red Lotus was a valiant one, but there’s no reason for her to go after the United Republic, a territory that was created over 100 years ago to help maintain balance. You know who else was bitter about Republic City not being a part of the Earth Kingdom? Queen Hou-Ting, a horrible ruler that was motivated by personal greed rather than a desire to help her people.

There’s no strong reason for Kuvira to reclaim the United Republic territory other than her being bitter about events she wasn’t even alive for, and it’s unlikely that her empire would stop growing after the fall of Republic City. Kuvira is drunk on power and because she hasn’t faced a real challenge to her authority, she believes she is invincible. The colossus is an excellent metaphor for Kuvira’s image of herself, an unstoppable giant made from a cold, hard substance. After she destroys the building holding Bataar, the Avatar, and Korra’s allies, Kuvira doesn’t show any sort of remorse over the potential death of her fiancée. She just looks straight ahead, her steely gaze focused on her goal of total domination.

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Kuvira’s colossus causes a lot of damage, but there isn’t much in the way of action this week. The colossus is a display of power without much finesse, and that doesn’t make for the most thrilling visuals. (Although it is cool to see how Kuvira controls the weapon with her metalbending.) This close to the finale, it’s disappointing to have an episode that doesn’t deliver at least one dynamic action sequence, but that’s what happens when the main opponent is in a 25-story machine that can’t be taken down with hand-to-hand combat. Korra’s stealth mission with Tenzin and Bumi is pretty cool, but I just want to see these characters let loose before they’re gone for good, and hopefully the final two episodes will be full of badass moments for the cast.

There are a few solid character moments in “Kuvira’s Gambit”—particularly Zhu Li’s reunion with Varrick and Prince Wu showing that he’s not completely useless—but this is very much an episode about putting pieces in place for the finale, giving greater emphasis to overarching plot elements rather than more personal character moments. Zhu Li, Varrick, and Wu are low-priority cast members, and as such, their plotlines get resolved the earliest. Zhu Li finally demands respect from Varrick after he immediately condescends to her following her apology, telling him that she’s no longer his assistant but his equal. It’s a statement that aligns nicely with this show’s general feminist viewpoint, and it would be nice to see Varrick finally embrace this idea in his next interaction with Zhu Li. Assuming that they’re not two of the casualties of Kuvira’s spirit vine attack.

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Prince Wu currently has more to do than Mako, a prime example that the writers don’t really know what to do with Korra and Asami’s former flame. Mako tries to help the people of Republic City through a mandatory evacuation by telling them exactly what they need to do to leave the city in an orderly manner, but he doesn’t understand that he needs to calm and empower power while instructing them. Otherwise, it’s easy for people to panic because all they’re hearing is that their lives are in danger and the only way to protect themselves is by following these specific steps. Wu’s smooth talking ways can be annoying in the wrong context, but he’s the perfect person to help the people of Republic City through the evacuation, making them feel safe and strong as they are forced to leave their homes. And that evacuation needs to happen quickly, because Kuvira’s spirit weapon can rack up huge casualties in very little time.

The past two episodes ended by building excitement for ensuing showdowns, but “Kuvira’s Gambit” ends with a pervasive sense of dread. That last line from Lin saying she’ll check for survivors immediately leads the viewer to believe that some of these characters may not have made it, and this is the perfect time for a beloved character to be sacrificed to turn up the stakes heading into the finale. We know that Korra survives based on the synopsis for the next episode, but there are a number of people that could die to give Korra a lot more emotional investment in her final fight with Kuvira.

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Mako and Asami haven’t done much this season, could their big moments be their deaths? Tenzin is Korra’s mentor and has a family of his own, it sure would be sad if he was killed by Kuvira’s spirit cannon. And what about Baatar Jr. and Suyin? It would make sense for the writers to kill off Kuvira’s fiancée and adopted mother, showing what the villain is willing to give up in order to gain power. Whoever is left standing is going to have one hell of a challenge stopping Kuvira, and the best thing this episode does is put the heroes in an underdog position. The stakes are monumentally high for Team Avatar, but that will just make their victory all the more satisfying. Or maybe Kuvira will win and the series will end on a huge downer. Either way, we only have to wait one more week to find out.

Stray observations:

  • Next week: the two-part series finale. I am not ready.
  • Asami and Varrick’s flying mecha suits are hit by Kuvira’s spirit cannon, but I have the feeling that a few of them will still be operational, allowing the two to play a bigger role in the big finale fight.
  • The direction and music are fantastic for the shot when the Republic City army sees Kuvira’s colossus for the first time. The combination of that quick zoom and the explosion of sound makes for a very dramatic moment.
  • I love Varrick’s body language when he’s getting berated by Zhu Li. The character’s physicality perfectly matches his exaggerated voice.
  • While on the subject of exaggeration: can Bolin’s facials expression get any more over-the-top? This is not a complaint.
  • Is Korra actually worried about Meelo’s farts or is she just saying that so that she can keep this child out of danger? I’m going to say she’s legitimately worried.
  • Welcome back, General Iroh! He arrives just in time to have his army decimated by Kuvira’s spirit weapon.
  • “I said it could be better!”
  • “What’s with you interrupting my important meetings all the time?”
  • “Believe me, I know what it’s like to be afraid. I used to not be able to go the bathroom by myself. But if we let that fear control us, none of us will ever be able to go to the bathroom. Then we all lose.”
  • “This is exactly why I didn’t want to build that weapon!”
  • Meelo: “What about me?” Korra: “Sorry, buddy. But this mission counts on everyone being as silent as possible, and your farts are just too much of a wild card.” Meelo: “I can be quiet! (Giant fart.)”

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