Chief: Senator Mendoza is one of the most respected men in this state, McBain. And you drove his limo off a cliff, broke the necks of three of his bodyguards, and drove a bus through his front door?!
McBain: But Chief, I have proof dat he is head of an international drug cartel!
Chief: I don't wanna hear it, McBain! You're outta here!
—The Simpsons, "Dead Homer Society"
A lot of action-hero-type plots involve someone going outside the law (so happy to see Beifong’s back, obvs) to fight for something they believe. It usually involves violence, as caricatured in the McBain thing above—and anyone objecting to loose-cannon behavior is usually shown to be corrupt, a buzzkill, or just a coward.
But then the Big Idea the hero (let's just call him McBain) has that initially set him up against the world is shown to be true in the end—Mendoza is the head of an international drug cartel, so it’s OK that McBain killed three of his bodyguards! McBain's actions, regardless of how awful they would have been in the context of the Big Idea being wrong, are vindicated; McBain is rewarded for sticking to his guns in the face of people telling him he's wrong.
I have always found this to be a really dangerous thing to celebrate unreservedly the way we do. Having convictions doesn't mean that they're good or well-thought-out convictions. Jimmy Stewart’s character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington had strongly held convictions; so do the people responsible for the government shutdown. The Westboro Baptist Church and the 9/11 Truthers think they’re fighting a good fight that the world just doesn’t understand; so does Al Qaeda. Thomas Jefferson and Pol Pot were equally convinced that their revolutions would be for the best.
In the Avatar world, Sozin thought taking over the world would spread the prosperity enjoyed by the Fire Nation to the other nations; Amon thought his revolution would free non-benders from oppression.
“I know I’m right, so nothing else matters” is the motivator of the action hero and the terrorist, the revolutionary and the dictator. It really depends on the angle, and whether they’ve really thought their Big Idea through.
What we’ve gotten these past couple weeks is our hero Korra stomping around being melodramatic and avoiding legal channels because she knows she’s right. But unlike McBain, the writers don't show her actions as completely justified or back up her claims; they frequently making it clear that she doesn't realize that complicated situations don’t get solved by driving a limo off a cliff.
That judge she assaulted last week did turn out to be crooked, but I don’t think we’re supposed to think it’s OK that Korra wrecked his car, and threatened to murder him over his verdict, like, twice. We’re not supposed to think it’s OK that when President Raiko tells Korra she can’t have Republic City’s military, she tries to essentially steal it without him noticing.
She’s also switched from having Tenzin as mentor to having Unalaq as mentor to kind of having Varrick in that role, who is a fun character to watch, but who has also been shown on many occasions to be careless with dangerous things (he almost kills Asami while shooting arrows blindfolded for no reason and doesn’t even seem to notice) motivated to start a war for profit (“If you can’t make money during a war, you just flat-out can’t make money!”) and uninformed about the realities of war (his big genius idea is “We can just go straight to the troops. They love fighting!”). He is the worst possible person to take advice from about starting a war.
Varrick does, however, compliment Korra a lot and tell her she’s right, and that seems to be the main qualifier for being in the Krew this season. Korra blocks out or dismisses anyone who disagrees with her. For example, President Raiko never really does anything objectionable, he just politely asserts that sorry, melodramatic teenager, actually he is the guy in charge of declaring war, then is understandably pissed when she goes behind his back. Korra’s reaction: “Oooh, I hate that guy!” as if he’s a villain. Even Mako defends him: “He can’t just tell his people to go fight a battle at the South Pole that has nothing to do with them!” (This episode would have been a little too timely a few weeks ago, BTW.)
I can’t remember the last time I was, like, “Fuck yeah, Mako!” but that happened a few times this episode, as in Tenzin’s absence, he’s stepped up to the role of Voice Of Reason That Korra Ignores And Is A Jerk To. (Also, like I’ve said before, I like Mako best when the writers play him against his cool-dreamboat-brooding-hottie persona, so liked the brief detour into Republic City 5-0, in which he’s just the dumb rookie on whom everybody plays mean jokes.)
Mako’s the only main character acting like a potential war is a complicated, gray-areas situation, and keeps getting slapped down for it. He suggests that Korra should stay away from the protest to at least appear neutral—her response is, basically, “Shut up, Mako.” He does some good policing and tries to get Korra to consider that the bombing might have been done by someone besides the Northern Water Tribe—“Shut up, Mako.” He says, “What? That’s a terrible idea!” in the exact tone that was in my head when he finds out that Varrick and Korra are essentially planning a small military coup—“Shut up, Mako.”
Mako’s never been a character who drives a ton of action, which is why I think a lot of people dislike him. To think about it, try to imagine season one without Mako. For me, it looks essentially the same, aside from the romance plot. Someone else could have been on the Fire Ferrets, Korra could have met Asami any number of other ways, Amon could have threatened someone else she cares about to unlock her airbending. OK, now imagine, say, the second season of A:tLA without Sokka. There’s a ton of stuff that just couldn’t have happened without him.
Mako’s function in the first season was more of a brass ring for Korra than a fully developed character that drives the action. Interestingly, this is traditionally a problem that lady characters tend to have—not having much personality above “love interest of the hero,” not ever being given decisions to make that affect the story.
But Mako finally gets some agency this episode! Fuck yeah, Mako! He doesn’t just react to stuff or run along with the —he refuses to lie to his bosses to cover up for Varrick and Korra’s dumb plan, and triple “Fuck yeah, Mako!” for dumping Korra when she shows up at his job and pitches a violent hissy in which she airbends his desk across the room. I hope they stay broken up, because A. That shit is not OK and B. Maybe this is be the beginning of Mako as a more active character.
Hopefully Korra’s disappearance via spirit monster (obvs she’s not dead, but I hope her going down a glowy spirit esophagus means we’ll get a lot more Spirit World stuff next week, because what we’ve gotten is so damn tantalizing) will not cause him to forget what a dick she’s being.
The fight with the twins preceding her getting swallowed by the spirit monster was OK, but hardly seemed worth the taikos coming out, usually a signifier that a truly baller fight scene is commencing. I am starting to miss the really creative martial-arts choreography that seemed to pop up in nearly every episode last season. It’s not like it even has to be long, or important—one of my favorite fights from A:tLA is this one, at 12:40:
Maybe my standards have been set too high. Maybe they’re saving their animation money for the Spirit World?
The twins are the only ones who know what happened to her; they exchanged looks when they saw the spirit monster approaching (right near Republic City, which is the farthest we’ve seen one from the South Pole, right?) and turned around; it seemed more like a “OK, reinforcements are here” look than a “Oh shit, a giant monster” look. And Unalaq’s Spirit Valium move didn’t work. Even more suggestions that Unalaq is remote-controlling the spirits.
- Sorry this is posting Saturday when we said Friday! Look for these on Saturday mornings from now on!
- Awww, finally we get a Sokka statue! He’s holding Boomerang aloft in a very dignified manner outside the Southern Water Tribe cultural center before it gets blown up!
- Remember last season when Team Avatar got a parking ticket and Mako just set it on fire as a solution? That popped into my head when Korra was all “I’m saving the world, you’re writing tickets!”
- General Iroh makes a brief appearance, again weirding me out. I just cannot deal with that voice coming out of another character who’s supposed to be an adult.
- Ginger’s hair is dyed.
- Zhu Li has to be the brains of the operation, right? There’s totally something going on under that severe haircut, right?
- Bolin: “So… what should I be doing?” I don’t know, Bolin. Figure something out!” Bolin’s dumbification is not something I like. He was always goofy, but understandable; this whole season, he’s, like, functioning like an actual child, blurting stuff out and not understanding obvious stuff for comic effect. And now he’s going to be Nanook of the North. Er, Nuktuk, Hero of the South!
- What is there to say about the side plot where Tenzin teaches Meelo to be the Lemur Whisperer? Not much, although there were some cute sound effects and some kind of cheap-looking visuals on the lemur air show.
- We only check in on the South once, where we find out that keeping the spirit portal safe is Unalaq’s number one priority, and that he actually… does indeed need Korra to open the portal in the North after all? Sure, whatever.
- Eska: still has cry-liner. Northern Water Tribe general: as creeped out by the twins as everyone else.
- If you listen closely, someone yells “Get a real job!” at the protestors, hee!
- Asami should totally know better than getting involved in this arms-smuggling shit.
- Line reading of the week: Dark horse! The random guy yelling, “Look! It’s Bolin!”
- Visual of the week: Varrick’s face after eating the chili pepper.