It’s taken six episodes, but Team Avatar is finally back in action this week and it is oh so sweet. Well, three-quarters of Team Avatar. Bolin is still stuck roaming Earth Empire territory with Varrick, but you won’t see me complaining about Bolin and Varrick’s partnership getting more screen time.
“Reunion” sees Korra returning to Republic City for the first time in three years, reconnecting with Asami and Mako and learning that her absence has put some strain on her personal relationships. After three years away with little to no correspondence, it makes sense that there would be an adjustment period for the Avatar and her friends, but Korra comes back with the mindset that she can pick up where she left off. That clearly isn’t the case as Korra creates tension during her lunch with Asami, Mako, and Prince Wu, who has butted his way into their circle, but they ultimately restore their former bonds by doing what they do best: teaming up for an adventure.
When Kuvira loyalists capture Prince Wu during his trip to the bathroom (the one time Mako decides not to stand guard), the trio jumps back into action as if no time has passed at all. This leads to one of those great Republic City car chases that this show does so well, followed by a brawl atop a moving train once Team Avatar rescues Prince Wu. It’s refreshing to see Korra back in badass mode now that she’s not fighting weaker opponents, and Mako and Asami get their own short time in the action spotlight as well. (Yes, this is the episode where we finally get to see that moment from the Book Four trailer where Asami kicks and shocks an opponent atop a moving train.)
Fans of Kasami will have a lot to chew on in this episode, beginning with their semi-flirty meeting at the start of the episode. The two women hug and compliment each other on their new looks, which could just be two friends breaking the ice, but there’s a bashfulness to Korra that hints at something a little deeper. I probably wouldn’t think that if it weren’t for a telling line from Mako after he finds out that Asami heard from Korra when she was away: “What’s going on with you two?” Korra admits that she wrote back to Asami, but that doesn’t quite answer the question.
What is the status of their relationship? Are they just friends? It does feel like their bond goes further than that, but in which direction: sisterhood or romance? It’s probably the former, and that’s totally fine. The series has done great work pulling Korra away from romantic relationships and letting her define herself on her own, and while it would be cool to see the Avatar in a same-sex relationship, it’s hard to imagine that actually happening. The fact that this show is able to bring that element of ambiguity to Korra and Asami’s friendship is remarkable enough, and it’s allowed the series’ fanbase to come to its own conclusions regarding the nature of the women’s relationship.
As a commenter mentioned last week, the action sequences in Book Four have been fairly tame compared to last season, and even though “Reunion” delivers quite a bit of fighting, I have to agree with that sentiment. Last season set the bar very high for action with the Red Lotus, establishing their threat level by showing how deadly they are in battle, but Kuvira doesn’t show off the way Korra’s former opponents did. She’s calm and collected, attacking with precision and never exerting more energy than she needs to. She’s not particularly flashy, which makes sense for her character, but that doesn’t lead to especially thrilling action.
Book Three was an allegory for the major political changes in China during the early 20th century, complete with the Earth Queen playing the part of Empress Dowager Cixi, but this season moves from East to West as it casts Kuvira in a Hitler-esque role. This week we learn that Kuvira has been purging states of anyone not of Earth Kingdom origin, putting them in prison camps along with those Earth Kingdom residents that don’t agree with Kuvira’s ideology. A group of firebenders and waterbenders come into contact with Bolin and Varrick after escaping one of these prison camps, leading to the episode’s other big action sequence when Bolin and Varrick try to use their now-worthless credentials to get themselves and their new allies through the only checkpoint in the giant wall that surrounds the territory.
It’s nice to see an action sequence featuring firebenders, earthbenders, and waterbenders working together, but that scene also reveals another thing holding back this season’s battles: the mechsuits. While the idea behind them is cool, much of the fun in the fights comes from seeing how these characters use their bodies while bending. You lose that when the opponents are people in mechsuits, and while the animation team is trying very hard to make them dynamic, there are limitations to the mechsuits that prevent the choreography from being as smooth and acrobatic as combat between benders. And the bending is what should be highlighted in this show’s action sequences.
The checkpoint fight is at its best when focusing on Bolin and the way his fighting style shifts depending on if he’s earthbending or lavabending, and I want to see more of that kind of action in the second half of the season. Varrick ends up saving the day with a makeshift EMP that shuts down the attacking mechsuits, and he and Bolin take to the seas with their new friends as they head up north at the end of the episode. Meanwhile, Kuvira and Baatar Jr. are continuing Varrick’s work with the spirit vines by collecting samples from the Banyan Grove Tree, bringing them one step closer to getting their hands on the most powerful weapon the world has ever seen. (Will Toph step in to stop them? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out, but I sure do hope so.)
Of all the Book Four episodes released thus far, “The Reunion” feels the most like a traditional episode of The Legend Of Korra, and that’s what this show really needs at this point. It reestablishes the personal relationships at the heart of the series, and also gives the cast the opportunity to show off their fighting skills, although I’d still like for there to be more excitement in this season’s action sequences. But after spending considerable time on Korra’s PTSD and Kuvira’s expansion of the Earth Empire, it’s comforting to slip into a story that, as Asami says, feels like old times.
- I’d like to see Asami armed with a bigger arsenal of tech weapons beyond her electrified glove. She could be like a kung fu Inspector Gadget!
- How does Prince Wu’s skin stay so hydrated? Cucumber aloe water. Why is his scent so strong? Two spritzes of cologne every time he goes to the bathroom.
- Varrick is downright swoon-worthy with stubble. And Bolin should always have messy hair. It just feels right.
- There are some great moment of physical comedy from Varrick this week: 1) When he decides to let Bolin ride on his back and takes one labored step before getting caught in a net. 2) When he tries to get on the boat at the end of the episode and falls on his face.
- I still want an episode that throws a bunch of spirits into the plot because I love the designs for those little buggers. Maybe the spirits will join Team Avatar in fighting Kuvira’s military at the end of the season?
- “You know, when I fled Republic City with Zhu Li, she carried me 20 miles in one day. And that was after she sprained her ankle.”
- Wu: “Hey! Pop into the Avatar state for me. I want to see your eyes glow.” Korra: “What? No!” Wu: “Aww.”
- Korra: “Do you always go to the bathroom with him?” Mako: “I don’t go with him with him. I just stand in the general vicinity while he…I don’t wanna talk about it.”
- “You know who else has incisors sharp as a knife? Zhu Li.”
- “Mmm I’m in laundry.”
- Asami: “You met Toph? What was she like?” Korra: “Uh…cranky, more miserable version of Lin.” Mako: “Is that even possible?” Korra: “You’d be surprised.”
- “Listen, pal! I had to fight off two badger moles, six wolfbats, and 18 hogmonkeys to get these guys, so sorry if I don’t have the paper work! I was too busy cramming it in a hogmonkey’s mouth while it was trying to eat me. I am in sore need of a shower and I have blisters that are the size of cantaloupes and twice as juicy!” It takes a special kind of actor to sell a speech that ridiculous. John Michael Higgins is that kind of actor.
- “Mako? Where am I? Am I dead?” Of course Wu thinks he’s in heaven because Mako is there.