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Book Four is settling in now that the initial shock of the three-year time jump has worn off, making “The Coronation” feel like a much more familiar show as a result. The exciting new status quo made the Book Four premiere stand out from what came before, and the dense character development of “Korra Alone” brought the show to new heights of emotional introspection, but there’s nothing particularly remarkable about tonight’s episode. Yes, it brings back a beloved old friend in Toph Beifong and considerably advances the Kuvira plot, but “The Coronation” still feels like a place-setting story that sets up a lot of future material, but isn’t particularly exhilarating on its own.

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There was a lot of mystery at the start of Book Three regarding the new villains that kept breaking out of prison, but the path of Book Four’s big bad Kuvira is fairly predictable at this point. Her power play in today’s episode doesn’t come as much of a surprise after seeing her actions in the premiere, and while writer Tim Hedrick does try to bring a sense of nobility to Kuvira’s motivations, her characterization is becoming more blatantly villainous.

When Kuvira arrives in Republic City, she immediately assumes a position of leadership by kicking Prince Wu out of his presidential suite, an omen of what’s to come at the prince’s coronation ceremony. After Wu gives Kuvira the microphone at the ceremony, she announces that the Earth Kingdom is no more and she is seizing power from Wu as the leader of the new Earth Empire, telling the world that anyone who crosses their borders or stands in her way will be crushed. It’s a very aggressive stance, one that Kuvira tells Bolin is really just rhetoric to show everyone that she means business, but her conversation with Suyin shows that Kuvira has every intention of standing by her words.

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Kuvira’s announcement at the coronation makes some very good points, and she credits her education as a citizen of Zaofu for teaching her that a ceremonial title passed down from members of the same family is an archaic form of political leadership. Suyin taught Kuvira that technology and innovation should drive a nation forward, and she’s spent the last three years using those ideas to fix the problems caused by the pathetic rule of kings and queens. That’s all very admirable, but as Kuvira gained more power, she became corrupted by it.

Kuvira admits freely that she always gets what she wants—implying that she was spoiled at a young age, which gave her a heightened sense of entitlement—and as she gains more and more territories for her Earth Empire, she convinces herself that she’s doing what is right. She’s not thinking about Balance, she’s thinking about herself, and her combination of selfishness and military power poses a lot of problems for the world at large.

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Kuvira has a right to accuse Suyin of not helping when the Earth Kingdom descended into chaos three years ago, but Suyin has likely dealt with any shame regarding that decision long ago. Suyin isn’t the leader of the Earth Kingdom, and she focused her attention on maintaining order in her own domain rather than playing the great uniter. Just like Kuvira has the right to criticize, Suyin has the right to stay out of larger political affairs, and clearly her strategy worked because Zaofu never fell like the rest of the Earth Kingdom. The downside is that Suyin made an enemy in Kuvira, and now that the former soldier has made herself the top authority, Zaofu is in more danger than ever before.

The fallout of Kuvira’s decision drives a wedge between Bolin and Mako, who decide to stay loyal to their respective employers because Korra isn’t there to bring them together. Both of them have obvious reservations about taking sides in this heated political conflict, but with no alternative, the two brothers stick with what they’ve become accustomed to. While I understand the reasoning behind pulling Team Avatar apart in Book Four, that group dynamic is such a big element of this show’s charm that the longer the quartet stays apart, the less engaging the series becomes. It’s going to be great when everyone eventually reunites, but hopefully that moment is coming sooner than later.

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While Bolin is engaged in political sibling drama, Prince Wu is taking on his role as the show’s primary source of comic relief, playing a cartoonish spoiled brat that has a breakdown when things don’t go his way. The exaggerated voicework by Sunil Malholtra is spot-on for the character, and really helps capture the dramatic highs and lows Wu experiences in this episode. As the environment becomes more tense, moments like Wu recreating the dance of the badger moles and throwing a childish temper tantrum help lighten the mood, and putting Wu in Republic City’s “Little Ba Sing Se” in the second half of the episode is a clever way of showing how meaningless he is to the greater Earth Kingdom. When he sees people wearing pro-Kuvira apparel, Wu freaks out and screams, “This is the Little Ba Sing Se fashion mall and I’m the little king here!” As he loses authority all over the Earth Kingdom, he tries to hold on to the slightest semblance of power in what is essentially a themed shopping mall, and even there his grip is steadily loosening.

Action is an essential part of the Korra formula, and the lack of any thrilling fight sequences makes this episode a noticeably less energetic chapter. The main source of action is Korra’s training with Toph, and while those scenes make Toph look like a total badass, there’s a restrained quality to the choreography and direction that dulls the momentum. That’s likely intentional to reflect Korra’s inability to tap into her full power in battle, but it ultimately diminishes the visual impact of the action.

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The highlight of this episode is Toph, whose prickly, tactless personality has been greatly missed for the last three seasons. She doesn’t sugar coat things for Korra the way other people do, and she gets a kick out of tormenting Korra that brings an element of humor into their serious storyline. Korra has become overwhelmed by the pressure of being the Avatar, but Toph is there to tell Korra that she’s not as important as she thinks she is. As a police officer, Toph realized that while the faces changed, the street stayed the same, learning that it takes a lot more to fix the world than just one person.

While it may appear as if Toph’s experience has made her especially cynical in her old age, it’s very possible that Toph is exaggerating in order to break Korra’s perception of herself. Korra connects her personal trauma with her role as the Avatar, and she’s convinced herself that she’s only going to get hurt if she tries to be the savior of the world again. Toph is there to humble Korra and show her that she’s a part of something bigger, and it’s no coincidence that Toph is connected to the entire world through the roots of the swamp. Korra needs to get out of her head and find that connection to the rest of the world, because then she won’t be fighting this battle on her own. (Korra also needs to get rid of the metal poison that remains in her body, but she can only do that once she finds mental calm.)

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With Korra still struggling to make a recovery, Bolin and Mako on opposing sides of an intensifying political conflict, and Kuvira working on spirit-based technology that has the potential to change everything, Book Four is setting up quite a lot of material to be covered in the remaining 10 episodes. After three chapters, one thing has become exceedingly clear: Korra needs to sort out her baggage and get back in action. There’s a glaring Korra-sized hole in the main story that is keeping Book Four from reaching its potential, and by keeping Korra away from the central conflict, the Kuvira plot isn’t hitting as hard as it should.

Stray observations:

  • Next week: Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo track down Korra in their super cool new flight-suits. I’m very excited.
  • Little details like a leaf spirit blowing in the wind with other leaves in the very first shot of the episode do such a great job creating a magical atmosphere.
  • Varrick loves complimentary hotel toiletries, especially the lavender ones. I’m really hoping he gets the spotlight soon because I love John Michael Higgins’ voice for the character.
  • This week in cameos: Eska and Desna show up to make things awkward, and the first appearance of Zuko’s daughter!
  • This show is so good at mining humor from character exits during awkward moments. Example: Bolin leaving the room when Su tells Kuvira they need to talk.
  • Toph tells Korra that Lin and Suyin never picked up metalbending all that well, which is funny because they’re probably two of the world’s best metalbenders. I’m really hoping Toph eventually gets involved in the larger action this season, because I want to see her fully let loose.
  • Where is Asami?
  • Frog squirrel!
  • “Does a platypus bear poop in… HEY! You can’t put bleachers there! There won’t be enough room for the dance of the badger moles!”
  • “If you want to hug something, go hug a tree.”
  • “I see myself in the mirror sometimes and think I’m in trouble before I realize: it’s only me!”
  • “Of all the Avatars I’ve worked with, you’re by far the worst. I know that’s only one other Avatar, but still.”
  • “You’re blind compared to me.”
  • “My royal broach is a lie!”
  • “Enjoy licking the king’s boots…IN YOUR JUNIOR SUITE!”
  • Prince Wu: “Carry me?” Mako: “No.”

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