Damn, there are a lot of things we don’t know about Tarrlok. It’s tough for a show to pull off a reveal that makes you go, “Oh, I should have called that a million years ago”—what more obvious person to be to be a bloodbender than an authoritarian, manipulative, control-freak waterbender? Especially one who sets up his office so he’s sitting in front of a giant sheet of water that bears a striking resemblance to the old Fire Lords’ throne room. But though it makes a ton of sense, I didn’t see the twist coming until two seconds beforehand when Korra yelled “You’re all out of water!”
I’d like to think Korra’s reaction to Tarrlok being a bloodbender—horrified, but informed enough to be confused that he could do it without a full moon—was a look at the way it’s seen by society in general. Yeah, she probably could have gotten briefed by Master Katara during her training, but it’d be so much more interesting if bloodbending was widely known but super taboo.
Another expansion of the courtroom flashback seems to support it being widely known: If the trial didn’t start out being about bloodbending, it looks like it definitely ended that way in a very public way—droopy-faced guy appears to be simultaneously bloodbending everyone in the courtroom, including Sokka, Toph, and Aang. And unless they hold trials at night, it looks like Yakone (or whoever droopy-face guy is) didn’t need a full moon any more than Tarrlok did in this episode. (Emphasized by that pretty closing pan up to the crescent moon as Tarrlok drives Korra out of town.)
The flashbacks so far have a pointed lack of middle-aged Katara, who when the previous series ended was the only person other than crazy old Hama who knew how to bloodbend. Why was everyone from the old gang in the courtroom but her? The gang, Aang in particular, seem much more angry than they usually get—could Yakone have hurt Katara or something? How did other people learn bloodbending? I’d guess we’re about to get some more Old Katara in current-day Korra to answer some of those questions and probably wipe the floor with Tarrlok. (And/or die. I still don’t think the writers could kill a lead character who’s been around this whole time without it getting way too bummer for Nickelodeon, but they could totally kill Katara without altering the show’s tone too drastically.)
We get a little bit of a return to Korra’s inability to airbend or get in touch with the spirit world, which clearly is starting to weigh her down. There’s a nice moment where she’s staring out at the statue of Aang and weeping with frustration after getting taunted by Tarrlok and having a dejected chat with Tenzin about being a spiritual failure—a scene that had me approaching Lost levels of “ARGH WOULD YOU JUST TELL HIM THE RELEVANT INFORMATION,” although it seems like she might not remember as much of the flashbacks as viewers do. With such a buildup around her blocks on these two things, whatever causes her to break through them is going to be major.
Bolin channels Sokka even more in this episode by declaring the foursome “the new Team Avatar,” but Asami’s the one who seems to get the teamwork idea the best, utilizing Korra and Bolin's earthbending to jump the car over trucks and get around tight corners. I like Asami more and more the more we get of her; she seems like the leading contender for Brains of Team Avatar 2.0, and remains very chill despite everyone around her acting like 12-year-olds.
Case in point: When Ikki gleefully drops a “Did you know Korra likes Mako?” bomb like a straight reality-TV troublemaker, Asami can only stammer that she wasn’t “completely” aware of that, as it would be rude to yell “NO SHIT, KID!” The only sign we get that Korra's obvious crush on her boyfriend bothers her at all is narrowed eyes in the rear-view mirror as Mako gives Korra a hand into the backseat of the car. (I also like Asami because even when she’s not in the middle of a car chase casually electrocuting shotgun chi-blocker intruders, she still leans back and cruises around one-handed like a baller.)
But I want to get back to Tarrlok. He says there are a lot of things we don’t know about him, and he’s not referring just to bloodbending. Is his tone-deafness about non-benders short-sightedness that's genuine in intent? Is he somehow in cahoots with Amon and acting as the perfect oppressive bugaboo that would drive non-benders to the Equalists? Or is there something else going on entirely?
The first option seems unlikely; Tarlokk’s been shown to be pretty canny about the causes and effects of manipulating people. The second option seems illogical, but notice what Korra says that makes him cross the risky, no-turning-back line of physically attacking her: “You’re just as bad as Amon!” There’s a cut to him getting wide-eyed when she says that, as if he thinks she’s onto something. Third option… I've got nothing.
But Amon and Tarrlok really do have quite a bit in common. Their actions both widen the divide between benders and non-benders, they're both able to do things they shouldn't be able to do, they're both fond of speechifying and are big on visual presentation and the political effects of how things appear, they both have a big Plan that involves Korra, they both passed on the chance to kill the Avatar when they had her helpless. The title seems to refer to Tarrlok's assertion that he and Korra are a lot alike, but it could also apply to Amon and Tarrlok, extremes on opposite ends of the same spectrum who look a lot more like each other than they do anyone in the middle.
The episode ends with the Team Avatar 2.0 in jail and a for-once-unkempt Tarrlok driving a super-pissed, fire-breathing Korra out of Republic City by the light of that crescent moon, en route to someplace where he says no one will ever find her. Neither Amon nor Tarrlok took advantage of the opportunity to kill Korra when they had the chance (Avatars: just like weeds), so I’m curious as to what Tarrlok is planning to do with her. Given that his actions were very incriminating, he’d have to keep her locked up forever, which isn’t feasible, or more likely just long enough to wrap up some short-term plans in Republic City that would permanently remove her as a threat. We’ll have to wait until next week to find out what those are, and whether they dovetail with Amon’s big plans.
- A woman in the mob of innocent non-benders being wrongfully rounded up by the police as an Equalist calls on Korra to defend them, saying, “You’re our Avatar, too!” This will certainly come up in a big way later, so I’ll hold off on getting into it now, but wanted to note it.
- If Korra keeps getting knocked cold at this rate, she’s not going to be able to remember how to put on her shoes by the time she’s 40.
- The only non-polar-bear-dog who knows about Korra’s late-night trip to see Tarrlok is the weird clerk of indeterminate gender I know internally as Pat. It’ll be pretty obvious that something happened at City Hall, though, as the place is now half rubble.
- The elderly members of the council remain so comically easy for Tarrlok to sway that I can’t imagine it not being addressed at some point.
- Tenzin mentions “due process” at some point, which I guess means the law in Republic City is vaguely like American law?
- Team Avatar 2.0 moving into Air Temple Island means we get a lot more of the Air Temple Kids. Meelo still has that weirdly formal manner of speech, a contrast with his apparent ability to fart-bend.
- “You’re pretty! Can I have some of your hair?”
- Bolin and Ikki: Clearly the same person.
- Acknowledging the Batman-ness of Team Avatar patrolling the city by night is Bolin doing a scratchy Dark Knight voice. So… how exactly did they get the Avatarmobile from the island to the mainland?
- Another small quibble: In the first series, getting hit by lightning meant you were in seriously bad shape (Aang at the end of season 2, Zuko in the finale); here, electricity’s becoming the non-deadly, wake-up-groaning weapon of choice.
- No Beifong this episode, though it’s mentioned that she used her injuries as reason to step down rather than being driven out in disgrace. If this were a longer series, I’d hope for one all-Beifong episode on what she’s doing “outside the law,” but with only four more episodes left in the first season that’s probably not possible.