Every time an episode like this one occurs, I can’t help but comparing Legend of Korra to its predecessor, Avatar The Last Airbender. I am not really trying to decide which one is the best anymore since Legend of Korra has definitely acquired its own identity, but it’s always interesting to see the differences between the two shows. “The Battle of Zaofu” can be seen as the equivalent of “The Day of the Black Sun”, in season three of Avatar The Last Airbender, in that it’s a first attempt to bring down the antagonist that goes really, really wrong. The major difference I find between the two though, is in scale, which, when you think of it, is a significant contrast between the two shows. Avatar The Last Airbender was of epic proportions, involving lots of characters from the different places our heroes visited, lots of different places, lots of different adventures and a lot more episodes to cover all of that. Even the number of protagonists and recurring/important characters matched the scale of the show. Legend of Korra, on the other end, occurs on a smaller scale. There’s less traveling, less crazy adventures, and more focus on the main plot to develop a few major characters. Neither of those things are wrong, I just like to ramble about those shows. I know you love it.
Night has fallen on the Earth Kingdom when three shadows infiltrate Kuvira’s military camp. The twins express a few doubts that Su Yin dusts off quickly. The plan is to take out Kuvira so that her followers won’t have any reason to keep fighting. Dressed like ninjas, the trio makes its way to Kuvira’s tent. Su Yin may not have picked up metal bending all that well but she demonstrates her mastery of earthbending when she uses her mother’s famous vibrolocation (it’s a word now) technique to see inside the tent. Thinking that Kuvira is alone and asleep, Su Yin and her sons sneak inside the tent, where they realize that Zhu Li was the one sleeping there. It’s a trap!
In Zaofu, Opal presses Korra to go find Su Yin and the twins in Kuvira’s camp. Korra’s actually pretty smart when she uses her brain. As she explains to Opal the reason why this is the last thing they want to do, Kuvira gives an announcement to the citizens of Zaofu: she reveals Su Yin’s plan to attack her in her sleep to the whole city and claims having captured her and the twins. She then promises to not attack Zaofu until they send a representative, at dawn, to offer the city’s surrender. It’s in those moments when you realize how good Kuvira is as an antagonist. She technically ambushed Su Yin, but since Su Yin was already violating the truce, there is no way out of the situation. Kuvira’s an expert in manipulation. She is one of those villains who’s not only said smart, but shown as smart. Of course, everybody else making terrible mistakes around her helps making her look smarter but when you think about it, she is also the one driving people to make those terrible mistakes. Kuvira is just awesome. Awesome and dangerous. Opal wants Korra to help her break her family members free and gets angry when both Korra and Jinorra tell her how bad her idea is. In the end, Korra, Jinorra, and Opal decide to go see Kuvira at dawn.
In the train, Varrick wakes up from a nightmare to realize that Zhu Li has really left him. By the way, Varrick really shines in this episode. I’ve always liked the character for his complete lack of morals and his tendancy to just ignore reality but I had never really fully grasped his awesomeness until now. Anyway. Bataar Jr wants Varrick to start working on the Spirit Vine Canon again. Varrivk tries to find excuses in his eccentric personality but Bataar has him brutalized until he changes his mind. Varrick gives in on one condition: he needs an assistant. He scares Bataar’s men off with tales of energy blasts and lost hands, and manages to get Bolin to help him.
Dawn. Korra, Opal, and Jinorra meet Kuvira outside of Zaofu. Kuvira took her army with her, as well as her prisoners, whom she locked up inside big metal coffins that prevent them from moving. The discussion is barely a negotiation: Kuvira spends her time pushing people’s buttons with a terrifying precision. When Opal asks if Bolin agrees with Kuvira, she answers that Bolin and Opal have been apart too long and that Opal doesn’t realize how different they are now. When Korra intervenes, Kuvira dismisses her, arguing that Korra has no right to interfere with Earth Empire business. At some point, she even tells her that the Avatar is no longer relevant. Ouch. Kuvira is like metal: rigid, cold, and sharp. Each one of her lines is a slap in the face. In the end, Korra has no choice but to challenge Kuvira. Kuvira makes sure that her men know that she will take the Avatar one on one, a smart move in many ways. If Korra wins, Kuvira will leave Zaofu be. If Korra loses, or when Korra loses, as Kuvira phrases it, she will never interfere with Kuvira’s business again. Korra accepts. It is on.
Folks, the fight is painful to watch. Korra plays tough in front of everyone but we know that she knows that she is far from being ready. She is slow, predictable, and weak in comparison to Kuvira, who spent the last three years on a military campaign. It’s interesting to see the Avatar face someone who also mastered several elements. If Korra was her usual self, the fight would be incredible. Now, we have to suffer through it as Korra takes hit after hit and has to hear Kuvira’s army cheer every time she bites the dust. The cut to Varrick and Bolin is more than welcome.
Varrick gets frustrated at Bolin for not knowing what he means when he tells him to “do the thing”. Bolin snaps at Varrick because a, Varrick is a spoiled brat and b, he doesn’t want to get his hands blown off in one of Varrick’s crazy experiments. Bataar Jr is more interested in understanding Varrick’s machine. Varrick complains that he originally wanted his discovery to serve as a clean source of energy. Bataar Jr answers in his usual smug way that as scientists, it is their duty to take technology as far as they can. Tradition vs modernity/evolution is one of the themes of the show but in Bataar Jr’s mouth, those words make me cringe more than usual. First of all, the line of dialogue itself is on the nose. Second of all, I hate Bataar Jr. He is so entitled and self-important that I want to punch him in the throat every time he speaks. He’s worse than an internet troll. Come to think of it, that may be why everything he says feels on the nose, because like all trolls, he can only talk in clichés and petty remarks. This said, Varrick is not at all impressed by Bataar Jr’s ego, which makes the scene really fun to watch. It ends on Varrick winking at Bolin as he explains how the experiment went wrong the last time. Sweet.
Back to Korra vs Kuvira for a short moment. The fight is visually appealing but Korra is still getting her ass handed to her, so let’s get back to Varrick.
Bataar Jr tries to understand how the machine works. I think he doesn’t realize that what he is describing would cause an explosion. Bolin is grumpy at Varrick for helping the villains and Varrick replies by a charming little story about how he got the idea for the spirit vine canon when the giant Unalaq monster broke him free from his prison cell. Bolin doesn’t get it. We, the audience, do know what’s going to happen, so when Varrick literally kick starts the machine and we hear the ticking, we can just sit back and enjoy Varrick being awesome. Bataar Jr doesn’t want to believe that Varrick really built a bomb. The timer is set for five minutes: is it really worth staying to find out? Bataar Jr wants to make him stop the bomb by force but Varrick thought about it: he also has a remote.
Korra struggles until she finally goes into the Avatar state, putting Kuvira to the ground with ease. She is ready to take her own with a giant boulder when Kuvira looks up… with the face of Dark Korra. Korra instantly loses all will to fight and Kuvira immediately immobilizes her. Fortunately for Korra, Opal and Jinorra airbend Kuvira away from her. In reaction, Kuvira unleashes her troups on them. Opal creates a dust storm while Jinorra projects her spirit inside Zaofu, where Huan is giving a painting class to Ikki and Meelo.
In the train, Bataar Jr and his men finish evacuating the lab wagon. Bolin unhooks the cars then congratulates him for what he thinks was a phenomenal bluff. As it turns out though (and as we knew), Varrick was not joking. As Varrick is ready to die a hero to spite Zhu Li, Bolin comes up with a solution to escape the explosion. He slaps Varrick, then earthbends their way to safety. From the other part of the train, Bataar Jr watches as the explosion reduces everything to ashes. Inside the crater, Varrick congratulates Bolin for getting the thing done. Meanwhile, Meelo and Ikki bring Pepper inside the zone secured by Opal and Jinorra so they can get Korra and themselves away from Kuvira’s army. Kuvira celebrates the fall of Zaofu. Later that day, she presents the defeated Su Yin and her sons to Zaofu’s citizens. All of them but Bataar and Huan bow to Kuvira. Bataar Jr is furious and has his father and brother arrested.
The end of the episode is a meeting between Bataar Jr and Kuvira, where he assures her that he can replicate the spirit vine weapon, and she commands Zhu Li to be his assistant on the project.
Well, that was worth the wait, amirite? I can’t wait to see where Korra is headed after that defeat. I want to see what they’re going to do with Sato and Asami, I want to get some more Varrick and Bolin fun scenes, I want some Jarrick, and I want everything, really. Since the beginning of the season, the characters grew up, the story became more intense, and the humour darkened. I am loving this final Book and I am begging for more.