Folks, recap episodes have been spoiling our fun since forever. They’re a cheap cash-in, they’re a money saver, they’re plot halters, they’re hole-fillers. Recap episodes are the western version of filler arcs in anime.
Now, there are recap episodes and recap episodes. During the 90s and a big part of the early 2000s, turning on your TV to come across a recap of your favourite show (like, say, The Simpsons or The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) was just a bummer. Personally, I never bothered watching those. As soon as I realized what was happening, I zapped to a show that wasn’t trying to waste my time. This, of course, until Avatar The Last Airbender came along. The show only had the one recap episode, somewhere towards the end of its last season, and it was so well done, so cleverly written and executed that for a while, I did not even realize that it was a recap episode.
See, Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko probably knew about recap episodes and how badly they were perceived. Being the clever writers that they are, they decided to use the concept to their advantage, making the recap episode an actual episode, happening in a theatre where a company was reenacting the protagonists’ adventures. It was still a complete halt in the plot, but it was so funny that it became one of the most memorable episodes of the entire series. “Remembrances”, the eighth episode of the fourth Book of Legend of Korra, is based on the same principle, except it’s not that good for the most part.
I know what you’re thinking: “But Anais, didn’t you say you were done comparing the two shows?” Well yes, I was, until this attempt to recreate the “Ember Island Players” phenomenon came along. “Remembrances” is just not as good as “The Ember Island Players”, although it is not for lack of trying. The problem here is consistency.
“Remembrances” is divided into three parts: a decently amusing one, a completely pointless one, and a hilarious one that saved the entire episode.
Special mention to our narrator, who finally introduces himself and got the first laugh of the episode . To be completely honest, when he said that it had been an honour narrating the events for us, I felt pretty emotional. Folks, Legend of Korra will be over in less than a month.
First part of the recap! Mako is trying to toughen up Prince Wu, which is even harder than it sounds. During a pause that happens literally one minute after the beginning of the training, Wu realizes that he doesn’t know anything about Mako and bombards him with questions. Mako mentions that he and Korra used to date. Prince Wu then demands that Mako gives him all the details of the relationship. Please don’t, Mako, we remember this disastrous relationship all too well. But of course, Mako then goes over all that happened between him and Korra, from the beginning of Book 1, when he was still a pro-bender, to that awkward time when he kind of dated both Korra and Asami, TWICE, to the time when he finally got his act together and their friendship finally grew into a strong bond. Now, it would be a perfectly boring recap of Mako’s general inability to people, if the characters around weren’t allowed to comment. Fortunately for us, they are, and it’s pretty funny.
As usual, it feels like the writers read our minds, or at least that they are well aware of the weaknesses of their characters. Sure, it’s pretty interesting to see things from Mako’s perspective, but seeing other characters point out how much he sucks at life is priceless. I just wish they would have spared us the few shots from the first half of Book 2, when Korra was lost somewhere in stupidland. Those are painful memories to this day. Also, I’ll be completely fair to Mako: the second time he ended up being with both Korra and Asami was not entirely his fault. After all, he had broken things up with Korra. He coudn’t have predicted that she would return with partial amnesia and would kiss him in front of literally everybody they care about. He should have corrected things when they were alone, though, right away, not wait until…You know what? Forget what I said. Mako sucks at relationships, but at least, he is aware of how badass Korra is.
Second part of the recap! We leave Mako and the most untalented fighter in the world to fly to Air Temple Island, where we find a mopey Korra. Asami brings her tea and Korra confides in her. She confesses that she’s been thinking about what Toph said about how the world is always going to be out of balance, no matter what Korra does. Ugh. Really, guys? You’re going to try to solve this part of Korra’s arc through a recap episode? I hope you’re joking. Meanwhile, we have to go through a painful, expositional recap of the different enemies Korra faced. Korra points out how every decision she ever took lead to the appearance of a new menace, while Asami tries to make her see all the good things that happened thanks to her. At the end of the scene, Tenzin arrives to tell us that there will always be new enemies to fight, but that those experiences allow us to better ourselves for the battles to come. Heavy-handed, to say the least. You’re better than this, show. Next scene.
We travel to the middle of the ocean to find ourselves on the boat where Bolin, Varrick, and the escapees embarked at the end of the last episode, right as one of the escapee leaders finishes a supposedly boring story about onion bark soup. Bolin wants to kill himself out of boredom,but Varrick reveals that he listened to none of that stuff and just came up with “the most exciting tale ever told”. Varrick awesomeness? Count me in.
Varrick pitches us his idea for the greatest mover ever made. He wants Bolin to play Nuktuk, Hero of the South, who will be playing Bolin in the incredible true story of Bolin, Hero of the World. This is already amazing and it gets better. Bolin meets Varrick’s character, who is Varrick playing himself, as he chooses him to be the heir of his awesome levitation powers. Varrick wants the mover to be a musical. Bolin wants him to a), tell the actual truth and b), bring Korra into the story. Varrick finds his version boring, as well as the audience, notably for the lack of singing. He asks Bolin to please leave the storytelling masters work in peace. Yeah, Bolin. Jeez.
Varrick continues his story. Korra gets trapped into the Spirit World, which inspires the world’s most evil villains to have a hilarious phone conference to establish their evil plan to take out Bolin. They are Zaheer, the Chaotic Chaos Machine, Vaatu, the Biggest, Meanest, Scariest Kite That Ever Flew, and Aman, the Reanimated Zombie Body Of The Blood Bending Leader Of The Equalists. Also, Unalaq is there, but nobody likes him because he’s boring and unpopular. And yes, watching a parodic recap of Korra with all the villains talking to each other on the phone, and hearing Varrick call Vaatu a kite was totally worth the wait. But I digress. Varrick gets into Bolin’s love life, which is not too far from the truth, given that Bolin is the only character that’s never been completely awful at interpersonal relationships. In story, Bolin seeks advice from Varrick, who tells him that to defeat the Fearsome Foursome, or Evil Square, he will have to raise an army of benders.
Bolin takes the airbenders, who kind of suck at everything, to a training facility where he teaches them the ancient art of dodging fruit and balancing on sticks. Opal forgives Bolin and gives him the power of flight through kissing (*COUGH*) and Bolin heads to the battle against the Terror Square. Bolin turns Zaheer into wind forever, but pseudo-astronomy is happening, so when Bolin’s pet sidekick shoots lasers through his eyes, he somehow liberates Vaatu, who is forced to fuse with Unalaq because he was around, and turns Bolin into a giant spirit. Giant Bolin and the evil Unavaatu fight each other with laser beams. Unavaatu is about to win, but Bolin summons the queen of the fairies, who helps him turn Unavaatu into magic dust, which he sprays into the sky, creating the stars. Then, he remembers that Korra exists, so he turns into a giant dragon and saves her.
We come back to the boat, where the escapees applaud Varrick’s story, to Bolin’s dismay. He tries to point out the inconsistencies in the story but the leader of the escapees tells him to stop over-thinking, while Varrick finishes the episode with this: “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
Folks, I’m going to be completely honest with you. Yes, this is the weakest episode of the season so far. However, this last part was worth suffering through twelve or fourteen minutes of awkwardness. Do I wish they had let Varrick’s imagination direct the entire episode? Yes, but if you think about it, this part is so good because it’s synthetic, which means it stays pretty short lengthwise, like any good abridged episode. Varrick’s part was clever and hilarious, and it left me satisfied enough to still feel excited about the next episode.