The Legend of Korra "Battle of Zaofu" Review: Waiting for the Bombs to Go Off

The Legend of Korra S04E06: "The Battle of Zaofu"


Say what you will of Kuvira, but the lady's a master at using various situations to her advantage.

Instead of just launching an assault against Ba Sing Se once Wu had been installed, she upstaged Wu at his own coronation and declared her intentions to rule the Earth Empire in place of the foppish, would-be king. Meanwhile, regarding Zaofu, she did everything she could to avoid looking like an invading armed force; indeed, from her intended-to-fail appointment of Bolin as a diplomat to agreeing to Korra's truce, Kuvira appeared to be quite the accommodating world leader.

So when Su went and attacked who she thought was Kuvira, well, that was all the provocation Kuvira needed to launch an assault on Zaofu. Sure, the rest of the world leaders may not see it that way, but the Earth Empire and probably the rest of the world got the message that Su's isolated and seemingly autonomous city in the valley just didn't want to play nice with the new order. It doesn't matter that Kuvira's a messianic dictator; it just matters that she doesn't look like one. Heck, she even agreed to fight Korra one-on-one, framing it in the rhetoric that she wouldn't ask her (forcefully conscripted) troops to do something that she herself wouldn't do. It made her seem compassionate to her soldiers, yes, but when she beat Korra, it also made her look strong. And even if Kuvira had lost, she still would've won in the optics game. Perhaps she even earned the trust of a few of those troops who are only in uniform to avoid being slave labor.

It doesn't make us see Kuvira as any more sympathetic or less evil, but on a "world stage" level, Kuvira doesn't come off as all that horrible.


Korra, in contrast, is still not looking great. 

I was worried about the writers' quick fix for removing the leftover poison from Korra's body back in "The Calling,"—and for a couple of a reasons—but it turns out that it didn't solve the Avatar's key problem: being haunted by a vision of her earlier self in the Avatar state. It's reassuring that the poison, even though it had a clear physical and emotional impact, wasn't the source of Korra's woes. She's still her own worst enemy.

Last week, I mentioned that Korra's general approach to handling problems is to send rocks, fire, water, and/or air into her opponents' faces, and that held true this week. Sure, the only option Kuvira left her with was to fight or surrender, and Korra isn't one to ever choose the latter, but even in her duel with Kuvira, Korra was always on the offensive. Kuvira's moves were all counters; her only real attempt at direct attack came just before Korra entered the Avatar state. Someone was a leaf on the wind this week, and it wasn't Korra.

Of course, this sort of defeat is par for the course on Legend of Korra. Our hero often gets her butt handed to her during her first real encounter with a given opponent, regardless of her mental state, and "Battle of Zaofu" was no different. What's more, it's a common-enough story structure to make the Big Bad's defeat all the greater when it does eventually happen. On Korra, it'll at least serve the larger arc about Korra's rehabilitation, and her value as the Avatar.


Speaking of rehabilitation, I sort of like Varrick again? Don't get me wrong, I still loathe the way that the show has decided Varrick shouldn't be punished for war profiteering, organizing an assassination of Raiko, and escaping from jail—and some of that carried over to my reception of the character, and still does, to a point. However, the writing for him has been very sharp this season, and John Michael Higgins, who's always great, was especially on his game this week.

I do think Korra is more comfortable working with a scoundrel inventor with a conscience who's lost the one thing that allowed him to be a scoundrel inventor than it is with a scoundrel tycoon and war criminal who lacks a conscience and just does whatever he wants. It's honestly the best version of Varrick, and the reason is that there's finally been an actual consequence for his actions in Zhu Li's apparent defection. He, like Korra, may be facing some hard truths, and it's about time.



LEAVES ON THE WIND

– "Empty cookie jar. No hot towels. Waxy build up." These are the things that haunt Varrick's soul.

– "Can we get breakfast first? While we still have hands?"

– "Ugh. Pedestrian. I wanted you to show me the inner Meelo."

– "You can't handle all this Meelo!"

– Small touch: When Kuvira rotated the earth while Korra was firebending, the spot of rotated Earth looked wonderfully out of place as the painted lines of the ground were no longer aligned.

– I haven't given her enough props, but Zelda Williams is killing it as Kuvira.

– Pageviews and comments have been steadily dropping since Book 4 began, so we're going to scale back our coverage of Korra and return to it if an episode begs for a review. If nothing else, I'll be back for the series finale, of course!


What did you think of "Battle of Zaofu"?


Comments (75)
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Dec 03, 2014
* I kinda don't understand how someone can be against Varrick not being relatively punished but be perfectly okay with how Iroh and Zuko were dealt with.

* Regarding page views and comments:

Comments: there isn't much to complain and/or criticize. Probably the main thing is how the series seems to have completely dismissed Azula. And the series seems to have a problem with strong, aggressive, very intelligent strategists who are female. Azula probably should have led the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom. She only was going to wipe the Earth Kingdom out when they decided to rebel against the Fire Nation.

And here Kuvira while not perfect is certainly better than the alternatives. Tenzin seems to want the world to be run by the descendants of Aang and Co. President Raiko seems to want to be the leader of the entire world even though essentially he's actually a glorified Mayor. Kuvira essentially created a new country out of massive chaos. Why shouldn't she have an army? Why shouldn't she lead the Earth Kingdom. Augustus murdered tons of people in order to cement his power and to create stability.
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Nov 23, 2014
The backgrounds are always beautiful, but that shot of Zaofu during Kuvira's announcement was especially stunning.
I'll be sad to see the reviews go. I don'g always comment when I watch episodes late, but I really liked coming here to read your analysis of the show after an episode.
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Nov 15, 2014
As much as I like seeing Korra have her ego deflated a little from time to time, I felt like maybe Kurvira defeated her a little too easily. She did get her hair out of place during the fight, but it seemed like Korra was fighting terribly. You'd think, even with the horrible trauma she's gone through, that she would at least fight a little smarter against an opponent like Kuvira.
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Nov 14, 2014
Do not despair! Go on making reviews for Korra.

Btw, awesome season so far.
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Nov 11, 2014
Ah please keep going! I really really enjoy reading these. Your analyses are consistently spot-on and thought-provoking.
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Nov 15, 2014
Noel, please come back. It's been less than a day since you would have put up a review (you may even be writing one now), but i'm having withdrawals -- the others just aren't the same. Help me, Noel Kirkpatrick. You're my only hope.
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Nov 11, 2014
Ahhhhh why you gonna do that??? Please make the reviews for all the chapters.
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Nov 10, 2014
weakess avatar ever. this show is boring now. end with this show already.
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Nov 10, 2014
I just want to point out how much respect we all should have for Baatar and Huan! I mean, I am going to assume neither of them are fighters, which would be why they stayed back. Yet, neither of them backed down when they were told to bow.
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Nov 09, 2014
Can't anyone just bloodbend Kuvira and send her back to her misery?
So simple.
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Nov 09, 2014
So does anyone else think that Spirit Weapon being developed will awaken Vaatu?
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Nov 08, 2014
Bummer about the dropping coverage. I read TV.com and IGN's reviews of Korra each week.
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Nov 08, 2014
Korra is a terrible fighter/bender, just terrible. So bad in fact that I think it strains credibility a little. She could have been a lot better than that and still have her butt handed to her - that would've been my preference. Still it was a pretty good episode, it moved at breakneck speed, it felt like a really short episode which is a good thing.
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Nov 10, 2014
anng would have wiped out the whole army himself. in avatar state..
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Nov 08, 2014
I think she's still off her game. Remember that she's gone up against the BEST in the world whenever she's lost: Amon was trained to bloodbend for years against another bloodbender--Korra beats him when she learns to airbend; Unalaq was a disciple of Vaatu, the source of all evil--Korra beats him by purifying his spirit; and Zaheer was already one of the most dangerous men in the world well-versed in martial arts and airbender teachings before he became an airbender--Korra successfully dueled him while battling mercury poisoning.

It's not as though Aang was a badass who took on all comers: Bumi wasn't TRYING to hurt him when they dueled; he only repelled the fire nation from taking over the northern Kingdom after he entered the Avatar state; Azula KILLED him in Ba Sing Se; he only beat the Phoenix King after Ozai knocked him into some pointed rocks that unblocked his qi and let him reenter the Avatar state.
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Nov 14, 2014
These comments are still so ridiculous, if Korra had wiped out Kuvira's entire army people would be complaining that she was too good so quickly after recovering from the poison, and since she lost miserably which in my eyes made since even if disappointing people are calling her the worst avatar ever, like damned if you do damned if you don't.
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Nov 08, 2014
why is korra so weak ? not just now like forever , when aang entered the avatar state , demons ran (DW reference) like people miles away were frightened and korra uses a measly single element even when in the avatar state . Remember that avatar with those fans ?the kioshi warrior with that green dress ?she separated continents and the last avatar before aang died trying to control a volcano , korra is like meh compared to them. Is it coz she lost her spiritual connection ? in the first season she never had a spiritual connection and now she has severed that connection (same plot?). She is so extraordinarily ordinary. Toph would have laid kuvira's army to rest in a matter of minutes. Azula would have burned half of them alive. Aang would have her on her knees in seconds. When will we see korra in the actual strong avatar state ? She is weaker than even aang who was a 11 year old kid who lost his entire clan, one time she is poisoned and she turns into a scared little cat. Even the other characters fight systematically , no raw power at all. Everyone is just ordinary. Give us at least one strong bender
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Nov 14, 2014
Near and death experience affects people differently. Being out of commission for three years is going to affect you physically and emotionally. It's a hard place to be in. Honestly I think if Korra bounced back and was all powerful people would complain she doesn't have any challenges and got another quick fix. People were complaining when Aang restored her bending in first season finale and she bounced back with no problems.

Another problem is the Avatar State is too powerful. It's a instant win button. Unless you bring in villains that are at that level, which could easily turn off fan base who don't want to see Avatar turn into DBZ where entire battles reshape continents, you have tone it down or write around it so the Avatar has believable challenges. It's the reason why Aang never got control of the State until the series finale. If he had gained control of it in season 2 finale he could have ended the series by just going AS and beating everyone down. I think part of the reason Korra lost her connection to her past lives is to weaken the Avatar State for the sake of not ending all challenges in seconds. Last season finale they brought in poison to slow and weaken Korra enough for Zaheer to survive and even then he was running away for most of it, while Korra was hurling mountains at him before the poison weakened her enough for him to go for the kill.

As for raw power perhaps, but you have to remember original series wasn't like the good guys were pwning whole armies every day. There were a lot of episodes where they had to run away because Fire Nation had too many troops, especially in season 1. Even in season 3 Aang and his friends had to retreat from the Fire Nation army during the Black Sun two-parter because the army was too large for their small resistance movement to handle. Some episodes they could take down large forces and sometimes they couldn't. Even Azula never took down a whole army by herself, least of all with giant mechs and other weapons. The only time I think she could have done that was under Sozin's Comet.
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Nov 09, 2014
They have another 9 episodes to fill... And since they don't have any better ideas for this show, they must extend it.
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Nov 08, 2014
Compared to Korra, Aang is amateur, Aang at age 40 couldn't even beat a blood bender without the avatar state (Aang was a fully realized avatar at that point), korra did it with one element in her regular state at half the age and 1/10 the experience against a better blood bender. Aang took over one year to defeat Ozai and even then he couldn't do it without the avatar state (which he could've done on day one because he was found in the avatar state), each of Korra's opponents including Kuviera would kick the shit out of Ozai in seconds especially Amaan and Vatuu. Korra defeated 3 major opponents in about the same time. Aang had the help of the best Earth bender in history and one of the top water benders in history and still shit his pants every time he fought and was defeated over 50% of the time. Aang was weak compared to Korra, she faces much more intense challenges than any other Avatar has faced (That we know of).
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Nov 14, 2014
Quoting "greasy82" I think she's still off her game. Remember that she's gone up against the BEST in the world whenever she's lost: Amon was trained to bloodbend for years against another bloodbender--Korra beats him when she learns to airbend; Unalaq was a disciple of Vaatu, the source of all evil--Korra beats him by purifying his spirit; and Zaheer was already one of the most dangerous men in the world well-versed in martial arts and airbender teachings before he became an airbender--Korra successfully dueled him while battling mercury poisoning.

It's not as though Aang was a badass who took on all comers: Bumi wasn't TRYING to hurt him when they dueled; he only repelled the fire nation from taking over the northern Kingdom after he entered the Avatar state; Azula KILLED him in Ba Sing Se; he only beat the Phoenix King after Ozai knocked him into some pointed rocks that unblocked his qi and let him reenter the Avatar state.
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Nov 08, 2014
Korra was taught to be an avatar all her life , by the world's best teachers. When aang was in his avatar state he could shake mountains. Korra can barely bend one element. She uses her avatar state for winning children's faces. I and many other people think , she can only partially control her avatar state. Her true form has yet to come and or severed by the loss of connection with past avatars. You have got to agree that the fighting in LOK is much more systematical maybe coz of probending matches ?http://www.reddit.com/r/TheLastAirbender/comments/2lkupi/official_episode_6_battle_of_zaofu_discussion/
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Nov 08, 2014
In the last season finale, she shook mountains while in the Avatar state. Heck, I think she even demolished them.
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Nov 14, 2014
She moved mountains all while fighting off a poison that was killing her and sapping her strength.
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Nov 08, 2014
I didn't really like it, I hope she gets back in touch with her white spirit and her past lives soon...
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Nov 08, 2014
Well, I still love Korea and will watch to the very end. Love this show.
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Nov 08, 2014
Also, Noel, I don't think your reviews have anything to do with droppings of comments. This season has been pretty much "meh" for a dying franchise and Nick's treatment of the show is hardly helpful.
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Nov 08, 2014
...Who said something about my reviews being responsible for the drop in comments?! ARE YOU ALL TALKING ABOUT ME BEHIND MY BACK?! ;)

I'm chalking the lowered page views up to the decision for the show to be online only. Thought it might happen.
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Nov 08, 2014
That made me laugh. It's a shame, though. I like reading your reviews.
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Nov 08, 2014
Correct me if I'm wrong here, but wasn't the Avatar State defined as a means for Ang to take on the previous experience of his past lives? Since Korra can't access them anymore, doesn't that mean the avatar state is useless for her? (and will only benefit the next avatar in line?)
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Nov 11, 2014
It also allows her to draw upon her Raava energy and increase her power levels (Wan did this in Beginnings (2))
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Nov 08, 2014
well it was useless, wasn't it? she could only do a fraction of what ang was doing in his last episode...
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Nov 08, 2014
Korra, as the Avatar, feels so worthless. Book 1 only enforced that, but luckily Book 2 made me feel more connected with her and I began liking her as the Avatar. Book 3 displayed some really interesting villains and funny moments that carried the season because again, Korra was displayed as worthless (she was actually shown to be the whole issue).
In Book 4, I really loved it when she 'cured' herself of the poison, and the idea of her reconnecting with the spirits was great, but now I completely loathe Korra. Kuvira has a point. The Avatar is irrelevant. What's the use of an Avatar that feels so sorry for herself she can't do anything right? Even when the odds are stacked so much in her favour?
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Nov 08, 2014
Why do I get this awful feeling Korra will die this season?

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Nov 09, 2014
Honestly, I feel that way too. I don't know why, but I do think the writers might take it that direction.
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Nov 08, 2014
WTF Korra!!! You had it & you lost it!!! Ugh this girl!!!
WTF Noel!!! Many of us still coming back here to read your thoughts & now you (kind of) quit.

Nickelodeon, there's no one else to blame!!!
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Nov 08, 2014
No Noel I'll miss your reviews so much, I haven't been commenting as much, but I always look forward to seeing your thought on Korra. You put so much more thought into your reviews than most. Hopefully you'll still have a review every couple of episodes until the finale, than maybe a season/series review.

I was personally happy Korra lost, like I know it's a bit cliche, but Korra been out of it for three years, would have made little sense for her to beat the master metal bender than has been traveling the world and conquering/establishing peace for the last three years. I look forward to seeing Korra conquer her fears and eventually taking down Kuvira, but we still have seven episodes to go.
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Nov 08, 2014
I am also saddened...though maybe not as disappointed as Baatar, Sr.

I might not always comment, as others often get here sooner and express themselves far more eloquently than I could, but I do enjoy the write-ups.

Cheers, Rob
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Nov 08, 2014
Korra's ability to not learn anything ever never ceases to amaze me. I do feel sorry for her but it's hard to sympathise with someone so painfully short-sighted.
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Nov 07, 2014
It's like Korra has learned nothing over the last 3 books. It's getting so frustrating to watch her fight! I'm beginning to wonder what the Avatar in general is supposed to do because Korra isn't doing it. Even in Ang's failures, he learned and grew, reached inside and basically when it was time for the final battle, he was unstoppable. I'm sure they're going to go this route with Korra - they better go this route with Korra!
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Nov 08, 2014
why is korra so weak ? not just now like forever , when aang entered the avatar state , demons ran (DW reference) like people miles away were frightened and korra uses a measly single element even when in the avatar state . Remember that avatar with those fans ?the kioshi warrior with that green dress ?she separated continents and the last avatar before aang died trying to control a volcano , korra is like meh compared to them. Is it coz she lost her spiritual connection ? in the first season she never had a spiritual connection and now she has severed that connection (same plot?). She is so extraordinarily ordinary. Toph would have laid kuvira's army to rest in a matter of minutes. Azula would have burned half of them alive. Aang would have her on her knees in seconds. When will we see korra in the actual strong avatar state ? She is weaker than even aang who was a 11 year old kid who lost his entire clan, one time she is poisoned and she turns into a scared little cat. Even the other characters fight systematically , no raw power at all. Everyone is just ordinary. Give us at least one strong bender
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Nov 08, 2014
We all understood Aang's issues. He was trapped for 100 years, young and scared, but still knew his duty. His was a journey of discovery and it was VERY compelling. How did the world deal with the Avatar missing for 100 years? What happened now that he's back? What must he do to learn the elements and ultimately defeat the Fire Lord? These were the questions answered. And through it, we learned how bad ass Avatars can be, as you noted.

Now comes along Korra. As a child she KNOWS she's the Avatar and acts like it. "I'm the AVATAR; you better represent!" THAT'S the Korra everyone is expecting. She doesn't run away, is fearless, and has been training since day one. We expected to see the bad ass Avatar! We expected to see her move continents and stop volcanoes. We want bad ass, Earth Shattering Kaboom Avatar! Where's our Earth Shattering Kaboom!? Instead we turn around and see that the writers running away the Illudium Pu-36 Bad Ass Avatar Space Modulator.
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Nov 08, 2014
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Nov 08, 2014
Korra is the worst Avatar ever.
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Nov 07, 2014
The writers are capable of designing characters with guile (Kuvira) but with Korra it seems they could not or would not stray too far from Korra's bruiser/brawler mentality.... this is why having a cunning strategist onboard would help. So far none of the good guys have proven capable, Korra could ask Zaheer for advice if she is willing to face her emotional demons.
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Nov 09, 2014
That's exactly what I was thinking. It would be great if they actually made last season relevant by having a semi-reformed Zaheer mentor her or advise her or something. Tired of a dumb, jock avatar. She tries talking for like 2 minutes, and when it (predictably) doesn't pan out, she starts throwing fists. Always. She has no long game and no ability to strategize or learn from repeated past mistakes.
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Nov 07, 2014
Kuvira needs her bending taken away. She is just another firelord Ozai wannabe. After the Earth Kingdom is "united" will she be satisfied? Probably not.
She will want the riches of other areas and republic city.
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Nov 07, 2014
Please, don't stop writing the reviews. I love your insights about the series! They will be missed!
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Nov 07, 2014
a dissapointment
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Nov 07, 2014
Ugh korra is so weak
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Nov 07, 2014
This makes me sad, Noel. I've enjoyed your reviews since the beginning of Korra! Thanks for your insight! Looking forward to see how they wrap all of this up!
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Nov 07, 2014
no please no! i really like your reviews. it's the last season. it would not do korra justice.
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Nov 07, 2014
No! Please keep reviewing the episodes! It's the last Book and I always like getting the insights you provide, Noel.
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Nov 07, 2014
I thought it was too easy of a fix for korra. Shes probably going to need to reconnect with the old avatars to get her mojo back. I hope we see Aang atleast one more time before the series ends.
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Nov 08, 2014
Me, too.
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Nov 07, 2014
Anyone else notice how Azula-like Kuvira is. I'd call this her Ba Sing Se moment. God they look pretty similar with their hair down.
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Nov 07, 2014
ugh I hate that they chose the cliche way of handling this episode, I mean how could Kuvira possibly plan that Korra won't have the juice to fight her? Haven't she learned from Korra's past enemies that she can't be beaten like that? That girl sure has some luck..

Unless she somehow messes with Korra's head and we've yet to find that out.
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Nov 08, 2014
Considering Kuvira has one of the Su's kids in her back, most likely she has spies in the city as well and she knows Korra's situation.
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Nov 07, 2014
She also knows Korra hasn't been fighting that much for 3 years, otherwise their meeting would've likely been sooner.
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Nov 09, 2014
Tenzin did announce that Korra would be on the sidelines while she recovered. At no point did they announce she was back until right when she arrived in Zaofu, so it stands to reason that Kuvira would think the Avatar might not be up to taking her down.
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Nov 07, 2014
Wondering if other nations will help the Earth kingdom/empire(?), Cause where will it stop? Republic city was earth kingdom territory before it was given to Aang. Because I can't see Kuvira stop at Zaufo to be honest. She likes to get more land, more power, but ruling? That's something I don't see that so far.

And when does team Avatar comes back? It's Korra needs them!
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Nov 08, 2014
Not only the new team, but it'd be nice if toph and zuko showed up for support. Katara, probably on the sidelines to heal the injured, but if she can join the fight, then all the better.
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Nov 08, 2014
Your totally right. But will the speed of the episodes will allow this to happen?
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Nov 09, 2014
I could see them in the support role like the white lotus members were in a:tlab's finale. They don't need that much screen time, just enough time to show them in action like a few seconds and move on to the others before focusing back to Korra vs Kuvira.
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Nov 07, 2014
1) Korra couldn't beat me right now. Her moves are sloppy, and look like when she first met Mako and Bolin. She looks slow, tired, and completely unconfident.

2) How is Kuvira fooling anyone? She's a bully of the worst kind. And Baatar is a sniveling tool.

3) Where is Toph to declare "Enough is enough!". She says she sees everything, so she has to see her daughter and grandchildren in serious trouble

4) Meelo must have missed the Airbender code of peaceful indifference. And I love it!

5) Korra needs to reconnect with Aang and take Kuvira's bending away. Period.

6) Please do not stop your reviews!

7) Zhu Li is definitely playing the part of traitor, but it is obviously a ruse.

8) Varrick is a mad genius.
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Nov 09, 2014
I don't think Korra needs to connect with Aang to learn how to remove bending. I am pretty sure she knows how to do it.

Can Zaheer still airbend? I thought Korra would have token that away.
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Nov 09, 2014
My friend and I were dissecting her moves as the fight was going on, particularly how she was vulnerable to counterattacks with her sloppy moves. Kuvira didn't have to beat her; Korra lacked the ability or the will to win the fight.
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Nov 07, 2014
Agreed with the addition that Korra is trying to negotiate without leverage or a real plan. While it's good that Korra realizes punching isn't the solution to everything, she still needs a real strategist to back her up.... someone like Chief Beifong or Firelord Ozai.
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Nov 09, 2014
That's the thing that annoys me about Korra- she doesn't realize that. She still tries to solve everything with fists. She tries dialogue once, and then gives up and fights. It's one of the things that I loved about Aang- he really didn't want to fight. He would often go to great lengths to try to find some peaceful or clever alternative. I really think Korra is from the Earth part of the Avatar cycle... she's so thick and hardheaded.
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Nov 09, 2014
I have more confidence in Varrick and future Earth president Bolin at this point.
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Nov 07, 2014
2) She has presence, she's a natural leader, and for all the bad she's done, she has done good as well

3) Toph doesn't seem to be all that interested in Earth Kingdom/Empire affairs, else she would've already done something by now
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Nov 07, 2014
Well her family could have been murdered...pretty low of Toph to not care if she can help in any way.
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Nov 08, 2014
What makes you think she could get there in time? The whole battle took place over 2 days, and only during one of them was Suyin in any danger?
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Nov 14, 2014
And now Kuvira is going after the spirit tree. Toph will definitely have something to say about that!
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Nov 08, 2014
Toph could lay kuivar's army to dust in minutes. Getting there , thats a different thing .
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Nov 08, 2014
yeah true..i forgot it was only a few days.

OKAY. but still Toph has to get involved somehow.
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