A big scheduling note to get things started: Nickelodeon is going to air Book 3 at the pace of two episodes per week, with no more interruptions scheduled... which means that come August 8, we're all done. It also means twice as much Korra each week, and given the quality of the first five episodes, I have no complains about that. While I don't think Nickelodeon is trying to burn through the season in the same way that broadcast networks use the summer to burn off episodes of shows they yanked in the fall/spring but are contractually obligated air, it does seem like Nick is rushing through Book 3 as a means of damage control for the leaked episodes while also trying to avoid any more issues with its schedule come the fall. I mean, I'm sure there'll be answers at Comic-Con (maybe), but by then we'll be on Episodes 8 and 9, and will it really matter at that point?
In any case, I'm going to stick to the format I used in my review of the season's first three episodes, which means some bigger-picture thoughts on the story and season so far, followed by shorter reviews of each new episode. So here we go!
The big thing to pick up from our discussion of the premiere is that Legend of Korra Book 3 is operating pretty firmly in an Avatar: The Last Airbender territory. Portentous talk of bender oppression and the divide between the spiritual and the secular/physical is completely absent. The show even ignored the potentially sticky point that Korra and Tenzin's attempts to recruit Air Nomads was only a few goofily executed steps removed from what the Earth Queen was doing by abducting Airbenders in Ba Sing Se. I thought Bumi was going to mention it, but he only chimed in that the Earth Queen was actually within her legal rights to conscript Airbenders, even if she was using her secret police force to do it.
Instead, these two episodes were action- and adventure-focused in the case of "In Harm's Way," and then character-focused in "The Metal Clan." I don't mean to suggest that Korra hasn't done this sort of thing before—a pair of episodes from Book 1, "The Spirit of Competition" (character stuff) and "And the Winner Is..." (huge action stuff), comes to mind—but the backdrop for earlier episodes was drastically different than the backdrop for these episodes. Sure, TLA had a war going on, but the show was willing and happy to let that focus drift sometimes with episodes like "The Fortuneteller" and "The Cave of Two Lovers."
Book 3 of Korra features a significantly more optimistic big plot than anything that Korra or TLA has done before—new airbenders!—and the only real danger is a quartet of super-powerful bending criminals with a mysterious agenda regarding Korra. Of course, there's the new matter of a bellicose Earth Queen, but I suspect that will simmer in the background for a bit, should it resurface at all. I'm not trying to diminish Book 3 in any way, as the execution so far has been spot-on, but rather to highlight the general levity that Korra wasn't so prone to in Books 1 and 2. Book 3 is just more... fun.
"In Harm's Way"
There was nothing particularly notable about "In Harm's Way." It was a well-done episode, if a touch rushed—"Hey guys! Passports to the upper ring!" Annnnd scene—and it continued the stroll down memory lane in Ba Sing Se. We visited Lake Laogai and its now-flooded secret bunker, rescued a team member from another Dai Li secret bunker, and then fought our way out of the city as rocks were thrown at us. I enjoyed the brief hallway fight with the Dai Li and Jinora, Kai, Mako, and Bolin, even if it did result in Jinora getting grabbed and needing to be saved (bah to that). On the whole, it was a flat, if consistent episode.
The one flag is that all the freed airbenders were more than happy to head up to the Northern Air Temple with Tenzin, and with nary a complaint from the lot about leaving behind their families or responsibilities. Sure, they're grateful to get away from the Earth Queen and the Dai Li, but this grateful? I look forward to mumblings from the new recruits once we visit them up north. It would certainly be intriguing, especially given @RaizenYusuke's take on Tenzin's attempt to restore the Air Nomads, but I'm not entirely sure how interested this less serious Korra may be in exploring the idea of a culture having to get with the times, at least in any meaningful way.
At P'Li's icy prison, the combined mights of Tonraq, Desna, Eska, Zuko, and Zuko's dragon were no match for the bending super-criminals, and they managed to free P'Li (Kristy Wu) without any real trouble. Thanks to Lin's arrival in Ba Sing Se, Korra has been informed that these criminals are after her, but she's not really all that concerned (never change, Korra!). The big news is that these four went after Korra shortly after she was identified as the Avatar, but no one knows why. Their attempt to snag Korra is what resulted in Korra being trained in isolation, and under the care of the White Lotus, which is actually kind of interesting, but it'll be more interesting once we find out what Zaheer and his gang's plan is.
"The Metal Clan"
My love for Lin Beifong, shockingly, did not take a hit in "The Metal Clan," and it probably should have. Lin's abrasiveness was cranked up to eleven as she and the rest of Team Avatar arrived in Zaofu, a city populated mostly by metalbenders and founded by Lin's estranged-for-many-decades half-sister, Su (Anne Heche). So even while Lin was being incredibly rude and cruel not only to Su, but to Opal (Alyson Stoner), I appreciated the fact that Korra is developing Lin and digging around the root of what makes Lin Lin. That the series is using the same approach it employed to develop Tenzin during Book 2 by putting him in conflict with Kaya and Bumi shows that even during the concurrent production processes of Books 2, 3, and 4, the producers and writers zeroed in on an excellent way to ensure that Korra's adult characters aren't neglected in favor of their younger counterparts, and in a way that serves to fill some narrative gaps that fans might be interested in.
And speaking of developing the younger counterparts, when did Bolin become the show's MVP? After Book 2's really ridiculous Bolin stuff, I thought for sure that Korra had lost track of Bolin's voice, but he's back in a very big way so far, and "The Metal Clan" really emphasized that. From his excitement at potentially meeting Toph to his critiques of metalbended art, Bolin's finding a nice groove, as is the animation for him—which is super-expressive, as befits the show's most outgoing character. His flirtations with Opal reminded me a lot of his earlier attempts with Korra, but both Opal and the show seem to have realized that letting Bolin be Bolin (and not a complete idiot) is the best way to go.
Su's city had that utopian, "everything's way too good here, the people are all very talented, and there are no secrets" vibe that had me waiting for a very heavy shoe to drop, but that shoe never fell. It's literally a shining city upon a... well, valley. I dug the Art Deco aesthetics that still allowed room for nature; the city's zones close up like flowers at night, likely making them impossible to lay siege against. I'm still sort of waiting for the shoe as I'm naturally suspicious of such cities, but we'll see how things develop.
And just to give the episode an action sequence, Zaheer infiltrated Airbender Island at Republic City in an effort to join up with the Air Nomads and gain access to Korra. While I enjoyed his battle with Kaya (air and water isn't a match-up we've seen much of), I'm just fascinated by Zaheer right now. He's apparently well-studied in Air Nomad culture, and while they're labeled criminals by everyone else, the group's reasons for wanting to abduct Korra when she was a child remain a mystery to both us and the other characters.
– This is one of those complaints that makes me sound super-spoiled, but I have to tell you all that I really miss Joaquim Dos Santos's directing. These episodes certainly weren't poorly directed, it's just that Dos Santos's particular aesthetic is so good that most anything else pales in comparison.
– The White Lotus members are a bunch of friggin' wimps who wouldn't've been able to protect Korra at all if those four criminals had not been in their respective prisons. Seriously. They're useless.
– "I thought I would never see you again." "I never doubted." [P'Li and Zaheer kiss] "Really? Right now?" Glad to know even the criminals have themselves a snarker in Ghazan.
– Korra's descriptions of the Earth Queen include "queen-y smirk" and "Miss Queen-y Smugface."
– Toph, a blind, badass warrior, is wandering the planet in search of enlightenment. 'Nuff said.
– Theories on who the fathers of Lin and Su are? Anyone we know?
– Pea tendrils sound delicious.
– I made a very loud noise of disgust upon Varrick's arrival and the realization that seemingly everyone but Beifong was fairly cool with the fact that he wasn't in prison. War profiteering? No big deal! Attempting to kidnap the president of Republic City? Who cares?! That's just crazy Varrick for you! Yuck.
– I'm sort of scratching my head at the skill disparities between some of the new airbenders. Some seem like naturals, with very little in the way of training, and others not so much. Unless the Dai Li are just very good at training airbenders?
What did you think of "In Harm's Way" and "The Metal Clan"?
AIRED ON 12/19/2014
Season 3 : Episode 13