The Legend of Korra: Enemy at the Gates
October 31, 2014 6:46 AM - Season 4, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Kuvira's army has arrived on the plains before Zaofu, the home of the Metal Clan, and the last remaining state not incorporated into Kuvira's Earth Empire. Korra with the Air Kids chooses to head to Zaofu as well, this time determined to try a new tactic that doesn't rely on violence to resolve the conflict. Varrick continues his experimentation with the spirit vines and Kuvira enlists Bolin to help convince Suyin that the Empire is a force for good. Meanwhile, back in Republic City, Asami meets with her father, Hiroshi Sato, still imprisoned for his support of Amon and the Equalists four years ago.

posted by Atreides (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Preconceptions fade in this episode of Korra. Varrick and Bolin finally realize that Kuvira is "crazy" while Asami decides to reevaluate how she see's her dad, who she's been actively hating for about four years now.

One thing that struck out to me is that we finally have a Korra who has come to appreciate the possibility of talking things out as a first step to resolving problems, instead of using blunt force. That this realization comes after Korra was left paralyzed and even after healing being at the mercy of even common thieves, is not surprising. Korra's view of the world was dramatically altered when she no longer was able to see it as someone with power, someone who could and did use their power to defeat enemies and overcome problems. Incidentally, talking things out was the former Avatar's, Aang's, very first step with force/violence as the last (See the Book 1 episode The Great Divide as Aang's determined position that people can talk things out).

Kuvira, however, at least portrays herself as wanting to talk things through with Zaofu. In this regard I am very suspicious, because she's savvy enough to know that bringing her army to Zaofu is big obvious Kyoshi Medal of Freedom to hang over the city. Did she really expect Bolin to convince Suyin to join the Empire willingly? Given everything we know about Kuvira, my real belief is that she wanted to simply portray herself outwardly as someone who tried the "peaceful" resolution and then had no other option than to attack. She plays this same role in front of Korra at the end of the episode, when she declares a 24 hour truce to allow time for negotiations, rather, Korra to convince Suyin instead of facing Zaofu's defeat.

The inner circle. Yes. So now we know that Bolin has not been privy to how things had been doing and how things were being done. Bolin has unfortunately been just a useful puppet for Kuvira and has been kept out of the real goings on with her unification of the Earth Kingdom. There were a couple of things about the scene when Kuvira, Baatar Jr, and Bolin meet with Suyin and her family. First, and this was pretty awesome writing/directing decision, the meeting took place in the room with the scale model of Zaofu. One party was on one side and the other party was on the other. The fate of Zaofu was up in the air and the city, albeit miniature, was literally between them. Then when Bolin was urged to bring both sides together, he walks between them before getting rebuffed by Opal. Opal could also be seen to represent the Metal Clan, indicating once again how Kuvira and everyone with her have been rejected by the Metal Clan. Not the least, also, the romantic problems were highlighted with Opal and Bolin, but I think it's safe to say it will be patched up when Opal realizes that Bolin is now on her side.

You also had the family division at the meeting. Avatar, The Last Airbender or Legend of Korra, is always super big on family or family-like units. When they're divided or fractured, nothing good comes of it, be it Zuko and his sister or Bolin and Mako. Here, we have a woman who was like a daughter to Suyin, and Suyin's son, in obvious opposition to the rest of the family. Again, split apart in the frame. It's incredible to see such venom from Bataar, Jr, for his family, and as a result of Kuvira "opening his eyes." Bataar, Jr, is a true believer in Kuvira, and heck, he's literally marrying himself to the message. You cannot get more believer than that. There's also the kind of sick element of incest, too, in that Kuvira was raised like a daughter by Suyin, so in a way, Bataar Jr and Kuvira are symbolic siblings, and their love is incestuous. Another reason to recognize what they believe and what they do in a negative light, their love is flouting societal expectations, and their actions have been flouting the expectations of the Metal Clan and the world at large.

What was great was Suyin immediately recognizing why poor Bolin had been dragged in. She saw through the ploy and more so, it's questionable if her anger was entirely about using Bolin as a mere puppet or if it was also dedicated to the realization of Kuvira playing her game of trying to be the "peaceful uniter who only resorts to violence when nothing else is left to do." Which, by the way, is another comparison to our current Avatar. We have already had Kuvira and Korra compared by Bolin in the Coronation, and now we have a good example of how they're now opposites of each other. Kuvira does not want to truly talk to resolve anything, but to rely on force. As a matter of theater, she pretends to do otherwise.

The talks fail. Bolin, back in Kuvira's tent, questions her about the things that Opal raised, slave/conscription labor, reeducation camps, etc., and our earth bender's loyalty is immediately questioned. In an ironic contrast, Kuvira is behaving as much like the former Earth Queen, despite claiming to dismiss monarchies. She's conscripting her people to serve her will, and instead of demanding taxes out of them, she's demanding minerals and other materiel useful for war. The only real difference is that the focus of these demands are not on the individual, but on a mission to "restore" the Earth Empier (or is it just Kuvira?). Bolin talks his way out of a trip to the newest form of Lake Laogai and runs off to find Varrick.

Varrick has erstwhile come to the same conclusion as Bolin, that Kuvira is CRAAAAAZY. We find him experimenting on the spirit vines, positing that it's full of untapped energy with which he can create batteries from, a new energy source. His attempt to do so results in an explosion in the form of a beam of spiritual energy, which sounded awfully like the beams of energy that were shot back and forth in the conclusion of Book 2 by Korra and Unavaatu in kaiju form. The explosion nearly knocked Zhu Li out of the back of the train, but Varrick saves her, pulling her up and out. She lands on top of them and for a minute, there's a moment, and Zhu Li uncharacteristically, and for the first time I think, addresses Varrick by his name, not sir. It's then that it comes apparent, and here's the hypothesis that will come up later, that Zhu Li serves Varrick and puts up with everything he does, because she's in love with him. For as much as she may have wanted him to kiss her or anything to reciprocate her own unstated feelings, it doesn't happen and Kuvira appears to demand that Varrick get back to work.

We are now informed that the spirit vines are a super weapon, but it's still unclear whether its just their energy source (since Kuvira wants Varrick back to doing what he was doing) or whether it will be an actual spirit energy weapon. Kuvira goes all Darth Vader on Varrick, lifting him up with the metal from his epaulets, choking him in mid-air over the moving train tracks. This ability, the use of the metal decoration of the uniforms, adds a much darker and twisted perspective on their inclusion on the uniform. It allows any metal bender, especially the Great Uniter, to have a blade at your neck at any time. How's that for convenience?

Thus, Bolin and Varrick are now of the same mind, they need to get out. We have an awesome battle of mechs, which exhibit a lot of the same weapons and abilities of the Sato Equalist Mechs from Book 1 with the addition of being able to actually fight hand to hand/foot to foot. Zhu Li reveals herself to be one of the top fighting assistants in all time by essentially fighting off two mechs at once, hampered only by her useless boss who can't even figure out how to work his own creation. Bolin goes against Baatar Jr,, but only starts succeeding when he leaves the mech suit to bend. I was convinced for a moment that Bolin had killed the two mech pilots with his use of the lava bending, but we had our GI Joe parachute moment. Nonetheless, the three are captured and brought back to Kuvira, with Bolin and Zhuli sentenced to the worse "re-education" camp and Varrick ordered back to his lab. Here is where my earlier hypothesis comes to play. Zhu Li turns on Varrick and begs forgiveness from Kuvira, claiming that she was done with Varrick, as he was no longer the most brilliant person in the world next to Kuvira and that she was a true believer in Kuvira's cause. She drops the a-bomb of flattery on Kuvira, a woman who's ego has been growing at a pace measurable by miles. It works. But what does Zhu Li really accomplish? She manages to remain close to Varrick. For all that she finally got to say, "Do that thing!" I sincerely believe that Zhu Li has not abandoned Varrick, but will continue to work to try and save him. I also think as a sign of Kuvira's hubris, she really believes that someone would say as much and mean it. She IS the Great Uniter, after all.

In our B-storyline, excellently dedicated to entirely to Asami, we see her decide to attempt reconciliation with her father. Not a lot that wasn't apparent, but the place she goes to think about what's going on in her world is the one place in Republic City where a giant statue of her best friend is situated. Asami went to Korra's park to reflect, which was nifty, and indicates that she might find a bit of solace or peace with Korra's presence, statute or no, nearby. I also appreciated that Hiroshi Sato, who had a bit of a belly in Book 1, was now leaner and definitely grayer after a number of years in prison. It's fantastic when animators take the time to draw a character again with consideration to things happening off screen. Going back to Asami, we have another example of someone choosing to move away from an extreme position and the opposite of what's going on with Suyin's family, the family members moving together. Ironically, the bridging element between Asami and her father is a game of strategy and conflict. In the message of balance, as explaiend by Toph previously, it's okay for Asami to be mad with her father, but perhaps it's not a position that she should take so far as to exclude him from her life. While this obviously isn't always the truest take on such familial situations in the real world, by doing so for Asami, she's helping to resolve the angry emotions that she has carried with her since she was betrayed by her father.

One thing I haven't touched on yet was Suyin's turning down of the request to save the Earth Kingdom. She really was the perfect person in the world to do so, as Tenzin and Raiko explained, given her abilities and her family name. I had the feeling that this really turned into a message that is often attributed to Edmund Burke that I now terribly paraphrase, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." In this instance, when Suyin rejected the request to do something, it opened the door for evil, in this manner, Kuvira, to triumph. Her inaction allowed Kuvira to build an army and conquer the Earth Kingdom, create reeducation camps, enslave/conscript citizens to mine, craft, etc. Had she taken the offer up, the world would have been far different than the one we now face.

A few asides, Bolin had some awesome quotes, be it not being suited for inner circleness to thinking the reeducation camps were just to teach people new trades. The animation was magnificent as usual with lots of small touches, such as things passing by a window on the train in the background as Varrick worked. The window could have simply left blue or white or static even, but Studio Mir decided to have something pass by. So nice. Of course the music rocked. Was I crazy or did the sound of people talking, when inside a metal room, actually echo as if someone was talking inside a barrel a little bit? The fighting style of the mechs was incredible, and kind of reminiscent of elemental bending, be it electricity, fire, cable for metal, and steam for water. The steam powered punches were just fantastic. The tents/buildings in the army camp, from above, looked a lot like yurts, the same tents that were used by the Mongols who conquered quite a bit of the known world.

Our first introduction to Zaofu and the Metal Clan came in episode 5 of Book 3, by the way, as a continuity thing. As much as the city was generally open like flower blossoms in Book 3, now the blossoms have closed up, the city literally has withdrawn in upon itself, and by Suyin's thinking, from the events going on in the Earth Kingdom. It's a populace under a dark sky (of their own invention) existing in the twilight of artificial stars.

I enjoyed this episode and it ended on an appropriate cliff hanger, which I think we all know will end up going badly. As usual, can't wait for next week!
posted by Atreides at 9:06 AM on October 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Great episode! I'm really looking forward to next week. I'm also pretty sure Zhu Li hasn't really turned her back on Varrick, but you never really know with this show. There's always surprises, which I appreciate.
posted by Arbac at 11:44 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Atreides covered most of the good stuff. I really hope Korra's lesson doesn't turn out to be "nah, you really should forget peace and just start punching!" but I have a little more faith in the writers than that.

Zhu Li is definitely playing the long game, but also, the best lies are close to the truth, and so I bet she meant a lot of what she said. She is still angling to get Varrick out. Though I hope the condition of helping him is "you make me a full partner and I never touch your nasty feet or sweep up anything again."

What is Suyin's plan? Kidnap Kuvira and hope the invasion won't proceed without her? The army is too large for sabotage by three people to be that effective. Though it would be nice to have the twins do their lethal-metal-disk thing.

Bolin wants so badly to believe that people are good. He should never be in charge of anything. Except maybe some puppies.

I wonder about Varrick's sudden attacks of "conscience." I honestly would have expected him to be more "gonna bail because I don't like taking orders/not enough partying on your Invasion Train." I am almost tempted to ascribe it to working with spirit vines...they are affecting his brain.

HOWEVER. Did anyone else notice the BRAAAANG sound the exploding vines made sounded a lot like Vaatu's blasting noise? And that the affected vines were that weird purpley evil-spirit color? Is he creating evil in the spirit vines? I am still somewhat doubtful that technology can do much to spirit entities; I can believe that evil intent/Vaatu might, though. But hey, could be wrong.

Nice use of technobabble with "Varreys". Better than unobtainium I suppose.

As predicted, we will get to see "reeducation camps" with Bolin. Thinking about imprisoning benders always runs up against the fact that such a thing is pretty damn difficult. They had to put the Red Lotus types in really specialized prisons, and even in AtLA, the earthbenders had to be put out to sea to keep them from bending. How can you have camps full of imprisoned benders without a lot of escapes? Hard to get away from earth.
posted by emjaybee at 11:52 AM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bolin wants so badly to believe that people are good. He should never be in charge of anything. Except maybe some puppies.

Can we get a show where him and Ikki run a puppy store or something to that design?

How can you have camps full of imprisoned benders without a lot of escapes? Hard to get away from earth.

You've pretty much nailed it. It's out to sea or so manacled and tied up, i.e., King Bumi, that they can't bend.

Nice use of technobabble with "Varreys". Better than unobtainium I suppose.

I had a preference for Zhu Li as a standard measurement of weight. Incidentally, aren't almost all the measurements we use with energy in science related to the person who studied them? I want to call that another clever application of a real world instance to an Avatar world instance, but Varrick has a thing about naming things after himself.

HOWEVER. Did anyone else notice the BRAAAANG sound the exploding vines made sounded a lot like Vaatu's blasting noise? And that the affected vines were that weird purpley evil-spirit color?

The vines were created by Vaatu/Unalaq with his spiritual energy during his attack. Perhaps they're all made up to a degree of that energy, which is the evilish spirit energy.

Zhu Li is definitely playing the long game, but also, the best lies are close to the truth, and so I bet she meant a lot of what she said. She is still angling to get Varrick out. Though I hope the condition of helping him is "you make me a full partner and I never touch your nasty feet or sweep up anything again."

I think you're hitting it dead on.
posted by Atreides at 1:18 PM on October 31, 2014

Atreides covered most of the good stuff.

I think next episode, I will literally get my own blog, as my "thoughts" are turning novelistic. Then stick to summations and what not and can link to it for those who are interested. Yuck, I don't realize how much I'm writing until I hit post and realize I need to scroll down the page to see it all. There's so many great minds watching and analyzing the show, I don't want to drown 'em out, I'm here for the conversation, not the soliloquy, darn it!
posted by Atreides at 1:22 PM on October 31, 2014

Atreides, I refuse to favourite that last comment because I look forward to your Korra take! You pick up on so much that watching it becomes richer for me, and I'm noticing the animation details too now. Thanks.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:11 PM on October 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Everyone else said pretty much what I wanted to say. Suyin's plan will likely fail and I'm hoping Thoughtful Korra sticks around a while longer before we get to the fighting.

On another note, I'm surprised that there's still been no mention of Republic City/the United Republic re: the Earth Empire, given that the republic is comprised of former Fire Nation colonies built on Earth Kingdom territory. I wouldn't be surprised if it was next on Kuvira's list after Zaofu, should she succeed there.
posted by supermassive at 5:30 PM on October 31, 2014

On another note, I'm surprised that there's still been no mention of Republic City/the United Republic re: the Earth Empire, given that the republic is comprised of former Fire Nation colonies built on Earth Kingdom territory. I wouldn't be surprised if it was next on Kuvira's list after Zaofu, should she succeed there.

I think the four part series finale will revolve around Kuvira's attempt to capture or take and keep Republic City. In every scene on the map of Earth Kingdom states, there's an empty spot where Republic City is located. In a way, there's been a large silent blinking arrow in the background of a number of episodes. So I think you're right on.
posted by Atreides at 5:33 PM on October 31, 2014

I do think it's kind of ridiculous that Kuvira can claim that the Earth Kingdom must be reunited because "it's falling into chaos" when the one place in the Earth Kingdom that wasn't in chaos was Zaofu. I wish someone had challenged her on that. There's no overarching geopolitical reason to incorporate Zaofu with the new Earth Empire: it's just a power-grab by Kuvira, based on personal history. Well, and the likely industrial center it represents.

The part that made me laugh the most was Varrick being unable to lift Zhu Li, and then her pulling him up through the hatch so easily. That was a nice smooth call-back.
posted by suelac at 9:51 PM on October 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

It always breaks my heart whenever Bolin discovers that the world isn't as nice and as awesome as he would like it to be.

Because to keep that optimism and innocence throughout everything you know they went through, living on the streets, working for gangsters, eating keep that with him, that's amazing. And whenever he loses a little of it, it's so sad, because he's been through so much, and still loves everything.

Dude, could you imagine what kind of hijinx Bolin and Prince Wu would get up to if Bolin stayed in Republic City? It would've been hilarious.

I was glad to see that Zhu Li's awesome mech fight of awesomeness wasn't against Bolin. I briefly worried about that when I saw the trailer. And I loved how Varrick can build the things, but can't control them - which is such a great tell for everything he invents (and what will probably happen with the spirit vines).

Asami and Hiroshi pretty much played out exactly as I thought it would, but it was very nice to see it actually happen - not completely left to the side and ignored except for fanfiction.

I think the next episode is going to break my heart a little, especially if it involves Bolin in the reeducation camp (which I don't think actually has many benders in it - I think it's everyone, and I bet that village leader from the first episode will be there).

Plus, to see Su so blindly angry at Kuvira and ready to lash out...she's right, she wouldn't have been a good leader for the Earth Kingdom. But not for the reasons she thought. She would have ended up just like Kuvira, joining all the villages together under her "better" way. It'd be all very patronising aristocracy that slowly turned more and more violent.

I don't know how they're going to wrap up all these loose ends before the season finishes. I am delighted that they're going to.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:16 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Because to keep that optimism and innocence throughout everything you know they went through, living on the streets, working for gangsters, eating keep that with him, that's amazing. And whenever he loses a little of it, it's so sad, because he's been through so much, and still loves everything.

That's a great and quite an unappreciated point about Bolin.
posted by Atreides at 8:34 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

Sneak peek for next episode is up. I kind of wish they'd wait longer to release these, because it's episode, sneak peek, then a looong 5 days to the next episode.

I still kind of am on Lin's side about Suyin. She has many fine qualities, but sucks at "what are the consequences of this action." She should have helped when she was asked. She probably should have realized that Kuvira felt frustrated and stifled (as did some other guards, apparently). Now she's probably going to get captured. Along with her adorable but somewhat lunky twin sons.

However, I might forgive all that if it means Toph shows up in Rescue Mode. I don't think we'll get her till further in the season, though.
posted by emjaybee at 1:51 PM on November 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The latest episode of Republic City Dispatch is up, and they also point out something about Bolin that I didn't think about.

Whenever he seems he's at his stupidest, it's because he's in an environment he's totally unprepared for. When he's siding with Varrick in Book 2, it's because he's suddenly thrust into mover fame after losing his pro bending team, and when he's siding with Kuvira in Book 4, it's because he's suddenly thrust into this military life after losing Team Avatar (and Pabu!).

Add in that he's reconnected with his extended family, as well as found a girl who has had everything in her life handed to her on a literal silver spoon, and that's a huge change for him. He's not sure where to step, he's not sure what to do, and if someone points at him and says "Do this," he's going to do it.

And then he's going to rationalise all of the things he sees going on, no matter how bad they are, because things can't really be that bad, not here. This isn't like the triads at Republic City. This isn't like the third circle of Ba Sing Se. This is supposed to be a better place, with better people, and it can't be as bad as people are saying.

I know people like to dismiss him as just comic relief, but there are layers, man. Lots of layers.

I have a lot of feelings about Bolin, okay? Someone has to.
posted by Katemonkey at 7:50 AM on November 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh man, I had been meaning to post a link to Makani's Tumblr, because she does Beifong Family Comics that are AMAZING, but mostly for this one, which features a Simpsons/Airbenders joke that is just brilliant.
posted by emjaybee at 5:28 PM on November 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by Katemonkey at 12:49 AM on November 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Su's sneak attack seems to be going well in the clip. I'm really hoping Korra isn't what goes wrong with it, but I think they may have set that up a bit in Episode 5.

Asami and Hiroshi: I'm also really glad they brought this back in. Not just for the concrete emtional notes -- though as someone who only recently has learned to appreciate the depth of everything my flawed but good parents gave me, that's a high point of the episode for me. But I'm also excited about the possibility that the show can cover new territory here. Bad parenting is already well-trodden ground in the world of Avatar, and while we often have human antagonists, we don't often have redeemable ones. A rehabbed Hiroshi would be a good counterpoint to an incorrigible Ozai... and an indication of balance.

And if they're going where I think they might go with spirit vines (or even just an earth kingdom industrialized army), Hiroshi's genius will be in demand. Which would offer an opportunity to watch him confront how the power he's wielded (and hoped to use to supersede bending) has as much potential for abuse and destruction as anything else, maybe more.

I don't, however, really trust him yet at this point. Or the writers. :)
posted by weston at 7:47 AM on November 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm glad Korra is less confrontational now than before but at the same time it's at a awkward timing esp since Kuvira is in the progress of building up her own army. I thought it was a hypocritical for Suyin to ask her to fight Kuvira in the avatar state then and now because she just came back from her recovery.

Not totally sure where Suyin is going with her surprise attack because it's much too risky with few benefits in the long run. If anything it adds yet another unpredictable issue for Korra to deal with because now she's worried about them too.

I can't be the only person who thought Bolin was a hostage to make sure Korra had her friends didn't do anything too rash. Yes, lava bending is quite useful but even from the start he seemed uncertain from his fights w/his brother.

There is some underlying tension within Suyin's family despite living well in Zaofu and how the siblings seemed to be getting along well from their first meeting. It'd make sense esp. if one's parents were extremely successful then it's awkward to be always in their shadow per se.

Then again, should've Suyin became the person to unite the Earth Kingdom? I can't say because no matter how much it sounds rational if she rejected the offer then we'll never know what could have been.

I never got a good sense of Varrick's character other than genius inventor but sometimes too obsessive for his own. I did wonder why Zhu Li followed him because she is a very capable person herself. I thought it was her job or similar to how Mako is a bodyguard.

I'm ambivalent towards Bolin because yes, he has more characterization now than in the past he doesn't exactly show much personal effort? He's involved in some serious matters but at the same time I get a sense he's not thinking everything through.

One of the issues I've noticed from siblings in series is how the audience is used to them interacting w/each other all the time. They balance each other out but as soon as there is a part where they separate you notice they are a lesser presence apart than together.

I liked the short scenes between Asami and her father at the prison because I did wonder what happened to him after the previous Books. One of the reasons I liked about A:tLA is how the idea of family is never one concept. Not all families are great, happy, sometimes parents made mistakes and there is no right answer how to deal with their past.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:40 PM on November 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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