“This is the worst day ever!” – Bolin
In “The Enemy Within,” Korra finally comes face-to-face with Zaheer and the Bad Benders, but she’ll never actually confront the true villains of this season: Nickelodeon. This season has been a complete shit show on the distribution level, and after series-low ratings, the network has pulled the five remaining episodes from its schedule and will be airing them online starting on August 1. That’s why we only have one episode tonight rather than the now-customary double header, and while it’s another exceptional chapter, this week’s news makes it a bittersweet installment of the series.
The low ratings are certainly not due to a dip in the show’s quality—The Legend Of Korra has been better than ever in Book Three—but are instead attributable to Nickelodeon’s handling of the season after unforeseen developments like the leak of episodes three through six by the network’s Mexican affiliate MundoNick. This leak forced the network to rush the new season on the air, announcing the season premiere a measly week before it debuted, and bunching episodes together to burn through the leaked chapters.
Giving the promotional team a week to build word of mouth rather than the usual publicity rollout, which would have likely climaxed during this week’s Comic-Con International, meant that a huge part of the Korra fanbase didn’t even know the show was coming back, so it was no surprise that the season premiere garnered such low ratings. Nickelodeon’s refusal to stream episodes online also severely hurt the show, which airs on Friday nights, when most of its teenage and adult viewers have other things scheduled.
All of these distribution fuck-ups could potentially spell the end of The Legend Of Korra, which is just incredibly depressing considering how great this season has been. You could place the blame on whoever leaked those episodes, but we live in a digital world where leaks happen all the time. They’re extremely frustrating for the people working on the leaked products and those responsible for marketing, but leaks shouldn’t necessitate a complete upheaval of the promotion and distribution.
Enough of the fan base is ignorant of leaks (or uninterested in them) to keep original plans moving with maybe some slight alterations, and I can’t help but think that The Legend Of Korra’s future would be safe if Nickelodeon went through with their initial Book Three strategy. The creative team and the network should have expressed their disappointment publicly, buckled down on security of the rest of the episodes, and proceeded as they initially intended, using the leaked episodes as a way of garnering interest for the rest of the season.
All of the leaks were great episodes, so why not just let them float out in the ether and build confidence that Book Three would be a better story than what preceded it. People may not have context for the leaked episodes, but maybe that would have brought more viewers to the season premiere. I know there’s no use in arguing hypotheticals, but there’s no denying the fact that the only reason this season hasn’t met up to expectations is because Nickelodeon completely screwed it over. It’s definitely not because the creative team hasn’t been putting in the effort, and “The Enemy Within” showcases all the strengths of this season for another exciting chapter.
So let’s talk about “The Enemy Within,” which finally has Korra meeting Zaheer and the Bad Benders, and she can’t even lift a finger to fight them. The episode jumps into the big showdown rather quickly, devoting a bit of time at the start of the episode to Korra and Bolin’s metalbending training and Opal’s departure for the Northern Air Temple, and when the action breaks out, it is spectacular.
After Bolin catches sight of a drugged and paralyzed Korra being carried off, he wakes Mako and they leap into action, rapidly joined by the Beifong clan and the Zaofu police. Surrounded on all sides, Ghazan the lavabender creates a giant moat of lava around the Bad Benders and Korra, keeping them protected until Zaheer finds a way to get Korra out of there. What Ghazan doesn’t anticipate is the ingenuity of Su Beifong, who realizes that they can cable in from the top of the metal dome and rescue Korra. They just need Bolin to knock out combustion-bender P’li so that she can’t blow them up as they descend.
Directed by Colin Heck, this episode features beautifully choreographed action, and there’s a very legitimate dance element in the big fight sequence. As we saw in Suyin’s introductory scene, she’s a metalbending dancer and choreographer, and the aerial skills she’s honed in performance are a huge boon when she’s in battle. P’Li hasn’t been knocked out when Su and Lin dive down, and Heck creates a lot of suspense as he switches into slow motion to show Bolin earthbending the tiny pebble that leads to Korra’s rescue.
I haven’t spent much time talking about the music this season, but it’s been consistently excellent, working to define the settings and moods of each scene. Folding in jazzier music helps bring this show into the 20th century—along with the changes in architecture, clothing, and technology—and the score during Opal’s farewell helps set a relaxed, celebratory mood with smooth horns in the background. The music is especially atmospheric during Korra’s abduction, which is underscored by tense strings that create the feeling that Zaofu is a powder keg about to explode. And it does when Bolin’s sees the Bad Benders running off with Korra, inciting him and Mako to action as the music swells.
Those anxious strings return once the battle settles, indicating that the good guys don’t have the upper hand yet. The music isn’t triumphant, it’s uncertain and lingering, waiting to see which side will emerge as the victor. And it never decides. The score becomes more intense as Zaheer goes after Su, Lin, and Korra, but it never builds to a melody indicating a win. The music simply dissipates when the Bad Benders disappear, indicating that this war is far from over.
After spending most of his time in the background last week, Mako proves his value to Team Avatar when he slips into detective mode and uncovers the mole that helped the Bad Benders infiltrate Zaofu. This season has really shown an understanding of the characters’ individual strengths, and using Mako as a stern, but capable foil to Bolin’s lovable goofball is when he’s most captivating. Mako’s also become a very skilled detective, looking at mysteries from different angles to find true answers, so when an 18-year-old soldier is named the traitor by Suyin’s right hand man and truthseer Aiwei, Mako does the math and realizes something isn’t right here.
The soldier would have been 5 when Zaheer and his partners went to prison, so it doesn’t make sense that he would be in contact with the criminals. Mako predicts that Aiwei is responsible, and Varrick agrees, appearing out of nowhere to say that the evidence is a bit too overwhelming. That leads to this hilarious exchange:
Varrick: Look, if I was trying to set someone up, I would tell everyone he’s guilty, then plant the evidence in his apartment as proof.
Mako: Oh. So you mean exactly what you did to me?
Varrick: Yes! Just like that! Remember how great that worked? Well, not for you! (Chuckles.)
I thought Varrick was a fun creation last season, but I didn’t love him the way I do this season. He’s used sparingly but remarkably well as comic relief, another example of Book Three’s writers discovering just the right place for each character in the narrative. His words give Team Avatar the motivation to break into Aiwei’s home, where they discover a secret passageway that all but confirms their suspicions. Then Aiwei shows up to actually confirm their suspicions. Once he realizes he’s been found out, Aiwei warns, “You have no idea what is coming for you, Avatar,” then puts up a metal wall as he escapes. When Korra goes after him, she sets off a bomb that completely destroys Aiwei’s home, his escape route, and any evidence that would be of help to Team Avatar.
After the huge battle in the first half, it would be expected that the episode would see a dip in intensity in the second half, but it just takes a different form as the story switches into a suspenseful mystery. The sequence in Aiwei’s home is brimming with tension as everyone talks around what they actually want to say, and that sense of restraint makes the bomb hit with shocking impact. Korra puts up an air bubble that protects them all from the flames, but the surprise of that moment creates a very dangerous atmosphere where anything is possible. And it’s only going to get riskier as Team Avatar heads out of Zaofu to bring Aiwei back to Suyin.
Television needs shows like The Legend Of Korra. To start, it has one of the most well defined casts of females in children’s television, and they’re featured in stories that appeal to an audience far larger than the advertisers’ target. Both Avatar and Korra tackle real political, philosophical, and personal issues in ways that make the lessons accessible and enjoyable for a huge range of viewers, and it would be a true shame to lose this series because of mishandling by the network. Having seen the next episode (which was originally supposed to air tonight), I can say that this season is even more ambitious than we initially presumed, and while we’re past the halfway point of this season, the storyline of Zaheer and the Bad Benders is building to something that can’t be contained in just five more episodes. The writers are playing the long game here, and they shouldn’t be rained out when they’re performing this well.
- No matter what happens to the future of Korra, I will be here to cover the remaining episodes of this season. You can’t make me leave, Nickelodeon!
- The landscape shot of Zaofu closing its metal shell during sunset is so gorgeous. I love the contrast of natural oranges and purples with the city’s metallic tones.
- P.J. Byrne is amazing with all the comic material he’s handed, but he can also deliver one hell of a dramatic reading. I got chills when Bolin sees Korra being taken away and yells, “THEY’VE GOT KORRA!” You can really hear how much Bolin cares for her in Byrne’s performance, and you also get a sense that he’s about to go ballistic on someone’s ass.
- Aiwei prepares tea for Team Avatar and none of them drink it because they are all smart.
I’m very pleased to see that the Beifong sisters’ relationship isn’t completely patched. Lin thinks that Su might be the traitor that sold out Korra, and Su lies to her sister so that she can send Korra away to bring Aiwei back to Zaofu for punishment.
- “Every time I eat raw kale, I’m gonna think of you.”
- “Until then, we’ll always have kale.”
- “No way! That guy’s lavabending! That’s awesome—ly not good for us.”
- “What was I doing last night? Same thing I always do: From 9-10, I checked my body for ticks. Lyme disease is a serious killer. Then I did my nightly Varrick calisthenics followed by 30 minutes of breath holding. I filmed the whole thing if you want to watch it.”
- “That lava bender did a lot of damage, but he makes a nice exfoliating rock, and when you’ve got calluses like mine, you take all the pumice stones you can get your hands on. Or in my case…FEET!”
- “We actually knocked on your front door, and we thought we heard you say, ‘Come iiiiin! I’m in the baaathrooom!’ I don’t even know why I’m saying that. You know I’m lying. And you don’t even sound like that.”