We’re halfway through the first season, and it looks like it’s going to be a turning point; as Tenzin says, “Republic City is at war.” Though the Equalist attack on the stadium is a big deal, the introduction of the electric gloves might be more significant, as they serve the same function as guns on a network that can’t show guns. And historically, the introduction of guns into a society is usually followed or accompanied by huge societal changes. Talking about the gloves, which can be hidden in a bag of popcorn and take out multiple cops, Amon says that “now, anyone can hold the power of a chi-blocker in their hand.” Affordable, concealable, multi-shot guns like the Colt .45 revolver were known as the “great equalizers” of the 19th-century American West, technology that evened out the advantages of those lucky enough to be born with physical strength. I’d bet that even the name “Equalists” is a reference to this by the writers.
The better the Equalists do, the longer Amon’s speeches get, and the more he talks, the less sympathetic he is. His demand that the city shut down the stadium echoed another flamboyant, melodramatic quasi-villain, the Phantom Of The Opera, to the point where I expected him to shriek “A disaster beyond your imagination will occur!” Amon’s earlier, vaguer points about benders treating non-benders as an underclass made sense, but “Cleanse them of their impurities” crosses into “that’s what a cult says” territory. While listening to him ramble at the stadium, I kept thinking of him as the anti-John Galt; they probably wouldn’t get along philosophically, but could bond over their love of long, droning, self-righteous radio speeches.
Another big change at the halfway mark is the end of pro-bending, at least for the first season—the tournament’s over and the court’s blown up. Mako and Bolin aren’t going to get that prize money, so they’re going to have to go find non-superstar jobs somewhere or other. Pro-bending was fun while it lasted; I enjoyed piecing together the rules and strategies, like in this episode as the Wolfbats demonstrated multiple types of fouls like hosing, ice, head shots, messing with opponents’ earthbending discs, and putting rock bits into water. (Speaking of fouls, who do you think paid off the ref? The Wolfbats would be the obvious choice, but Amon’s whole speech seemed predicated on the winning team looking like dicks.) I’ll miss pro-bending, but its absence will free up a lot of space for the main storyline.
Korra’s gleeful facial expressions as she put two and two together about Tenzin and Chief Beifong were practically trolling the audience—she’s just so pleased with herself! Still: everyone who called Tenzin-Lin last week, pat yourself on the back. Korra and Tenzin’s relationship remains one of the sweetest things on the show; he has to catch himself in the middle of a strings-scored gut-spilling about his breakup with Beifong, and Korra can tease him about being Mr. Heartbreaker.
It was nice to see more of Chief Beifong in this episode, from her gavel-smashing entrance to how fond she was of Tenzin’s “sweet-tempered father” to her badass demonstration of metalbending in the rooftop fight. It seemed like Tarrlok was deliberately setting her up to fail with that “you’ll take personal responsibility for the safety of the spectators?” thing, though, and he’s definitely not going to let that slide. I’d guess that the council is going to appoint someone to replace her next episode. (By the way, does Tarrlok have scandalous photos of the three elderly council members or what? What a bunch of pushovers.) Tarrlok’s still being animated and voiced in ways that suggest he is not to be trusted, but it’s unclear whether he was maneuvering to grab more executive power via getting control of the police force or whether there's something bigger going on.
So where are we at the halfway point of the first season? I’ve been kind of baffled by comments complaining that the characters of Korra aren’t as well-developed as the ones in the original series, so I decided to revisit the first half-dozen episodes of A:TLA. (Hey, remember Haru?) Most of my favorite episodes of the original are in the second and third seasons, and I hadn’t really revisited the first aside from “The Blue Spirit” and “The Siege Of The North.” So when I went back, it was almost jarring how juvenile those early episodes feel in comparison to later ones, and to Korra. The characters are eerily reminiscent of their caricatures in the Ember Island Players: Sokka is hungry, Katara is naïve, Aang is an incurable prankster who does that goofy laugh a lot (like, a lot), Zuko shouts at his uncle and has a doofus ponytail. Objectively, the first half-season of Korra is much farther along than the original series was at this point in terms of production value, story, character development, and other things grown-ups value in their Saturday morning cartoons.
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- One thing I’m not a fan of is how poorly some of the 3D computer-animated models mesh with the hand-done backgrounds and animation—they stick out like they’re from a different dimension. The Satomobiles have been the culprits in previous episodes; here, it was some of the shots of the pro-bending arena.
- Amon doesn’t wear electrogloves, and has really pale hands.
- The only reference to the previous episode’s romantic drama is Korra’s disgust at Mako and Asami blowing each other kisses. Which is, objectively, pretty disgusting.
- The tiebreaker between Tahno and Korra was excellent, from the brusque delivery on “Let’s go—you and me, pretty boy” to the instant replay of Korra’s jab-uppercut move.
- The slo-mo shot of Equalist agents in the crowd pulling up their masks was so nice I watched it twice. Ditto Amon rising up behind the Wolfbats as they’re watching electricity crackling out in the stands. (Half-wanted Amon and Tahno to start sharing tips on making a high-drama entrance. Have you considered a wolfbat cape? Have you considered rising up from below on a platform?)
- The announcer’s play-by-play of getting electrocuted was great! Poor announcer!
- The Wolfbats were dicks, but it was pretty cold how they got dumped into the water semi-conscious.
- I loved the inventive fight choreography on the roof. We get metalbending, a demonstration of how much Korra’s improved against chi-blockers, the factor of the slowly breaking glass, and the utterly awesome POV shot of the lieutenant getting straight elbowed in the face. (As in Korra’s fight with the big guy at the rally in “The Revelation,” the turning point was a physical move.) Plus, it’s made very clear how much of a natural advantage Aang had in being able to fly.
- Did nobody notice a giant dirigible rolling up to the stadium?
- In the second flashback, we see a bit more of the courtroom scene—there’s a new sideburns-wearing, lawyer-looking guy with a weaselface, and we see grown-up Aang pulling an Avatar state in the middle of the city. That last flash, where you see the light in his eyes and arrow turning off, seems significant.
- Last, if anyone wants to hear what my voice sounds like, I’m going to be guesting on podcast Republic City Dispatch this Sunday — I’m not going to say I was convinced entirely by their animated gif illustration of a throwaway joke in my first review, but it didn’t hurt.