In the eighth episode of the first season of The Legend of Korra, Team Avatar realizes they’ve got another antagonist to contend with in Republic City. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The Legend of Korra.
Well, this is already entirely messed up.
I have been saying that I wished this show would address the fact that non-benders in Republic City are being treated poorly, and OH BOY, DID THIS EPISODE DELIVER. Not only is this very idea addressed, but the writers introduce a second villain. LIKE, IF THINGS WEREN’T FUCKED UP ENOUGH, HERE YOU GO. DEAL WITH TARRLOK, TOO.
Goddamn, this is intense.
I love the title of this episode. “When Extremes Meet.” This whole time, the story has been focused on Amon’s extremism. What I’ve wanted to see was an examination of his claims of non-bender oppression. Everything I’d witnessed in Republic City concerning non-bender citizens seemed to be true, and I wanted to know how the benders would deal with this reality. Would they be able to analyze their own privilege in this regard and admit that they are treating non-benders as inferior citizens, intentionally or not? But Amon’s actions, especially in “And The Winner Is…” distracted everyone from that process. Understandably so! He blew up the Pro-Bending Arena, stole the bending of the Wolf Bats in front of thousands of fans, nearly had Lin and Korra killed, and did all of this with the promise that he wasn’t going to stop. So there’s a part of me (and it’s a very, very, very small one) that understands Tarrlok’s fear. Benders are being targeted by a violent force. Naturally, Tarrlok wants to protect himself and other benders. But my sympathy for him ends once he starts to manipulate those around him for more power and when he further oppresses non-benders.
But before things get all super serious here, I did want to comment on how much I enjoyed that the writers spent time in the beginning of the episode purely on character development. It was nice to see Asami, Bolin, and Mako move to Air Temple Island. Any chance I get to see more of Tenzin and Pema’s children is lovely as well! Oh god, Meelo, YOU ARE MY EVERYTHING. And there’s really no reason for any of this to be shown onscreen except to further build the dynamic of the family on Air Temple Island. Because I’ve been immersed in Buffy and Angel here on Mark Watches lately, I can’t help but love that another show is giving us a family like this. You don’t have to be related by blood to be together like these characters are. Tenzin and his family open their home to Korra’s friends simply because they are Korra’s friends. I JUST LOVE IT SO MUCH, OKAY?
Also, holy shit, Ikki let the cat out of the bag. WELL, ASAMI KNOWS NOW. THAT’S NOT TOTALLY AWKWARD, RIGHT?
Lots of this episode is awkward, though. The reveal that Tarrlok himself is going to basically control the Metalbending Police is pretty horrific. They guy just has to weasel his way into everything, doesn’t he? But as irritating as he was in the past, his actions pale in comparison to what he does in “When Extremes Meet.” The first time that I got the sense that he was way more disturbing than what we’d seen was during Korra’s confrontation with him. He seemed to be taking Korra’s rejection rather calmly, and then he goes straight for the low blow by insulting her status as the Avatar. He knew exactly how to trigger feelings of inadequacy in her, and it frightened me. He was demonstrating power here, and that’s what comes up later. He feels invincible. God, that’s so scary to me! And you can easily view this in terms of privilege, too. Tarrlok knows that he’s got all the societal power of a bender, and he knows that what he’s doing caters to the fears of other benders. It’s why he’s so blatant about being awful to non-benders. Granted, we won’t see this until a later scene, but Tarrlok knows that he can simply ignore all criticism of benders because he has the luxury of that sort of privilege. And honestly, that’s one of the most pervasive elements of privilege: people have the ability to ignore things that don’t affect them.
So Korra is disillusioned and hurt by Tarrlok’s words. After seven episodes, she still hasn’t been able to bend air once. Even if she has larger battles to fight, it still gets her down that she hasn’t progressed in her training. It’s clear that the path she needs to take involves visiting her past lives, and I was TOTALLY SHOCKED that I did not pick up on the fact that her visions of Aang, Toph, and Sokka were probably some sort of spiritual message. It’s so obvious now that I think about it! So I think that Korra won’t be able to airbend until she finds a way to become more spiritual. Obviously, that’s easier said than done for Korra. She’s not exactly the spiritual type.
But at the very least, she has her friends. They may not be able to help her enter the Spirit World, but they can at least support her. Again, I love this theme popping up in my fiction. It’s one of my favorite tropes, unabashedly so! In this case, Korra’s friends offer their moral support, and then they form TEAM AVATAR. (Sorry, I couldn’t help but think of Captain Planet again when they all assembled to take on the Equalists. I CAN’T GET IT OUT OF MY BRAIN.) Team Avatar are brilliant crime fighters who easily upstage Tarrlok in like ten minutes. It really does highlight Tarrlok’s inefficiency. Just because he has power doesn’t mean he knows how to use it. And choosing to ignore Tenzin and Korra on the issue of non-benders and the Equalists puts them at odds with him instead of finding a way to compromise and make things work for all parties. See, I might believe that he wants to protect benders if he wasn’t so goddamn self-serving all the time. Korra helped him out! Swallow your pride, dude, and STOP BEING A DICK.
Except Tarrlok can’t. Seriously, the law he passes against benders is SEVERELY FUCKED UP. Now, the politics of this episode aren’t exactly subtle, but I’m okay with that. This show aired on Nickelodeon and kids saw it and it’s a perfectly fine way to represent the injustice of extremism. I imagine that there are plenty of real-world comparisons each of you could make to what Tarrlok does here. I couldn’t help but think of that wretched Patriot Act after 9/11 here in America. It was political overkill, and it fits the metaphor created here. Tarrlok punishes and oppresses an entire group of people (who are already marginalized in Republic City!) in order to make the majority feel safe. LIKE FOR REAL, YOU ARE PROVING AMON RIGHT AND MOTIVATING NON-BENDERS TO HATE YOU. Whyyyyyyyyy won’t you listen to Tenzin??? This whole time, he’s been telling you that you are alienating non-benders. WHAT A FUCKING DISASTER.
But watching Tarrlok physically oppress the non-benders was just awful. Like, okay, as someone who was very publicly the victim of police brutality, I admit that it was kind of hard to watch Tarrlok use the police force in such an abusive way. And this is a goddamn cartoon for young folks!!!!! Obviously, I’ve learned in my time doing Mark Does Stuff that some of the most profound and evocative storytelling comes from YA fiction, so it’s not that I expected The Legend of Korra to be a safe thing to watch. It’s just that it’s done so well. Tarrlock upsets the non-benders by taking their electricity away, and once they respond in any way that can be dismissed as “violent,” the police respond by arresting the protestors. My god, IT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. I was happy, then, that Korra didn’t hesitate to align herself with the non-benders. What Tarrlok is doing is absolutely wrong! And then Korra finds out just how helpless she is when up against Tarrlok’s brand of power. With the institutional support of the police force, Korra can’t fight a battle solely with strength anymore. Sure, she probably could take down Tarrlok and all the policemen, but how is that going to look? The Avatar destroys the one group who publicly have allied themselves with the benders?
Even Tenzin is frustrated with this mess. There’s a wall of bureaucracy keeping Asami, Mako, and Bolin in prison, and neither Chief Saikhan nor Tarrlok really care. That’s the whole point. They can ignore anyone they want. That’s the power they have. They can give folks (even those as powerful as Tenzin) a million of bullshit excuses, they can stall, they can delay, and they can keep “suspected” Equalists imprisoned indefinitely. Oh, Saikhan really is the worst police chief ever.
Despite that things were rather fucked up at this point, I don’t think there’s a single thing that could have prepared me for Korra’s big fight with Tarrlok. It’s scary to me that while Tarrlok is pursuing power, it seems that he genuinely thinks he is doing good. Why else would he get so upset at Korra’s claim that his actions are just like Amon’s? Something about that statement sets him off, and I think it’s because he truly believes that he is nothing like Amon. And then he goes to prove Korra right by attacking her, bending water so that it causes her to bleed. Just when this fight seems like it’s going Korra’s way, I am completely sidelined by what Tarrlok does.
He bends Korra’s blood.
It’s an unbelievable scene, and I mean that literally. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I couldn’t believe how brutal this was. I couldn’t believe how bleak this show had gotten AND IN THE VERY FIRST SCENE. But then Korra gets more flashback’s to Aang’s past, and I can tell that Sokka and Toph are being bloodbended by someone, as well as other people in a courtroom, but what the fuck does this have to do with anything? Why does Korra keep having these visions? What’s their relevance?
I don’t find out. My god, Tarrlok beat Korra, and he has her taken away from Republic City. How the hell is she going to get out of this? Fuck, how is this series’s story arc going to be resolved in just four episodes??? This is absolute chaos, and it scares me. If the writers are willing to do all this already, how much more awful will things get?
Today’s Mark Watches video was commissioned by Holly. Thank you!
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