In the third episode of the second season of The Legend of Korra, Korra tries to navigate her uncle’s presence in the Southern Water Tribe and finds it much harder to do so than she expected. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The Legend of Korra.
Trigger Warning: I am not sure if this is triggering because I only lightly refer to these issues, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. So, warning for talk of abuse, manipulation, depression.
Oh lord, THIS SHOW.
I think you can look at all three plots here and pull out a thematic tie to the title of this episode. They’re all hints of unrest between friends, family, and nations. It’s a civil war that’s personal or one that’s political, and sometimes they overlap.
LET’S DISCUSS THEM. I’m so into this theme.
So, Aubrey Plaza was made for the role of Eska, and I think there’s an appropriate amount of humor derived from her performance, which is pretty much a more intense version of April from Parks & Recreation. But there’s a true conflict here that Bolin needs resolved: how do you break up with someone who makes you unhappy and makes you terrified to cut things off? That’s actually not a funny thing to go through, and I’m curious if the show is going to take that part seriously. It’s manipulative and unfair for someone to behave this way, and no matter how much humor is packed into Eska’s characterization, no one should ever feel like this when they’re unhappy with a relationship of any type.
So, on one level, Mako’s advice is good. Breakups are inevitably messy, unfortunate things to go through, and it’s often easy to rip off the bandage and deal with the immediate shock and pain so that you’re better in the long run. (The leech metaphor is a little too much for me because “leech” has a connotation that’s too intense for this situation.) At the same time, I don’t think it’s necessarily the advice Bolin needs because there’s an extra layer of difficulty to this situation. He wants to end the relationship but doesn’t actually know how. Mako has experience with that, and Bolin doesn’t. (I mean, technically. We still never saw him break up with Asami, LOL.) Bolin needs something just a bit more than he has. Will he get it in the second part of this arc??? I hope so.
Damn, there’s so much in this episode that just hits me at a time in my life where I’m dealing with shit that’s extremely similar to all this. I had a long, difficult, but rewarding conversation with two of my friends about family, perception, and hindsight. Now, it’s no surprise to those of you who have been reading my shit for years, but I’m very much invested in stories that both deconstruct concepts of family and celebrate the idea of found family. That’s my life, and that’s what I’ve had to deal with since I was a kid. It is not easy to grow up questioning whether you deserve a family. Like Kya and Bumi, I was raised in a way where I perceived the favoritism of my other siblings as something that I was imagining. Why? Because people consistently told me that no one favors specific kids. Because the most popular message sold to me was that a parent’s love for you was unconditional, and that I was being ungrateful for asking for more. Compound that with issues of being a transracial adoptee, and you’ve got a fucking nightmare. Because let me tell you: random strangers will always be willing to lecture you about how you’re not allowed to be ungrateful for being adopted. “They chose you,” they say, as if that somehow makes them like diplomats in foreign countries within the world of parenting.
That’s not how families should work. In hindsight, that favoritism is even more glaring to me, and I’m glad I’ve gotten to a point in my life where even my brother openly admits that I was not my father’s favorite child, and that I was absolutely on the bottom of the list when it came to my mother. Why does that happen? Well, I know that the easiest explanation is that we’re all human, and we all favor specific people in our lives. That’s a natural thing we do because we have to. We have to have certain people who can provide things in our lives in various ways, and they are also the ones we feel most comfortable with. So why does that manifest within families like it did with Aang and Tenzin? Well, there’s an obvious bias on Aang’s part because he truly did have to rebuild the airbending community on his own, so he assigned a great deal of importance to Tenzin over Kya and Bumi, who ended up being a waterbender and a non-bender, respectively.
It’s the truth, and it’s brutally uncomfortable. Aang meant the world to all of them, but he was everything to Tenzin. It’s not easy to have to accept that someone you love and adore did not adore others in the same way that they adored you, but that’s what appears to have happened with Kya and Bumi. Unfortunately, Tenzin’s at a point where he’s not ready to hear this. Instead, these three siblings bicker, fight, and turn their backs on one another, more willing to start a war than to try and work through their problems.
There were times where I wondered why Korra seemed so oblivious to what Unalaq wanted to do in the South, but looking back on “Civil Wars, Part I,” I feel like it’s super obvious. Korra’s independence means so much to her that she stuck with the person who offered her validation of it. She thought the best of Unalaq, even over her father and others from the Southern Water Tribe because it meant that his interest in her was a good thing. I say that because it’s clear that Korra does want to be the best Avatar possible, and she believes that this avenue is the best route for her to take. She tries to act as a messenger for Varrick, her father, and the others, only to have Unalaq gently nudge her to accept his view of things. (That scene felt super manipulative, y’all. He not only appealed to her ego, but he shifted the responsibility of the civil war to her. NOPE. NO.) She tries to stop a fight between Northern soldiers and Southern citizens, only to find that her own people despise her for seemingly taking another side.
I liked that scene with Senna because it made an important point: the conflict between the two tribes came long before Korra was born. It’s the polar opposite advice from what Unalaq gives Korra because Senna shifts the responsibility to the entire community. Korra can help, but she can’t expect to undo decades of strife alone. Unfortunately, that strife is exactly what Unalaq is exploiting. I would not be surprised if he knew that the Southerners would try to kidnap him. Hasn’t he behaved in a way to deliberately exacerbate matters, despite Korra’s warnings? I suspect he knew these people would lash out, and he prepared for it. That’s gotta be the reason for taking out Tonraq and Senna. Isn’t it the perfect excuse to shift power to himself?
THIS IS GONNA BE SO MESSED UP.
The video for “Civil Wars, Part I” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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