In the ninth episode of the third season of The Legend of Korra, I WASN’T READY. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The Legend of Korra.
I’d been worried this whole time that Zaheer was not the villain he was portrayed to be, and GUESS WHAT. That’s the actual case here. I know it’s more complicated than that, but I spent the entire time during Zaheer’s big reveal running through the possibilities that now exist in this world. Zaheer is still an antagonist, make no mistake. His interests are still opposed to Korra’s, and his plan for the world, as appealing as it might be, is not the best thing for the world of the Avatar. (That’s an understatement, for sure.)
But this twist works because it forces us to reconsider the governmental organization of this fictional universe. It makes so much sense to me that we spent time with the Earth Queen, with President Raiko, and in Zaofu. We needed to see how these other nations operated in order to understand Zaheer’s rejection of them. This is clearly meant to leave us (like Korra) conflicted about certain developments.
Prior to this, “The Stakeout” was largely a waiting game, one that’s both tense and fun. I went into this expecting some sort of answer about Aiwei’s betrayal and Zaheer’s motivation, but I also appreciated that there was time spent with a bit of character building. I’m becoming increasingly entertained by Asami and Korra’s growing friendship, and I’m pleased that we’re getting more and more scenes with just the two of them together. They’re a good pairing, I think! The same goes for the scene where Asami and Bolin play pai sho with one another. It’s one of those moments where you realize you haven’t seen two characters spend much time with each other, and NOW YOU WISH THEY SPENT A WHOLE LOT MORE IN THEIR PRESENCE. They’re hilarious together!
Honestly, there are a lot of neat moments prior to the sequence in the spirit world. From the Nuktuk fans to the sad barkeep, this little desert town in the Earth kingdom is really entertaining and new. But I want to spend a lot more time on what Zaheer tells us, namely because I feel like it’s one of the better written aspects of this entire show. I kind of have a thing for continuity, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s read my stuff over the years. Serialized narratives are just… they’re my bread and butter! I love the emotions they invoke, and I love how the experience can be so rewarding for those who follow them. But they’re also terribly tricky to pull off because a creator always risks disappointment and disjointed tales. Can the pieces of the story hidden along the narrative come together in a way that makes sense?
So I think The Legend of Korra’s writing team took a huge risk in attempting to tie this season’s arc in with elements that were part of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’ll say that, and then I’ll state this: I think it works. I think this is one of the strongest plot twists in the entire series because it provides a chance for a complicated commentary on the way this world works. By introducing a splinter group that originated within the White Lotus order, we get an explanation for Aiwei’s willingness to betray Suyin. It’s not entirely possible that he was always in the Red Lotus, and that he was not approached recently for help with infiltration. This conspiracy also leaves a lot of doors open. How many people have we met are part of the Red Lotus? How many more people should I immediately distrust? I imagine that’ll be a constant thing for me this season because… shit, anyone can be Red Lotus, no?
And it’s not long after Zaheer explains the basic formation of the Order of the Red Lotus before he makes Korra’s life infinitely more complicated: UNALAQ WAS PART OF RED LOTUS AND WAS THE ONE WHO SUGGESTED KIDNAPPING KORRA AS A CHILD. Oh my god, it’s not like I didn’t understand Unalaq’s motivations prior to this, but now I’ve got a deeper comprehension of his life, you know? As if that isn’t enough, Zaheer says that all of this was done out of a desire to make the world a better place. Now, I sat there, wondering when he’d reveal his foolish, misguided interpretation of why the world would be better with the Red Lotus operating as they have, and then I kept feeling conflicted. I couldn’t argue with his assertion that Avatar Wan’s closure of the spirit world and portals was bad. Even Korra pauses when she realizes he’s right.
It’s at that point that he invokes Raiko and Huo-Ting, and his ultimate goal is clear. AND NOT NECESSARILY THE WORST THING IMAGINABLE. Why is it that the world is separated into four nations, each with their own leader? (Well, aside from the Air Nation, of course.) Have these leaders made the world better, or have they consistently brought this place to the brink of war time and time again? Hasn’t every leader inevitably exploited their people? Aren’t oppressive frameworks built into these systems by default? What Zaheer is decrying isn’t false. These governments are perpetually terrible, and the only way they ever seem to thrive is through oppression and exploitation.
So he wants to do away with them.
God, Korra’s face during that bit of his exposition is so perfect because it reflects just how conflicted she is. She knows that Zaheer’s methods are not necessarily moral, but there’s a piece of her that knows some aspect of his moral reasoning is sound. Zaheer is suddenly no longer an easily categorized villain; he’s something entirely new for Korra. (In a way, isn’t he a lot better than the one-note nature of Amon?) Unfortunately, the whole point of Zaheer’s willingness to reveal most of his plans was to trap Korra, allowing time for Ghazan and Ming-Hua to track her body down and capture her. She doesn’t have time to discuss Zaheer’s perspective. I don’t even know if he wants that conversation with Korra, given that he’s holding on to one last secret. Just exactly does he have planned for Korra? How can she provide him with a means to throw the world into deliberate chaos, free from the control and repression of world governments? I don’t understand! I imagine that if he’d successfully capture Korra as a child, she would have been raised to be Zaheer’s agent of change.
But what now? Matters are even worse than they were before because THE EARTH QUEEN’S SOLDIERS GOT ASAMI AND KORRA BEFORE GHAZAN COULD. Oh my god, THIS IS NOT GOOD. We’ve got Team Avatar completely under the control of two parties, one of which is actively seeking to destroy the other. Team Zaheer will soon be within Ba Sing Se, and I’m pretty frightened of the results of that.
THIS EPISODE WAS SO GOOD, Y’ALL.
The video for “The Stakeout” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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