Mark Watches ‘The Legend of Korra’: S03E11 – The Ultimatum

In the eleventh episode of the third season of The Legend of Korra, I can barely fathom how well this crisis is escalated. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The Legend of Korra.

I am so, so pleased I decided to catch up on this show. What strikes me about “The Ultimatum” – more than the brutal fights and more than the constant plot twists – is the fact that the writers bring up a premise and then utterly commit to it. This does not feel like they’re toying with us for the sake of it. These characters matter, their journey over the course of this season matters, and EVERYTHING IS AWFUL AND STRESSFUL. Let’s discuss!

The Earth Kingdom

There’s practically no closure for this part of the story, and I actually think it serves the story better. Ba Sing Se has been thrown into total chaos with the death of the Earth Queen, and the show is only interested in showing that aftermath. It works, though, because it’s amidst this that Mako and Bolin are faced with an impossible task, one of MANY in this episode. How the hell do they find Korra and Asami with no way of tracking them? This problem is then immediately compounded when they realize their family is about to be destroyed during the rioting and looting, giving us an INTENSELY EMOTIONAL SEQUENCE wherein Yin refuses to leave the home she grew up in. Even if she didn’t raise Mako, I loved the idea that this scene demonstrated where he got his stubbornness, you know? Of course, in glaring contrast to Mako’s willingness to get involved, Yin is way more interested in naps in this episode. YES. Y E S.

The Ultimatum

I think that the show deliberately made Zaheer a hypocrite (or at least a person of contrasts and juxtapositions) in order to challenge how we look at him. When Bolin and Mako finally reveal the message Zaheer had for Korra, it’s astounding in its lack of respect for freedom. If this man so wholly believes that humanity must be free of rulers, free to make whatever choices they want, then how is it moral of him to take those choices away from Korra or the newly-minted Air Tribe? It’s an acceptable loss for him. Which is unsurprising because guess what? He doesn’t actually lose anything here, and he gets everything that he wants.

On top of that, the writing for Zaheer’s character has been convincing enough that his threat – to wipe out all of the new Airbenders unless Korra turns herself in – is utterly real. I believe it because we’ve already seen the lengths that Zaheer will go to achieve his goals. Thus, “The Ultimatum” becomes a stressful and tense waiting game. It’s not a matter of if the Red Lotus will show; it’s when. Will Korra be too late in reaching Tenzin? How can she avoid harming herself while still saving the airbenders?

Iroh

STILL UNABLE TO DEAL WITH HIS MERE APPEARANCE, Y’ALL. I JUST… I get so emotional??? I can’t help it. And holy shit, what an important role he plays here! As far as I can tell, the writers are sticking to what they’ve created because I honestly think that Korra is going to take Iroh’s advice. I believe him, you know? I believe that if Aang had been alive to see the rebirth of the Air Nation, he would have done anything possible to ensure that these new benders were protected. What’s fascinating about the potential that this story has is that it pulls Korra out of her comfort zone and forces her to think of the needs of others over herself. It’s not that Korra isn’t nice or that she isn’t a good person; she’s clearly cared about the people around her plenty of times before. But part of Korra’s growth as the Avatar has been her learning how she fits into the world as the Avatar. One of the things I did like about the last season was how Korra made a decision about the Spirit World with humanity in mind. Was closing it best for the world, or was there a better option?

I’m glad that Iroh has gotten her to think about these sort of things.

The Red Lotus

I don’t even know what to say. This episode is relentlessly fucked up. It’s violent, it’s upsetting, and it’s some of the best action storytelling in the entire Avatar world. Over the course of this season, we’ve been given every reason to believe that the Red Lotus threat was real and to be believed, as I said earlier. So when the quartet show up to besiege the Northern Air Temple, the show delivers on its promise. If these four benders were once some of the strongest in the world, then recent events were merely a warmup for them. This? It’s the main event, the moment they’ve been planning for. (Well, sort of. I still don’t even know what they’re planning for Korra, y’all.)

It’s a spectacle to watch so many expert benders (and Bumi, bless his HEART, who spends most of this fight just avoiding Ghazan) attack one another, but it’s the intensity of these battles that affected me so. It looked like these characters were fighting to the death, y’all. And it was so upsetting to watch because Tenzin, Bumi, and Kya were all caught off guard, and it shows. The same goes for Jinora and Kai, who must grapple with P’Li’s unreal combustion bending with very little advantage of their own. Even on their home turf, the Red Lotus has the upper hand.

AND IT JUST GETS WORSE AND WORSE. I actually believed that Kai had died. I believed that Tenzin, Bumi, and Kya would lose this battle, and I watched in horror as that was confirmed to me in a wave of blows and falls. Like… they get their asses kicked. Horribly. Undeniably. WHY DOES THIS HURT SO MUCH? And you know, I truly thought Tenzin was gonna die once he told Zaheer that he’d resist until he stopped breathing. DUDE, HE CAN ACTUALLY MAKE THAT HAPPEN, YOU SHOULDN’T SAY THAT.

This episode hurt to watch, and I can’t believe there are two more left. HOW???

The video for “The Ultimatum” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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