Mark Watches ‘The Legend of Korra’: S04E05 – Enemy at the Gates

In the fifth episode of the fourth season of The Legend of Korra, Korra arrives at Zaofu, only to discover what a giant disaster she’s walked into. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The Legend of Korra.

Wow, this got so uncomfortable SO QUICKLY.


I feel like a good half of my experience with this show is me shouting, “I WASN’T READY FOR THIS.” So let’s start off with yet another moment of unpreparedness: Asami visiting her father, Hiroshi Sato. I barely recognized him, y’all. Granted, I had not seen him in LITERAL YEARS, but I also never expected the show to revisit his storyline again. I initially wondered what it was that motivated Asami to visit Hiroshi for the first time in five years. Was it her recent successes? Did she finally feel like she was free of what her father had done to her? Perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch given that she wanted to definitively cut off contact with him. I can’t imagine a clearer message sent than returning a stack of unopened letters, you know?

With that in mind, it’s easy to see how Asami did try to hurt Hiroshi with her visit. And who can blame her? The man betrayed her and nearly got her and a bunch of other people killed! So she lashed out at him by rejecting his attempts to stay in contact with her, only to discover that this didn’t leave her feeling all that better about her own pain. She’s entitled to setting boundaries with her father, and that includes refusing to forgive him. Is she ready to work on that? Sure, and I feel like pai sho game is a small way for her to begin to speak with her father and initiate some sort of healing process.


Kuvira and her empire

I don’t think that Kuvira’s story is all that subtle, but I also don’t know that I need it to be. The fact that Kuvira’s role as the antagonist is now super clear makes this episode one hell of a thriller. I was full of dread as Kuvira’s massive, terrifying army approached Zaofu; I was nervous as Korra and the kids made their way there; and I was anxious to find out exactly what Kuvira would do once Suyin refused. Even if Kuvira fits the role of a tyrant to a T, I found the character explorations to be the most fulfilling part of “Enemy at the Gates.” Each of these people react differently to Kuvira’s aggression, and it makes for fantastic storytelling.

First of all, I appreciate that the writers took both Bolin and Varrick down such difficult paths, especially Varrick. It was only a matter of time before Bolin realized that his idealism clashed with the reality of Kuvira’s military maneuvers. It made a lot of sense to me that of all the characters, Bolin was the one who believed so wholly in the goodness of what he and Kuvira were doing. Bolin is largely an optimist, and he’s more willing to see the bright side of things than anyone else. Unfortunately, he was also able to recognize that Kuvira’s military presence in Zaofu was probably a bad thing. It was the first moment in this episode where Bolin openly questioned his leader’s actions, and from there, it was just one domino falling after another.

But to me, Varrick’s transformation is a whole lot more significant. He’s been the amoral force of comic relief for two seasons now, and I’d just expected him to remain that way. He cares only about making money and gaining prestige, so it was an utter shock to see him experience the overwhelming power of the spirit vine and then INSTANTLY TELL EVERYONE THAT NO ONE SHOULD USE IT. That’s… that’s not the Varrick I know, is it?

Except it is. Varrick has honestly witnessed a lot of horrible things, though he often masks his reactions to them with humor and absurdity. I think it’s fair to say that while Varrick has developed a conscience, he only turns on Kuvira once she threatens his life. Still, the fact he was able to recognize that his experiment yielded potentially-harmful results is a big deal!

And look, he’s not the only person who transforms here. Zhu Li SHOCKED THE HELL OUT OF ME when she sold out Varrick in order to join Kuvira’s side. I mean… I get why she’d turn on Varrick? She’s spent YEARS being Varrick’s punching bag. The man openly takes advantage of her, so why wouldn’t she eventually abandon him in favor of herself? It’s just unfortunate that it’s happening now and she’s joining up with a demonstrably terrible person. NO, ZHU LI. DON’T DO IT.

One of the other fascinating parts of this episode is seeing how Korra’s three-year-journey has changed her, too. Meelo might have been disappointed that Korra wasn’t heading to Zaofu to kick Kuvira’s ass, but I was thrilled to see her approach to this conflict reflect her recent experiences. The old Korra would have been eager to jump right into the action, but after spending three years on the sideline, Korra preferred to be thoughtful and calm in the face of Kuvira’s aggression. I think it helped that Korra got Kuvira’s backstory from Suyin prior to talking to Kuvira. It provided her with a necessary context, you know?

But I don’t know how much that’s going to matter in the end. Kuvira isn’t going to budge, and neither is Suyin. At this point, this just feels like an issue of pride and power. Does Kuvira need Zaofu, or does she merely want to exert her power over Suyin because they long ago disagreed over how to handle the Earth Kingdom? I imagine it’s the latter, and that doesn’t make me feel great. I’m also a little frightened by these “re-education camps” she keeps talking about, and it blows my mind that Bataar, Jr. can justify Kuvira’s actions if she’s truly creating a class of secondary citizens without any oversight.

This is gonna get worse, isn’t it?

The video for “Enemy at the Gates” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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