Episode Five, “Peacekeepers”
This week’s episode of The Legend of Korra was all about the hidden dynamics and politics of war. We learn that war isn’t just about gathering troops and fighting for a single cause, especially when adults are involved. Instead, war can also bring profits and other opportunities for self-aggrandizement if one knows how to look for them.
The very first scene re-introduces one of my favorite characters, Lin Beifong, daughter of Toph and chief of the Republic City police force. She wryly congratulates Korra on the war she started, then commands Mako to suit up once more, as there will be a Southern Water Tribe peace march later that evening, and that smells like trouble to a hard-bitten cop like Beifong.
It turns out her pessimism was right: bombs were set off in the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center during the march. Korra immediately concludes that the Northern Water Tribe was behind this, but Mako was able to engage one of the terrorists in a fight, and that man was actually a fire bender, a member of some underground group called the Agni Kai. Not that Korra listens to him, which leads to yet another awkward Makorra argument.
Meanwhile, in the North, Unalaq continues his role as Big Bad Duplicity Jones. The Scary Twin Stars (Eska looking ESPECIALLY unhinged by wearing a wedding dress with her smeared eye makeup) are tasked with finding Korra because… it turns out their father lied and he does need her to open the Northern Spirit Portal after all! Dun dun dunnnn!
The one person who seems to be thriving during these troubled times is Varrick. It turns out that he’s a cynic in his own right, salivating over the profit potential of a wartime economy. He encourages Asami to find her way out of bankruptcy by selling Mecha-Tanks to the South. And because he is a political mastermind as well as a budding “mover” industry maven, he pulls a World War II-era Hollywood and makes a plan to create mainstream “movers” that are basically war propaganda, starring Bolin as Naktuk, scantily-clad Hero of the South. (As a Nerds of Color historical side-note, animation was a common method of US wartime propaganda, including Walt Disney and this atrociously racist Looney Tunes cartoon, “Tokio Jokio.”)
Even the pacifist Air Benders get caught up in a wave of militarism. Tenzin, his son Meelo, and Poki the baby flying lemur act out a war allegory. Tenzin cannot stand watching Meelo make some rookie mistakes while training Poki, so he wades in all Dog Whisperer style, telling Meelo to assert dominance and show him who’s the alpha lemur. Meelo, bless his big big heart, reluctantly follows his father’s directions, even though losing Poki as an equal makes him feel lonely and unsure of himself. The next day, Meelo impresses everyone with a well-disciplined Poki, who finally learned how to sit and roll over. However, it turns out that Meelo not only taught Poki basic obedience, but all the flying lemurs on the island now obey his every command and whistle. In Tenzin’s words, “I’ve created a monster.”
Lesson learned: taking friendship and compassion out of your worldview may build an effective army, but you lose your humanity in the process. Turns out, Team Avatar is going through the same thing in Republic City.
First casualty of war: Korra’s faith in this corrupt-as-hell city. The President of the Republic refuses to take sides in the impending War of the Water Tribes. To continue the World War II metaphor, the president really seems like the US in the beginning years of the war, which should make the bombing of the cultural center Republic City’s equivalent of Pearl Harbor. However, it doesn’t seem to be enough to move him, which makes Korra suspicious. She then tries to get General Iroh to provoke an attack from the North to get them involved without the president’s prior approval (which frankly is a very un-Avatar thing to do, but thats because it was Varrick’s idea).
Second casualty of war: romance. Mako tells the president about Korra’s plan to go around him in getting the Republic Forces to join the south, and the president catches her and General Iroh. Korra LITERALLY flips a table. They break up. Cue the Mako/Korra tribute videos!
Goodbye, MaKorra. I never rooted for you, but I am sad to see you go this way.
Third casualty of war: Korra???
- Varrick: “Being famous is like getting hit by a rock all the time.” Miley Cyrus wholeheartedly agrees.
- Random supporter of the Northern Water Tribe heckling Korra riding on Naga: “Get a REAL dog!”
- Bolin’s breaking-the-fourth-wall appeal to the often-rabid fans of The Legend of Korra: “Sometimes I actually cry myself to sleep….[sensing displeasure from the audience] Um, I guess what I miss the most are these FANS! They’re the greatest fans in the world! GIVE IT UP FOR THE FANS!!!”
- Varrick again: “If you can’t make money during a war, you just flat-out cannot make money!” This time, Dick Cheney wholeheartedly agrees.
- Our peek into the hijinks of the jaded Republic City police force, straight out of Starsky and Hutch.
- General Iroh (in Dante Basco‘s best breathy tenor) refers to his grandfather in the PRESENT TENSE!!! His grandfather would be Fire Lord Zuko, fan favorite of the Avatar: The Last Airbender series, who was voiced by… Dante Basco!
- Korra’s actions are stemming from a mix of stubbornness, loyalty, and angst, typical of any protagonist. It is a common trope for a hero to get burned by his own bad decisions, then rise from the ashes, right? But because she is a young girl, people are accusing Korra of being stupid, a dumbass, or even sometimes a stupid dumbass bitch who needs to die.
- In the same vein, Mako choosing his loyalty to the Republic over his loyalty for Korra is causing the same folks to call him a bitch, too. Misogynists of the Internet: simmer down now!