Episode Three: “The Earth Queen”
We begin with a sparring session between Uncle Bumi and Kai, led by Jinora. Uncle Bumi’s stance is all old-school fisticuffs, and Kai makes easy work of him. Jinora’s crush on Kai grows deeper, and Kai starts the charm offensive on her.
The Family von Airbender is headed to Ba Sing Se to visit the Earth Queen and hopefully pick up more airbenders.
(Just as a refresher course, Ba Sing Se is modeled on Beijing during the time of Imperial China, with secret police and districts broken up by social class. The closer to the palace, the more affluent the district.)
The airship flies over the Lower Ring first, and things seem to have gone straight downhill since the days of Avatar Aang. There are some signs of modernization such as power cables, but apparently other infrastructure has not caught up.
The Middle and Inner Rings look great, however, and the palace is still covered in gold. Something doesn’t feel right about this situation, which makes me wonder whether Earth King Kuei changed much (or at all) after Aang saved his city from the Fire Nation 170 years prior.
Team Avatar is greeted by Grand Secretariat Gun, a nervous nellie who immediately warns them to hide all their animals, bow low enough to please Her Royal Highness, to not eat before she eats (or better yet, not eat at all), etc. In other words, she’s extremely pleasant… not.
The Earth Queen is sore because her father, Earth King Kuei, gave up Earth Kingdom land to establish the United Republic with Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Zuko. Apparently there are “hordes of barbarians” running amok in the more remote villages, and people are starting to not pay their taxes. However, most of all, her topiaries look more like turtle-ducks than eel-swans. In other words, this lady is more out of touch than her father was.
Korra asks for the Earth Queen’s help in finding the airbenders who may have popped up in Ba Sing Se. “Where did you hear that?” the Queen asks with an ominous side-eye. But before she even considers helping, she tasks Korra with collecting tax money from a vault south of the city, where the last two collections were stolen by barbarians.
Kai is like a kid in a candy shop, disappearing to pick the heavy pockets of the citizens of Ba Sing Se’s Inner Ring. Bolin and Mako volunteer to look for him. They find him quickly, but he gives chase, leading them onto a commuter train heading to the Outer Ring, then getting off before they could follow him. Oh, and in the scuffle, he took their wallets as well, so in Bolin’s words: “The bad news is, we’re stuck here. The good news is, you can go to the bathroom wherever you want!”
Cut to the next morning. Mako and Bolin wake up in an alleyway. “It’s been a while since we’ve spent the night on a trash pile. It’s about how I remember.” Meanwhile, Kai is enjoying first-class service in some palatial hotel room. Bolin and Mako consider stealing fruit from a fruit cart, but the wares are so rotten, they decide not to. The fruit stand owner is so offended by that, he wrestles them to the ground anyway.
“Dad!” the fruit stand owner yells. “These people are insulting our fruit!” The father looks down and immediately recognizes Mako and Bolin. He is their UNCLE!
Cut to ZUKO AND HIS DRAGON! Sorry, that will never get old for me. He has arrived at the Northern Water Tribe, where Korra’s twin cousins, Eska and Dezna, now rule, bored out of their minds. Zuko asks them to come with him to check on a secret prison in the Western Tundra. The twins accept. “Ruling the tribe is so tedious.”
Mako and Bolin finally have the family reunion they have always dreamed of. They meet their grandmother, Yin, and she greets them warmly. “Where is San? And your mother?” Mako had to tell them they were killed.
Korra and Asami head out to collect the Queen’s taxes. Everything seems fine until a motorcycle gang appears. Asami and Korra make quick work of them, displaying some masterful fighting skillz (and remember, Asami isn’t a bender! You go, girl!) As the the marauders flee, their leader yells, “You’re on the wrong side of this fight, Avatar! That gold belongs to the people, not the Queen!” Says Korra: “Why do I get the feeling he’s right?”
Cut to the elevator heading into the secret ice prison. Zuko explains this prison was created to hold a powerful bender named P’li who can shoot lasers from her forehead. For those familiar with A:TLA, let’s call her Sparky Boom-Boom Ma’am! Fire Lord Zuko shows some glimpses of the awkward teenage rage-bender he used to be:
As they approach the cell, P’li says in a delightfully wicked voice, “He’s out, isn’t he? Mmm…I’m feeling warmer already.”
It turns out Mako and Bolin’s father, San, has a HUGE family! San had a falling-out with his father and left home. He wrote to them once, telling them he married a beautiful woman from the Fire Nation, and that he had two wonderful sons:
Mako hands his trademark red scarf, the only artifact the boys have of their dad, to his grandmother. They hug, and I cry many tears.
Korra arrives with the tax money, and testily asks the Earth Queen if she can has airbenders nao, kthxbai. The Earth Queen icily replies that there are no airbenders in Ba Sing Se. Korra flips out and yells, “This isn’t over! I”m going to find the airbenders!”
Meanwhile, Mako tells his family that they are on a mission to collect airbenders. His family gasps because one of their neighbors started bending a week ago, but had been “disappeared” by the Dai Li. Rumor has it, the Earth Queen is using them for experiments.
Next scene, Kai is seen taken by the Dai Li (secret police) after getting caught airbending. “Welcome to Her Majesty’s army, First Airbending Regiment. From now on, you live to fight for the Earth Queen.”
- On the airship, Korra tells Tenzin: “It’s so exciting to be on a diplomatic mission to Ba Sing Se!” I had to rewind to make sure she didn’t actually say Alderaan.
- Did anyone else notice that Ba Sing Se only has one wall now?
- What other kids show portrays class dynamics as gracefully as The Legend of Korra? None, that’s what! I had a great discussion with my 7-year-old about the unfairness of the Queen’s lifestyle compared to those of her subjects in the Lower Ring after we saw this episode together. I hope to see more of this in the episodes to come.
- If you liked Mako and Bolin’s street adventures, you will LOVE Republic City Hustle, a series of origin story shorts made by Nickelodeon.
- The gang of marauders is an homage to Mad Max! And check out their leader!
- That amazing elevator scene was my favorite moment of the episode. It reminded me of all the awkward elevator conversations of Mad Men.
- This image might give the blood-bending granny a run for her money as scariest Avatar moment:
- After generously giving us THREE episodes in a row this week, there will be no new episode next week due to the Fourth of July holiday!