This is where the Legend of Korra series really starts to pull away from the standalone episodes. The first three episodes set things up – episode one brought Korra to Republic City and hinted at the problems the city faces. Episode two introduced her to her training, both the traditional methods under Tenzin and the modern methods with her new friends Mako and Bolin. Episode three introduced the series villain, Amon, and demonstrated just what kind of a threat he is.
Episode four attempts to move forward, conducting the last of the setting up and moving the overall plot arc forward.
The problem is there there’s a lot still to set up. There are several threads running through this episode, leaving it feeling disjointed, jumping around.
The threads in this episode can be broken down into three key subplots: Korra vs Amon and her own anxieties; Councilman Tarrlok’s powergrab and manipulations; and Mako’s introduction to and fledgling romance with Asami Sato.
Korra, Amon and anxiety
The episode starts with chi-blockers invading Korra’s bedroom at night in what is quickly evident is actually Korra’s nightmare. Straight away it’s clear Korra is genuinely frightened by the threat Amon poses. I will say it’s a nice touch that Naga is there when Korra wakes up, with a comforting lick.
This anxiety is made more clear, a couple of scenes later, when Amon makes a public threat on the radio. As Amon tells non-benders that they need not fear anymore, the camera is close up on Korra’s terrified face; and as Amon says that it is time for benders to feel fear, there’s the sense that Korra, as a bender three times over since she can earth, water and firebend, is triply threatened by Amon’s ability to remove bending.
So when Korra refuses to be in Tarrlok’s taskforce, the audience knows it’s Korra’s fear of Amon that’s stopping her, not her need to focus on her training as she claims. Her continued refusals as Tarrlok sends gift after gift isn’t evidence of restraint or discipline or respect for Tenzin as her teacher, but rather proof that her fears are consuming her.
Tenzin attempts to get Korra to open up about this, but she doesn’t take the opportunity. And when Tarrlok puts Korra on the spot by inviting journalists who inevitably ask why she’s not on the taskforce if Amon is such a big threat, rather than admit publically that she is afraid – something she couldn’t even do in private to someone she trusted – Korra had no choice but to join the taskforce.
Thereafter instead of presenting as a dedicated student, Korra masks her anxiety with bravado and recklessness. Tarrlok leads a raid on a chi-blocking training facility, and Korra gives chase to fleeing trainees, leading her right into a trap that Tarrlok only just arrives in time to help her with. Then Korra steps up her bravado by challenging Amon to a duel, one-on-one, and for a moment it looks like Amon won’t show, that he’s more afraid of her than she is of him, that her fears can be alleviated.
Until Amon and his chi-blockers ambush her and defeat her before she has a real chance to fight back. But instead of taking Korra’s bending, Amon threatens her, revealing that taking her bending now would make her a martyr and would hamper his plans. At least he releases her, and shortly afterwards Tenzin finds Korra. Finally Korra is able to admit to her mentor that she is terrified, that she can’t face Amon.
And meanwhile, Amon remains as big a threat as ever, looming there for Korra to continue to fear, knowing his followers can overcome her, knowing he can make good on his threat. Her anxieties aren’t alleviated, they are confirmed. Korra is in a worse place than she started, except that now Tenzin knows he can help her.
Tarrlok’s introduction is in a council meeting where he insists upon the danger Amon poses and suggests a taskforce to deal with him. Tenzin isn’t convinced; he feels Tarrlok’s suggestion is more about Tarrlok’s ambitions than Amon’s. Here I feel the scene is rushed; the council don’t discuss the issue and have no questions or comments to add, and Tenzin doesn’t think to make the suggestion that someone else – such as Chief of Police Kin Beifong – should head the taskforce. The scene is really just a hurried way to introduce Tarrlok and his taskforce without letting realism slow things down or clog things up. I can see why it was done this way, but with the way the episode jumps around from scene to scene, quickly moving between the different subplots, it does add to the rushed feel.
Tarrlok makes a reappearance interrupting the airbending family’s meal – clearly intentional to give Tarrlok the chance to talk to Korra and ask her to be on the taskforce. Here he comes across as arrogant, and attempts to use flattery to get Korra on board with his plans. Plans Korra would have jumped at if it weren’t for her fears.
But Korra’s refusal doesn’t put Tarrlok off. He starts by sending gifts, bribes designed to get Korra to change her mind, but when it’s clear that isn’t going to work he takes a different approach by organising a gala in Korra’s honour. Korra and Tenzin suspect he’s up to something, but by the time they realise what it’s too late. Tarrlok has invited journalists whose questions to Korra force her to agree to join the taskforce.
Now Tarrlok has what he wanted: a pseudo-military unit of crack forces to take out the Equalists, without any oversight from Chief Beifong. For now he’s using it as he said he would, but Tenzin’s accusation that Tarrlok is using it to make a powergrab isn’t so quickly forgotten, and his arrogance and manipulation set alarm bells ringing. It’s clear we’ve not seen the last of this plotline.
Mako and Asami
After all the darkness of Korra’s innermost fears and Tarrlok’s manipulations, a little levity is needed, and this is just the subplot to provide that. Asami literally runs into Mako on her scooter and knocks him over, so offers to take him out to dinner to make up for it. This plotline buys into all the romance tropes – complete with Asami taking off her helmet and shaking out her hair in slow motion – but there’s really not time in the episode to give it more depth.
Conveniently, Asami is not only a big fan of Mako and the Fire Ferrets, but also the daughter of leading industrialist and inventor Hiroshi Sato, who created of the Satomobile, the Avatar universe’s automobile. Mako goes to meet Hiroshi, who comes across as a straight-talking self-made man, and, helpfully, a philanthropist. Hiroshi’s offer to fund the Fire Ferrets’ entry to the Pro-bending Championship ties up a loose end from episode three, which was kicked off by the need for a large amount of money for said entry.
Overall, this episode has a lot of information to convey. It does feel rushed, hopping between different character sets with only limited interaction between Mako, Bolin and Asami and the rest of the plot, and relying on tropes and an unnaturally quick decision-making process at the council to move the story forward. It feels like it’s finishing the setup: the first three episodes set up the premise and the two key components of the story – the Pro-bending tournament and the threat of villain Amon and the Equalists – and this fourth episode is getting in all the other elements that don’t warrant their own episode to finish setting the plot up for things to really get started in episode five.
Which should mean that episode five is where the action really starts.