The Legend of Korra Book 1, Episode 9: Out of the Past
“The question becomes now, who is the bigger threat?” That’s how I ended last week’s review, wondering whether Tarrlok or Amon would ultimately become the main villain of the season. One week later, we have our answer. For all of Tarrlok’s scheming and danger, Amon is the biggest threat to Republic City. Which, when looking at what we know about the two of them, is saying a lot.
Korra spends most of this episode out of commission, locked in a metal box in an out of the way cabin. The opening scene of Tenzin bloodbending Korra into the box is straight out of a horror movie. The low angle of the shot of the stairs, the shadow slowly moving down, and the exaggerated creaking sounds create a foreboding atmosphere, and the image of the levitating Korra, clearly in pain, drives home the terror. Even in Aang’s time, bloodbending has been a crime for decades, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Bloodbending is one of the most terrifying things imaginable. Being unable to control your own actions and being forced to do the will of someone else is powerlessness in its purest form. Both Tarrlok and Yakone used the skill to impose their will on others and achieve their own goals. But whereas Yakone knew that he was a criminal and tried to “rule” Republic City as a crime boss, Tarrlok chose to go the “legitimate” route and rise through the ranks of the city’s government positions. He wanted to achieve power by helping* the city, and whereas Yakone’s use of bloodbending was just part of his criminal activities, it would appear that Tarrlok used it as a last resort whenever people got in the way of his plans. But his plans still involve taking over the city.
And that’s why it’s so interesting that Amon is the greater threat to the city than Tarrlok. Amon’s goal is itself pretty noble – ending oppression of non-benders in Republic City – but he goes about it in a horrifying manner. Meanwhile, neither Tarrlok’s goal nor his methods are noble. He wants power, and he’ll achieve it by hoodwinking and bloodbending the citizens of Republic City. Tarrlok needs to be stopped. Amon himself needs to be stopped, but his followers need to be reasoned with. So when Amon confronts Tarrlok and is able to resist bloodbending, it’s clear that he is so much more than he appears to be. Who is this man who can energybend and resist bloodbending, who can outmaneuver master benders?
This episode also drives forward Korra’s story of becoming a full-fledged Avatar. With nothing else to do in her prison, she finally taps into her past lives and sees Aang, Toph, and Sokka (who is a council member!) deal with Yakone. She also is learning the value of strategies aside from “attack head-on.” She formulates a plan to avoid being electrocuted by the Lieutenant, and she wisely avoids a fight with Amon, knowing that she couldn’t win while outnumbered and not at full strength. Her allies also get a chance to show their potential when Lin breaks Mako, Bolin, and Asami out of prison. Along with Tenzin, they break into an Equalist base looking for Korra and ably hold their own against the entire movement. Tenzin and Lin have shown their fighting skills before, but it’s always great to see just how powerful airbending can be.
As the season draws to a close, things look pretty dire for Team Avatar, though. The Equalists are a substantial threat, and each week only shows that they will be more difficult to beat than our heroes had previously thought. And Team Avatar looks like it could suffer some in-fighting, as Asami is none too pleased to see Mako react to the news that Korra is missing or that the two of them kissed once (after Mako and Asami began dating).
*I hate to do this, because complaining about what didn’t happen is fairly pointless, especially when there is so much to praise about what did happen. But my reaction to Tarrlok’s arc was strong enough that I feel I need to address it. I know that this show isn’t The Wire and that it is written with the intent that children can watch it. But so far, it has been a very smart and dense show with layered characters. It still is, but I feel that Tarrlok ended up as too much of a complete monster and not enough of a well-intentioned extremist. He would always have shades of complete monster, due to his use of bloodbending, but the desire to save Republic City by any means necessary would push him toward well-intentioned extremist. A legitimate desire to save the population from the dangerous Amon is noble, and is shared by Korra, Tenzin, and the rest of Team Avatar, but the use of bloodbending would take him too far. Instead, he only wanted to save Republic City so that he could rule it and follow in his father Yakone’s footsteps. Had he repudiated his father’s desire to rule through fear while still using the same tactic his father used would have made for a more interesting political villain. But I digress.
· Shouldn’t the season of the year be autumn? This is the Air book, and the element of air corresponds with the season of autumn in the Avatar universe. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, each book’s element corresponded to its season (water = winter, earth = spring, fire = summer).
· Who was the Air Nomad on the council during Yakone’s trial?
· There must be a better way to describe the act of removing one’s bending ability than “took your bending,” right?
· Lin doesn’t seem to have done much “outside the law” work; she’s still sore and doesn’t mention doing anything. As I said before, imagine what this show could do with a longer season.
· We still don’t know how Yakone and Tarrlok can bloodbend without the full moon. But this was Yakone’s defense at trial, so we’ll probably learn something about the family.
· Speaking of bloodbending, upon learning that Tarrlok can bloodbend without the full moon, WHY DIDN’T TENZIN, LIN, AND THE POLICE IMMEDIATELY TRY TO SUBDUE HIM??
· The Equalists’ tunnel system is pretty spacious and advanced, complete with trams and hidden doors.
· Judge Sokka spin-off, please!
· I’m still looking for suggestions for a season 1 retrospective.