The Legend of Korra Book 1, Episode 4: The Voice in the Night
Fear is a powerful motivator. Those who would exploit the fears of others can amass dangerous levels of power. Outlaws can use it to rally others to their cause. Politicians can use it to convince citizens to give up their rights. And on an individual level, savvy fear-mongers can manipulate others into making poor decisions. The citizens of Republic Citizens are all living in a constant state of terror regardless of bending ability; non-benders fear exploitation from benders while benders are afraid that the Equalists will come for them in the night and remove their bending powers. And even though she is the Avatar, and thus the most (potentially) powerful person on the planet, Korra is absolutely crippled by fear.
To Korra, her entire existence is defined by her ability to bend the elements. The episode opens with her nightmare of being cornered by the Equalists. As Amon prepares to energybend her, he taunts her that she’ll be “nothing” once she can no longer bend. As the Avatar, her role is to maintain balance of the entire planet, benders and non-benders alike. But if she thinks that she would be nothing without bending ability, what is her opinion of those who were born non-benders? She has never outright shown a dismissive attitude toward non-benders, but this dream suggests that she has an ingrained belief that they are lesser humans than benders.
Meanwhile, Tarrlok, the Republic City councilman from the Northern Water Tribe and clearly a political rival to Tenzin, sets up a new “task force” dedicated to stopping Amon and the Equalist movement. Playing on the fears of the other benders on the council, he easily gets the idea passed and quickly begins trying to recruit Korra. The man is a master manipulator, playing on Korra’s pride and violence-prone attitude. However, she initially rebuffs him, claiming that she wants to focus on becoming a full-fledged Avatar before taking on Amon. But it’s very clear to everyone – Tenzin, Tarrlok, and the audience – that Korra is absolutely terrified of facing Amon. So Tarrlok decides to play into Korra’s other fears, namely her fears that people will see her as weak. He ambushes her with reporters who ask her why she isn’t doing her job of protecting the citizens of the city and why she is afraid to face Amon. And so Korra is in. Never mind that the role of the Avatar is to maintain balance and help all the citizens of the world.
Korra lets her fear rule her, and she needs to learn how to control it before she’ll be ready to face the threat of Amon. Compare her demeanor throughout the episode, in which she starts out withdrawn then gradually becomes more and more willing to lash out at the threat presented, with that of Bolin. Between him, Korra, and Mako, he came the closest to having his bending taken away last week and has every right to be the most traumatized of the three. And while he is clearly still afraid of what might happen, he doesn’t let it rule him. He retains his fun-loving and jokey personality and just wants his life to go on.
Speaking of life going on, Mako has a surprise encounter with a young woman named Asami Sato, the daughter of a Henry Ford-like industrialist named Hiroshi. Hiroshi Sato came from as humble beginnings as Mako and Bolin but is now one of the richest men in Republic City, having invented the satomobile. Mako and Asami hit it off, making Korra slightly jealous, and Asami convinces her father to sponsor the Fire Ferrets in the upcoming pro-bending tournament. So far, Mako and Bolin are nothing but thrilled to be able to compete in the tournament, even if it means having to wear Sato’s company’s logo on their uniforms. Of course, the sponsorship deal may have some other strings attached to it that we haven’t seen yet. Sato’s presence in the episode does two other things: it reinforces the idea that the oppression that the Equalists complain of is based on class, not bending ability, and it gives some logistical credence to the Equalists’ plan. The Satos are non-benders, but they are very highly regarded by the bending elite of Republic City. And Sato’s factory looked like it operated through non-bending labor, unlike the power plant Mako works at. Last week one review I read stated that if the Equalists were to succeed, Republic City would grind to a halt without lightningbenders to generate power. But if Sato can run his factory without benders, other industries can too.
This episode wasn’t as action-packed as last week’s brilliantly intense outing, but “The Voice in the Night” was a very good and very necessary next step. Showing just how scared everyone in the city has become is necessary to show just how big of a threat the Equalists are. If Amon has the Avatar running scared, he has a strong chance of success. But that also means that citizens will be more likely to give up their rights to the government to stop the threat and will look the other way when a task force that goes around capturing people who are not doing anything illegal is created. Korra needs to learn how to control her fear, and quickly too. Otherwise Republic City will fall into chaos.
· This week, the title card said “The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra.”
· It turns out that Seychelle Gabriel really can act. For those of you who don’t know, she played Princess Yue in the film The Last Airbender. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, though; Dev Patel was fantastic in Slumdog Millionaire and did the best he could with the material he was given.
· I am loving the soundtrack to this show. The jazzy Asian music is such a great complement to the visuals.
· When Korra gets fed up with Tarrlok’s messenger constantly pestering her, she resorts to violence to get rid of her.
· I was a bit surprised that the task force members didn’t wear masks during the raid; when they positioned themselves around the building, my mind flashed back to that season 3 episode of Battlestar Galactica in which the human secret police rounded up human resistance members on to execute them.
· Aang, Toph, and Sokka all appeared in non-speaking cameos this week. I loved seeing them, but having Sokka and Toph in non-speaking roles kind of defeats the purpose of having them on-screen.