The Legend of Korra Review: “In Harm’s Way”

Episode 3.04. Warning: minor spoilers follow.

Without a doubt, “In Harm’s Way” takes the cake as my favorite episode of Korra‘s third season thus far. It follows to a tee what I call the  “Holy Trinity of Narrative”: action, character, and theme. This episode has it all: superb bending sequences, comedic one-liners, and a little dose of sappiness (the good kind). And it’s all woven together seamlessly by episode director Melchior Zwyerhow badass a name is that?

The first 5 or so minutes of the episode really gets the blood pumping: a high-octane battle sequence which actually serves as a kind of microcosm for the rest of the episode. Zaheer (this season’s Big Bad, otherwise known as Guy-Whose-Voice-Does-Not-Match-His-Face) has come to free the fourth member of his pseudo-Avatar gang. Zuko, having predicted Zaheer’s move, is already there, intent on stopping him. Zuko is accompanied by the twin chiefs of the Water Tribe, Esca and Desna, along with Korra’s father, Tonraq. Needless to say, it doesn’t go well for Zuko and the other good guys, but Glory to Omashu! it was pretty to see. Studio Mir, Korean animation studio responsible for all the beautiful bending bits, really takes this chance to show off its chops.

And again, I have to compliment the director of this episode. Zwyer was savvy enough to emphasize composer Jeremy Zuckerman‘s ludicrously good soundtrack during this opening sequence. Zuckerman’s theme for Zaheer and his gang of baddies somehow manages to be both mournful dirge and action anthem at the same time. Pure genius. The music is that good, I didn’t even mind the bad guys beating down on my personal favorites Esca and Zuko.

My favorite scene however, is a lot less flash-and-bang, and a lot more . . . well, plain. Later in the episode, Korra and Team Avatar delve deep under Ba Sing Se (in the words of the great and singular Toph–“Worst. City. Ever.”) to free a group of conscripted “new-generation” airbenders. When one of the prisoners asks, “Who are you?” Korra replies simply: “I’m the Avatar.” And I believe it. For the first time in over two seasons, Korra says “I’m the Avatar,” and I truly, wholly believe it. She says it so plainly, so pride-less, and without strain or angst or foolhardiness that it utterly commands belief. Even at the end of Book One, when she finally airbends out of sheer strength of will against Amon, even when she bended that fourth and final element, she wasn’t the Avatar. At least, not to me, not yet. Korra, as a character, has come such a long way, and now viewers are given the Korra they deserve. For the first time, her heart, mind, and body are all in the same place, pushing towards the same goal. The Korra of Book Three is the Korra we’ve all been waiting for. Korra’s arduous character journey (frustrating both for fellow characters and audience alike) is what makes this episode so compelling.

A close second for my favorite scene comes toward the end of the episode, when the rescued airbenders decide to travel to the Northern Air Temple and become true successors to the Air Nomad way of life. Tenzin, so moved by their decision, begins to tear up. Tenzin, the Second Last Airbender, Son of Avatar Aang, has finally achieved that which his father so desperately dreamed of: the restoration of the Air Nation. Imagine the pressure Tenzin must have felt nearly every moment of his life–being the son of the savior of the world and holding the weight of an entire endangered culture on his back. His tears, in that scene, were salt and water, yes, but they were also so much more.

The Legend of Korra, being a sequel series, has always been a sort of “child” to its parent series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Because of this, the theme of “generations” has always come to the fore, intentional or otherwise. There are two such generational gaps at work here, between Aang’s generation and Tenzin’s generation, and subsequently Tenzin’s and Korra’s. It’s a subtle, beneath-the-surface interaction that is simultaneously constant and intense. Tenzin, barring some crazy, out-of-left-field tragedy befalling the new airbenders, has essentially fulfilled the legacy of Aang the Last Airbender. Now, it is up to Korra to fulfill the legacy of Aang the Avatar.

Wandering thoughts for The Legend of Korra: “In Harm’s Way” (Episode 3.04):

  • Jinora’s “spiritwalk” ability is beyond OP
  • Why does the horrible, corrupt city of Ba Sing Se always seem to bring about the best episodes?
  • I wish Zuko would have just opened a can of lightning whoop-ass on Zaheer and his fellow baddies. It is more realistic that he wouldn’t be able to stop them, however, given his age.
  • Enjoying the Korra/Asami relationship. It could have easily derailed after the “Mako Incident” and fallen into a cliche, love-triangle drama. Glad to see them getting along, and working well together.
  • Jinora X Kai? I ship it. I ship it so hard.
  • The Dai Li are snaky little bastards, but God, are they slick. I want to cosplay them.
  • Bumi X Lin Bei Fong? I ship it. I ship it so hard.
  • Speaking of Bumi: his line, “Cue the Balloons!” as code for “Bring the Airships!” is just perfect. Don’t worry, Bumi, I still appreciate code words.
  • Is it just me, or is Mako kind of a garbage firebender? It’s either that, or I’ve been spoiled by Azula’s utter mastery of the BEST ELEMENT (which, ahem, is fire–FACT.)

Rating: Beautiful action sequences, excellent pacing, and thematic gravitas give The Legend of Korra: “In Harm’s Way” (Episode 3.04) an A+

Oh, and since this is my first review of The Legend of Korra this season, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a Villainy Rating:

ASV Scale of Villainy: WF
At this point in the story, Korra has full mastery of all four elements. If she were to go bad now, her strength would only increase exponentially, because in such a world, Zaheer and his gang would bow to her, and be merely instruments of her boundless power.

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