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The Legend of Korra – “The Battle of Zaofu” – Episode 45 Recap

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Suyin and her sons are captured by Kuvira during an attempted assassination, so it’s up to Korra to duel Kuvira one-on-one for Zaofu’s fate. Meanwhile Bolin and Varrick try to escape Baater Jr and his men.

“The Battle of Zaofu” is sluggishly paced, but there’s a lot to like about it, too. Korra’s been out of the loop for three years, so she thinks Kuvira can be reasoned with. Korra attempts a peaceful resolution, though there is hesitation and weariness to her voice. Kuvira will have none of it and for once, it falls on Korra to fight and, if necessary, bring out the Avatar State to end Kuvira. But when Korra manages to trigger her powered form, doubt seeps into her again, giving Kuvira the edge needed to emerge victorious. Ultimately, the battle is forfeit when Jinora and Opal intervene to save Korra. When Korra removed the poison out of her body back in “The Calling”, I was apprehensive. That episode seem to indicate her trauma could be wiped clean by literally removing it out of her, and I would have been insulted if future episodes followed through with that. Thankfully, “The Battle of Zaofu” proves otherwise. Korra still has hang-ups because traumatic ordeals simply do not vanish like that. I’m glad the narrative remembered to treat it as a serious, lingering matter.

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There’s a visual symbol with Kuvira’s hair during her duel with Korra. As she keeps fighting, her hair loosens until it’s freed from her bun. It’s at this point that Kuvira expresses emotions she’s never shown before. When Korra nearly killed her whilst in Avatar State, there is genuine fear in Kuvira’s eyes. She was overconfident enough to think she could take on Korra, but miscalculated long enough to tremble before the Avatar’s might. What could have been going through Kuvira’s mind during her possible final moments? I figure failure and unease when a significant part of her realized she may actually lose. Kuvira promises truces and fair wages, but she does so knowing she’ll get what she desires. In spite of her bet with Korra, I doubt Kuvira would have let Zaofu slip into the night. She has personal stake with the city. Kuvira’s hair is a disheveled mess by the time she wins, giving her a crazed edge that might illustrate her full descent into madness.

In fact, the city is the backdrop for nearly every character here. It is the last of Earth Kingdom territory untainted by Kuvira’s hands. It is the stronghold Korra must protect. It is Kuvira’s final obstacle and once she conquers it, she can be rid the embarrassment she felt under Suyin’s shadow. It is Opal’s home and to see it fall is enough for her to briefly forgo Airbending philosophy and push Korra into eliminating Kuvira. It is Baater Jr’s insecurities as he tries to one-up his father. When Kuvira successfully apprehends the city, Baater Jr. demands his father to bow, but is met with disappointment. The last moment is a bit lackluster, since Baater Jr. barely had enough screentime to emit pity. It rings hollow for me.

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The B-plot focuses on Baater Jr. as he forces Varrick to resume the spirit vine superweapon project. Varrick’s at his mastery here. He plays Baater Jr. and his men for fools, expressing useless anecdotes and bemusement over Zhu Li’s betrayal as distraction until he finalizes a bomb that’ll blow the lab to kingdom come.  He threatens to take them all down unless Baater Jr. and his men exit the premise, leaving it up to Bolin to earthbend himself and Varrick out before the big kaboom. The episode leaves it ambiguous note on whether Varrick really intended to perish alongside the project, or if he knew Bolin would save them both. He’s just goofy and manipulative enough to for either to be possible.

However, “The Battle of Zaofu” suffers as a story. “Enemy of the Gates” is a thickly layered episode, finally reuniting Korra back into the public’s eye and setting up an intense moment between Zaofu and Kuvira’s army. “The Battle of Zaofu” lacks the denseness of its predecessor, constantly switching between the two plots with little rhythm. Korra’s fight with Kuvira drags on for too long, as does Varrick’s teasing. I knew he was yanking Baater Jr’s chain the whole time, so why prolong the inevitable? “The Battle of Zaofu” feels like an extension of “Enemy of the Gates” rather than a natural progression from it.

I have no idea where Book 4 is heading. Normally, this is a good sign because it keeps me on my toes, but it lacks direction. Book 4 is riveting and it gradually moves the story, but a couple of repetitive episodes have harmed it a bit. Hopefully it’ll get back on course soon.