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The Legend of Korra - "Civil Wars, Part 2" Episode 16 Recap

Korra confronts Unalaq after her parents are arrested.

I’m not sure how to feel about “Civil Wars, Part 2.” Part 1 was solid, but this episode is muddled down with iffy plot points and questionable elements.

I thought Unalaq’s antagonism was a given, but he had a mysterious motivation that kept him from being a typical villain and enough depth to potentially justify his actions. “Civil Wars, Part 2” reveals he’s the one who got Tonraq banished twenty years ago in order to seek the Chief’s seat for power. This is from the words of others and not Unalaq himself, but he never attempts to deny it and his actions against Korra clinches it. After all that back and forth on who Unalaq truly is, the revelation of him as a power-hungry politician is disappointingly straightforward and cliche. As Book Two’s primary villain he pales in comparison to the other big bad back in Book One; Amon worked as a consistent threat because of his secretive nature and savvy know-how. Unalaq feels like he’s following in his footsteps, but with a motivation that isn’t a tenth as interesting.

It doesn’t help that this revelation came way too quickly. Having Korra threaten the judge only contrives it further because it conveniently gives her the answer to her uncle’s treachery soon after he unsubtly brought his navy to the south back in “The Southern Lights.” I fear this is all we’ll ever need to know about him and Book Two will be stuck with a boring villain. I want to be optimistic and assume there will be something better at the end. We’re only four episodes into a season that will have fourteen, so there’s plenty of time to toy with our expectations. We still don’t know what he’s after with the spiritual plane, nor do we know why Korra is no longer of use to him.

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I’m also a bit lukewarm to the Tenzin subplot. Last episode really explored the inner dilemmas of Tenzin and his siblings. Here Tenzin and Ikki more or less come to the conclusion that family stick together without really delving into it. Eventually they all make up and that’s pretty much it. I did like Bumi talking to his father’s statue though. As the first child, he feels insecure about living up to his father’s legacy; he’s not a Bender, let alone an Airbender. He joined the United Forces in an attempt to do some good and prove his worth as the Avatar’s kid. Kya’s reassurance only adds to the small but effective moment.

I’m not sure I like Korra willingly activating her Avatar State. I presented a theory on this back in my “Rebel Spirit” recap and I think it still applies here (a giant tsunami is probably not going to dethrone Aang’s koi fish monster form anytime soon), but it begs the question: why doesn’t Korra use her Avatar State whenever she wants to? Why not bring it out every time she fights? The show seems to imply she can whip it out anytime, anywhere with no repercussion. The Avatar State is meant to be the must vulnerable stage for the Avatar as one slip-up will be the end of the Avatar line, yet the show doesn’t seem to emphasize the handicap. I remember the DVD commentary for the original Avatar: The Last Airbender pilot had the creators specifically downplaying the Avatar State; they didn’t want Aang to trigger it like a superpower so they can emphasize the raw nature of the state and prevent Aang from overpowering everything with an easy solution. And yet that’s exactly what Korra’s doing, which cheapens the Avatar State.

Bolin’s role isn’t any better. I give him points for trying to break up with Eska, but it all amounts to a hill of beans. Eska tries to force marriage on him and Bolin keeps running away or succumbing to her whims. It stopped being funny two episodes ago and really invites unfortunate implications. Mostly, it belittles Bolin’s character once again. I miss the portly Earthbender who could make a quip without stripping away his dignity. Here he’s stupid and silly for no reason other than comedy. He doesn’t deserve this and if the cliffhanger is anything to go by, Eska is not through with him. My only hope is that Bolin will get the courage he needs to finally stop her for good.

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Varrick continues to entertain with his goofiness, but “Civil Wars, Part 2″ really ramps up his role. He competently supports Korra’s gang to free her father and escape the South Pole, all while wearing a Platypus Bear suit. I was wondering where they’d go with this guy, but it looks like he’ll take after Asami as a rich but benevolent person. He’s perhaps not as straitlaced as her (if his bribery is anything to go by, he’s shady) and he’s  likely acting more out of self-interest, but he’s potentially good enough that the heroes can rely on him if needed.

“Civil Wars, Part Two” isn’t bad and it does get the plot moving. Korra frees her father from prison, but ignites a war because of it. Now she has to go Republic City and ask President Raiko for help. Interacting with the new head of state in a familiar place will be interesting, while the promise of traveling around the world to gather allies is always a tantalizing proposition. Not to mention that we still don’t know what the deal is with the spirits. There’s plenty of material here, despite how fast the plot is moving. I just think that “Civil Wars, Part Two” could have handled its plot and characters with better nuance.

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