The Legend of Korra - "Venom of the Red Lotus" - Episode 39 Recap
Korra is forced into the Avatar State by the Red Lotus’ poison. Now she must fight Zaheer to the end before she succumbs to its’ deadly effects.
In the last episode, Zaheer achieved full enlightenment and gained the ability to fly. He successfully captured and hid Korra in a cavern. There, the Red Lotus slips a metallic poison into her body to force her into the Avatar State. Once she reaches it the Red Lotus plan to kill her, ending the Avatar Cycle and freeing humankind from authoritative restraint. Korra struggles to restrain herself, but ultimately the poison takes its toll and triggers the Avatar State. The Red Lotus didn’t receive the memo that a bunch of chains isn’t going to hold her down at this point, though. Korra breaks free and Zaheer gets a taste of the chaos he so desired.
I had a problem with Korra willingly activating the Avatar State back in Book 2. This invited a lot of questions on why she doesn’t do it all the time and cheapened the effect: instead of the volatile, vulnerable nature the state should be treated as, Korra was whipping it out on demand like some convenient superpower. Korra never attempts the Avatar State during Book 3, which I thought had to do with her losing her connections to her past lives. Evidently that isn’t the case, which leads me to once again ask why she never used the Avatar State until it was literally forced out of her.
At least we get a very good action sequence out of it. The Korra vs. Zaheer matchup recalls the clash between Aang and Firelord Ozai back in Avatar, to the point that I wonder if it is a homage. While the latter was impressive at the time, you can tell the animation has significantly improved over the years for Korra. The entire sequence is intense. Korra’s never been this primal before. Whenever she displayed the Avatar State before, those moments were minor and focused. This time though, Korra captures the raw force Aang demonstrated back in his days. I especially love how the battle ends with Korra pulling Zaheer down with her chain, literally tethering him back to the earth.
Other highlights include Mako’s clever defeat of Ming Hua, where he electrocutes the water she’s in at the last minute. Asami dismantling one of the Red Lotus guards was a nice little treat, as we rarely see her in action. I also liked Ghazan’s desperation. He refuses to go back to jail because he values his freedom. In fact, he almost sounds so afraid of prison that he would rather die than return. As I mentioned in “Enter the Void”, there is a tragedy to the Red Lotus’ mission and Ghazan’s suicidal death is a great example of it this as the group crumbles into pieces.
For better or worse, Jinora’s role has been diminished to give Kai some character development. This worked well for him because he ends up a better character compared to where he started from, but it often placed Jinora into helpless situations so Kai could pull through. Thankfully, the show never forgets to also acknowledge Jinora’s intelligence and talent. She’s a prodigy capable of connecting with the spirits, while she also has an impressive set of airbending skills. This earns Jinora her tattoos and she undergoes a ceremony to celebrate her new role as Airbending master. The event is beautiful, reflecting her maturity and the slow but gradual return of Airbending society. She may have beaten her grandfather’s record as the youngest Airbending master too, so how’s that for props? Jinora even looks like Aang by the end of the episode. Truly, impressive bending runs in the family. Though this is minor, I have to ask: where the heck is Katara during Jinora’s ceremony? You would think that she of all people would want to be there for her granddaughter’s ascension!
I was hoping they’d do something interesting with Bumi and his bending. At the time, my biggest contentment was that he got airbending. Prior to this he was the only non-bender in the family, and he tried to compensate with his own savvy know-how to do his part for the world. That was a struggle unique to him, and it felt backwards to have that stripped away. I’d hoped that future Book 3 episodes would treat his new abilities with respect. While we did get a couple of episodes that focused on his struggles, I felt his subplot was undermined. His airbending ability feels like an unnecessary addition that could have been covered with the spotlight on another character like Kai or Opal.
I think it’s interesting that Zaheer made the choice to run away from a giant Airbending tornado rather than kill Korra. He only needed to do that for his plans to come to fruition, but when push comes to shove he opts to try flying away. Freedom is more important, even if it means delaying his plans once more. It is notable as well that Zaheer’s calm, poignant persona finally cracks when he is captured. This is the only time we ever see him yell and go crazy, but what else can he do at his wit’s end?
The most poignant moment by far occurs during the aftermath. The poison takes a bad toll on Korra , leaving her stuck in a wheelchair until she recovers. She looks haggard and tired, while her expressions are ambiguous. Korra barely says a word despite full support from her family and friends. She silently responds to Jinora’s ascension with a single tear. The Legend of Korra has a habit of telling, not showing, but “Venom of the Red Lotus” especially exemplifies the subtlety the series is capable of. What is Korra feeling? Is she worried? Is she fearful? Or is she just tired? Earlier, Korra hallucinated previous antagonists she met, all declaring the Avatar’s uselessness, claiming the world doesn’t need or want her.
This would be a very justified fear for Korra. Korra is the opposite of Aang in a lot of ways. Avatar: The Last Airbender emphasized the public’s anticipation of the Avatar’s arrival. The majority considered him a herald of hope in a time of war. The Legend of Korra, on the other hand, challenges the Avatar’s importance and actions. Unfortunately, we’ve seen Korra make a number of decisions that lowered people’s opinion of her. This is keenly established in “A Breath of Fresh Air”, where Korra’s latest act causes a frustrated President Raiko to banish her from Republic City. That likely added to her growing concern. Opening the spiritual gates also negates a potential need for the Avatar, as the Avatar originated as a medium to bridge the gap between the physical and spiritual worlds. The Avatar seems to decrease in importance at every major turn. Forget Zaheer ending the Avatar cycle through death, maybe it’ll be the public that finally does her in by deciding she’s obsolete. She’ll just be a legend. This is a girl who’s been the Avatar since she was four. She’s been trained and taught her entire life that she is important to the people and has a duty to help those in need. To have that potentially subverted and stripped away must seriously affect her better judgment and confidence. President Raiko does seem to realize his error in banishing Korra and acknowledges the Avatar’s necessity now, but then Tenzin steps in with a solution to Korra’s temporary incapacitation. He and his Air Nomads will be globetrotting to serve the people and preserve peace to make up for the Red Lotus’ actions. Essentially, they are doing the Avatar’s work for her until she regains strength, but that might be another burden for Korra to carry. At least, that’s the current theory I’m going with. I guess we’ll see once Book 4 starts rolling.
Book 3 has been a massive improvement over the last two. Book 1 started off very strong and kept a consistent theme throughout. It was just hindered by a very rushed, unsatisfying ending and a terrible love triangle that overtook more than it needed. Book 2 knocked status quo out the window and introduced a major change that visibly affected the world as a whole. The finale was epic and Korra’s spiritual journey was worth the ride, but it was tainted by poor character choices and messy, messy pacing.
Book 3, however, is the antidote The Legend of Korra sorely needed. The pacing is fluid and characters are given specific arcs that play out to their fullest. Asami, who was poorly utilized during Book 2, receives a dramatic leap of character here; her friendship with Korra is everything I wanted. Their scene at the end of “Venom of the Red Lotus” is a sweet moment between the two, echoing the talk they had back in “A Breath of Fresh Air.” Two girls befriending one another this way are regrettably rare on TV, but Book 3 succeeded with this in spades. Despite their lack of personality, the portrayal of the villains was extremely effective at getting the viewer to see things from their perspective. They did succeed in creating discord at Ba Sing Se and that alone could spell trouble for times ahead. Tenzin’s decision to roam the world with the other Airbenders to ensure peace is a direct contrast to Zaheer’s twisted philosophy.
I was worried that Book 3 wouldn’t be able to maintain the level of consistent quality its predecessor had, but it was a rousing success. Almost everything worked, while what didn’t are either minor nitpicks or problems the next book can address. I’m hoping it’ll dig deeply into Korra’s fears. I also predict it’ll take place in the Fire Nation. After all, it’s the only major nation left! I’m really looking forward to Book 4 now.