With Korra banished from Republic City by President Raiko, Team Avatar takes it upon themselves with a new mission: find the Airbenders reported throughout the Earth Kingdom and ask them to join in rebuilding the Air Nation. Several unsuccessful trips and one recruit later, our heroes arrive in Ba Sing Se.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Team Avatar entered Ba Sing Se only to realize the Earth King was a mere figurehead while his adviser Long Feng secretly ruled the city with his Dai Li agents. Anyone who opposed them were brainwashed or threatened to maintain a squeaky clean image and prevent news of the war from slipping out.
Some things never change.
The largest monarchy in the world is still walled from everything, reasoning with its leader proves to be more difficult than it’s worth, and there’s yet another dark secret triggered by the Dai Li.
Earth Queen Hou-Ting’s brashness could give Korra a run for her money. When we first meet her, she is overseeing construction of a new garden and quickly berates a servant for what she views as shoddy work. Hou-Ting has little tolerance for Korra’s presence and resents the previous Avatar and the Fire Nation for using Earth Kingdom lands to build Republic City. It’s an understandable complaint, you don’t see any Fire Nation or Water Tribe lands sacrificed for the greater good. But it’s clear she’s bitter and that a lot of her reasoning is based on her own self-interest. She gleefully wastes money on topiary and has the gall to complain about tax money she hasn’t been receiving. With the lower class region worse off than seventy years ago, it is tragically clear how little she cares for her people. The Queen is a far cry from her father. Earth King Kuei may have been naive, but he always wanted what was best for his people. Also, unlike Kuei the Queen knows what the Dai Li are up to as the one in control of their actions.
Hou-Ting denies any Airbenders exist in her city, but the truth is darker. The Dai Li agents have been kidnapping any existing Airbenders in Ba Sing Se, holing them in a secret underground compartment to be trained (and presumably brainwashed) into her personal army. I’m going to guess that the Queen wants to retake her land, by force if necessary. Very few people know how to counter Airbenders, so if her plan succeeds, the Queen could have a significant advantage. Hou-Ting could make a compelling secondary antagonist behind Zaheer and his group.
I was a bit mixed on Kai when he first appeared and “The Earth Queen” wasn’t doing much to endear me to him. The kid sneaks off from Team Avatar the second he gets a chance and proceeds to fall back onto old habits. I was just about done with him by that point and wanted some kind of karmic justice. Kai certainly got that, but not in the way I expected when Dai Li agents catch up to him and seal him along with the rest of the Airbenders. Kai may have been mildly irritating, but no one deserves that level of trauma. I think that feeling is what the creators were envoke, and it worked in spades.
I really enjoyed Korra and Asami’s team-up. These two haven’t had nearly enough moments together, so I’m glad Book 3 is changing that. It’s especially good to see Asami in a prominent role again. A lack of focus was a huge problem for her character in Book 2; her personal journey involving her attempt to escape her father’s shadow and save Future Industries was too quickly dealt with and pushed to the side. Fortunately Asami is front and center in “The Earth Queen”, and all signs point to this sticking.
“The Earth Queen” is really the Mako and Bolin show. They’re fantastic in this episode and have great chemistry when they’re forced to rely on old skills after getting lost in the lower class district. My favorite moment occurs when the two debate the ethical merits of fruit-stealing like they did back in the good ol’ days, and if the rotten looking food is even worth the trouble. They end up reuniting with their grandmother and her extended family shortly after, where they learn a bit about their father. The bonding is strong enough that Mako willingly relinquishes his treasured scarf for his grandmother to keep, as a reminder of her late son. I’m unsure if they’ll go any further with this particular subplot, as it wraps itself up rather nicely. But I did notice that Bolin and Mako’s cousin, Tu, is a bit jealous of their success, so there might still be more to this.
I think the brothers’ time among their family is telling in another area. There are an awful lot of family members living under one roof. Tu sells the best fruit on the region, but it was all going bad and attracting flies. It’s pretty clear the lower class is suffering worse than in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Further emphasis is placed on this when Korra and Asami go off to collect the Queen’s tax money in exchange for her help, only for a biker gang to rebel and chide them for being on the wrong team. Tellingly, Korra agrees and suspects that the situation stinks worse than Tu’s fruits. I assume this subject will be a recurring plotline in Book 3.
The last member of Zaheer’s group is already proving to be the most chilling character. Her creepy voice already comes across as sadistic and I’m willing to bet she’s the strongest of the four. I’m expecting some truly amazing, nightmarish scenes from her.
“The Earth Queen” is exceptional and Book 3 continues to deliver. This episode adds more to the growing plot, but never feels rushed or too busy. I really like the new spin on the familiar also. The Dai Li are still as unsettling as ever while Ba Sing Se, however glamorous it looks on the outside, looks set to cause trouble for Team Avatar a second time.