Mako, Bolin, and Asami have finally moved to Air Temple Island, where Korra and Tenzin’s children escort them to their new quarters. A stray comment by Ikki reveals Korra’s feelings for Mako to Asami, leading to a brief but extremely awkward moment between the two women. Luckily, Tenzin arrives to whisk Korra away to the ceremony where Captain Saikhan is named the new chief of the Republic City Police. Saikhan publicly declares his loyalty to Tarrlok’s task force, and a confident Tarrlok dismisses Tenzin and Korra’s accusations after the ceremony while gloating over Korra’s continuing failure to learn Airbending. Korra vents her frustration to Tenzin, who suggests reaching out to the Avatar’s past lives for assistance. When Korra mentions her strange visions about Aang, Tenzin suggests that Aang must be trying to tell her something. That evening, Mako, Bolin, and Asami break Korra’s funk by suggesting they patrol Republic City on their own. Their first night leads to a high-speed pursuit and capture of escaping Equalists, but their nocturnal expedition earns the wrath of Tarrlok. The next morning, Tarrlok pushes through draconian measures to lock down the non-bending population of Republic City, while Tenzin’s objections fall on deaf ears. Team Avatar sees the results the next night, as the police force enforce the city’s new non-bender curfew first by cutting power to a neighborhood and then by arresting the unruly but otherwise peaceful gathering, equating dissent with Equalist sympathies. Korra and her friends try to stop Tarrlok, which only leads to the arrest of Asami, Mako, and Bolin. After she and Tenzin are stonewalled by Chief Saikhan, Korra confronts Tarrlok directly in his council chambers, leading to a vicious bending duel between the two that erupts into the main council hall. Unfortunately, when victory is at hand, Korra learns the hard way that Tarrlok is a powerful bloodbender, capable of stopping her in her tracks. Korra gets one more vision of Aang dealing with Yakone, the past threat to Republic City seen in episode 4 and again in episode 6, except this time she sees Yakone bloodbending everyone at his trial. She awakens to find herself bound up in a truck, as Tarrlok threatens to take her somewhere “where she’ll never be found.”
I could have lived without the Meelo fart joke, and I would like to know where Asami got all that stuff she brought to Air Temple Island and how they got their Satomobile to the mainland on the ferry. Other than that, though, “When Extremes Meet” may be the best episode of The Legend of Korra to date.
“When Extremes Meet” is an unusually dark episode of The Legend of Korra. I don’t just mean in terms of the subject matter: a lot of the episode happens at night, and the lighting is much darker than it has been in past episodes. Setting the scenes in evening or nighttime hours leads to unusual shadows and washed-out colors, but many of the other scenes have strange lighting, like the slightly blown-out Sky Bison ride Korra and Tenzin take in the middle of the episode (where the lighting is skewed enough that their eyes sometimes seem to be different colors depending on which way they’re facing), or the overly-bright council chamber when Tarrlok gets his non-bender anti-terrorism law passed. This also means that Tarrlok is almost always in shadow for the entire back-half of the episode, even when he’s in the fully-lit council chambers. That turns out to be the first foreshadowing of his more sinister role to come, and is another way that the lighting of the episode mirrors the darker shift in tone.
Before I delve more into Tarrlok, I did want to highlight some of the beautiful animation. There’s some hilariously over-the-top animation at the beginning, when Korra reacts to Ikki’s offhand comments (and Ikki responds to getting cut off by Korra). Both remind me of the scene in Amélie when the title character turns to water as an exaggerated way to reflect her emotional state. Those exaggerated scenes are followed by equally effective subtle acting in visibly awkward scene between Korra and Asami, where neither can ignore their common affection for Mako but neither wants to deal with it either. (And, touching on the lighting again, notice that there doesn’t seem to be any electric lighting, which both reflects the more spartan lifestyle on the island and subtly cues us to the time of day that these events are happening.) There’s other great moments of animated acting throughout the episode as well. Asami’s reaction to Mako and Korra in the back of the car is small but significant. Korra gets a beautiful little scene right after her flight with Tenzin, revealing how lost and upset she really is. As always, Tenzin can be phenomenally expressive with very little movement; little eye glances or wrinkling of his brows make his internal conflicts easily visible, and catch the way his body language captures his reaction to Korra’s visions even though we can’t see his face.
And, of course, Tarrlok shifts between oily charisma and surprising cruelty with the smallest of visual cues, and the events of this episode bring him to the forefront of threats to Korra and possibly Republic City. Before now, he seemed to be just a greedy, slimy politician capitalizing on a crisis. Korra’s latest visions seem to show Yakone bloodbending everyone at his trial, including Sokka, Toph, and Aang. Combined with the previous visions, it seems all but certain that Aang’s spirit has been trying to warn Korra about Tarrlok, instead of or in addition to Amon. Yakone even seems to bear a suspicious resemblance to Tarrlok. Assuming a connection between the two, I think Tarrlok’s overreaction to the Equalists isn’t a political blind spot as much as it’s a deliberate attempt to trigger open war. Idle thoughts had crossed my mind about how Tarrlok could be such a savvy political operator, easily outmaneuvering Korra and Tenzin, and yet be so unaware of how his actions would be perceived by the non-benders of Republic City. After the events in this episode, I think he’s deliberately stoking anti-bender sentiment, which makes sense if Tarrlok isn’t after power but revenge. He wants to strike back at Aang for what he did to Yakone, and what better way to do it than to destroy Republic City?
It is remotely possible that Tarrlok is actively working with the Equalists to destablize Republic City. This is also a way for him to actually be Amon, which was an idea I had dismissed earlier, but the revelations of this episode are making me rethink nearly everything. It would explain where Tarrlok was getting some of his intelligence from, and give an additional inside angle for the Equalists in addition to Hiroshi Sato. This would also explain why Aang has sent spirit world visions to Korra when she’s encountering Amon and Tarrlok. I think it’s more likely that there’s a connection between Amon and Tarrlok and don’t rule out the possibility that they’re working together in secret (or possibly relatives), but the differences in their personalities points to two different people or one really extreme case of multiple-personality disorder.
I can definitely say that so far, The Legend of Korra is even more tightly plotted than season 2 of Avatar. In any other show, I’d be worried that they have only 4 more episodes to wrap up this story arc, but that seems unfounded given the tremendous changes packed in to each episode so far. That’s the equivalent of 6 or 8 episodes of any other show, and gives plenty of time for a satisfactory ending while leaving some loose ends for the next season.