Legend of Korra
Legend of Korra Review: Who's the Villain, Again?

Mike Hoffman | 12 Aug 2014 01:10
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zaheer and red lotus meet with earth queen legend of korra long live the queen

In "Long Live the Queen", Asami helps Korra to escape while they are being transported to the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se, but they end up in deeper trouble as a result. Meanwhile, in Ba Sing Se, Zaheer and the Red Lotus offer Mako and Bolin as well as the location of the airbender's Korra and friends rescued, all in exchange for the Avatar. Zaheer, who has stated his distaste for political leaders, actually plays the political game quite well. He treats the Earth Queen with reverence and offers her logical reasons for not keeping the Avatar, mainly that every other nation would attack the Earth Kingdom for taking her. While Mako and Bolin are locked up, Zaheer patiently awaits the arrival of Korra.

Above the desert, Asami busts out of her prison cell after convincing a guard to place her in a more comfortable position. As I said earlier, Asami kills it in this episode. She breaks the bar she's chained to from the wall, pulls up a floor panel, and knocks out the guard outside the cell before freeing Korra. When they attempt to take the bridge and Korra accidentally destroys the controls, it's Asami that guides the restoration of the airship after it crashes. In a surprising moment, a desert monster they had been hoping to avoid utterly destroys the airship just as it starts to function again. Once again, Asami steps up and leads the Earth Kingdom crew and Korra to build a small sandship, and they make their way to Misty Palms Oasis, where they were taken. There, Korra and Asami find Lin, Fire Lord Zuko, and Tonraq, Korra's father, but their reunion is interrupted by a radio broadcast: rioting and looting has taken over the palace in Ba Sing Se.

zaheer airbends air out of earth queen legend of korra long live the queen

When a guard rushes to deliver a message to the Earth Queen, Zaheer follows to eavesdrop (with some sick sneaky airbending). After learning that the Avatar has escaped the Earth Queen's forces, Zaheer insist on taking Mako and Bolin back, as he told the Red Lotus earlier that he intends to make Korra seek out him and his gang. Here's where things get dark. After the Red Lotus easily defeats the Dai Li, Zaheer approaches the Earth Queen, who claims he would not dare attack a queen. After stating that he does not believe in queens, Zaheer airbends the air from her lungs, creating a suffocating ball around her head, while he chastises her for taking the freedom from her people. It's definitely the most graphic moment in both Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender, but the Red Lotus isn't finished yet.

Zaheer leads P'Li and Ming Hua to the broadcast room, and when the operator refuses to comply, Ming Hua attacks him, but Zaheer stops her, stating that this operator is exactly the kind of person the Red Lotus is trying to help. Zaheer then announces to the city that they are now free and that he has taken down the Earth Queen. The writers of the episode are very careful not to mention death or murder, but like Jet in ATLA, while it's unclear, we all know what's up. As he makes his announcement, Ghazan, the lavabender, destroys the walls that have separated the classes of Ba Sing Se for centuries. After releasing all of the prisoners except Mako and Bolin, Zaheer informs the brothers that he will release them, but they must deliver a message to Korra.

korra lin beifong zuko tonraq legend of korra long live the queen

The murder of a character on screen on a Nickelodeon show is a big deal, and not a decision the showrunners made lightly. It was graphic, but as we watched the Earth Queen's eyes bulging as she suffocated, how many of us were at least a little pleased. She was horrid, forcing children and other airbenders to become soldiers, overtaxing her people, encouraging a classist society, and while murder isn't exactly the best thing ever, when we see a character we dislike die, we cheer.

So what happens when two "villains" encounter each other and one kills another? What if the victorious antagonist is actually not too terrible in his ideals? Zaheer is working to bring balance between all people, he doesn't have some obscure goal of bringing "balance to the world". And seeing him defend the operator as a part of the people he is trying to help only encourages empathizing with his objectives. So what happens when all of this goes down on a children's TV station? I'm not saying kids can't handle this sort of thing; kids are tough and actually learn from this stuff. But perhaps Legend of Korra wasn't pushed to online-only just because of its lower ratings this season.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender did well with its antagonists not being completely evil. Most cartoons have villains that simply want to control the world, but Zuko was fighting for something more personal. While Fire Lord Ozai did fall into the direct villain role, the rest of the Fire Nation was shown to be victims of conditioning, best shown when Aang ended up in one of their classrooms. The first season of Legend of Korra followed suit, with Amon, at least at first, making a decent argument for his attacks. I even felt bad for Lieutenant, the loyal soldier that felt betrayed by Amon upon learning he was a bender. Zaheer and the Red Lotus have proven to be some of the most understandable and human villains of the Avatar universe, even in committing their criminal acts. Not only am I left wondering how the series will resolve this, but how will viewers resolve empathizing with a group that murders, kidnaps, and whatever else the Red Lotus has planned.

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