Varrick develops a conscience while Kuvira prepares her assault on Zaofu in “Enemy at the Gates”.

Varrick and his assistant, Zhu Li, have been important figures in The Legend of Korra, but until now they have been fairly static characters. “Enemy at the Gates” is about these two side-characters just as much as it is the growing tensions between Suyin’s city of Zaofu and Kuvira’s Earth Empire.

Before Kuvira, the “Great Uniter” of the Earth Kindom, can take the metal city of Zaofu, both sides (and even Korra) attempt to negotiate a peaceful solution. Of course, when one side wants total control and the other wants to be left alone, it’s difficult to find any sort of peace.

Varrick serves as one of Kuvira’s officers, his efforts focused on developing some sort of technology based on the spirit vines that infested Republic City after the events of Book Two. He continues to be eccentric and is entirely unappreciative of his assistant, Zhu Li, who we’ve learned in previous seasons is far more capable than her position would imply. After this episode, however, the fate of this duo is a mystery.

The episode features a side story about Asami. It kind of comes out of nowhere and doesn’t have anything to do with the main plot, but it addresses something she’s struggled with for years and contributes to the theme of these characters (particularly Team Avatar) growing up. Speaking of growing up, Korra is acting with caution and maturity in reaction to Kuvira’s plans.

Episodes of Legend of Korra: Book Four are released on Nick’s website on Friday mornings, with both of the previous episodes available to view now. The first two seasons are available on Amazon, with Book Three on Vudu.

Spoilers follow.

Kuvira Prepares to Take Zaofu:

Kuvira, self-proclaimed leader of the Earth Empire, has an impressive force of metal and earthbenders, mecha tanks, and airships. While they remained stationed in front of the metal city of Zaofu, she and Suyin debate the city’s future. A flashback reveals why she left Suyin’s side (to protect and unite the Earth Kingdom when Suyin refused), but how she got from “protect people” to “fascism” is still unknown. Unfortunately, if Book Four follows the trend of past seasons, the antagonist’s jump from “logical concern” to “maniacal villain” will be blurry at best.

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Bolin, who has been loyal to Kuvira and happy to help people caught in the Earth Kingdom’s chaos, has started to question if people are really better off after their help. The poor kid doesn’t even realize that “re-education camps” aren’t training people for trade skills, and at the episode’s ending he is sent off to one himself. Before that though, he gets a great fight scene and even gets to use some of that lavabending we saw last season.

Korra’s return to the global stage is unique for the character. As she notes, in the past she would have come out fighting, but now the Avatar is reserved, hoping to negotiate peace between Kuvira and Suyin (and bring balance to the situation). Her reluctance for combat is disappointing for some, like Suyin and Meelo, and her willingness to ask the Metal Clan to comply with Kuvira at the end of the episode is a surprising display of her desire to avoid violence.

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“There are too many Varricks!”

After promising earlier this season that tech using the spirit vines would change everything, Varrick has continued his experiments with Zhu Li. While the end goal is still unclear, the genius engineer is attempting to store the energy from the vines into batteries. In line with his eccentricities, he has named the units of measurement for this power “Varricks” (units of weight are measured in “Zhu Lis” apparently).

An explosion resulting from the experiment causes Varrick to question his work, something Kuvira won’t allow. Using the metal from his uniform, she threatens his life if he refuses to continue. Why do these people wear all this metal when their boss is Magneto? After a failed escape attempt (but awesome mecha fight), Zhu Li allies herself with Kuvira, Bolin is sent to a re-education camp, and Varrick is forced to continue his work. What that work will result in is a big question, but the blast from his failed attempt did resemble the spirit energy from Vaatu in Book Two.

Zhu Li declaring herself to be allied with Kuvira is harder to read into than it would appear. After a tender moment between her and Varrick earlier in the episode, it would seem obvious that she would say whatever she must to stay near Varrick. And working at Kuvira’s side puts her in a pretty powerful position (and it probably a lot nicer than a re-education camp). Still, when turning against her now-former boss, she complains about his treatment of her, and it’s entirely valid. Varrick is a self-obsessed jerk and is constantly rude to Zhu Li, even in that tender moment they had earlier in “Enemy at the Gates”. She could be legitimately loyal to Kuvira or secretly committed to Varrick, neither would be a surprise.

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Mecha in Avatar:

Mecha tanks aren’t something new to Legend of Korra, but the mechanized suits used in Kuvira’s army are vastly improved over the ones used by Amon’s Equalists in Book One. Not only are they smaller and more mobile, they are packed with hardware that allow for some inventive fighting.

It’s the first big fight sequence of the season and was definitely the best use of the mecha tanks in the series. ATLA and LoK deliver some of the best combat when the benders are being creative with their abilities, and the new gear on these bots allows just that. Zhu Li – who is always perfectly capable at anything she does – holds her own against the trained soldiers and pulls of some great moves. Resorting to earthbending, Bolin leaps out of his suit and pulls off a few creative tricks of his own, including dropping a tree on his opponent.

The digitization of the scene was obvious, but if the rest of the season includes fight scenes choreographed this well, we’re in for some great moments, especially when the major players (Korra, Kuvira, maybe Toph) get involved.

Bottom Line: The first big fight scene of the season is a blast, and the episode sets the tension for next week’s “Battle of Zaofu”.

Recommendation: Not a game changing episode, you can skip this one, but why would you? It has a ton of Varrick scenes and an awesome mecha fight.

[rating=4]

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