Sorry about the delay, I usually get these out the Monday after the episode airs, but I was busy up until now.
K406 Battle Of Zaofu
Written By - Tim Hedrick
Directed By - Melchoir Zwyer
Animated By - Studio Mir
This episode effectively is the mid season finale for Book 4, while I don't think it is the best mid season finale we have got for Korra nor do I think this is the best episode of this book, I do think this is a very good episode. A mix of two stories, a dramatic and tense confrontation and battle between Korra and Kuvira and the also tense, yet funny action with Bolin, Varrick and Baatar Jr. If I had any problem with this episode it would be that with the focus only on two stories this time around you are jumping back and forth between a really dramatic fight and a more tense stand off on the train. I felt like the battle had a few too many cut aways which meant we never focused on the battle for too long, not that the train scenes were bad, but I don't think they helped the set piece of this episode that was the battle. I think the main success of this episode is that they have so much set up going forward, nearly every character has something going on that can be developed and most of all despite our main hero and villain fighting so early in the season, I think they have left themselves a lot of space to really make their next fight amazing.
With only two stories to focus on this review should be easy to do, so lets start with the Varrick and Bolin stuff. What I really like about this episode is that we again are seeing more of Varrick than just the crazy guy who has an exclamation point at the end of everything he says. In this episode especially the voice acting performance from John Michael Higgins is very good as we see a little bit of that classic Varrick from previous episodes, but also more of his emotional side, where he is not shouting everything. Just hearing him speak normally at times in this episode really helps to understand him better as a character as he deals with the betrayal of Zhu Li. For me this episode was important as while I have always enjoyed Varrick, he was always a comedy character for me, even Bolin who many say is just for comedy has a lot of normal and serious moments, I have wanted moments with Varrick where we could cut through his eccentricity and see who he is at the core and we get some of that in this episode and straight away I like him a lot more as a character as he is a lot more balanced now.
We really see that he is hurt, sad and angry about what Zhu Li did in the last episode. For him this is the ultimate betrayal, the one thing in his life that he could always count on is now gone, Zhu Li was always there for him to "Do The Thing!" and he is struggling without her, to the point where he is ready to end it all in this episode. I really enjoy the mystery around whether Varrick was really ready to die in the explosion or if he was really expecting Bolin to finally catch on to his plan and do the thing by saving them both. Just before the explosion he is ready to die and even says he will see Zhu Li on the other side one day, but when Bolin saves the two of them he is happy that Bolin did it. It is interesting either way and just shows how close Zhu Li was to Varrick. It also shows Bolin how tough Varrick is to be around for long periods of time, he understands clearly how frustrating he is. So I am pretty interested to see where these two go now that they are presumed dead by certain characters and assumed to still be working for Kuvira by others, they are the only good characters who know about the spirit vine weapons so their plot seems clear, warn everyone about them.
While we get a lot of emotion from Varrick we also get the skillful and intelligent side of him in this episode. He managed to build a bomb without Baatar Jr noticing and really planned out everything when it came to using it effectively. Of course you do have to question why if he was so willing to die he would tell Baatar Jr to leave with his guards while he kept Bolin with him, why not take them out too, or he and bolin go on the other train and leave Baatar and Co with the bomb. This may lead to the conclusion that faking the two of their deaths was the main goal of the plan, but this is Varrick, so we may never know. Either way he was pretty cool when handling everyone once he revealed the bomb. Even getting a few zingers in on Baatar, not the only character to do this to him in the episode. Varrick calling out Baatar for not being that good of a scientist and how he will never create anything himself was pretty big as it has become clear that Baatar's Jr's turn has all been about proving to everyone , especially his father that he is just as good if not better than his father. So when his father refuses to bow to Kuvira it is a strong moment as Baatar Sr refuses to acknowledge what his son has done as being great, he is just disappointed and him calling his son "Junior" and nothing more is huge. He does not use the Baatar part of his son's name here and this infuriates him as it again shows that he cannot get out of his father's, the original Baatar's, shadow.
Bolin himself wasn't the focus of this episode, but when the time came he did save himself and Varrick from the explosion. Even if it made no sense how it happened, the tracks were fully metal and we know Bolin is not a metalbender, so how did he jump straight down onto the tracks and end up many meters into the ground?
On the other side of the story the focus is on Korra and Kuvira with some additional focus on Jinora and Opal. With this second meeting between Korra and Kuvira we see Korra maintain her position a lot better than the first time, her she doesn't find common ground with Kuvira and instead holds strong on the fact that she is not giving up Zaofu. This of course forces the conflict to develop into a battle and I do think the two will have conversations later on that are a lot more important than this. This was primarily set up for the battle. What was more interesting was how the other characters were reacting, Opal and Su both wanted Korra to end Kuvira straight away with the Avatar State while Jinora stressed that Air Nomads are non violent reminding Opal of the oath she took.
What I really got from this fight was that even more than Korra fighting to protect Zaofu, Korra was fighting to prove to herself that she is good enough to fight someone at Kuvira's level, that she is getting back to 100%. The level of determination Korra displayed here was clear to see, she was fighting for herself just as much as Zaofu. Yes, she ends up getting dominated in the fight, but for me it does not show that Korra is weak, it highlights that Korra has yet to fully recover. She is about a day removed from having metal poison in her body and has little to no time to get used to her full powers being back. It made sense that Korra lost this fight, if Korra had won here, then there is no plot left in the series, what this does do is make the moment when she does finally get back to 100% and can take on Kuvira evenly all the more powerful. Aang lost fights, all of the past Avatars had their failures, but they learned from them, Korra will do the same.
In terms of the actual bending in the fight, I didn't find anything to be overly amazing. I definitely felt like they were holding back a bit as it is just episode 6 and I assume there will be a bigger fight between the two in the finale. Minus some of Kuvira's interesting metalbending moves, the bending was fairly standard and the flow of the fight was quite repetitive. Korra attacks, Kuvira dodges, Kuvira counter attacks knocking Korra over, rinse and repeat. It is similar to my issues with the Korra Zaheer fight from the end of Book 3 Change, every exchange ended with Korra getting thrown around. I am not saying Korra should have one a few exchanges here, but even them exchanging a few bending moves and after a sequence none of them lands a hit would have worked. What really worked with the fight was the drama of the situation, this was a 1 on 1 fight for Zaofu, it was hero vs villain and that was clear to see.
Korra is eventually forced to use the Avatar State and very quickly overwhelms Kuvira and is about to kill her until Korra sees the dark vision of herself in Kuvira and goes out of the Avatar State, losing the fight. I had a feeling that this vision of herself would come back as it was not addressed in the episodes with Toph, so it makes sense, though I really did not see it coming when Kuvira looked up. My take on what is happening here is that it has nothing to do with what Korra dealt with with Toph, this for me is that Korra sees killing Kuvira like killing herself. In their first talk Korra realised they both made tough decisions that many disliked and sees some qualities in her that are present in herself, that is what I think this remaining issue is. I will be very interested to see if I am correct, the only thing making me doubt it is that this vision was present back in Korra Alone which was before Korra even knew about what Kuvira was doing, so to some extent it must represent something else.
With regards to Kuvira in this episode we really get a perfect display of how she handles these tough situations. Her issue with Zaofu was that it didn't need her help like other cities, so she couldn't use aid as the excuse leading her to go to using force to take it over. If she did attack straight away she immediately presents herself as the villain, so she waits and what happens, Su attacks her giving her a free ticket to take Zaofu by force and it not come across as her as the villain. Then when fighting Korra she creates the deal of this 1 on 1 fight for the city and when she defeats Korra she goes to kill Korra, but does these moves very slowly as if she is waiting for something, she knows if she kills Korra then automatically she is the villain because she killed the Avatar. So she waits and eventually Opal and Jinora step in to save Korra breaking the agreement, giving Kuvira another free ticket this time to take the city by force. She has played everything up to now in this book perfectly, where she goes next will be key. She now has everything she wanted, the whole Earth Empire United, if she just stops now she can probably get away with everything more or less as to the world at large she has not done anything to make her a full on villain, but if she decides she wants Republic City or the whole world, there is no way for her to justify it. I really look forward to what her next move is, she has won, but will she make the mistake of wanting even more power?
Opal and Jinora made an awesome defensive hurricane together to hold back a whole army. I think this epic moment deserves a paragraph of its own!
Final thing to mention is just that they seem to have set up some sort of a plot for Opal with her potentially saving her family. It was a very emotional scene as she is forced to flee without the rest of her family and we have a lot of Bei Fong's in this book, so I have a feeling we may get a complete Bei Fong Family reunion to save everyone. Also the Huan art scene with Meelo and Ikki was hilarious.
Overall a very solid episode putting a lot of things in place as we head into the second half of this final book of Korra. It has been nearly flawless so far, and a lot of the stuff set up looks good, so I have very high hopes as we head into K407 Reunion and the rest of the series.