Damn, things sure move fast in this series, don’t they? It’s certainly a marked difference to the first series, which spent much more time on world-building and character development in the first season. There are pluses and minuses to each approach – the major drawback to Korra’s pacing being that I feel nowhere near the buy-in with these characters that I did with the first cast. Of course the payoff is that there’s never a dull moment, and things are constantly happening. Plots are resolved quickly (is that it for Tarlok already?) and we move on.
Resolve and move on we did this week, with extreme prejudice. It was long past time that Korra explored her connections to the past, and so she did – from the dungeon where Tarlok was keeping her prisoner in a steel cage. But while that was happening we also had rogue cop/Tony Stark Lin Beifong, ripping her badge off and leading a posse to find the Avatar and free her friends. And Tarlok shows that he learned the lesson of the post-911 decade well – when you do something evil, just blame the terrorists. While he admittedly did a pretty good job faking Korra’s “abduction by Equalists” I have to say I’m a bit disappointed that the good guys continue to be suckered by the bad guys so easily. Certainly Tenzin and Lin should have been a lot more suspicious of Tarlok than that.
While Lin, Tenzin, Asami and the Bending Brothers chase wild geese to the Equalists hideout below the city, the main event is happening in that steel cage in the mountains somewhere. Both threads are pretty good – Lin certainly proves herself an astonishingly badass bender, “seeing” through her feet very nearly as well as her mother did. And Mako’s obsession with finding Korra is showing the handwriting on the wall to Asami in pretty uncertain terms. As for Bolin, alas, he still gets little to do besides be comic relief (it’s my hope that he gets a Sokka-like arc, but I’m skeptical based on what I’ve seen so far).
The A ticket is Korra’s vision though, because that’s where we see the adult Aang (D.B. Sweeney), Sokka (world-class geek Chris Hardwick, very funny here) and Toph (anime dub veteran Kate Higgins). We also meet a hood named Yakone (Clancy Brown, Avatar’s Long Feng and Bosco). He’s a key figure here, because in Korra’s vision it’s Yakone that Aang and Toph are trying to bring down, as he’s the crime boss making Republic City all icky. And as he turns out, he has the mysterious ability to bloodbend at any time except during the full moon – and it’s in convincing Chief Justice Sokka of this that Yakone is convicted. But he turns on his bloodbending and escapes, and it’s only when Aang goes into spirit mode that he’s able to resist and eventually capture Yakone. This is a terrific scene, especially as it features the retooled music from the original series.
Now, you’d probably guessed the connection between Yakone and Tarlok by this point – Tarlok is Yakone’s son, trying to rule Republic City via the centers of power rather than the underworld. But of much more interest is the connection between Amon and Aang. For you see, Aang takes away Yakone’s bending powers permanently. We knew Aang had energybending of course, but the parallel to Amon is inescapable – especially when Amon arrives at the stronghold where Korra is being held prisoner. He dispatches Tarlok fairly easily and energybends his bending powers away, in the process proving semi-resistant to bloodbending. How is that possible, you say? Darn good question, I say. Amon didn’t exactly “rescue” Korra – he intended to take her as his own prisoner – but he certainly caused her to be freed.
Amon, in the first place, is easily the most interesting figure in Korra so far. He gets the best lines off here – “I am the solution.” And to Tarlok, “It’s time for you to be equalized.” Where Tarlok is an obvious and flat-out villain, Amon is an anti-hero – someone who professes to pursue a noble goal. Most importantly (well, apart from being voiced by Steve Blum) I think Bryke are strongly hinting at a direct connection between he and Aang. After all, they’re the only two people we’ve seen energybend – which is the primordial form of bending, after all – and I’m pretty damn sure I saw him airbending when Korra flung the snow at him. He’s an anti-bending crusader who’s also a powerful bender. He’s had several chances to energybend Korra and declined. He’s a contradictory, mysterious figure – is the man in the mask always fated to be compelling in the Avatar universe?
Certainly Korra is still at the center of the series. Her love triangle is messier than ever (Asami may as well give up) and it’s her journey that we’ll be following, just as it was Aang’s. But it was Zuko who had the most compelling and far-reaching arc in the old show, and I wonder if it will be Amon here. It’s his situation – his identity, his motives, his true nature – that fascinate me far more than anything else about this series at the moment. Tarlok was a distraction, an arc – but it seems as if Amon will be an oppositional figure (and perhaps much more) for the duration of the series.