The Legend Of Korra Review: “The Coronation”

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Spoilers abound! If you haven’t caught “The Coronation,” the third episode of The Legend of Korra: Book Four, head on over to Nick where new episodes will be streaming every Friday. You may also find a review of the previous episode here.

“The Coronation” begins with the ever-flamboyant Prince Wu discussing how he wants his coronation to play out. After reading this episode’s title, I initially thought “The Coronation” would be about Kuvira’s ascension to the throne. President Raiko reassures Tenzin that when he and Kuvira (voiced by Zelda Williams) spoke years ago, they agreed that her mission to unite the Earth Kingdom colonies would be temporary. Raiko fully expects her to step down when the prince is crowned.

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I’m very pleased to see I wasn’t wrong about Kuvira’s intentions.

During Prince Wu’s coronation ceremony, he awards Kuvira with the Kyoshi Medal of Freedom, the Kingdom’s highest honor, for her efforts these past few years. She takes the opportunity to announce that people don’t need to follow the rule of royalty anymore. Deeming that successive hereditary system archaic, Kuvira asserts that those at the forefront of technology and innovation should rule.

It’s a forward-thinking and logical approach. Consider the previous two Earth Kingdom rulers: one was a despot who was building an army of citizens she had kidnapped, while the other was merely a figurehead being controlled by a corrupt official. Prince Wu, the next in line to inherit the throne, seems like every bit the pliable puppet that the Earth King was in the original series.

Kuvira declares that the Earth Kingdom is no more and, in its place, she created an Earth Empire. While it may not seem all that different on the surface, these first few episodes have shown Kuvira’s rule to be beneficial to the Earth Empire colonies overall. Unfortunately, she doesn’t do herself any favors by publicly threatening to crush anyone who opposes the Earth Empire’s future, which, by extension, means anyone who threatens her rule.

It’s really, really important to me that Kuvira isn’t just some simple villain. Previous seasons had the conflict turn out to be pretty black-and-white. It was clear who the audience should root for and against. (Though, Book One’s Equalist storyline was botched in that regard.) It would be fantastic to have real disagreements present between the show’s designated heroes here but I fear that won’t be the case.

Everything bad we’re hearing about Kuvira is through secondhand sources. The audience doesn’t actually get to see how she deals with dissenters. It’s the lack of adherence to the old narrative technique of “show, don’t tell” that makes me wary.

While characters like Mako say Kuvira is villainous and tyrannical, what these first few episodes have shown is that she cares about her Earth Empire. Meanwhile, Prince Wu, heir to the throne, is shown to be incompetent, petulant and childish (this episode alone had him pelt a citizen with a cup of juice and steal the spotlight from a child on his birthday).

The two characters who defend Kuvira’s actions aren’t painted in the best light. The first meeting this season between Bataar Jr. and his mother, Suyin, portrays him in a fairly arrogant manner. Similarly, Bolin comes off as naive.

Upon Bolin’s return to Republic City, the first thing that Mako does when the brothers reunite is to question Kuvira and her methods. Bolin is wide-eyed and idealistic, and just like how his trusting nature played out with the affably evil Varrick in Book Two, I was worried the writers were going to immediately designate Bolin as the brother on the “wrong” side of the conflict.

All of the more “rational” characters keep referring to Kuvira as a tyrant and dictator for seizing power. Mako even says her actions in unifying disparate Earth Kingdom colonies under her rule go against what the world wants.

However, this is far from the truth. Following Kuvira’s announcement, the people present at the coronation ceremony were ecstatic. A later scene shows citizens buying Kuvira-related merchandise left and right, outwardly expressing that they adore her. It’s important to note that they surely aren’t being forced to act this way.

While, Kuvira’s supporters are being chastised for following her methods, they rationally argue that Kuvira is a strong, capable and intelligent leader.

In the wake of the Earth Queen’s fall, Zaofu matriarch Suyin was asked to help the Earth Kingdom stabilize but she refused. Kuvira, on the other hand, stepped up and brought stability and equality to the many colonies. Suyin tells Kuvira the world leaders want her to step down, again referring to her as a tyrant, but they offer no compelling reason for her to do so. This also means the audience has no reason to want her to step down either.

Whatever the intention, I’m seeing Kuvira as a better fit to rule the nation. Thankfully, Mako, who actually listened to Bolin’s rationale for once after their argument, scolds Prince Wu and says that if he had to choose between Wu and Kuvira to rule, he’d pick Kuvira!

I am still concerned the writers will inevitably designate Kuvira as the clear villain (and I think that would be a mistake), but at the very least, with Mako’s revelation, they’re exploring the idea that maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to let her rule after all.

The other main plot point that’s just as equally compelling is Korra trying to convince Toph to help her overcome her rut in the swamp. The world needs the Avatar, Korra argues, and the earthbending master immediately replies that Korra needs to get over herself.

Toph says the world will continue to function without the Avatar and, in offering a glimpse of why she went missing in the first place, she laments that no matter how excellent she was as Republic City’s chief of police, she was unable to stamp out crime completely. Either way, Toph’s departure has allowed her to become one with the world. From the swamp, she can amazingly sense the goings-on of her daughters and the cities they protect countless miles away.

Toph concedes to helping Korra, quickly defeating her in a fight while putting as little effort into moving as possible. Being the expert metalbender that she is, Toph reveals that there are still bits of metal flowing through Korra’s body from the poison Zaheer tried killing her with last season.

Toph attempts to remove the remaining metal poison from Korra’s body, but Korra is subconsciously fighting her from doing so. Toph bluntly tells Korra that her refusal to let Toph help is a sign that maybe Korra doesn’t want to be the Avatar at all and that she is using her current handicap as a means to run away from all of the responsibilities the role entails.

This is why it’s so great having Toph around; she tells it like it is. This perspective might be reflective of why Korra kept fighting her Avatar State self in the previous episode. Her fragile mentality may also have been hinted at when one of the first attacks her other self launched was by swinging chains bound to her wrists.

Maybe Korra does see the responsibility of being an Avatar too much to bear. She did go through a lot in her first few years as the Avatar, after all. The way Toph speaks with Korra here is mirrored in the way Mako addressed Prince Wu. Both the Avatar and the prince have expectations fated to them. While the latter wants all of the glory of the role he was born into, the former is seemingly running away from it and it’s possible this season will be about them altering themselves to fully own and earn their destinies.

Things of Note

– Varrick’s multitude of inventions tends to be used as a running gag in the series; interesting innovations, but used more for comic relief. Midway through the episode, he and his assistant Zhu Li (great work, Stephanie Sheh!) begin work on some spirit vine samples.

This could have easily been a throwaway scene, but as the episode’s ending shows, it turns out Varrick really is working on something important to the story. I’d guess the device has multiple functions: one that can be pitched to the public as beneficial to the world and one that can be used as a weapon of wanton destruction.

– Prince Wu obviously comes from a friendless background, so the way he behaves is a product of that. While Mako only hangs around with him because it’s his duty, I’ll bet they’ll end up good friends after sharing some of their insecurities.

– Zelda Williams is continuing to kill it as Kuvira. She brings gravitas to the character, which isn’t seen too often in female voice roles these days.

– I love how Toph proudly claims herself “the original Beifong” when Korra says, “And I thought (Lin) Beifong was grumpy.”

– Eska and Desna return to Republic City to attend Prince Wu’s coronation. I very much enjoyed Eska mistaking Kuvira as her ex-fiancé Bolin’s new girlfriend and approving of her because she’s “very threatening.” I think it would be fun to see how she reacts to seeing Bolin dating the sweet Opal.

– Zuko also appears! And is that his daughter, the current Fire Lord, sitting next to him?

– There’s very little fighting in this episode, but the action scenes during the fight in the swamp show how skilled Toph is. Keep in mind that Toph is blind, Korra has been using airbending attacks, and, again, they’re fighting in a swamp, which should make it even more difficult for Toph to sense Korra’s presence since she “sees” with her feet and all. Toph is so great.