Sorry I haven’t been on a whole lot this weekend. Moving into a new house and starting a new schedule at work have taken a lot out of me. I did get to see the new episode of Korra yesterday though, and boy was it a doozy.
Spoilers after the cut.
This episode is where we finally reach one of the major themes of the series: Balance versus Extremism. The meaning of the title can be best expressed in terms of three characters: Amon, Tarrlok, and Korra.
Amon has been presented thus far as a man with a prejudice against benders that goes beyond well meaning protest and into the realm of straight up Terrorism. He gives a voice to the underpriviledged nonbenders of Republic City, as well as a cause behind which to rally. And the Terrorism is really freaking obvious: in episode 4 he says, “It’s time for benders to experience fear,” and in this episode Chief Saikhan refers to the Equalists as “insurgents.” And then there was the part where he took Tahno’s bending away in front of a stadium full of people, declared war on all benders, then blew up the arena.
Amon represents one extreme. The equality he promises is not true balance. It’s short-sighted homogenizing that ignores the fact that people don’t flock to power because of their physical advantages (though those help); they do it because they are like sharks zeroing in on a meal. Taking away everybody’s bending won’t change that. Amon seems clever enough to realize this, so he’s likely playing some other angle we’re not aware of yet.
On the other side of things is Tarrlok. Korra claims he’s just as bad, but in many ways, Tarrlok is worse than Amon. For all the ways he takes things to extremes, Amon at least has a legitimate point. He’s also ostensibly out to increase the privileges of the disenfranchised, but the truth of that remains to be seen. But Tarrlok only looks out for number one, and manipulates or removes anybody who stands in his way. I think it’s very, very appropriate that he’s a bloodbender, because taking control of a person’s actions against their will is the ultimate expression of using bending as a tool of oppression.
In the same way that Ozai and the Fire Nation symbolized the dangers of Imperialism, Tarrlok is the embodiment of bending oppression. He takes things to the opposite extreme that Amon does, reputedly to protect benders but really to secure his own influence. The metaphor for the War on Terror is readily apparent in this episode, in that extreme measures are presented as the only way to make the violence stop, sacrificing liberty for safety. He also, as Korra points out, plays right into Amon’s hands by using bending to oppress innocent people. Meaning this is most likely part of the revolutionary figurehead’s master plan.
Tarrlok is the other extreme. He takes measures so far that he loses the ability to distinguish a legitimate threat from innocent people who likely weren’t thinking of joining the Equalists before but probably are now after Tarrlok pretty much proved Amon right. Amon promises equality, but Tarrlok seeks to maintain the status quo that keeps benders, and more importantly himself, in power.
So what happens when extremes meet? You get the Avatar, the world’s agent of Balance. In the first series, the imbalance was symbolized by the Fire Nation presenting their element as superior and trying to erase the others, whereas in LOK the focus is on benders versus nonbenders and the inequality that brings friction between them. Amon and Tarrlok represent the two extremes, while Korra is stuck in the middle, where she belongs. The message becomes obvious at this point: taking things to either extreme is not the way to solve things. The answer lies somewhere in between.
The line that best exemplifies this is when a random woman asks Korra for help, saying that, “You’re our Avatar, too.” Amon and Tarrlok are different in so many ways, but similar in others. They both know how to manipulate public opinion; Amon by terrifying benders and empowering nonbenders; Tarrlok by carefully manipulating the leaders of the city as well as the press. But there is one thing that binds them above all others: neither of them respects the role of the Avatar.
The Avatar’s role in the show’s world is such that, if you upset the Balance, they have full license to utterly wreck your shit. Amon seeks to remove her as a symbol of bending, while Tarrlok tries to manipulate her into serving his purposes at first, then removes her when it’s clear that she will not be tamed. Think about that for a second: he would rather take the Avatar away from where she’s needed most than surrender his power.
One of the biggest themes of the show is what happens to the world when technology advances far enough that tradition starts to lose its relevance. The Avatar used to be an unimpeachable figure, but now people question whether Korra even has a place in the world for which she’s responsible, and others openly defy her rather than give up their own power. Extremism of any kind upsets the Balance, and it’s Korra’s job to fix it. More than ever, the world needs the Avatar.