ljlee: (Default)
Late to the party, work's been really crazy.

Who'd have thought there'd be an entire episode devoted to romantic entanglements (spoken with a disdainful sniff) in a 12-episode season? I might have been disappointed, except the episode has good character and relationship developments, sets up a new antagonist, and also builds up to what will probably be an important part of the season arc.

As others have said, a great thing about this episode is that the relationships have the actual chaos and confusion of young romance, or romance in general for that matter. It was entertaining to watch these teenagers struggle to figure out their lives and relationships, priorities and values.

The impetuousness and occasional thoughtlessness that characterize Korra were out in full force when she super-awkwardly courted Mako and unintentionally hurt Bolin in the process. When things came down to the wire, though, her unbending will and the desire to do right by her friends won the day. I think this might be a reflection of her character arc--stumbling progress, huge setbacks, and final heroics.

Mako showed some very interesting new facets in this episode. While his dithering between Asami and Korra is your run-of-the-mill confusion for the most part, I think a part of him, maybe on an unconscious level, finds it hard to let go of the very real material benefits of dating Hiroshi Sato's daughter.

This isn't a slam on his character but rather a natural outgrowth of his life experiences. He's had to survive on zero material advantages while caring for a younger brother since he was a child himself. How could a guy who's lived through all that be blind to the allure of the the life Asami showed him? It doesn't hurt that the girl is drop-dead gorgeous and super nice.

All this is hinted in the conversation with Bolin when Mako says it makes more "sense" for him to go after Asami. Of course it makes a ton of sense to go after Asami, but his feelings for Korra don't go away; instead it makes itself known in uglier forms like jealousy and wild accusations of Korra playing his brother against him. Whatever, dude. You could double as an IMAX theater with all that projecting you're doing.

I think the question of Makorra, and Mako's character in general, will come down to whether he can turn away from what seems the certain road to face dark thickets of emotion. Mako's resourcefulness and reason are traits that define him, have had to define him growing up under pressure and in danger. It'll be fascinating to see if he can use his head without letting it use him.

And Bolin. I could be biased because I like the character so much already, but he really earned my respect this episode. He had the courage to go after what he wanted, didn't shy away from pain when it hit him, and bounded back from his lows without a grudge. I mean, it's rough to see the girl you like kissing your brother on the night of your greatest triumph. Bolin didn't deny those feelings and let it distort him, though, not like the way Mako tried to deny his feelings for Korra until they came out twisted into jealousy and paranoia. Bolin accepted he was in pain, experienced it to the fullest, and came back from it.

It's the kind of healthy, honest emotional response that I didn't expect from a boy who grew up in circumstances of such uncertainty and want, and I think it says a lot about both brothers. It shows how strong Bolin is emotionally, and also how good a job Mako did of providing him with emotional if not material stability. It's hard to afford that kind of genuineness unless you have a bone-deep sense of assurance that someone loves you without reservations and has your back no matter what. For Bolin I think that someone was Mako, even when Mako was the one to hurt him.

I also got my wished-for Borra dates, and they were just what I expected: Fun times between friends who don't have a scrap of romantic potential. Well, maybe Bolin felt something, but I personally believe he confused camaraderie for chemistry as young guys sometimes do. You know, when their romantic imagination is limited to "my best bud, but with a body I'm attracted to." I really hope Korra and Bolin spend more time together because they could get into some crazy funny situations. 

In the end, more than romance, I think this episode was about tempering the friendship between the Fire Ferrets by putting them through the chaos of adolescent hormones. While the evidence grows stronger that Makorra will happen in the end, the developments in this episode also make it clear that they have a lot of maturing to do first. That's fine, since their mutual trust is what's really important for the far greater pressures they'll face as the Equalist threat escalates.

And while at first glance little happened on the plot front, I'm pretty sure the Fire Ferrets' advance in the pro bending arena is an important element of the overall plot. Pro-bending is such a crucial symbol of benders and what they stand for, I find it hard to believe Amon will sit out the final match. The scenes in the arena also served as elegant counterpoints to the relationship chaos the team was going through, so there was some beautiful economy in the writing there in serving both character and plot needs.

There were also an interesting tidbit about Tenzin's dating history, and I guess it's pretty inevitable to speculate that the ex-girlfriend was Lin. I mean she's the only other person we know from that generation, and it seems consistent enough with their interaction. I really hope it's not Lin, though, since there's almost no way to handle the situation without Lin being the career-driven sour grapes to Pema's sweet housebound fertility. Or maybe that's my own sour grapes speaking.

But I mean, did anyone else think Pema was a little smug about it all? Whoever this lady was it was no doubt an awkward situation at the time for her and Tenzin, and Pema walked away from it singing with her man? Ah well, it probably doesn't matter now since it was over a decade ago. Whoever the person is she most likely has an awesome life herself and remembers the past as fondly as Tenzin and Pema do. Just please don't let it be Lin.

I don't have a whole lot to say about Tahno. So far the guy seems the typical arrogant athlete, though he became a whole lot more sinister than your average bully with that end-of-episode match. Good job on the writers' part not showing that match, since that builds  suspense and makes the Wolfbats even more sinister. This Tahno dude is also a good indication of how diverse a place Republic City is. With his pale, pointed features I'd have sworn he was Fire Nation, yet he's a waterbender. I like it when a character illustrates the nuances of the world so succinctly, but the ATLA/LoK team has always been good at doing this kind of worldbuilding without making a big deal of it. It's why the world comes alive so well.

All right, I've rambled enough. This was an enjoyable sports and sex episode, and more besides. Can't wait to see where things go from here.

ljlee: (mai)
This was originally part of the Fire Nation culture essay, but it was off topic enough that I decided to expand it into an essay of its own. 

If you're going to hate her, for the love of God hate her for the right reasons. )

In sum: It's perfectly fine to hate Mai. I just wish people would hate the character Mai who was actually in this show called Avatar: The Last Airbender, and not the imaginary show that was cancelled after Book 2. There are valid reasons to dislike Mai, but "cold and uncaring" and "lazy and whiny" are not two of them.
ljlee: (Default)
Previously in Part 1, I have discussed how strong beliefs are the cornerstone of Fire Nation cultural traits. In this part I will discuss the other, darker side of that dedication: The sacrifice that such passion entails.

Sacrifice in Fire Nation culture, or why Zuko got his face burned off )
ljlee: (Default)
* Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] fairladyz2005 for being kind enough to look this essay over prior to posting. Her comments and insights made it a much stronger work.

Ah, Fire Nation, Evil Empire of the Avatar series. What to say about your war-mongering ways and colonialism, your racism and destruction of whole cultures, your red-and-black décor that screams evil in such style?

In which I try to make my point with fart jokes and shipping rants )
ljlee: (Default)
Continuing from Part 1 of the essay about the combination of steadfastness and dynamism that makes the Earth Kingdom so formidable, this second part of the Earth Kingdom culture essay is an examination of its diversity and ultimately identity.

Identity and Pride in Earth Kingdom Culture )
ljlee: (Default)
Culture in Avatar: The Last Airbender Series:
1. What It Is to Be Free: Aang and the Spirituality of the Air Nomads
2. We Can Do This, Together: Community and Change in the Water Tribes
3. Stand Strong, Stand Proud: Earth Kingdom Resilience and Identity

The Earth Kingdom is a vast place. If you take a look at the map of the Avatar world, the Earth Kingdom takes up like two-thirds of the inhabited world and likely more with the destruction of the Air Nomads. Similarly, nearly two-thirds of the story of Avatar takes place in the Earth Kingdom, since much of Book 1: Water is about Aang and his friends traveling north through the Earth Kingdom.

How to summarize that sprawling group into a few words? )
ljlee: (Default)
In Part 1 of this essay we examined the cultural values of the Water Tribes and how they affected the story of Avatar. Now let us take a look at the darker side of Water Tribe culture and how the Tribes worked through it as a society and as individuals.

Bring me all your chauvinists! )
ljlee: (Default)
Culture in Avatar: The Last Airbender Series:
2. We Can Do This, Together: Community and Change in the Water Tribes

The Water Tribes come across as a people of contrasts. On the one hand they seem to be the great communitarians, valuing their communal ties and the bonds of family and friendship. On the other hand we have seen how oppressive that community can be in the Northern Water Tribe arc at the end of Book 1, when teenage girls were forced into arranged marriages and the role of women was strictly proscribed. How do we explain this seeming contradiction?

The characters show similar contradictions... )
ljlee: (Default)
In Part 1 of this essay I have discussed the contours and contradictions of Air Nomad culture and how it influenced Aang and other air Nomad characters. Now I continue with a more in-depth discussion of their cultural values through Aang's story.

Returning was the just the beginning of Aang's journey for the meaning of freedom. Also, Star Wars! )
ljlee: (Default)
Culture in Avatar: The Last Airbender Series:
1. What It Is to Be Free: Aang and the Spirituality of the Air Nomads
2. We Can Do This, Together: Community and Change in the Water Tribes
3. Stand Strong, Stand Proud: Earth Kingdom Resilience and Identity
4. Burn for My Belief: The Fire Nation and the Courage of Conviction
5. Subcultures and Conclusion

My account of Air Nomad culture is basically a story of one character, Aang. We know of others such as Monk Gyatso, Avatar Yang Chen, and other monks in flashback scenes from "The Storm," but as far as we know Aang is the last of the Air Nomads. His struggles to find the meaning of freedom and spirituality, while an individual story, is also about the culture he was raised in, its values, perspectives, and flaws. In a very real sense, his culture lives on through him.

In this essay I'll examine the idea of freedom. And Star Wars comes into it somehow. )


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L.J. Lee

June 2016

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