The Legend of Korra 4.03 Review: “The Coronation”

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Following one of The Legend of Korra‘s best episodes, “The Coronation” falls a bit flat. “Korra Alone” took a premise and explored it deeply and thoughtfully. It used repetition to its advantage. More powerful than any of that, perhaps, it left viewers with one of the best cliffhangers of recent memory–not just because “TOPH!” but because of what Toph means to Korra at this point in the story. “The Coronation” contains very little development. Any progression for the other characters is either only hinted at or is so predictable based on the events of the season premiere that scenes which should be powerful end up rather ordinary. Worst of all, the parts of “The Coronation” that deal with Korra and Toph are surprisingly disappointing. To put this into context, I say all these things based on the standards The Legend of Korra has set. “The Coronation” is still a perfectly fine episode of television. It’s just not a good enough episode for this series.

“You gotta help me get back into Avatar fighting shape.” That is the first line of dialog, spoken by Korra, once we return to the swamp. So, not only does “The Coronation” opt to set up the Kuvira side of things first, it also fails to pay off the more anticipated storyline through omission. Again: “You gotta help me get back into Avatar fighting shape.” Where is the conversation that occurred between that and “Nice to see you again, Twinkle Toes”? How did we just completely gloss over Korra and Toph’s first real exchange of dialog together once they are both aware of who the other is? Even for a viewer who hasn’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender, this is a hugely head-scratching decision. In fact, it’s especially strange for  those unfamiliar with Avatar, because the conclusion to “Korra Alone” sets up the expectations of certain things being explained. Who is Toph, this crazy old woman? (Though non-Avatar viewers probably remember that Lin and Suyin have a mother somewhere out there, I seriously doubt they’ll remember her by name.) In what ways is she familiar with the Avatar? Why does this moment matter to Korra so much? Nope. Forget those questions. Let’s just go straight into a set of training sequences in which Toph gets to make wisecracks. To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong about that. Toph having a good time at Korra’s expense is entertaining and consistent with the character. But it feels like Toph is used here too much as fan service and not enough as a vehicle for The Legend of Korra to tell its story most effectively.

The whole thing is odd. When you consider Zuko’s first appearance, that was a big “Wow” moment for the series. However, what Zuko did and had to say was less about cashing in on Avatar references for longtime fans and more about guiding a Korra who was in desperate need of spiritual help. Once again, Korra finds herself in need of that help, but the attempt made to fit Toph into the role she needs to be in is half-hearted and ultimately misses the mark. The idea that Toph can’t help Korra if Korra can’t help herself is fine. Yet, even as a mentor with tough love, I don’t feel like we get enough of their relationship before that scene to make it work. This should almost be a 5- to 6-episode arc similar to Luke and Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back (sorry, Toph; I’m not saying you are Yoda, but if I were, it would be as a compliment). There’s no reason all of Korra and Toph’s scenes in this episode can’t be Korra trying to convince Toph to train her and Toph declining until Korra can prove she’s worthy.

In any case, the reveal of the metal still lodged in Korra’s body is probably the most disappointing decision the writing makes. Granted, it does make sense. Korra’s issues have been severe, so the chances of her major impediment being something physical that she’s simply unaware of is likely and logical. But how much better is it to have a main character who is being held back because of something mental or emotional? Shouldn’t Korra’s inability to achieve her former heights allow for a journey of spiritual healing rather than bodily healing? Of course, that spiritual healing will take place to some extent (Toph apparently can’t help until Korra can control her emotions), but having the issue here be that same poison from last season is all a bit…meh.

Unfortunately, the other half (or two-thirds) of “The Coronation” doesn’t fare much better. We knew that Wu wasn’t going to gain power over Kuvira, so all the tension leading up to the actual coronation turns into empty postulating. The big offshoot of the conflict, though, is the civil war between brothers. So, before I lose every reader for being so hard on a series we all love, I’ll say that the Mako and Bolin scenes in “The Coronation” are fantastic. There’s an exchange in which Mako makes a comment about Bolin’s clothes, and Bolin responds in a very Bolin way by saying that he sometimes sees himself in the mirror and thinks he’s in trouble before he realizes who he’s looking at. It works completely on the comedic level, but this is also an instance that reminds us of how far these characters (and Bolin in particular) have come since back when they were pro-bending. Bolin is no longer defined by his relationships with other characters or his comedic relief. He has personal values that actually make Kuvira seem less evil than she actually is. If someone like Bolin can see legitimate good in what Kuvira’s group is doing, then it’s almost like we’re viewing The Legend of Korra through a biased perspective that is out to make Kuvira look like tyrant of the highest order. There is good behind it all, misguided though it may be. And Bolin is a representation of that. That alone saves “The Coronation” from failure. It’s hard to find different shades for Bolin this late in the game (just like it was hard to make Avatar‘s fool, Sokka, the center of the material), but when that can happen, it’s an absolute joy to witness.

Meditations from the Spirit World:

– Following on from that, if The Legend of Korra aired on HBO, the civil war between Bolin and Mako would end with one of them killing the other in the finale. Just saying.

– “Getting excited for your big day?” “Does a platypus-bear poop in the–HEY!” The easily-distracted Wu gets a high percentage of the best material in this episode.

– Meanwhile, I have no idea what The Legend of Korra thinks of Reiko anymore. He’s kind of just there.

– “Well, I was planning on soaking my feet in mud for a few weeks…” That’s as good a reason as any to not help the worst Avatar of all time.

– Eska makes a brief appearance and knocks it out of the park! “Boss. Girlfriend. Same thing.” Also: “It’s no mistake. Desna sleeps in the tub.” Aubrey Plaza is every sane man’s dream woman.

– Watching Zhu Li carry around Varrick’s bags will never get old.

– “Something you should know about me: I always get what I want.” Way to make your villain less interesting by being a massive jerk. Also, calling it an earth empire doesn’t help (but it does help with the Star Wars references).

– In the long line of weird Avatar universe animal amalgamations, we get a squirrel-frog hopping on Korra’s shoulder after getting schooled by Toph.

– The reveal that Toph is more connected to the world in that swamp than she’s ever been might have been the best part of her character in the episode. She mentions she can see her daughters, which means she really does care.

– “Long may your reign” is followed by one member of the crowd saying “Go Wu” and another member, who is 95% asleep, saying “Wuuu…” What a cheering section for this guy.

– The Kyoshi Medal of Freedom made me wonder what happened to Suki. Or has that already been addressed? I actually just had to look up Suki’s name, because I forgot it. I blame Avatar for that for not making her more prominent.

– Varrick is developing some kind of technology from a spirit vine that Kuvira will certainly weaponize. That’s actually kind of exciting.

– “So, you think your new best friend in there would be a better leader than Kuvira?” “Well, no. But still.” Ouch. Way to tell it like it is, Mako.

– Two moments with the new best friends: “Good old Mako. My big, tough guy,” and the exchange of “Carry me?” and “No.” I’ll be sad to see these two break up.

– Seriously, though. Kuvira has legitimate concerns. Royal rule is archaic, and she feels that technology and innovation should be guiding the empire. Fair enough. It’s worrisome that her exact words of tough rhetoric being used to show they mean business rub off onto Bolin in a way that suggests brainwashing, though.

– Finally, a Meelo moment: “You can count on one of us. I don’t know about these two ladies.” Meelo apparently doesn’t realize he and everyone else are actually in a show called The Legend of Jinora, starring the best character in The Legend of Korra. There. I said it.

– (PS: where the heck is Bumi?)

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One Response

  1. michael