I wrote this for class and it's one of a few school writings I'll likely be posting soon on this site. It might seem odd that I'm releasing this review so late (I wrote this when the next episode had already come out), but it's because I felt it was a meaty enough episode with a meaty enough problem for a college paper/review. Don't bite my head off for my opinions, but please share yours in the comments if you have any.
Civil Wars Part 1 and 2 Review
When it was confirmed that The Legend of Korra would be expanded from a mini series and given three more seasons, I was excited. While the show has proven to many to be an overall worthy successor to the award-winning series Avatar: the Last Airbender, the first season had some problems with pacing, character development, and a few other touches. I excused them back then because perfection was a lot to ask the team to produce in twelve episodes, but now with season two under way and many of the same problems still happening, patterns are emerging and have landed right into the season’s first two-part episode, Civil Wars.
Civil Wars has an interesting enough conflict at the start, with the backdrop of angry spirits attacking our heroine Korra’s tribe for their lack of spirituality coupled with a military occupation by their sister tribe. In the previous episode, Korra opened a long-dormant spirit portal, which would peacefully welcome the spirits into the humans’ world. At the start of Civil Wars, her uncle Unalaq tells her she must do the same to another closed portal, which, coupled with teaching her people more about the spirits, will unite the water tribes of the north and south once again. Meanwhile, Verrick, a businessman angered by the northern tribes’ blockade, stirs up rebellion with the southerners, even involving Korra’s father.
If the possibility of a civil war starting in our protagonist’s homeland wasn’t enough to fill the two-part story, then the secondary plot about Korra’s longtime mentor Tenzin apparently is. Tenzin’s dysfunctional bond with his siblings reaches a high point as they search for his missing daughter Ikki. It’s odd because, though this is the kind of material that I wanted to see for a long time (Tenzin and his siblings are the children of the first series’ protagonist), I couldn’t help but feel this story was distracting. Sure, it was interesting to know that Tenzin was Aang’s favorite child and that Bumi and Kya found different roles to fill in their lives than being “the hero’s kids,” and I certainly didn’t want Ikki to stay missing, but there were less stakes in this conflict than the one going on between the water tribes. The episode cuts between the two stories throughout, giving the whole show an already disjointed feel. Then, when an unnecessary subplot about the side character Bolin’s attempt to escape a comically abusive girlfriend is added, I have to wonder where writer Michael DiMartino’s focus went.
By the last third of Part 1, I was invested in the civil war plot, as characters were rapidly choosing sides to be on and actions to take. This all led up to a tense Part 2, where the conflict gets very personal for the thus-far neutral Korra. I couldn’t help but feel, as the episode would cut away to Aang’s children or occasionally Bolin, that instead the episode could have been padded with more character development for the series’ protagonist and her people’s struggle instead of the side characters. Tenzin’s conflict could have made a good episode on its own and fans would probably have loved it all the more, but when it’s placed alongside the central conflict, it feels like well-written melodrama overtaking a potentially great story about the nature of war. The subplot about Bolin could have even been sprinkled onto the war conflict to create comic relief if it was really needed in what could have been a serious war tale.
There are two final notes to make about the episode: For the longtime fans, there’s an Easter Egg you’ll spot that pays off well in its bizarre humor (one of the few poop jokes that’s so odd it works). For the animation buffs, you can be grateful along with me that the poorly-blended 3D animation is at a minimum in this episode. For my final thoughts, Civil Wars continues the trend of not developing our protagonist, but offering more supporting character development than fans were given in much of the first season. It’s a mixed bag, but still entertaining.