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The Legend of Korra Recap: Politics Major

Is Korra our stand-in for President Obama, a community activist and dreamer driven up the ladder to the most important job in the world? Does that make the conflict in the Southern Water Tribe Syria or Egypt? But wait, is President Raiko actually Bill Clinton circa 1994, in the thick of the Bosnian War? If so, is General Iroh filling in for U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal or another infamous military leader? Or perhaps he's affiliated with Asami's version of Academi/Blackwater? And Varrick ... our combination of Dick Cheney, the Koch Brothers, and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels?

A master's degree in political science from Harvard isn't required for “Peacekeepers,” though after this week, a new flock of Nickelodeon viewers may be considering it.

Pinpointing specifics in Legend of Korra's allegory may not hold up under scrutiny, but anyone who has ever read a newspaper or cracked open a textbook can see broadly stroked American history all over “Peacekeepers.” Gone are the days of Avatar: The Last Airbender's black and white fight against evil. The current state of play is pure chaos, with nations preparing for battle and Republic City keeping its nose out of foreign affairs. Like a humanitarian, Korra is only thinking of protecting the people. But for the first time, she's not on the same page as everyone else in her life. She's drowning in a world of politics, her own House of Cards, and motivations are zigzagging every which way. She's caught in the crossfire.

Korra arrives to Republic City looking for aid, only to find a metropolis divided. Southerners are peace marching in the streets; Northerners scream back on the sidelines. Korra walks alongside her people because, hey, they're the good guys! The display of partisanship stokes a raging civic wildfire, culminating in the bombing of the Southern Water Tribe Cultural Center. It looks like a Northern Water Tribe act of terrorism, but Mako's detective work uncovers a more sinister plot. The plan was enacted by the Agni Kai gang, likely working for someone who will benefit from war. Mako is about to become the Korra equivalent of a truther.

All signs point to comic-relief-turned puppetmaster Varrick, the eccentric businessman whose manic behavior reeks of a Keyser Söze act. When introducing Korra to Republic City's President Raiko, he offhandedly reveals to Korra that he was the biggest contributor to both Raiko and his competitor's campaigns during the election. Slimeball. Later, he bestows a nugget of capitalist wisdom to Team Avatar, including Asami, who is aching to put Future Industries technology in the hands of buyers. He acknowledges that, if there were a war, those Southern Water Tribers could really use some tanks. "If you can't make money during a war, you just can't flat-out make money." Slimeball. To top it off, Varrick is taking Bolin down his corrupt path. In a moment straight out of Inglorious Basterds, the master manipulator convinces Bolin to put his pro-bending stardom to use. He'll star in a pro-Southern Water Tribe propaganda film and become Republic City's first “mover star.” Slimeball.

As Korra searches for answers, the frustration she exudes threatens to obliterate her surroundings like the angriest kind of dark spirit. In a fit of rage, she tries enlisting General Iroh and the army to send troops to the South. She's caught in the act by Raiko, who threatens Iroh with dismissal. Korra realizes she was ratted on by Mako, her own boyfriend. As a man of the law, it was his duty to — no, Korra won't hear it. She's not about the law, she is the law. And thus, the end of her strongest relationship. If Tumblr is broken this afternoon, it's because Korra/Mako shippers burnt it to the ground in the most devastating split since Corey and Topanga.

Like much of Book 2, “Peacekeepers” goes out with a bang, a high-impact action sequence full of typhoon-riding and fire bolts. This is Korra in her element, pulling out all of the stops to keep enemies at bay. That and not being aware enough to see a ten-story monster dark spirit behind her. With a cliffhanger that promises to send us back down the spiritual path teased in earlier episodes, writer Tim Hedrick exposes the terrifying pandemonium of a political world in combat. How long before Republic City simply shuts down?

Odds & Ends

  • Tenzin and Milo's side plot in this episode, training a flying lemur named Pokey to learn that the Airbender way of life isn't all it's cracked up to be, never felt essential. With such a beefy plot in Republic City, why not dedicate more time to Korra's conflict? But all is forgiven for the adorable flock of lemurs that sound off to composer Jeremy Zuckerman's rousing flight score.
  • “Get a real dog!” Points for the diss, Northerner, but Korra's pet Naga is better than a real dog.
  • President Raiko's photo-op with Korra should tell you everything you need to know about the guy. He might sound respectful for wanting to keep out of the Water Tribe conflict, but his moves are calculated to save his own hide.
  • "Usually when I see flashing lights like this, it's because I was hit in the head with a rock." Bolin is the saddest of sacks.
  • Lin Beifong returned to the show to not do much of anything (cross fingers for a chain-bending action scene), but she did get the line of the night. "You should have seen Air Temple Island after Tenzin broke up with me!"
  • Korra is off to visit Zuko and the Firelord. A thousand Avatar: The Last Airbender fans squeal in the night. So we'll likely be seeing the old-school character return, but don't expect it anytime soon; with Korra playing Jonah in the spirit's belly, she'll likely make a few stops before she arrives in the Fire Nation.