[Preface: These reviews are written after having seen the first season in its entirety. Down-the-road spoilers are avoided. My focus is on the writing, not music or animation.]
This episode showcases Korra's struggle with fear. At the same time, other characters are introduced and every plot line is moved forward.
By vividly showing her successes and failures in dealing with her fear, this episode shows Korra grow as a character. Korra is scared of Amon. She is so terrified of his ability to take away someone's bending that she even has nightmares about him. After all, Korra has hitherto not met anyone that she could not overpower. The fear is so new and strong that she does not know how to react to it. Tenzin suggests that acknowledging the fear would be a healthy first step in dealing with it. However, Korra has built her self-image and her reputation around her tough-girl image. Not only does she refuse to acknowledge her fear, but she tries so vehemently to deny it that she runs headlong into danger. She comes face-to-face with Amon and he defeats her, knocking her out but leaving her bending intact. Only then does she admit to herself and to Tenzin that she is well and truly afraid. Korra, as a character, has matured.
Some major characters are introduced in this episode. Tarrlok is a cunning, power-hungry, water-tribe council-member, who creates an anti-Amon task force. On comparing Korra's, Tenzin's and Tarrlok's reactions to Amon, we see some notable differences. Korra is scared for herself. Tenzin is fearful for Republic City at large. But Tarrlok sees an opportunity to be heroic and consolidate power. Effectively, in what has until now been a two-way conflict between Korra and Amon, we now have Tarrlok as a third party with his own motivations. I speculate that it is the success of Tarrlok's task force that really drives Amon to confront Korra directly at the end of this episode.
Speaking of third parties, this episode introduces Asami Sato as a love interest of Mako. She complicates the romance sub-plot by inadvertently choosing as her beau the love-interest of Korra. On the other hand, Asami removes the complication from the pro-bending sub-plot. She convinces her very wealthy father, Hiroshi Sato, to sponsor the Fire Ferrets.
It needs to be mentioned that near the end of the episode, Korra makes a brief connection with her spiritual side: shots of Aang's life pass fleetingly through her mind. Whether these were caused by Amon physically knocking Korra out or by Korra's fear, it is up for speculation. What we can expect is that these flashes will be of importance later.
All in all, this episode does a good job of dealing with Korra's character growth while moving all the other plots forward. No scene is extraneous nor is any character introduction. Admittedly, there is no arc in this episode that stands out as much as in some of the other episodes. But while the episode may not rate highly as a standalone, within the context of the entire season it does its job very well. All the pieces are now in places. We have only to see how the game will play out.
And the plot thickens!
And it sure is thickening fast. I still love the old-movie style recap at the beginning of the episode, especially for the further 20's, action-style flavor it adds. While it is fast paced, it keeps with the style of the show. So far, I like the pacing of the show in general as well, because it provides a lot of plot time while managing to keep a good flow. Although, I hope there is time for a bit of filler here and there in the next couple episodes, in order to get to know a few of the characters better and see Mako, Korra, and Bolin develop a closer friendship.
Three major new characters are introduced in this episode: Hiroshi Sato, Asami Sato, and Tarrlok. Asami makes quite the introduction, shall we say. Hiroshi Sato's character is an example of a non-bender who is living the good life, due to his invention of the Satomobile. This raises questions to Amon's theory that non-benders are always lower class. That's something else I love about this show: no one character is always right 100% of the time, not even Korra, as shown in this episode. There are many conflicting arguments.
Tarrlok is introduced as the delegate for the Northern Water Tribe on the council of Republic City. He is the epitome of sleazy politician, and is determined to use Korra to further his task force and attempt to deal with the Equalists by force. At first Korra refuses to join, but is pressured in by the press (and Tarrlok is of course behind it) and helps do quite some damage to a chi-blocker camp, which in all likelihood will back to bite her in the future.
In this episode Korra gained more in the way of character growth than in the past three. She refuses to admit her fear of Amon; even to herself, and learns she must accept it if she is ever going to overcome it. The main theme of this episode is fear, and how to get past it. Combined with that, what I loved most was the eerie quality running through Episode Four. I was genuinely scared at a few points, such as the scenes with Amon. A particularly well-done moment of suspense is when the clock is sounding while Korra is on Aang Memorial Island waiting for Amon, and the shots switch back and forth from the clock to a shot of Republic city to Aang's statue. And the animation for this episode is still spectacular. Overall this episode has an even more mature feel to it than the first three, and in many ways is much darker than Avatar: The Last Airbender. I absolutely loved it.
They say that it takes three items in a set to establish a pattern, and so it is that I am looking especially carefully at episodes 103, 104, and 105 to see what track LoK is going to travel and whether it will be a worthy sequel to its predecessor. After some initial skepticism watching the first two episodes, my hopes were brought much higher with the release of episode 103. The last episode, "The Revelation", gave us some good action-filled fighting as well as action-filled plot development and introduced us to a rather mysterious, cunning, and cerebral villain, the opposite of Korra in just about every way possible. And so, accordingly, we see Korra in this episode coming to terms with the fact that she has a glaring weakness, the inability to think or see beyond brute force and power. She just doesn't "get" airbending, and it's allowing her opponents to "dance circles" (physically and metaphorically) around her.
Right at the very beginning, you can see this weakness manifest in the stiffness of Korra's movements. While she generally stays in one spot with some sloppy footwork (reminiscent of her very first crack at Pro-Bending when the other team basically used her as target practice), the Equalists dance around her like the wind and manage to chi block her with relative ease. Everything from her initial refusal of Tarrlok's offer, to her muted responses to Bolin, to her actually wanting to practice airbending gives us the signal that Korra got the wakeup call from her encounter with Amon; bashing things and jumping in head first just isn't going to cut it anymore, and being shaken out of her comfort zone terrifies her. Something that I thought about during the show was how I've always seen the Air Nomads as a bit conservative, seemingly at odds with supposedly representing the element of "freedom". Seeing Korra's breakdown made me think that perhaps they meant freedom from the trappings of emotional follies, like pride. I mean she didn't really think she could take a guy like Amon by herself did she? I'll bet she felt pretty good about busting down that chi blocking dojo, but just what did that accomplish other than padding her fragile ego? Who did she think she was fooling with that impromptu speech in front of those reporters? Certainly nobody on the other side of the fourth wall. All of these behaviors are products of pride and short-term thinking, and stubbornly holding on to things like these is likely to cut our dear avatar's time with us short.
Apart from the confrontation between Amon and Korra, this was mainly an episode of introductions and debuts. We are introduced to two other rivals in the non-physical front: Tarrlok and the Sato family. Between the two, I'd have to say the introduction of Tarrlok and the delegation was the more prominent. Tarrlok is the Northern Water Tribe representative at the United Republic Council and seems like a typical greaseball politician who clearly has mastered the art of playing up on others' emotions (he is also the youngest member on the council). Again, Korra's great weakness is important here because Tarrlok is able to deftly outmaneuver her as well as manipulate her into joining his task force and foolishly challenging Amon. Tarrlok is an interesting character because his going to such lengths to take advantage of Korra calls into question his underlying motives. Is Tarrlok using Korra - and Amon - as a stepping stone to further his political career? Does Tarrlok, in fact, have some grudge against nonbenders? Is he only in this delegation thing to "take home the bacon" to the Northern Water Tribe, and is he enough of a greaseball to perhaps conspire with malfeasants like the Triads to achieve his ends? Tarrlok's introduction is an indication that the politics of Republic City will become an important element in the development of the Avatar world. After seeing Tarrlok's addition to the show, it just means more good things from LoK.
As for the Satos, although not all that much is said about Asami (do these writers have a "missing mommy" fetish? Zuko, Katara, Mako, and Asami?), obviously she is being presented as a rival to Korra for Mako's affection ("Spirit of Competition" indeed...). Like Amon and Tarrlok, Asami is different from Korra because she understands subtlety and has an appreciation for the finer things in life. It is interesting to see that nonbenders like the Satos have become supremely wealthy off of the success of the "Satomobile", despite Hiroshi coming from beginnings similar to Mako and Bolin. I like Hiroshi Sato. He is like the cool uncle or godfather you wish you had as a child. Having him in the series adds another possible dimension to the Pro-Bending subplot, as the state of our politics today shows us that with moneyed contributions comes influence, corrupted interests, and donors seeking "returns on their investments". However, Hiroshi seems like a good guy, so I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Asami, on the other hand, might not be as generous as her father. It will be very interesting to see if that plays out.
So I wouldn't say 104 is quite as good as 103, but not all episodes can be action episodes. Besides, I'll admit that "The Revelation" is a pretty tough act to follow. "A Voice in the Night" continues to set LoK on the right track and is a must see for those interested in following the avatar on her journey.
This episode had no King Bumi's, no Aunt Wu's, and no Blue Spirit's. Reluctant allies, kindly fortunetellers, old friends - or at least their counterpart - were nearly altogether absent apart from Tenzin, Naga and Bolin. Once again, the show proves itself to be shaping up to not only be far more mature than I expected, but it's also providing richer content that was only seen infrequently at best in its predecessor.
"A Voice in the Night" explores different philosophies of power. The most blatant is Tarrlok and his machinations concerning Korra and the task force. His own agenda taints his seemingly noble actions, and he is quick to try to exploit the Avatar to further his power. I can't begin to express how impressed I was at Korra's initial answer on joining Tarrlok's task force. I was not expecting her clever avoidance by means of her using her airbending training as an excuse. However, her emotional avoidance as manifested in the dream at the beginning of the episode clues us in to her understandable hesitation in confronting the Equalists and Amon. I am convinced she was unaware of how she bypassed the political entanglement by refusing Tarrlok. In the end it doesn't matter since he backed her into a corner at the gala by tossing her to the paparazzi.
Korra herself says that the authority figures of Republic City are displeased with her presence there. In the case of Lin Beifong it's reasonable. She views power that isn't earned as something that should be looked down upon. Being the Avatar isn't something earned or even chosen. It just is. Korra will have to prove her worth before Lin becomes anything close to an ally. Other people in positions of power are probably all threatened by the Avatar's presence in the city and therefore shun her. In this new technological world with great councils and 17 years removed from having an Avatar meddle with affairs there is no need or want for Korra in the power structures that exist. I can't wait to see if this will be a topic explored further in the series. We already have gotten the impression mystical and spiritual traditions have been quashed by the industrial culture of Republic City, so it will be interesting to see what kind of place the Avatar will have there.
Even Mako's meeting with Hiroshi Sato offered a look at power and how someone stating out with none can gradually gather enough to be the wealthiest and most successful man around, provided someone lends a hand when needed most. But that's not the most interesting part of Mako's encounter with Sato. That part would, of course, belong to Asami. All I can say is, thank you, show, for giving us a more compelling and complex romantic maze to travel through.
Bolin, Tenzin, and the kids in the car brought grins to my face. These are the ones who will be lending Korra their support and helping her when she is feeling downhearted. Naga being there to comfort Korra after her nightmare was touching, but also a little sad. Korra's built herself up to be so strong that a polar bear-dog is the only one she lets see her in a vulnerable state until the very end of the episode. Bolin is tons of fun, but at the moment he lacks a sense of responsibility and depth to be more than a welcome distraction. The kids are too delightful for words. Just as they bring a smile to our faces they probably do the same for Korra. And Tenzin. Wow was I impressed by him this episode. Why isn't Korra calling him Sifu yet?
The confrontation on Aang Memorial Island between Amon and Korra was fittingly chilling. Amon's plan is clear enough in regards to power: when the Avatar has been stripped of every ounce of her power, when the people have no faith in her, when even her prowess in the bending arts can't help her and when she feels as if the situation is hopeless, that is when he will fight and cripple her forever. Uncle Iroh's advice to Zuko echoes loudly and forebodingly: "You must never give into despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength."
All in all, I consider this one the best episodes yet. New characters are introduced, relationships are deepened between the characters we already know, and the plot is furthered in an intense and ominous way. The quality of the artwork and music remains top-notch, too.