There’s a quote from Futurama that always rattles around my head whenever I’m thinking about the dialogue in a particular piece of TV. Fry, the show’s protagonist, writes a musical, but the Robot Devil (bear with me here) offers this piece of criticism for Fry’s dialogue:
“You can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”
That particular line always stuck with me, not only as a joke but as a clever and concise way to illustrate when dialogue just doesn’t feel natural. Whenever someone onscreen says something a little too on-the-nose, I’d imagine the Robot Devil popping in and chiming in with the intricate details of his own emotional state.
And as sad as I am to say, I noticed that Robot Devil more than a handful of times in “The Aftermath.”
“The Aftermath” starts out much like you’d expect, considering that the previous episode ended in a colossal explosion that obliterated most of the show’s lesser sub-plots in one fell swoop. Naturally, after an episode like that, the characters (and the audience) need a breather, so the first act of “The Aftermath” is more or less devoid of any major conflict. Korra and the rest of the gang just hang around in a giant, lush mansion. There’s a swimming pool. And race cars. And aside from a little latent jealousy of the whole Mako/Asami relationship on Korra’s part (jealousy that seems to disappear after Asami proves herself to be a badass behind the wheel), there’s not a serious conflict in this entire first act.
It’s actually not a bad idea. It’s kind of peaceful, in a sense- I assumed that the rest of the season would be caught up in endless, fast-paced plot machinations, so devoting a decent chunk of this episode to our characters simply kicking back and having a good time is a welcome change from what I was expecting. But as the episode progressed, I found myself less and less interested in what was going on. When “The Aftermath” actually dives into the real meat of its story, I started to notice all sorts of big, glaring errors. Flat, uninteresting action. Dialogue so wooden as to make the Robot Devil himself blush.
I didn’t understand. This show was fantastic- why was there such a noticeable drop in quality from the previous episodes to this one? Am I going to feel the same way about future episodes that I did about “The Aftermath?”
I was worried. I was upset. But I gave myself some time, and figured I’d go back to this episode with an open mind.
And when I watched it for a second time, I honestly enjoyed it. Truly. I really don’t know what set me off about that first viewing. It might have been that “The Aftermath,” while still being an enjoyable episode of The Legend of Korra, has its share of flaws, and I wasn’t prepared for that after coming off of an episode as stellar as “And the Winner Is…”
Or it could be that I have an incurable brain disease. Who knows.
But “The Aftermath,” as much as I liked it for real the second time around, still has some noticeable weak points.
First is the story- specifically, all the push-pull between whether Hiroshi Sato is a hero or a villain. The bulk of this episode and the bulk of the character arcs within this episode all hinge back to that one big question: who’s side is Sato really on?
The problem is that Sato being evil is the only realistic option.
Think about it. If it’s not Sato, then the actual villain funding the Equalists has to be the cabbage merchant’s son (or grandson, maybe). But including the cabbage merchant at all is just a cute wink-and-a-nudge to everyone who watched the original show. So our only options are…
1. Sato, the mysterious entrepreneur who was caught making a mysterious and incriminating phone call, is the villain.
2. The cabbage vendor’s son, a fun callback to a gag character everyone loved in the original show but a character with no story, development, and only one line of dialogue in the whole show, is the villain.
Not only would it not make sense for the cabbage son to be the bad guy from a tonal perspective (cult favorite goofball character funds a terrorist organization), but if Cabbage Corp is the villain, no one really cares because no one really knows anything about Cabbage Corp. If Hiroshi Sato’s the real villain, there’s all kinds of new directions you can take the plot because Sato’s already an established character with some basic substance and motivation. Although, I’ve gotta say, it is a little iffy that no one mentions Sato’s backstory (with his wife being murdered by Fire Benders) until the episode where he turns evil.
Alright, now nitpick number two- the Robot Devil dialogue. It’s not present throughout the whole episode (and definitely not to the degree I originally thought it was), but there are more than a few times when characters just blatantly spout off what they’re feeling or what the next big plot point is.
Here are a few choice examples:
Tenzin: “Raiding the Sato Mansion is a risky move with Tarrlok breathing down your neck. If you’re wrong…”
Lin Beifong: “I know. I can kiss my job goodbye. But protecting Republic City is all I care about.”
Check out that last sentence. It feels like someone was worried that with Lin’s surly demeanor and her general antagonism towards a lot of the characters, it wouldn’t be clear that she had the city’s best interests at heart. So she just clumsily states that exact idea, without any nuance or any consideration as to whether a human being would actually say that.
Ok, one more quote just to drive the point home:
Asami: “I have to find out the truth about my father.”
Mako: “I understand. That’s why I’m going down. To find out for you.”
Again, there’s no subtlety to this. At all. This is an example of two characters stating exactly what they’re feeling and exactly what they’re about to do. I’ve already seen the entire episode up to this point, so I know all these things already. I don’t need to hear them spoken so bluntly.
This kind of stuff tends to catapult me out of that completely-sucked-into-the-story feeling I get with a good show. Real people don’t sound like that. Real people don’t often react to stressful situations by saying exactly what they’re doing and exactly what they’re thinking. It just sounds kind of phony.
And speaking of phony, I have one more gripe to get through before I can move past all this. That gripe? The final battle. Like every fight scene in both Avatar shows, the choreography is downright incredibly, but like so much else in “The Aftermath,” it’s plagued by little weak points that stand out awkwardly.
First there’s the music. As an example, look at the fight scene that caps off “And the Winner Is…” The music plays a gigantic part in making that scene so spectacular. The music builds as Korra pushes herself towards the top of the stadium. It falters and drops off when she starts to fall. Then it builds into a massive, fist-pumping crescendo as she rallies with Lin Beifong and flies through the top of the stadium. With nearly every consecutive shot in that entire fight scene, the music’s there to emphasize big action moments and add extra emotional depth to any sudden changes in the characters’ mindsets.
But in the battle against the mecha-tanks, the music just sits in the background. It’s quiet at first, and it gets louder towards the end, and that’s about it- the music alone doesn’t really convey any of the big emotional beats of the fight, like Lin taking out a tank with those hand-spikes or Tenzin rallying to come to Korra’s rescue.
It makes the whole sequence feel just a little bit flat.
Plus, after the fight’s over, Mako and Bolin’s plan to rescue their friends is just to walk over to them and grab their unconscious bodies while the Equalists aren’t looking. There’s no real plan. There’s no real tension. It just happens. Mako and Bolin sneak over and try to grab Tenzin, Cheif Beifong and Korra. Then they get caught. It all happens so fast that it’s easy to gloss over, but for a moment that should be full of suspense and tension, it’s a little lifeless.
The same goes for the shot of everyone escaping down the hole in the end- all our heroes awkwardly jump one at a time into the escape hatch, and then Bolin closes it without even looking. There’s no sense of panic or fear from the giant killer robots behind them. No one’s running. No one’s looking back. If you were to play that shot out of context, it’d be near impossible to tell that this was supposed to be a thrilling scene. It’s just people jumping into a whole. These are some very (very) small complaints, but they start to add up over time, and they really leave this final fight scene feeling just the slightest bit boring.
And I know that this whole review seems like I’m picking on “The Aftermath,” and I am, sort of, but that’s only because I’ve come to expect incredible things from The Legend of Korra. I was surprised when the show put out an episode that was simply good without being great.
Of course, there was still a lot to like- Korra’s tense standoff with some makeup and nearly every line out of Bolin’s mouth stand out for me. And we end with a few new developments to spice up later episodes, with both Asami and Chief Beifong becoming a more central part of our main cast of characters. I have the feeling that a Beifong that operates outside the law is going to be a serious force to be reckoned with.
So I apologize toKorrafans (and to the show itself) if I seemed harsh. But this kind of nipicking is done with a sense of care. A sense of love. A desire to see a great show right itself and continue churning out episodes of the highest quality.
Here’s to more of that.