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‘The Legend of Korra’ Book 3 Review: “Old Wounds”

Legend of Korra Old Wounds
Nickelodeon

Amidst a brutal rumble of sisterly fisticuffs, Bolin points out that Korra might suffer from “only child” syndrome, an idealism where everything should radiate with rainbows and peace signs. “You don’t have any siblings,” he tells the Avatar, after she considers breaking up Lin and Suyin’s spat. “Fighting is all part of the healing process.”

‘The Legend of Korra’ isn’t advocating anyone to pummel their brother/sister with giant boulders, but Bolin’s on to something. Confrontation is a necessary evil. It can leave people scratched up … but the damage of keeping conflict pent up inside is far, far worse. Last week’s “The Metal Clan” saw Lin and Suyin clenching their insides to keep from biting the other’s heads off. This was their first interaction in 30 years. It was no easy feat; meditative, green juice-drinking Suyin was in a better position to calmly avoid the situation. Lin’s rage transformed her into a rabid dog, teeth out, ready to bite. In “Old Wounds,” that passive aggression literally cripples the diligent cop. The only solution: memory-provoking acupuncture!

Transitioning to flashbacks has not been ‘Korra”s forte in the past: In Book 1, Aang kind of beamed them into Korra’s brain; In Book 2, Korra lost her memory, took a spirit bath, and replayed the history of Wan while recuperating. While tying Lin’s past hardships to blocked chi is a clever way of keeping the device in the ‘Korra’ world, watching an Earthbender place needles into Lin’s acupoints comes off a little goofy. No matter: What lies beneath Lin’s vicious shell makes good on the promises set up last week.

Lin’s early days in the police force put her in direct competition with Suyin, who owns her liberal arts major “cool mom” persona even more by running with small-time criminals as a teenager (coming next season: ‘Metalbending Is the New Black’). Writers Katie Mattila and Ian Graham give their headbutting a Hong Kong crime drama feel — Suyin doesn’t go full Patty Hearst, but their dynamic might owe a little to John Woo’s ‘A Better Tomorrow’ and the grand tradition of Hong Kong crime drama. Lin tries her best to “rescue” Suyin from running with Triad boys, but any resistance only makes their anti-authoritarian lifestyle more appealing. When Lin takes a call to stop two robbers hightailing it out of Republic City — one of two kinetic, methodical car chases in the episode — she already knows who she’ll find in the getaway car.

For three seasons, Lin has commanded the screen with her tough attitude and signature facial scars. She’s a warrior. It was safe to assume whomever left their mark on Lin’s cheek was one of deadliest opponents Republic City would ever see. Nope. Believing that privilege will let her walk away from the crime scene, Suyin brushes off Lin’s threats of incarceration and turns the other cheek. Lin loses it, catching her by the wrist with her metal restraints. Suyin slashing Lin’s cord means everything. It’s over for these two. The snapping of the metal’s scar ensures Lin’s will never forget it.

“Old Wounds” drives one more stake between them before it’s all said and done. The episode gives us a dimensionalized look at middle-aged Toph, forced to prioritize family over business in a situation where there’s no right answer. Hoping to brush Suyin’s crime under the rug, Toph rips up Lin’s police report and sends the younger sister to live with her grandparents. And we thought Chris Christie orchestrating traffic jams was a big deal.

Reliving the past jolts Lin into the present. She’s finally going to have a word with Suyin. And by word, she means pummel her with rocks and metal pillars. The family feud is epic, Suyin weaving through Lin’s attacks with the same grace as her Metal Clan dance, Lin picking herself up from unimaginable hits, oblivious to the fact that she’s running on pure fumes. It takes Opal stepping in to keep them from ripping each other to shreds. She wonders why two sisters would want to beat each other to bloody pulps. Behind their carefully animated expressions, we know it’s not that they want to. They have to. They’re beyond gentle words and simple solutions. This is pain, fully realized.

Lin’s emotions manifest once again in a physical reaction. She keels over. Everything she’s dealt with is out of her system. “Old Wounds” misses a beat that would make it perfect: Instead of reflecting on the fight, Lin’s simply healed. She drinks a kale shake. It’s a little too easy, but there’s no time to spare with ‘Korra,’ a half hour animated show striving for one-hour drama. Mattila has an ear for Suyin and Lin’s make-up dialogue. Suyin wonders if they can be friends, maybe Lin can move to Zaofu? “How about for now, I just promise to not show up at your house and attack you again?” That’s a start.

“Old Wounds” offers a few non-Lin/Suyin moments that are just as genuine. Korra decides she wants to learn metalbending and it makes Bolin feel inadequate. He’s embarrassed to ask for help, feels like he should either be able to do it or he’s hopeless. It’s a male adolescent dilemma: The standard is this and you’re something else. When Bolin finally gets over it — thanks to a sweet, vulnerable conversation with Opal — he submits himself to training. Book 3 has adeptly tapped Bolin for conversation on modern masculinity, powerful without feeling didactic.

Adding a looming danger to an episode hyper-focused on internal conflict, Zaheer and his Red Lotus brethren opt to leave Republic City after the Airbender caused a stir on Air Temple Island. “You still want to take out the President?” asks Ghazan, dropping a huge motivation bomb that may or may not resurface before Book 3 is through. Zaheer decides it’s not worth the trouble. They just need the Avatar. So Red Lotus storms out of Republic City in destructive, Michael Bay fashion, complete with overturned police cars and bridge explosions. The final note of “Old Wounds” is a shot of Zaheer awakening from meditation. Does he possess Jinora’s astral projection ability? There’s reason to believe it: When Zaheer returns from “the zone” he has answers. He knows where the Avatar is and he’s ready to attack.

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