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Gushing Over Reunited, Part 2: The Attack

Bo

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Now that Betchen (Bo and Gretchen) have gotten the Steven Universe happy big gay wedding out of the way, it’s time to jump into the action of “Reunited.” No, we don’t mean Garnet’s honeymoon. Or, maybe this still counts? We feel like Garnet might like a good fight on her honeymoon. Or to roleplay as Lonesome Lasso and Sally Mae. Anyway, we’re getting off topic. On to…

The Return 2: Electric Boogablue

There were many hopes for this episode and the return of Blue and Yellow Diamond to Earth. Would Lapis return? Lars and the Off-Colors? Jasper? Would we see new fusions? Would one of the Diamonds beat Alexandrite down like Thanos does Hulk in Infinity War?

Not all of this happened, but what did happen exceeded our expectations and then some. “Reunited” was the culmination of 5 seasons of this wonderful show. The Crewniverse put so much effort into building up this moment; Steven Universe as a whole is a master class in foreshadowing, and this battle fully showcased the team’s skill in that regard. With all the hard work out of the way leading up to it, they could give us a rip-roaring final fight stuffed to the gills with surprises and badass moments. With all the foundation laid down, the Crewniverse was able to deliver triumph after triumph and it was amazing. The fusion known as Betchen is pretty damn satisfied with everything that went down.

Like any good fight scene, the fight against the Diamonds gave each of our cast of characters from the Crystal Gems (both A and B team) an epic closing moment on the arcs built since their first appearances. Garnet stood up to Blue Diamond, who she first formed in front of. Peridot stood up to Yellow Diamond again and tossed soda cans with reckless abandon. Lapis returned to throw a barn and declare herself a Crystal Gem (so much more about this later). Connie launched herself right into the action. Bismuth got to fight alongside her friends, who all used the modifications she used to her weapons. Bismuth also got to throw Peridot at Blue’s face. #goals, amirite?

As little as single sentences closed entire books on the incredible character arcs they’ve all been through in satisfying ways. How amazing was Pearl’s, “I do it for me!” after all this time? That’s right, Pearl, you Diamond-seducing boss. Even Lion and Greg got in on the action. Well, Greg tried anyway. To be honest, they should have just let Greg at Blue. This all could have been solved quicker with the signature Universe charm.

And Lapis. LAPIS. (Yeah, you know Lapis is going to get her due with Gretchen involved in this discussion.) She’s going to save most of it for an in-depth essay about her continued healing arc, but there’s still plenty to say. Starting with: damn does she know how to make an entrance!

Before the “deus ex Lazuli” comments start, can we take a moment to appreciate how well foreshadowed Lapis’ return was? We know she was watching the Crystal Gems (and Peridot in particular); it’s entirely possible that the red and blue flowers that wash up on the beach after Garnet re-forms are a gift from her to let them know she’s watching (Gretchen likes to think so). We also know that she’s considered returning but didn’t know how to control her fear. So really, her arrival shouldn’t have come as a surprise nor is it really a ‘deus ex machina’—which implies that that the heroes literally could not do anything to save themselves without outside intervention, which we know wasn’t true.

Lapis helped turn the tide, but Steven delivered the final blow (more on that in a second). More than that, this was culmination of her seasons’ long journey through healing from her trauma and fear. She willingly destroyed the home she had taken all the way to the moon in order to help save her friends. You know what that is? That’s growth.

More than any show we know of, adult programming included, Steven Universe has hammered home again and again that one choice never ultimately defines someone. Rather, it’s the sum of and directionality of one’s choices that make people who they are. Mistakes happen along the way. Healing isn’t linear. Continued upward progress matters more than tiny steps backward or the occasional plateau. Choices and behavior always have a context, and turning a complex issue into a black and white matter of 100% good or evil when the reality is gray only hurts people. That applies equally to Rose, to Steven, to Bismuth, and to Lapis.

Lapis’ final choice doesn’t magically transform her into a good person that she wasn’t before she came back. She’s been on this trajectory since the end of season one. Proudly declaring herself to be a Crystal Gem is the culmination of several seasons’ worth of unpacking and processing her trauma, not a single defining moment disconnected from everything that went before. This choices was as much a product of her previous choices as it was a different one.

She needed space (*snort* gotta love the literal pun there) to think about and solidify her feelings about Earth and the Gems. She needed to face her fears on her own, to learn how to cope with them and control how she engaged with them.Like Ruby, she needed to find herself and what her story meant alone before coming back and joining the team for herself. If she hadn’t done that, she wouldn’t have been so strong and fierce as her own individual person. And damn was our girl, fierce

Only someone who has learned healthy ways of coping with her own depression can stand up to an onslaught of manipulative grief. Blue weaponized her pain and Lapis said, “Not our pain to bear, back off.” And that’s an equally important message as Steven’s compassion. Empathy has limits, especially when the other person seeks to burden you with their own pain in an unhealthy way. Yes, Blue was in pain. Her grief was valid. And, it wasn’t her place to make everyone else suffer because of her hurt. Extending compassion to someone in pain isn’t the same thing as them trying to make you suffer the way they are. Lapis showed us that.

At the same time, and best of all, this final fight completely validated and rewarded the choices Steven has made in the name of love, sympathy, and compassion. Even if we take the boundaries into account. Every mistake, every low point, and every moment of self-doubt this poor kid has persevered through was proven to be worth it. He learned, listened, and loved his way to this confrontation, and we couldn’t be more proud of him.

Because “Reunited” was also the culmination of Steven’s arc. All his friends came together, driven by his faith and love for them, to stop the greatest threat they’ve ever faced. Who expected the Cluster to return at all here, let alone fully in control and on Steven’s side? Everyone jumped to his defense without a second thought. They did so because Steven has earned their love and trust. How? By first extending love, trust, and compassion to others. Steven Universe as a show and him as a character have always promoted the importance and benefits of kindness, compassion, understanding, and healing, and now we saw how those choices and themes rewarded Steven.

The segment in the mind-ghost space (sure, go with it) was the perfect way to ultimately end the fight while also giving Steven arguably his biggest moment of peace over violence. How fitting that he ends the fight not by beating the Diamonds physically, but by literally breaking through the layers of grief Yellow and Blue built up over thousands of years? Even against the most dangerous threat he has ever faced, he went with his first instinct of healing and reconciliation. Damn if it didn’t work. Of course it did. Steven’s a miracle worker.

This was also his shining, climactic moment with his friends. Here’s where “For Just One Day Let’s Only Think About Love” continues to be a perfect tone setter for the entire episode. We talked in the first half of our review about Steven’s role as emotional support for the Crystal Gems, and he took this role to its greatest level yet within the mind-ghost space. He lifted everyone’s flagging spirits when they most needed him to. He bolstered them against the fear and doubts beginning to creep in.

Speaking of,“For Just One Day Let’s Only Think About Love” also framed the battle between the Crystal Gems and the Diamonds as one between love and hate, joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, fear and hope. Their conflict was not decided because one side or the other was physically stronger. It was decided because one side was stronger in the real way. After 5 seasons of minor conflicts in the battle between hope and doubt, hope won out.

We’ve seen fans try to attribute Steven’s power to Pink Diamond. We won’t pretend there’s no validity to it, or at least to aspects of it. Awareness of the mind space seemed to be a Diamond-only power. Blue and Yellow did stop fighting only after recognizing Pink Diamond’s aura. But we still hold firm that Steven has unlocked and developed these powers not because of her, but because of himself and the influences in his life. He deserves the majority of the credit. The rest goes to Greg. Greg was the one who raised Steven to be this way.

Rose/Pink had a lot of curiosity about Earth, but she wasn’t exactly empathetic. Knowing exactly how to encourage others to be their best selves and keep fighting isn’t a gem power. Intuiting exactly what people need to hear, and then saying it, isn’t either. Rose may have been excited about diversity and uniqueness, but she didn’t really set out to help anyone be their best selves. Or go out of her way to love and show compassion to them when they weren’t or challenge them to be better than their worst instincts. That’s all human, which just makes Steven that much more powerful as a character because some of his greatest ‘weapons’ are ones we can access, too. We can all be like Steven, and some of the greatest battles we’ll ever fight in our personal and political lives could do with some Steven-ing up.

Pink/Rose chose their way, and it was a way of war and violence. We’re not saying the Crystal Gems were in the wrong. Sometimes you have to choose the hard, violent way in the face of the most extreme subjugation. Rose ultimately fought for the right reasons and had good intentions. Those were still her choices and her instincts, and they almost always oppose the choices Steven makes. We wonder how many times we have to see Steven choose the opposite of his mother before we stop attributing the good in him to her.

Steven has now done what Rose would have thought impossible: he ended fighting with the Diamonds through peaceful means.

Reunited

So what happens now? You mean other than Lapis and Peridot getting their Crystal Gem Stars?

Totally the reason they got poofed and we’re not even mad.

Great question. A lot of fans have talked like it’s all over. Steven added two more giant women to the mom collection and now it’s on to a White Diamond conflict. We have to disagree. Oh, we have no doubt Blue and Yellow will eventually come to love Steven just like everyone else. Right now, though, that’s not at all what happened. Right now they are happy to have “Pink” back, and it’s a matter of how they deal both with learning Steven isn’t truly Pink and that he isn’t leaving Earth.

There is also a lot of emotional navigation ahead to truly overcome the mistakes of the Rebellion and the grief that followed. We still have thousands of bubbled gems who were corrupted by the Diamonds’ attack on Earth. And what about all the other Cluster experiments, or even the Cluster itself? Don’t you think it’s worth dealing with the horrors the Diamonds were willing to accept as part of their ‘grieving process’? Plus, we have a whole ship full of Off-Colors and Lars headed toward Earth, Gems who were oppressed and marginalized on Homeworld. The caste system that kept Gems like them in hiding still hasn’t been abolished. It’s safe to say there’s plenty to dig into even if the Diamonds no longer wish to destroy Earth.

There are critics who dislike the entire idea of Diamond redemption, regardless of how it happens. We understand. You have to be careful when navigating redemption arcs regarding vicious, oppressive tyrants. Lean one way and you excuse and justify their actions. Lean the other and you don’t actually give a good reason for them to switch sides. It’s definitely a delicate balance. Can the Diamonds actually come to Steven’s side without it feeling forced or insensitive to their crimes?

Can we at least see how it plays out before we denounce the entire thing, though?

The promo for the next episode already gives us reason to rethink what we know about the Diamonds. If they didn’t know their attack corrupted gem life on Earth, it raises questions about a lot of other things. Why did the attack corrupt the gems then? Did White Diamond do it? Was Rose’s shield responsible? How will Blue and Yellow feel about what they did to those gems? Combined with “Pink’s” survival, this may be just the catalyst for them to truly reflect on gem culture as a whole and perhaps seek to change it.

Now that it’s clear corruption will be the focus of Steven Universe’s immediate future (three cheers for Centipeedle returning!), undoing that damage may be the first step towards Blue and Yellow atoning as best they can for their actions so far. We’ve seen the show handle unintentional damage to others from good intentions in the past. Why not take on unintended casualties and damage when the intent truly was to hurt, just not in this way? And why not, as part of that process, dig into the ways that those who have done that damage can participate in reconciliation and healing?

We have an idea of how that might go, if Steven Universe chooses to go in that direction. The Diamonds were the only ones aware of the mind space, and we think it likely will use this space to heal the corrupted gems, or at least to help with the healing if they have any idea how. There’s obviously a limit to how much the Crystal Gems or the audience can forgive the Diamonds. They have thousands of years of ruling a fascist empire under their belts. They’ve committed war crimes and atrocities they can never really be forgiven for.

But does that eliminate any possibility of them turning their lives around? We hope not. Steven Universe prides itself on trying to reach everyone. It’s trying to teach lessons of love and peace to kids. Fiction is full of stories where bad people find a better way. Shouldn’t we at least keep our minds open to the Diamonds being able to do the same? If they can’t be reached, the show will deal with that later.

Or maybe the Crewniverse will settle them into some middle ground between ally and foe. Full ‘redemption’ and unrepentant villain aren’t the options. It’s not unreasonable to think, at least in the short term, that Blue and Yellow can both continue life as they have while also agreeing to leave Earth alone out of love for Pink. This dynamic could even open up more complicated stories around the idea of family you love yet have complicated relationships with because of bad things about them. We can all sympathize with that these days.

Whatever the case, the Crewniverse deserves a chance to try. Considering how well they handle everything else they’ve done, we’re both very optimistic.

Random Thoughts

  • The visual styling of the Cluster with its ‘muscles’ made it looked like a skinned human arm, which sounds gross, but was actually quite beautiful.
  • Yellow and the Cluster arm wrestled. The Crewniverse did that. Before you wonder, it was absolutely foreshadowed. Remember the arm wrestling arcade game?
  • Peridot throwing cans at Blue and screaming “fight me” was the epitome of angry smol.
  • We salute the proud tradition (dating all the way back to “Laser Light Canon” 1×02) of yeeting the angry smol at the enemy.

  • So many pop culture references we can’t even name them all, but we loved it.
  • That moment where everyone helps Steven hold the shield to protect them all from Blue’s attack? That’s what being a Crystal Gem is all about.
  • Dewey x Jaime? Who would have seen that ship coming!
  • Greg saved Cat Steven!
  • Our response after seeing the promo: CENTIPEEDLE. CENTIPEEDLE. CENTIPEEDLE.
  • Yet another Diamond appearance without so much as a hint about White Diamond. If they go through an episode discussing the corruption attack without mentioning her, then something very strange is going on. The Crewniverse will have a trick up their sleeve regarding White.

Images Courtesy of Cartoon Network

Bo

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and continues drifting wearily through the slog of summer TV.

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Dayana
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Before this episode, I would have never guessed arm wrestling would ever be something that could make my jaw drop. But it was with the greatest of pleasure that assumption was proven wrong. And then that didn’t even make it into my top five moments of the episode. This episode was so amazing from start to finish. Is it September yet?

Gretchen
Admin

Right? Even if you’d told me they were going to arm wrestle I would have snorted at the idea of it being compelling, but it was so well done. Is it for sure that new episodes are coming out in September?? I’m so ready.

Ira Shantz-Kreutzkamp
Guest
Ira Shantz-Kreutzkamp

But does that eliminate any possibility of them turning their lives around? We hope not. Steven Universe prides itself on trying to reach everyone. It’s trying to teach lessons of love and peace to kids. Fiction is full of stories where bad people find a better way. Shouldn’t we at least keep our minds open to the Diamonds being able to do the same? If they can’t be reached, the show will deal with that later. That’s one side of all this that’s really uncomfortable to me. The people doing the oppressing and perpetuating the violence in the world kids… Read more »

Gretchen
Admin

I understand where you’re coming from, so let me ask you a question. Do you think the depiction of violent oppressors realizing the horrors of what they’ve done, expressing remorse, and making reparations has value? If so, what would that look like for you? If not, why?

Ira Shantz-Kreutzkamp
Guest
Ira Shantz-Kreutzkamp

That is a GREAT question, Gretchen, because while I’d love if the Gems turned from just chewing life-giving planets up to changing others so they’d become full of life themselves(whatever form that life may be), I can’t really see much anything like that happening. I dare say at some point they’ll MENTION what they did across the universe for years untold, but I’m skeptical there’s going to be space or time for healing more than the Earth’s wounds and maybe relaxing their stranglehold on power as the Greater Diamond Authority reforms. That’s the central problem, here, that it’s unlikely the… Read more »

Analysis

Avatar, Spirits, and Spirituality

Michał

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Here on The Fandomentals we like to talk about Avatar: the Last Airbender (ATLA) and its sequel, Avatar: the Legend of Korra (LoK). But while many of us have talked about the strides the franchise has made in LGBT representation, its portrayal of a mental healing and recovery, complicated family dynamics or deconstruction of the superman narrative, I would instead talk about something that has concerned me ever since I saw the second season of Legend of Korra: spirits. After all these years, it’s time to finally put my concerns into words. And I will unfortunately continue to be the resident malcontent when it comes to the show.

To start with, let me lay down some groundwork and my central thesis. See, there’s two ways that the word “spirituality” is used in the franchise. One is the meaning we associate with it in the real world – concerned with immaterial things rather than material ones, inward-looking, meditative, contemplative. The other is the setting-specific meaning of being connected with the spirits and their world. But here’s the rub – the spirits aren’t actually very spiritual. Why do I say that? Let’s begin…

Avatar: the Last Airbender

Spirits certainly exist in the world the original show portrays, but they only sometimes play any major role – the biggest is perhaps the Book One finale. They’ve got their own worlds, but they also have a rather vague relationship with nature. In “Winter Solstice” we see a spirit named Hei Bai go mad after humans devastated a forest.

Vague it may be, it’s also significant, as we find out during “Siege of the North”. Zhao killing the Moon Spirit causes the moon itself to grow red and waterbending to stop working. If Yue hadn’t become a new Moon Spirit, presumably it would have become even worse from there.

In the same finale we also meet Koh the Face-Stealer, a spirit whose brief appearance nonetheless made him memorable. Just as his name implies, he steals faces, and the only defense is to maintain an entirely neutral, emotionless expression. This is the kind of thing that spirit stories tend to run on, after all – taboos and specific behavior that protect you from malevolent spirits. He was genuinely creepy and threatening in what little we saw of him.

The other spirit who plays a major role is Wan Shi Tong, the cranky owl who runs the spirit library. He accuses humans of always trying to use his knowledge for their own brutal ends. In his defense, Zhao used the library to find out about the Moon Spirit’s physical form, and we know how that ended up.

The Painted Lady only appears very briefly, after the rest of the episode might make us suspect she doesn’t actually exist. Like Hei Bai and the Moon and Ocean spirits, she has a connection to the natural environment, in this case her lake.

The show’s finale involves Aang receiving energy-bending from a Lion-Turtle, but… are they spirits? It’s kind of ambiguous what they are, what they aren’t and what they want. Still, they clearly do have some spiritual connections and they allow Aang to resolve the conflict without compromising his beliefs… even though the way they do it leaves something to be desired.

Spirits are, in general, the more outwardly “magical” element of the world in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Bending is by design rather predictable and we generally know what works and what doesn’t by the time we’ve seen half of the first season. Spirits introduce stranger and more fantastical things with them when they appear, but they’re not particularly central.

Legend of Korra Book One

The first book of the sequel contains no spirits. Amon says that they sent him to bring balance to the world, but he’s lying. So none of them appear or do anything. However, the word “spiritual” crops up frequently, mostly in terms of Korra’s lack of this trait. But why is she lacking in it and why is it a problem?

Well… that’s a good question, actually. “Not spiritual enough” seems to be a catch-all term for Korra’s struggles with airbending, connecting to her past lives, entering the Avatar State and her general combative attitude that focused on fighting and bending rather than the Avatar’s duties as a leader. Basically, every character flaw and struggle the show outlines for her.

Unfortunately, as we know, none of it really goes anywhere. Korra receives her vision from Aang long after it ceases to be useful, her airbending comes to her when Mako is in danger and she connects to her “spiritual side” because she’s depressed. This moment is just the first of many where the word “spiritual” is thrown around without any meaning. She became more “spiritual” in the sense that she got access to all her Avatar powers, but she gained no spirituality in the other sense of the word.

Sadly enough, you can see some ultimately unused plot hooks in this story. Korra receives her first incomplete vision of Yakone’s trial after Amon knocks her out during their “premature” confrontation. She receives her second vision after Tarrlok bloodbends her into unconsciousness and the final, complete one when he holds her hostage. It seems clear that Amon also used bloodbending on her, but subtly and maybe in combination with chi-blocking. Thus opening a way for Korra to figure it out on her own. But that was not to be and instead all the relevant information came from Tarrlok’s exposition dump.

But let’s not dwell on it too much. Instead, let’s move on to the second season, where spirits come to the fore.

Legend of Korra Book Two

And they do so in style, by attacking right in the first episode. The dark spirits prove difficult for even strong benders like Korra, Tonraq, and Tenzin to handle. Non-benders are entirely helpless, even though we saw Sokka best Wan Shi Tong with a heavy book and gravity. This is in keeping with LoK’s treatment of non-benders, really. We also find out there’s some tensions between spirits and humans and that corrupt spirits attack more and more often.

Either way, Korra’s uncle, Chief “I’m not a villain, I swear” Unalaq pacifies the spirit with a waterbending technique. Korra is impressed and wants to learn from him, since she feels she’s not spiritual enough to be the Avatar and a bridge between worlds. Sensible, one might think, and a logical progression. And yet… something doesn’t add up.

It once again comes down to the issue of spirituality and actual spirits. Unalaq complains about how the Southern Water Tribe turned their spirit festival into a festival of commerce. Which sounds plausible on the surface. He’s a crusty old traditionalist, of course he’ll complain about it. But what do the sprits even care? It’s not as if they have any concept of economy. As long as humans don’t go around destroying the environment or infringing on “spiritual” places (not that we know what makes a place qualify as such), they seem to be indifferent. Korra’s father, Tonraq, got on their bad side by doing the latter.

I feel like the show sort of expects us to take it as face value – they call it spiritual, so obviously spirits should care, right? But real-world religions give a reason why the spirits or deities they believe in care about the ceremonies and rituals. Here, we see no such reason.

As I mentioned at the beginning, ATLA got around spirits by being pretty vague about them. They do spirit-y things, they get angry if humans mess around with things they shouldn’t, they have a connection to nature… in the end, they’re not what’s important. But the second season of Legend of Korra puts them front and centre and makes them tangible… well not literally tangible, but much more real and relevant.

It doesn’t exactly get better when it turns out that Unalaq– who is absolutely not a villain, trust him on that– arranged for Tonraq to destroy a spirit-grove in the first place. Later on, it further turns out that he’s working with the spirit of darkness. It’s the two of them together that are responsible for the dark spirits attacking people. Which means… there’s no actual tension between humans and spirits, no crisis of spirituality or anything of the sort. Just two bad guys doing bad guy things.

Or… not exactly. After Unalaq spent many episodes doing various terrible deeds, and competing with Hiroshi for the title of the franchise’s second-worst father, he asks Korra if Avatar Wan had done the right thing when he separated the worlds. So it suddenly becomes a question we’re meant to care about. The relations between spirits and humans become an actual topic rather than just Vaatu being a big evil kite. But this happens right before the finale, so there’s not much time to talk about it.

As we know, Korra agrees. Why? Good question. The decision to keep the portals open gave her agency that the Book One finale had never given her. Her becoming the first Avatar of a new age is also appropriate. But as far as motivations and sense go… well, it has none. Which brings me to the second massive problem with the spirits in the show, and requires me to start at the “Beginnings”.

In the two-parter we see humans and spirits living in the same world. Or rather, humans surviving seemingly thanks to the protection of the Lion-Turtles. Everything beyond the four settlements huddling on their shells is a hostile jungle full of spirits who won’t give them an inch. We see proto-firebenders go out to hunt using their power. Again, the only reason they can do even that is because the Lion-Turtles help them. Why? Like I’ve said a few times already, good question. But one we have no answer for.

When Wan is exiled from his town and ventures into the wilds, he earns the spirits’ trust by not eating a gazelle he encounters. Which… well, I suppose gets us into the whole argument about whether or not it’s moral to eat meat. But still, he had to risk starvation for them to give him a chance? This starts the general trend in which it’s humans who have to put all the effort into harmony between the two species.

We do later see that there was a tribe of proto-airbenders who live in harmony with the spirits. But how? Once again… good question, no answer. There’s really nothing here except a vague feel-good “spirits are great” message.

After Wan accidentally frees Vaatu, he later fuses with Raava permanently to fight him, becoming the first Avatar. He seals Vaatu into a tree and decides to forever separate the world. Which… isn’t a perfect solution, perhaps, but certainly looked better than what was, at best, a perpetual war. At worst, it was spirits oppressing and bullying humans. So why are we supposed to believe that this wasn’t the right choice and that the one Korra made was right?

Aside from the spirits’ behavior, there’s still the major disconnects between them and being “spiritual”. We still don’t really know what it means. Yes, Korra is woefully unequipped to deal with spirits. But that’s just part of her general immaturity and rashness at this stage of her character arc.

Tenzin, her mentor, is however also unable to mediate into the Spirit World. For… some reason. It seems connected to his general psychological turmoil and massive pressure he’s under to live up to his father’s expectations. The Spirit World is governed by human emotion, so I suppose it would make sense.

While the inability to enter the Spirit World this way is yet another failure dropped on the large pile of Tenzin’s issues, his daughter Jinora can do it. Once again, we don’t really know why Tenzin can’t do it, but she can. All we get is that, you guessed it, she’s more spiritual. Except we still don’t know what that means and why being spiritual is even of any concern.

I’m also not entirely sure why only benders seem able to enter the Spirit World through meditation. If we accept that it requires peace of mind, concentration and inner balance, non-benders are as capable of them all as benders are.

When Korra actually enters the Spirit World, it turns out to be a realm where reality is something of a subjective matter. Human emotions affect it, particularly those of the Avatar. It more or less adds up, is visually interesting and makes some intuitive sense. Still, I’m not sure how much it adds up with the spirits’ connection to the environment that we saw in ATLA.

We also see Iroh in the Spirit World, which raises the question of whether human souls end up there after death. We know the Avatar reincarnates into new bodies every time, but what about everyone else? Maybe Iroh was special – “spiritual” enough to transcend into the Spirit World after death.

This kind of exemplifies the problem I’m talking about here. Yes, Iroh was spiritual in ATLA, in the more conventional sense of the word. There were some hints that he’d travelled to the Spirit World, but for the most part his spirituality was very down-to-earth. He told Zuko to look at what’s in front of him and think about what he wants, instead of chasing some lofty destiny someone else had imagined for him.

The wisdom of spirit-Iroh in Legend of Korra feels a lot like platitudes. Light, dark, staying true to yourself and all that. There’s just not much to it. His earthly wisdom and vague mentions of having had dealings with spirits are turned into some sort of deep connection to the spirits. Which allowed him to effectively become one.

What it adds up to is that the season tries to build up to Korra keeping the portal open, but the attempts just don’t work together. We don’t have a clear idea of what the relationship between humans and spirits should be. Korra’s decision feels like a big plunge for no good reason.

Legend of Korra Books Three and Four

The first episodes of Book Three deal with the consequences of the worlds reuniting. Korra spends a lot of time trying to contain the spirit-vines growing in Republic City, with the help of her friends. And the spirits… well, they don’t do a thing about it except yell at Korra, as if Raiko and the press weren’t enough. It seems that, once again, it falls to humans to work for harmony and peace, while the spirits are just going to complain about everything they do.

The spirits themselves take a backseat as Korra has to contend with the Red Lotus, so she never gets the chance to properly solve the problem. Which instead happens off-screen – we find out that in the period between Books Three and Four, while Korra was recovering from the horrific beating she took from the Red Lotus, Republic City integrated the Spirit Wilds. We see no real evidence of the spirits doing anything to help here, but at least they didn’t get in the way, I suppose?

Still, when Korra goes to ask for their help with Kuvira, she gets the cold shoulder. Kuriva is abusing the spirit vines to power her weapon and she’s invading the city where spirits and humans live together. But what do the spirits say? They’re not going to help, since they don’t interfere with human matters. But aren’t spirits and humans supposed to live together now, so there’s no “human matters” and “spirit matters” anymore? The worlds are back together and they’re all in it together, aren’t they?

I feel like it’s pretty common that whenever humans and more supernatural beings are in conflict in stories, the pressure is on humans to do something about and find common ground. The others, in this case spirits, are seemingly allowed to be aloof or outright hostile instead.

And of course it bears mentioning that humans have a lot more to fear from spirits than the other way around. They can hurt humans in many ways, while humans struggle to retaliate or attack. The biggest danger spirits seem to suffer from humans is their tendency to twist and corrupt when around humans who feel strong negative emotions.

To bring it all to the central point, I think the treatment of spirits in the Avatar franchise is one of the cases where a previously vague and ambiguous element gets more attention. Which doesn’t serve it well. Legend of Korra seems to expect us to take a lot at face value. It’s a lot of talk about spirits, spirituality, change and harmony without a whole lot to back it up. I got the distinct impression the show just skips over it all so we don’t have time to think about it too hard.


Images courtesy of Viacom

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Fandomental Fives: 2018 Emmy Nomination Snubs

Dan

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The nominees for the 2018 Emmy awards have been revealed, and the Fandomentals has a lot of feelings about it. There’s some pleasant surprises (Sandra Oh’s nomination for Killing Eve,) obvious picks (The Handmaid’s Tale continues to dominate), and some real disappointments. Below are the top 5 snubs as voted on by the writers here at The Fandomentals.

#1. Andre Braugher—Brooklyn 99

Nomination He Deserves: Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

As one of our writers said, the Monty Hall saga (BOOOOOOOOOOONE?) alone should have been enough to earn Braugher an Emmy. Playing at once a straight man, an authority figure, and a member of the gang, Captain Holt regularly wears multiple hats in each Brooklyn 99 episode. Braugher, like Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson, has taken a character that began as a rather straightforward joke and made him one of the most developed characters on the show. His absolute dedication to Holt’s deadpan delivery and perfect comedic timing have made him standout even in an ensemble comedy like B99. It’s been two years since he was even nominated for an Emmy even as Braugher, and Brooklyn 99, has only gotten better and better. He’s got one more chance next year, so please Emmy’s. Do it for Velvet Thunder.

#2. Brooklyn 99, One Day At A Time, The Good Place (Tie)

Nomination They Deserve: Pretty Much Any Awards

For an academy trying to burnish its progressive credentials, there was a distinctive shutting out of three shows with some of the best LGBT representation on TV. While they reward shows that revel in the torture of women or the struggles of the very rich and white, they could at least balance it with shows that more closely reflect the real world. As the internet raves about the success of these shows, the Academy puts its fingers in its ears and nominates shows nobody is watching like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Silicon Valley. In the acting categories, the Academy reveals a clear bias towards “dramedies” that trade on cheap emotional pulls over full on comedy. While ODAAT still has a lot of juice to pick up awards in the future, both The Good Place and B99 have to deal with the cutthroat world of network comedies. With B99 on what may be its final season, we have to hope the Academy can come to its senses next year and give some props to the “a-Noine-Noine!”

#3. Kyle MacLachlan—Twin Peaks

What he should be up for: Lead Actor in Drama Series

What can be said about Kyle MacLachlan’s performance in Twin Peaks: The Return that hasn’t already been said. Not only did he portray the iconic character of Special Agent Dale Cooper, he also had to wear two more hats as the evil BOB-possessed Dopplecoop and the innocent, borderline robotic Dougie Jones. Rather than play them as separate character, MacLachlan imbues a little bit of Cooper into both characters. Without that through line, the show would have gone from chaotic to borderline unwatchable. The nomination of David Lynch is well deserved, but The Return hinged as much on MacLachlan’s acting as it did Lynch’s weird and wonderful creative vision.

#4. Rita Moreno—One Day At A Time

What she should be up for: Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Rita Moreno is one of the most accomplished women in Hollywood. She’s had an over 70 year long career and is one of only 12 people ever to be an EGOT winner (which she’s been since 1975), as well as the only Latina EGOT. She could be spending her time staying at home or phoning in guest appearances. Instead, she is putting in work as an integral character in one of Netflix’s truly breakout shows. As family matriarch Lydia, Moreno dances between comedy as drama as easily as she dances “America.” She’s putting on a masterclass in sitcom acting She’s choosing to work with a brand new generation of Latinx actors. It’s a shame that both her work and artistic selflessness is being so criminally overlooked.

#5. Alison Brie—GLOW

What she should be up for: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

GLOW got a surprising amount of love this year. It garnered nominations for Bettie Gilpin (Supporting Actress), Jesse Peretz (Direction), and for the show as a whole as an Outstanding Comedy Series.  But the Academy failed to recognize the actress that was the core of the season: Alison Brie. Brie and her work as Ruth had one of the stronger arcs in the season as she both discovers her niche and  learns to become a less selfish person. Ruth acts as the show’s compass, emotional heart, and resident butt monkey. Brie does a masterful job turning the timid and shy struggling actress into a confident wrestler and director. She even seems to be the most committed to her character’s wrestling persona, sinking completely into Zoya as if she were a real wrestler straight out of the WWE. GLOW’s success means there will be more chances for the historically underrated Brie, and we hope the Academy recognizes her work in the future.

Those are our big snubs, but it was a contentious choice. What choices were big mistakes? Who got left out that deserves a nod? Sound off in the comics with YOUR biggest Emmy snub.

For the full list of the Emmy Nominations, you can go to Emmys.com/awards. And keep an eye on the Fandomentals as we bring you complete coverage of the Emmys from predictions to night-of reactions.


Images Courtesy of NBC, Netflix, Showtime, the Television Academy, and NBC

 

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Cloak and Dagger Visit a Shared Dream

Bo

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cloak and dagger featured

It also finally kicked into gear with some action and juicy plot details! Cloak and Dagger has been somewhat slow to kick into gear, with 6 episodes passed and the two main characters only just getting deep into their investigation during last week’s episode. Tyrone’s investigation hit a fatal wall, but Tandy had a bit more luck with the daughter of a friend of her father’s. Let’s get into “Lotus Eaters” and discuss its events.

Glorious, Glorious Plot

This was easily the best episode of Cloak and Dagger’s season, in my humble opinion. And for good reason; things moved. Things happened. I know the idea of what was probably a few minutes inside someone’s head doesn’t sound like much, but “Lotus Eaters” made good use of the episode-long dream its characters inhabited. Tandy and Tyrone exhibited their greatest control yet of their powers. There were many more details regarding the rig explosion, including hints towards the origin of the superpowers. The characters themselves underwent substantial growth and bonding.

It was just a pleasant shift in pace and balance between character and plot.

By far the most interesting plot development was the intimate look at the explosion. Namely, the effects of it. We knew the explosion gave Tandy and Tyrone powers, but we had no idea how or why. The question remains but at least we have an idea now. There may even be an outright explanation for Tyrone, while Tandy’s powers remain a bit more of a mystery.

Whatever effect the magic not-oil juice the Roxxon rig drilled for had on its workers sounded awfully similar to Tyrone’s powers, or at least the effect his powers have on others. They basically turned into violent, mindless zombies because they were infected by fear during the initial mini-explosions on the rig. Why? Unimportant right now. What’s more interesting is how this ties right into Tyrone’s powers, which tie directly to fear.

So why does Tyrone seem to control fear, or at least have the ability to use it to his advantage? It’s a good question. The others on the rig were overtaken by the effects of the explosion. Is it because he survived the explosion that killed everyone on the rig but Ivan Heiss? Was it his proximity, or rather his lack thereof? Is it tied to him nearly dying and the explosion saving him somehow? And considering the only other two people who survived the explosion received powers from it, what will this mean for Ivan?

One thing expected of superhero shows that Cloak and Dagger lacks is some villain to focus on. Roxxon has served as the background antagonist, but there’s no central figure. Even Roxxon isn’t really a villain yet so much as the background potential for a villain. The past two episodes have begun focusing in on them, but you still expect some single person to eventually represent them. Could that person be Ivan?

I admit it probably isn’t likely, but you have to wonder if he’ll develop powers as well since the only other two survivors caught in the explosion developed powers. Maybe he will. And after 8 years in a repeating nightmare, who knows what his mental state will be like. Or maybe they’ll stick just to avoiding a repeat of this disaster. Last week’s episode had Evita’s aunt talk about a coming disaster only Tandy and Tyrone can stop. Now it’s easy to guess said disaster would repeat the rig explosion and its harmful consequences for those caught in it. Get ready for New Orleans, zombie-style.

There’s also the question of why Tandy developed “hope and light” powers when the rig explosion seemed so tuned towards fear. It’s a lot of questions to raise, but these are all new questions sprouting from new information in the episode, and I’m glad Cloak and Dagger finally gave the details necessary to ask them.

It was also great to finally see Tandy and Tyrone display such control of their powers, as well as work in tandem. Tyrone mentions how he feels more in control of his powers in the repeating dream.  Maybe they’ll again be inconsistent back in the real world, but I hope his powers will at least come closer to his dream level of power. Tyrone’s power level jumped considerably from what we’ve seen before. Tandy’s were closer to what we expected, but still a jump. She was tossing around her light daggers pretty skillfully by the end.

Even better, they skillfully used their powers in tandem.

I hope “Lotus Eaters” served as a way for Cloak and Dagger to make permanent, considerable jumps forward in power level using a plausible explanation. The dream was a good way to provide them a taste of their greater capabilities allowing them to understand them more. Considering how closely tied Tandy and Tyrone are, their strengthened bond also makes me optimistic. Cloak and Dagger not only moved the plot forward, it moved their relationship markedly forward as well.

Cloaking and Daggering

The setting and stress of the oil rig dream provided a great opportunity for Cloak and Dagger to develop its main characters, and the show took advantage. A big reason this episode ended up as easily the best so far was because it fully integrated character development into action and plot movement. Not that I have any problem with character development, but you’d rather it happen through actions than talking. At the very least you want a balance.

Most of the character work here centered around Tandy, which makes sense. Ivan Heiss was her lead through his daughter Mina. He worked with Tandy’s father and was on the phone with him when the explosion happened. Watching her work through her loneliness throughout the episode was interesting and far more preferable than having her and Tyrone scream awkward dialogue at each other (which did happen here).

It’s been obvious since the first episode how the loss of her father changed Tandy and her mother. They have each lingered on what happened in their own way. Her mother lingers tangibly in her efforts to sue Roxxon and get legal justice. Tandy has run away from her feelings but always lingered mentally. She held on to her resentment over losing her father and never let go, no matter how many people she runs from in real life.

Her dream phone calls with her “father” made clear that she hasn’t come close to leaving her memories and anguish behind. Just like that, Tandy was willing to basically give up her life to spend eternity talking to someone else’s interpretation of her father. This actually fed into her previous admission of suicidal thoughts. For all intents and purposes, she would end her conscious life and forget everything in order to talk to the voice over the phone.

It’s significant that Tyrone was able to break her away from this choice, and also that Tandy was willing to listen. They’ve come a long way. Tyrone has finally provided her with something she lacked in all the years since her father’s death: a genuine friend facing similar circumstances and that she genuinely believes she can relate to. Maybe Tandy cared for the boyfriend who is now in jail, but she obviously didn’t feel any strong loyalty for her.

Tandy has lived a life basically alone, morphing herself to fit whatever crowd she tries to fit in with. She was right when she said she played Tyrone. She has played him since the moment they first saw each other. The same confession was made last week with Mina, because Tandy has done this so long it’s her default. Throughout the course of Cloak and Dagger, though, we’ve seen her and Tyrone grow closer because they share the same strange experience with their powers, which also link them together in some intangible way.

The ending phone call was a great way to cap the episode’s emotional development for both. Not just because it proved Tyrone to actually be Tandy’s friend in a way she lacked since her father’s death; it also had the tape recorder moment capping Tyrone’s development throughout the episode. He went from not even remembering his brother’s voice to openly sharing it with his new friend.

(And let’s not ignore the romantic undertone of the scene.)

“Lotus Eater” was a truly significant episode of Cloak and Dagger. I hope they keep this quality up. All the slow-burning and frustration of the first 6 episodes would be worth it if things shift in this direction moving forward.

Other Thoughts:

  • If Ivan isn’t a bad guy in any way, you have to assume Roxxon will want to silence him. I hope he sticks around, I like his character. Don’t Greg him please.
  • Did Roxxon not give the rig the shielding Ivan wanted specifically so the explosion would happen? It’s common villain stuff to let a disaster happen in order to study the results.
  • I hope Tandy has a moment of reflection regarding the number of bodies her daggers have accumulated. She’s incredibly ruthless in murdering with those things. I know they were dream people in this episode, but still.
  • With the romantic interest starting to present itself, I wonder how Evita will come into play in that drama. I’m worried because I have zero tolerance for love triangles stalling stories.
  • I saw a fan who did the math about how many cycles Ivan lived through in his catatonic state. Let’s just say it’s enough to warp someone’s mind quite a few times.

Images Courtesy of Freeform

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