Thursday, July 18, 2013
Yakone's Sons Revisited (a very special entry)
It's been a whole year since Noatak and Tarrlok drove that boat over the horizon, it blew up, and they were never seen again. Yes, this sudden blog entry is because of the recently released and much controversial commentary by Mike and Bryan on the official "The Legend Of Korra: Book One" Blu-Ray collection. A commentary that, I must add, has made my respect for the two drop down waaay low. They are brilliant creators, but are not fit to be writers, are lousy at managing their own creations, and have developed all the wrong ideas in the wake of "Avatar: The Last Airbender"s success, including swell-headed egotism, a misunderstanding of their audience, and a closed mind towards any and all criticism. Just another sad example of mighty talents that have fallen as of late.
However, there is one complaint I'm hearing from fans that I think is all wrong. That's the idea that
the ultimate fate of Noatak and Tarrlok was Bryke's way of condoning suicide. Which I think is pure bullocks. To put it into perspective, as the scene above shows, Tarrlok put down that electric glove
on the boats core, blowing it up with him and his brother still on the vehicle, thus committing murder-suicide on a Nickelodeon animated family show. It was a much talked about and critically acclaimed moment, and definitely where that story's finale peaked. However, now Bryke has gone on the record of saying how Tarrlok's murder-suicide was a "noble action" and a "sacrifice": that he did the right thing by removing himself and his brother from the world because it rid society of two people who were damaged beyond repair and would only go on hurting others and themselves. "That's not fair!" the people cry "Many suicide victims in real life feel like they don't belong in the world and that it'd be better off without them. They may very well convince themselves that they're doing the right thing by offing themselves! Mike and Bryan are condoning suicide! ASSHOLES!"
For one thing, I think part of the problem was with the way Bryke worded it. Let's face it, they're not the most articulate people around. They described Tarrlok as having been "a real jerk all season" as part of the reason why his decision was justified. Which led to much asking of "If being a real jerk is reason to take your own life, then why hasn't Mako done it?" No, Tarrlok being more than just a jerk is only part of his decision's reasoning, which I'll get to later.
Another thing the fans decry is the idea that anyone in this universe could be damaged beyond repair. They cite Azula and Ozai as examples, especially the latter since not killing him due to the belief of all life's sacredness was a big part of the previous series' conclusion. To which I say...let's look at how that worked out, shall we? Even without powers to hurt anyone anymore, even from behind bars, Ozai is still able to scheme ways to slowly get himself back to power and to damage Zuko's rule as well. "The Promise" shows us that he is a pure douche beyond any hope, and "The Search" shows us that evidently he always has been. So it's safe to assume he always will be, meaning that yes, some people are just plain irredeemable. And as for Aang using energy bending as an alternative to killing anyone else? That actually started the whole crisis here with Yakone! Yeah, this "everyone deserves a chance to live" mentality really shot itself in the foot. And Aang even realized that sometimes killing has to be done in "The Promise." If Bryke is backtracking on this issue, it's because they've recognized that. An Air Nomad's beliefs don't necessarily have to be the creators' and narrative's belief. Particularly in a series where said Air Nomad is no longer the Avatar.
Also, just because many real life suicide victims feel a certain way when they make the decision doesn't mean that fictional characters should shy away from feeling the same thing, even in family entertainment. That Bryke called the murder-suicide noble might expose their belief about the issue: that they really do believe that your feelings of not belonging in the world and needing to rid life of your existence is absolutely justified as long as you're a villain, so by all means, go for the suicide. And if that is their belief, then that's their belief, and they expressed it through this story and these characters. We shouldn't viciously argue about that even if we disagree. And I kind of do see the point. Most suicide victims who feel the way Tarrlok did probably haven't committed the evil deeds of Yakone's bloodline. But more important than it being the creators' belief is that it was the characters' belief. That from the character's perspective and from a character standpoint, this was indeed the right action to take and was the only way their arc could possibly be closed.
Let's look at the scenario closely. After being outed for the hypocrite he was, Noatak retreated back to his lair where he was keeping his brother Tarrlok imprisoned. He comes in to say "Hey bro, I'm sorry for all I did. It's all over now, I lost. But the two of us can start over! We can live a new life under new identities and leave all this behind! It'll be great! Please, you're all I have left in the world!" And you can just see the uncertainty and sense of dread in Tarrlok's eyes as his brother says all this. Because this is exactly what happened with their father Yakone after Aang had defeated him: his associates broke him out of prison, gave him plastic surgery and a new identity so he could start over, which led to him getting married and having two sons. And look how well THAT ended up? Now history is repeating itself, with Tarrlok in Yakone's place and Noatak in his gang's place. If their father, the father who abused them and put them on the self destructive path of vengeance they were on, had failed to let go and live his life anew, then how could Tarrlok be sure that the same thing wouldn't happen to them? That they'd have kids of their own that could bloodbend and they'd relapse into wanting to use their kids talents to take revenge on Republic City and the Avatar? And it's not just the past actions of their father that makes Tarrlok distrusting of himself and his brother, but also their own past resolves. As a teenager, Noatak had told his father that "We are your sons! Not your tools for revenge!" A little bit earlier, young Tarrlok had cried "I never want to bloodbend ever again!" And yet all that proved easier said than done. They talked the talk, but utterly failed to walk the walk, ending up becoming exactly the tools of war that their father had wanted to shape them into. So even if they were to now say "We're going to really put all this behind us and start over, and if we have kids, be better fathers to them than our father was to us!", can we really be certain that they'd keep their word? Tarrlok sure as heck didn't seem certain, and after all that, who can blame him?
Then we get to the moment itself, very reminiscent of the ending to "Of Mice And Men." On the
boat, Noatak is gleefully talking about looking forward to the two of them living life together again
as brothers. With an almost childlike naivete, he says there's nothing they can't handle together.
A sulking Tarrlok just murmurs "Yes, you're right, Noatak." "Noatak" his brother replies wistfully "I'd almost forgotten the sound of my own name." Which is an acknowledgement from the man himself of how far he's fallen. He'd so enraptured himself in the persona he was putting on for his anti-bending revolution, he'd forgotten his own past. He'd put the source of his pain behind him, but in doing so, lost sight of the things he should have known better. He'd followed in his father's footsteps without
the level of self-awareness that Tarrlok had about it. Tarrlok then looks at the Equalist electric gloves loaded on the boat, then his glance turns to Noatak at the steering wheel, and then back at the gloves. He reaches for a glove and puts it on, his gaze going once again to his brother, who is standing still at the wheel of the boat. When I first watched this, what I thought was going to happen was that Tarrlok would use the glove on Noatak, take the wheel and go back to Republic City, and haul himself and his brother to prison in order to owe up to their crimes. But of course, that's not
what happened. Only later did I get the significance of how the build-up to Tarrlok's final action was animated. When first eyeing the gloves, he was no doubt questioning "Why is this boated loaded with these things? Why do we need them? I could use them to get us killed, but does Noatak know that? Why didn't he throw them overboard?" He then looks at Noatak, and the realization is that Noatak, deep down in his heart, knows how this is going to end. He knows what his brother will choose to do with one of those gloves. So Tarrlok takes the glove and then lastly there's the reaffirmation. Noatak still doesn't budge from where he's standing. As a bloodbender, he should be able to sense Tarrlok's movements from behind him and figure out exactly what he's about to do. And yet he doesn't stop him. He's waiting...waiting for it all to end. So keeping their self-deluding conversation going with one last line, "It will be just like the good ol' days", Tarrlok makes his move. The last shot we see before the boat explodes is Noatak looking grim and a single tear falling from his eye. Confirming that yes, he knew what was going to happen here. Which means that both these guys wanted to die. They both felt that they were so damaged that they had to remove themselves from the world in order to spare themselves and anyone else from getting hurt by Yakone's hateful legacy. When Bryke spoke of this murder-suicide as a noble sacrifice, they had the characters' perspectives on their minds. And in the context of these characters, it makes complete and total sense. It was not condoning suicide.
While "The Legend Of Korra" thus far has had it's share of numerous, very glaring problems, and
I suspect shall still have them if Mike and Bryan really haven't learned anything from these failures
(but there'll be more writers on board now, so who knows?), the handling of the first story arc's primary antagonists was not among them. The story of Yakone's bloodline and how it tied into the Equalist revolution was the most well written, well thought out, and well executed part of the show as it now stands. So people, let's please not look for something to misblame it for now. Likewise, suicide is a very serious issue and should not be condoned or encouraged, particularly not in shows watched by children. But characters, like people, don't always reflect ideal morals. And in the right setting and context, a suicide, or even murder-suicide, might be necessary for a fictional story to work. It does not and should not nessecarily reflect the morals and ideals of the people involved. That is all.