LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, MEET MY CRACKSHIP. YES I STILL LIKE BORRA. NO I AM NOT SORRY.
(It's also up on tumblr if you feel like reblogging it: [link]
)“That’s why I brought you out here — to learn your destiny. You two will become bloodbenders of the highest order. And when the time is right, you will claim Republic City, and you will destroy the Avatar. You must avenge me. That is your purpose in life.”
When you think about it, Tarrlok wasn’t far off in pointing out the similarities between Korra and himself during their conversation in Episode Eight; even disregarding their mutual conviction and intensity when faced with conflict, there are more parallels than he probably realized.
Both of them exist very much within the confines of their physical abilities, Korra putting all of her self-worth into them and Tarrlok doing the best he can to conceal them out of disgust. Both bear the weight of very different but equally heavy legacies, Korra often holding herself up in unfavorable (according to her own judgment) comparison with Aang, and Tarrlok constantly and consciously trying to distance himself from Yakone through his actions.
It’s rather suffocating to think about, and neither of them were really ever given the chance to realize that they are individuals outside of their titles, bending abilities and pasts (or past lives, as it were), capable of making their own ways in the world. Korra was given her bending back in fairly short order, after a broken-hearted voicing of her belief that she had failed as an Avatar, and Tarrlok seemed to realize that there was no way of ever escaping what Yakone had turned both him and his brother into.
Part of the reason so many fans (myself included) are holding on to the outlandish, extremely unlikely hope that Tarrlok somehow survived his murder-suicide attempt is because this seems like a despairing note to end his character arc on…Not that dark, mature themes ought to be avoided in narratives for young adults, no, but in a story that gave us quite a bit about fulfilling your duties without being consumed by them (in Aang’s case) and not letting who you were determine who you will be (in Zuko’s), it feels out of place.
So what exactly would unfold if Tarrlok were to come back?
(I know it’s not going to happen, but work with me here. People in television survive explosions all the time.)
Aside from some nasty, badass burn scars, and a terrible bitterness at being such a “failure” that he couldn’t even manage to end things on his own terms, there would be the consequences of his actions to deal with. He’d probably need to be put on trial, and I have the oddest image of him staying on Air Temple Island (he’s made himself a lot of enemies, and I can’t imagine the city jail would be very safe) as a kind of house arrest while he awaited it…besides, Air Temple Island currently has a very talented waterbending healer in residence, who also happens to be the Avatar and one of the only two people (if we’re counting Mako, who was sort of there just because) Tarrlok has ever told the truth about his past to. It would be an awkward reunion, to say the least.
And at some point or another, once his self-loathing attitude and outlook wore down her patience, I can see Korra feeling the need to headily point out that he is not Yakone, any more than she is Aang, and, well, “Let’s just make things easier for ourselves by trying to believe that, okay? Okay.” She might not even realize the significance of the words until they were out.
Tarrlok may have apologized for his crimes, but it’d be a long and difficult trek towards gaining the trust of those around him and undoing the harm he’s inflicted. Changes wouldn’t happen immediately. (Ikki, however, would declare herself his best friend and principal tormentor.) Korra would usually have to be there reminding people, “See? He’s not so bad once you get to know him…Or, you know, not bad in the same way”, and eventually she’d be proven correct. Ultimately the change would be up to him, but she’d try to help.
Heck, on the flip-side, we all know the girl could use a few lessons in the art of tact/how to play a smarter game than your opponents. Why not learn from someone who’s had years of practice? Maybe the next season will revolve partially around the gang wars of Republic City, which would continue addressing the inequalities between benders and nonbenders (and another type of enemy who cannot be dealt with by brute force alone) while providing us with something new (oh, hey, look, more ways of both purging Yakone’s influence and building up Aang’s dreams for Republic City.)
Having these two characters continue to develop in tandem with each other would be a revisiting of – and also a new take on – those themes of identity and accepting help from others which we saw in the first series. Avatar Aang took away Yakone’s bending because of the wrongs he had done, and then his successor gives Yakone’s son his bending back because of what he has done to make things right. It’s a nice parallel.
It would be an interesting partnership to watch develop from where Season One left us off: that shamed, self-conscious look on Tarrlok’s face after Korra thanks him for his help – he nods, but then he can’t look her in the eyes anymore and so he turns his own away – will never stop interesting me. It would be a humorous way of circling things around to Tarrlok’s Episode Four declaration that they make a good team. It would carry through with that lesson that when we reach our lowest points, we are open to the greatest change. It would be a challenge for Korra, a different kind of spiritual one, because being the Avatar is not all about fighting; it’s about connecting with the people of this world and sharing in their pain, their joys, their struggles and their triumphs, and now she has Aang as a mentor to help her do that and he’s watched this journey happen before. I just kind of want to see more battles featuring a master waterbender, and maybe the airbabies forcing him to play a game of Redemption with them.
(Including the totally un-ironic crows of “REDEMPTION! REDEPMTION!” that would follow.)
…I’m not sure where I’m going with this.
But anyway, I find the whole thing very compelling. Will it happen? No. Do I like thinking about how it would play out anyway? Sure.
And you know what else?
It would allow us to imagine a sort of follow-up to those words of Yakone’s, which ended up poisoning and ruining the first half of Tarrlok’s life:“Ah, yes, that whole business about destroying the Avatar. Sorry, Dad, you must have stuttered or something. Whoops.”