Why "Venom of the Red Lotus" Is the Cleverest LoK Title So Far
In a nutshell, it’s another great troll, and one of the best bits of Fridge Brilliance the show has given us.
That’s because that stuff the Red Lotus uses to poison Korra…
…can’t possibly be the venom mentioned in the title.
It’s a major plot point that the substance in the bowl is a toxic liquid metal (mostly likely mercury, which can be absorbed through the skin). Venom, on the other hand, is by definition a toxin that comes from a living thing–a reptile, a spider, or anything else that can poison with a bite or sting.
Although it could be blown off as a semantic quibble, I believe our creators are too sharp not to know the difference. Even Zaheer never uses the word “venom” in this episode or the previous one–he sticks with “poison,” as does everyone else who mentions the toxic metal, from Jinora to the guard who complains about being “stuck in daycare.”
So if it’s not the actual poison, what is the “venom of the Red Lotus”?
I believe it’s the idea the Red Lotus implants in Korra’s mind, which she’s already heard (and hears again in this scene!) from other villains–that the Avatar is unnecessary, a throwback that should cease to exist.
It’s an idea that threatens her identity on an even deeper level than than losing her bending in Book 1, and we’ve all seen how violently Korra reacts to things that threaten her identity. In fact, everything else Korra does in this episode, from ripping her chains loose to knocking down Ghazan and Ming-Hua to trying to murder Zaheer in an extended fight scene, represents her attempt to fight off this threat. Sure, there’s some “you killed my father,” and some “how dare you do this to me” in there as well, but even those wouldn’t be enough to trigger the sort of rage she manifests in the fight with Zaheer.
And it doesn’t stop working when the physical toxin is gone–Suyin bends out the poison, but she can’t do anything about the venom. Neither can Korra’s other loved ones, who think her disability and unresponsiveness stem from her physical injuries (or PTSD/residual effects of the poison/whatever), but can’t understand the real cause without knowing what she saw in those hallucinations and how it affected her. “What she’s been through” is only part of it; her spirit has been poisoned, and the idea that she’s not needed is what’s eating her from the inside out. (It only gets worse when Tenzin tries to help by announcing that the airbenders will take over her role of peacekeeper for the world; she’s already given up the role of the “great bridge” between the human and spirit worlds, and now he seems to be chipping away at what little relevance she has left.)
It might have been unintentional (since Zaheer intended to destroy only her body), but by the end of Book 3 the Red Lotus's venom–the living, growing threat of an idea implanted in Korra’s mind–is more of a threat than their poison ever was.
You want to know the best part of the Cloud Babies relationship? About them as human-beings?
Tenzin never asked
In Book 2, Tenzin never asked his siblings to help him. He never asked Bumi and Kya to go to the Spirit World to save Jinora, to put their lives in danger. Did not ask them to follow him into the Spirit Fog, where they could be trapped FOREVER in their darkest, deepest despair.
He never asked because he knew they would.
And Tenzin never asked them to fight the Red Lotus. He told them to stay and fight with him. Bumi can barely even air bend, but he stays. Kya got her butt kicked before, but she stayed.
He didn’t ask them to fight and stand their ground, to protect a small group of innocents. To protect and fight for what the believe in, for what they love.
To protect their family. Didn’t ask, because he knew they would.
These are the men and the woman Katara and Aang raised. This is their legacy and the world is a better place for it.
After this finale, I think I figured out what the thematic endgame of the series is – Korra’s going to teach the world to keep balance whether the Avatar is around or not.
As awful as Korra’s current situation is, I feel like it’s going to be something that she will end up learning from. And, if you consider her hallucinations – which suggest that obsolescence is her greatest fear – and the way those fears will inevitably interact with her extended convalescence (since she’ll have to watch as other people take over the job that should have been hers… or, worse, as a situation she could have handled with ease turns toxic without her around), it’s easy to see how the major takeaway could be that the Avatar can’t be the only force for balance anymore.
It’s easy to imagine that this will be Korra’s legend – she’ll be the Avatar who taught the world to take care of itself without an Avatar. And, considering what happened to the world due to Roku’s inaction and Aang’s hibernation, it’ll probably be the best legacy she could possibly leave.
After three seasons a character who started out a shy bookworm progresses to a powerful and wise master and gets anointed in a beautiful ceremony marking the master of her element. Meanwhile, Korra, watching over, scarred both mentally and physically after a trying and haunting battle releases a single tear as she accepts the fact that she is no longer capable of doing what is expected of her.