By: Michael DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko (story)

The Story: Take a lesson from the Abba Teens, guys—tribute bands aren’t actual bands.

The Review: A couple weeks ago, I mentioned how I felt DiMartino-Konietzko only had so much story to tell for this season and how they’ve attempted to disguise the fact with several plotlines that didn’t really offer any worthwhile material.  Big example: the entirety of the pro-bending arc, which basically had some flashy animation and did virtually nothing else for the show.  At times, it almost exasperatingly got in the way of the truly intriguing stuff.

I’m talking, of course, about the bender versus non-bender war we’ve currently got in full force.  With all the opposing parties are out in the open, it seems like only now DiMartino-Konietzko can stride confidently into the story they’ve wanted to tell all along.  Everything certainly clicks a lot better than it has in the first half of the season, from the character interaction and even to the battle sequences.  You can sense purpose behind every moment, which is a great feeling.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the titular star herself.  For a long time, Korra has come across irritatingly strident and needlessly aggressive.  In a vacuum, and especially against quieter and more sensible characters like Tenzin, Asami, Mako, and even Bolin (who’s pretty canny when he’s not being silly), Korra has little charm to recommend herself.  But set her against the slimy and utterly detestable Tarrlok, and her mule-headed conviction suddenly becomes a lot more appealing.  Nothing feels better than sticking it to the arrogant baddie, right?

It also helps that Korra has moderated in her opinions, enough that she’s cleanly on the side of justice now, defending all innocents against wrongdoing, regardless of their bending status.  Tarrlok’s crackdown on all suspicious non-benders is obviously counter-productive to his cause.  He makes no distinction between harmless protest and actual rebellion, and he spares not even a moment to even addressing the opposition’s concerns.  It’s doubtful the pure efforts of benders like Korra, Mako, Bolin, or Tenzin will be enough to counteract Tarrlok’s rampage.

I’m about to wander into speculation territory here, but it seems like Tarrlok’s anti-Equalist sentiments have gotten just as deranged and arbitrary as Amon’s ideas about benders, and to me that signals a deeper connection between the two opposing figures.  This whole war has definitely taken on shades of a personal vendetta, and it’s starting to feel like Tarrlok and Amon share too much common ground in their actions and personalities for it to be a coincidence.

The final missing element that appears in this episode is the unification of the cast.  With Mako, Bolin, and Asami now gathered on Air Temple Island, the characters get more interplay than ever, revealing their one shared quality: a fire in their belly, an eagerness to go out there and make an impact.  Even with all that, and even though they claim the Team Avatar name, they still clearly lack the energy and attraction of the original members; when Meelo lands on their group handshake with a storm of farts, their laughter sounds artificial and a little awkward.

Conclusion: Now that the series is running in a clear direction, it feels quite a bit more like the sequel it’s meant to be.  The most solid episode yet and a great turn for the show.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Looks like we’re going to have to depend on Tenzin’s kids for our source of laughs on this show, if only because Ikki’s big mouth never fails to thrust Korra into hilariously awkward postures.

– I know Meelo’s crush on Asami is meant to be cute, but he looks so much like an old perv trapped in a young boy’s body that it makes my skin crawl to see him ogle her.  “You’re pretty—can I have some of your hair?”  Shudder.