By: Tim Hedrick (story)
The Story: The fact the world is facing Armageddon doesn’t excuse missing tea time.
The Review: The last three episodes have marked a noticeable turnaround for the season, driving the show towards heights of fantasy that we haven’t seen since the end of the first Avatar series. Although the political storylines have been sincere attempts to give this cartoon some sophistication, they’ve more often than not lost steam shortly after they’ve begun. Case in point: the Water Tribe’s civil war bore little interest when it started and by now is best ignored.
In hindsight, the war seems to have been an unintended consequence of Unalaq’s plan to…I don’t know, take over the world, or something? Had things gone his way, Korra would have acquiesced to his initial subterfuges and he might have gotten away with a semi-legitimate claim to total leadership. But once that plan fell through, it was not only Unalaq left with an awkward military conflict on his hands, but the show as well, and neither have seemed very interested in developing that particular plotline.
The show may indeed be far better off just focusing on its truly compelling material and sweep the rest under the rug later—preferably in the last episode. After all, who cares what’s going on with the water-benders when the world is at risk from total destruction by the return of Vaatu? The stakes have never been higher in Korra, which finally brings it within the same heights as its predecessor. While the first season didn’t convincingly live up to the “legend” promised in its title, the second season may indeed allow Korra to achieve feats even Aang never did.
This will require her to attain a degree of maturity she’s been lacking to date, which this episode directly addresses by having her literally regress into a chibi-eyed, chubby toddler, weeping and throwing tantrums by turns. Even when she doesn’t have this physical obstacle to hurdle, the Spirit World deprives her of her bending, on which she is too inclined to rely. These challenges demonstrate an awareness of and willingness to correct Korra’s major shortcomings, which can only make investment in her future adventures easier.
Admittedly, this episode also spends a significant amount of time bringing back elements from Last Airbender, which is undoubtedly a ploy to appease loyalists of the Avatar property. Delightful as Wan Shi Tong and especially Iroh’s appearances are, they also serve important purposes in the story. Wan Shi Tong provides an avenue for us to learn how the Spirit Portals, the Convergence, and Vaatu’s escape are related, and Iroh does what he always did so well in Airbender: offer Zen guidance with the least amount of judgment and condescension.
Unfortunately, this does come at the cost of reducing Jinora’s role from Korra’s spiritual guide to mere bait. In turn, this makes Unalaq seem more one-dimensional a villain than ever. Having gone from overzealous theocrat to treacherous dictator to callous parent, adding child-abuser to his list of accomplishments seems like just the inevitable climax to his de-evolution. After the events of this episode, he doesn’t have much time to reveal a credible motivation, either. Not that Unalaq was ever that engaging an antagonist, but it seems a waste to reduce him to an annoying lackey for Vaatu (who will most likely be betrayed by his partner down the line) instead of a threat on his own right.
Conclusion: The season’s reformation continues and yields yet another strong watch. If it can keep this up, at least we can finish on much surer footing than when we began.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – As hilarious as Wan Shi Tong’s misunderstanding about how radios is…it’s even better when he scolds one of the fox librarians…