By: Joshua Hamilton & Tim Hedrick (story)

The Story: Once again, Nuktuk, hero of the South, saves the day!

The Review: [Incidentally, I understand the season finale is up for viewing on the Nick website, but I’m planning to cover them once they have their TV showing.] Ever since the double-headed “Beginnings,” this show has experienced a pretty dramatic turnaround.  Up until those episodes, both the characters and plot seemed painfully thin, despite repeated efforts to generate some kind of material worth investing in.  Had the show continued in that manner, I probably would have had to reconsider any commitment to review the series past the season.  Fortunately, the writers are absolving themselves quite admirably.

Make no mistake, though, that this is a rehabilitation going on in the show.  You can see that just by the way the writers still struggle with squaring the Water Tribe’s rather dull civil war with the far more interesting going-on’s of the Harmonic Convergence.  Even now, Unalaq fails to articulate his initial need to dominate the Southern Tribe, especially since he later reveals his overarching goal in allying with Vaatu:

“After today, there will be no more Water Tribe—no more nations of any kind.  The world’s about to be transformed into something magnificent and new.  And I will lead this glorious revolution.”

If Unalaq’s vision was of a world without sovereigns anyway, then all the energy and resources he’s spent on maintaining control over the South seems utterly pointless.  There’s only one way to understand these seemingly contradictory motivations: the writers simply didn’t think that far ahead when they had Unalaq begin his campaign—which explains a lot, honestly.

It definitely explains why the show has struggled so much to give Bolin, Mako, and Asami something significant to do, and why it had to manufacture the Varrick sub-plot to keep them occupied while Korra was off finding more potent conflicts to deal with.  At least this episode makes excellent use of Varrick’s otherwise forgettable schemes to thoroughly revitalize Bolin’s character.  Basically, the whole sequence of Bolin—spoiler alert—thwarting Varrick’s minions from kidnapping the President of Republic City, his Nuktuk film playing in the background, is ten episodes’ worth of missing Bolin action compressed into seven minutes.  It’s good to see he has his competence back, even if he had to act brainless for most of the season to get there.

The show’s even finding a way to mine some entertainment out of the debacle that was Korra and Mako’s relationship this whole season.  Mako is such a straight man that seeing him flustered for any reason is fun, and the fact that he takes advantage of Korra’s amnesia to minimize their fight and break-up (and his subsequent romantic complications with Asami*) is hilariously wrong.  That said, I’m not looking forward to the fallout sure to come once he feels guilty enough to tell the truth.

The most important part of the show’s comeback is that the action finally feels intense and important again.  Having the new Team Avatar (which now includes Bumi and Kya) attack Unalaq’s defenses around the Spirit Portal by themselves leads to a pretty stupendous action sequence.  We haven’t seen technology and bending combined this potently and applied so spectacularly since the big battles of The Last Airbender, and it gives everyone a chance to show off their skills.  Best of all, it allows Bumi, a character who’s seemed to be more talk than action, to save the day with some fairly ridiculous (but great) idiot savant antics: “I did it all with my trusty flute and…ah, never mind, you wouldn’t believe it anyway.”

Conclusion: This episode continues the upward trend of recent weeks, though it doesn’t quite manage to paper over the results of the show’s earlier missteps.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Bolin’s statement that Mako “started dating” Asami feels like a stretch, though, given the ex-couple’s sole romantic moment was when she, in the throes of depression, gave him a tearful and awkward lip-lock.

– “I like to eat the top off the Varrick Cake first.”

“I like to shove the whole thing in my mouth at once!”

“[Gluttonous laugh.] I love our job.”  Republic City’s finest, everyone.  It’s amazing that Lin ever hired these two, much less gave them more credit than Mako.