By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Joshua Hamilton, Tim Hedrick (story)

The Story: To make a better world, it’s got to be a more violent, crime-ridden one first.

The Review: Gol-ly! It’s been ages, hasn’t it? Mostly my fault; with Korra now exclusively an online show, you’d think I’d have more freedom to watch it than ever, but that hasn’t been the case, unfortunately. My internet being unreliable as it is, it was often the case that I’d stream about five minutes of an episode before the whole thing cut out and I’d have to rejigger the connection to get it back on. Ultimately, I found it easier to—ahem—torrent the episodes and watch them at leisure. Please don’t tell anyone.

In a way, though, it’s nice to review a whole batch of episodes at once because you come away with a better sense of Korra‘s big picture and tackle some big points all at once. For example, instead of spending a paragraph every week rhapsodizing over the gorgeous bending sequences we’ve gotten lately, I can just use this one paragraph to say these are some gorgeous bending sequences. If the Powers That Be ever get foolhardy enough to attempt a live-action adaptation of this series, I’m positive no budget will be able to capture the pulsing choreography and lithe movements of multiple benders flinging, thrusting, whipping their various elements at each other.

I can also say, without repeating myself, that Bolin has become a crucial member of the cast, the spiritual link between Last Airbender and Korra. His humor (and P. J. Byrne’s delivery of it) has finally become an essential livener for an increasingly dire show, undercutting the tension of a scene with asides so tangential they practically go into orbit: demanding Korra use her position as Avatar to universalize the pai-sho rules; guessing hopefully at the unspoken attraction between Ghazan and Ming-Hua; shoving Opal’s mother to the ground in his eagerness to hug Opal; literally sticking a sock in a defeated Zaheer’s mouth (“Classic Bolin,” Opal says supportively). The fact that he’s revealed to be a special kind of earth-bender after all is just a nice bonus for Most Improved Character.

But really, the entire cast has grown a great deal this season—except, perhaps, Asami and Mako, who mostly remain passive-reactive through each episode.* You don’t see that growth quite so clearly in these particular episodes; once the Earth Queen seizes Korra, the plot sinks its teeth into the show and refuses to let the character developments have a bite. But the fact that you’re no longer distracted or disgusted by forced, melodramatic exchanges is proof that the characters have figured themselves out at last.

That’s especially true of Zaheer, the villain so Zen that he even manages to fly unaided by a glider. That’s kind of the odd thing about him: that someone so centered could so vociferously declare, “The natural order is disorder.” An idiotic philosophy, really, one that undermines any claims of giving people true freedom. P’Li says Zaheer freed her from being a warlord’s killing machine, and the whole time you’re thinking, So…free to be Zaheer’s killing machine then? For the purposes of a cartoon, Zaheer’s motives are sophisticated enough, but by any adult sensibility, he’s really a shallow villain.

It’s also true that his desire to kill Korra in her Avatar state (the better for him to carry out his plans for the world) is very Last Airbender, but at least it’s a trial worthy of her mettle. Her maturation peaks at the moment when she places the livelihood of the still nascent Air Nation above her own safety, and you have never been more sympathetic to her when it’s revealed that she paid very dear for her sacrifice indeed. Although the good guys suffer no casualties in their first big blowout with the Red Lotus (as Zaheer calls the White Lotus sect he belongs to), the show leaves us on a dark note. Forget the Earth Queen’s assassination and the subsequent chaos unleashed; it’s Korra’s shadowy, world-weary eyes that makes you concerned for the future.** “Who will protect us while [the Avatar’s] in a wheelchair?” demands President Raiko. Perhaps this will be the purpose of the next season: making everyone else be responsible for bringing balance to the world for a change.

Conclusion: An excellent end to a season that finally puts the legend in Korra, somewhat repetitive ambitions aside.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Especially Asami. In five episodes, she gets one good moment: ensuring her and Korra’s escape from the Earth Queen’s airship through a combination of feminine wiles, mechanical know-how, and Batman tactics. After that, she’s pretty much useless in all bending situations, which is to say nearly all situations.

** That and the last-minute introduction of a new character, Kuvira, who coincidentally appears and gets in Tonraq’s good graces just as Zaheer is taken down.

– Naga smacking people in the face with her tail is one gag that I wish has been ongoing since day one. I can think of so many times during the first and second seasons when a character needed a good, smart tail-smack.

– Shut up, Mako’s grandma! Don’t reawaken the lame love triangle between him, Asami, and Korra.