Given the major changes in Team Avatar’s lives, at some point we had to go back and see why things ended up as they did. Most important of all is figuring out exactly what Korra’s deal is. The fact that she can stand, run, jump, and bend all four elements is, by any standard, a huge step up from wheelchair confinement, but she’s not the type to be satisfied until she’s a raring 100 percent. She’s almost there, but something’s holding her back.

This flashback episode tells us she’s already gone through several dark hours of the night, first to even wanting to recover, then to pushing herself from wiggling a toe to taking steps. There has been anguish and her usual outrage, but steady progress through it all. A full recovery seemed guaranteed, but she encountered a block when it came to actual battle and picking up the mantle of Avatar once more.

The episode is called “Korra Alone,” but it’s important to note that she’s alone because she wants to be. Her retreat to the Southern Water Tribe is self-imposed, despite Asami’s kindly offer to tag along, and in her homeland, she has the endless love of her parents and the patient wisdom of Katara to support her. Her friends dutifully keep up their end of the pen pal duties, although Korra chooses, interestingly enough, to write back only to Asami, the only one who begins to know the depth of her anxiety. Perhaps she fears showing her lack of battle readiness to the two friends who most revel in bending as a martial art.

That fear may scratch the surface of her core problem. Her battle with Zaheer was incontrovertible proof that even with the full might of her Avatar powers, she was vulnerable to death. Certainly this is the difference from her trials with Amon, who wished only to render her powerless, and there’s even a distinction from Vaatu, a being so powerful that the possibility of death was to be expected. Zaheer was, for all his bending mastery, a mortal who nevertheless was able to torture and nearly kill her. Suddenly, the world in which she used to stride so confidently is full of potentially fatal enemies.

This would be a paralyzing realization in itself, even if only subconsciously felt, but there’s also the fact that Korra has still been unable to access the Avatar state, which could very well cripple her. From the first episode of this series, we’ve seen that being the Avatar is everything to Korra. She revels in the power and responsibility in ways that Aang never did. In earlier periods of the show, it often felt like it was the only thing she truly cared about—and maybe still does, as she leaves behind all her loved ones to search for her lost power.

The vision she keeps having, a mirror image of herself who possesses all her former bending ferocity and the glowing eyes of the Avatar state, suggest that somehow, her Avatar self has separated from her. I’m not even sure the separation is purely psychological; a little spirit who insists on helping Korra takes on the guise of a dog and barks at the vision when it appears again. But how Korra will get to the bottom of this strangeness, even with a hermit Toph’s help,* remains a compelling question going forward.

There’s no doubt, however, that Korra will be Avatar again. Tenzin repeatedly tells her that he, the Air Nomads, and the rest of Team Avatar have it all under control, but we’ve seen that it’s a very fragile sort of control, if it is at all. Once Kuvira breaks loose in the Earth Kingdom, as she inevitably will, Korra will be needed to shut her down. Given Kuvira’s spectacular bending abilities, you can think of no one else with the spirit necessary to defeat her.

I should also mention that despite this being the show’s most desperate season yet, the animation is defiantly beautiful, the most pristine and free-flowing it’s ever been. This is an achievement for Korra, whose visuals have always been its consistently strongest suit. Of course, the bending is gorgeous, but this episode features breathtaking settings: Korra bending atop an icy cliff, a frosty azure sky stretching massive and overflowing with stars around her; Korra journeying through various the desert, the foggy sea, and other locales; her return to the tree in the spirit world where Vaatu was once imprisoned. The dramatic sequences are also especially strong this episode, taking advantage of empty space to emphasize Korra’s loneliness.

– Minhquan Nguyen




Conclusion: An episode that finally has some real heft to it. It's a shame the show has only found itself after long trials and just when it's coming to an end.Some Musings: * Between Katara and Toph, and Zuko's continued sprightliness, I am now determined that there shall be a reunion of geriatric Team Avatar. Let us all pray!