“Korra Alone” Picks Up Speed   Leave a comment

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The second of episode of The Legend of Korra – Book 4: Balance (did I type that right?  These Avatar shows have some of the most complicated titles) picks up… well, it’s tempting to say it picks up where episode one ended, but that’s not quite right.  I’d say more, but that’ll be a spoiler.  And I’ve not put in a spoiler warning, yet.  So, again, SPOILERS below.

Spoiler

Anyway, episode one ended with Korra alone in the Earth Kingdom, conveniently leading into this episode titled “Korra Alone.”  The episode dealt with Korra’s experiences in the three years since the end of Book 3: Change, mostly covering her recovery process.  The episode starts with an obvious, but effective, image of her looking at her own reflection in a broken mirror, a visual clue that says a lot more about how Korra feels than dialogue could.  As I said in my last episode review, Korra was in a rough patch at the end of the third season, physically and emotionally drained after one of her most intense battles ever.  She intended to leave Republic City for a few weeks, but months passed without any actual recovery.  Katarra was eventually consulted and, in time, progress was made, but while her recovery pleased most other people she wasn’t happy about the results herself.

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The training actually included a really nice throwback to the first episode of the series.  Korra engaged in a fire bending sparring match, much like the one that the White Lotus used to determine that she had mastered fire and would be ready to move on to air.  The music was even the similar (I don’t think it was “the same”, exactly, but definitely a variation on the theme.)  She ultimately firebends very well, but… well, it doesn’t go as well as she would’ve hoped, and it ends with Tenzin calling off the match for her sake.  Effectively, apart from having access to air bending, Korra’s not even up to where she was in Episode 1 yet.  Since it’s taken her months to get to this point, she’s understandably bummed.  She snapped at Katarra earlier and made amends, but she doesn’t quite apologize the same way to Tenzin.

A curious thing occurs here.  Tenzin falters when giving Korra advice.  He’s normally as sagacious as a guy can get, but he obviously flounders for a moment when trying to find the right words to encourage Korra.  I’m not quite sure what’s being presented there (or even if it was intentional) but it hints at a lot of possibilities.  Korra is effectively grown up by now, and that might be a subtle nod to the harsh reality that the mentors in her life won’t always have the right answers for her, and that she’ll need to eventually sort things out on her own (though I think the end of the episode runs against that suggestion.)  It might also just be to demonstrate how bad the situation is; Tenzin’s advice before has always been centered on the belief that Korra has the strength to, with enough time and training, overcome any adversity.  Tenzin may falter because he might not be sure if that’s actually the case.  He’ll always have faith in Korra’s abilities, of course, but he may know very well that some martial artists simply don’t recover from all their fights.  In this case, he may be out of his depth as a sage since actual wisdom means pointing out that Korra may not be able to get back up to what she’s used to, even though he wants very much for that to be true.  Tenzin’s words of well wishes may come more from his position as Korra’s friend than her mentor, but that’s a place that he’s less comfortable speaking so openly.

Or maybe it was just meant to be a comic moment, demonstrating that he’s uncomfortable with how angry Korra is about it all.  That could be it too.  I’ll try to stay out of English class for the rest of the review.

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Korra eventually decides that it’s time for her to head back to Republic City, a place that’s always been exciting, fun, and challenging before.  Republic City is often a dangerous place, but it’s also a place that has encouraged her to grow, and she decides to sail away on her own (leaving poor Naga behind! 😦  Oh, the mournful howl of the polar bear dog is a forlorn thing to hear…)  As she heads there, she stops for a bit to eat and encounters a fellow who runs a fish stand off the pier of an island.  He’s apparently a big fan of Avatars past and present, and asks Korra if she’ll pose for his wall of Avatars (one of the most awesome things from the episode, I think.  I’m sure I’m not the only one on the Internet to take a screen grab of the sole portrait on the wall.)

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Oh, Aang… still wowing folks with the same ol’ air bending tricks.

Anyway, a robbery takes place while Korra’s on the island, and she fish merchant helps out by telling everyone not to worry, the Avatar’s right here!  Korra can’t very well ignore that, so she rushes in to help.  She leaps into the fray pretty confidently, but fails to stop the petty theft.  It’s an old trope, one where the recovering or retired superhero is suddenly faced with the reality that they can’t stop a small-time crime.  It’s not quite overplayed, though, so it worked here.  Since the entire scene was meant to be a comic one, we’re not treated to a moment after where Korra sits on the beach, stewing in her own thoughts about the moment.  Instead, the person who was robbed stands over her on the sand and asks the fish merchant (and, possibly, the audience) “Are you sure this is the Avatar?”  (Or something.  Those might not’ve been the exact words, but you get the gist.)  It’s an important question to ask: one of the goals of the villain in the last season was to end the Avatar cycle once and for all, and we’ve not seen Korra in the Avatar state since then.  Is it possible that Korra’s spiritual side had been damaged or disrupted in some fashion?  The moment is funny, but the question is an important one for the theme of the episode.

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Anyway, she continues to Republic City.  On the way there, however, she sees an ominous figure waiting for her: an image of herself in her avatar state, wielding a chain as she did in the final battle of Season 3.  Taking it as a potentially dangerous threat, Korra departs and tries to find her way.  She goes to many places, including the Tree of Time from Season 2 (probably passing close to her parents’ house without letting them know) and tries to alternate between connecting with her spiritual side and hiding from it.  (Woah, I just got that as I wrote it.)  At the tree of time, a number of spirits do talk to her and offer to help, but Korra’s determined to do things herself and leaves.  Fast forward a bit, and while hiding in the Earth Kingdom, she sees another image of herself, decides she’s had enough, and follows it.  It effectively challenges her to enter the earth bending tournament that we saw in the last episode, and we get to see that fight again, though with a slightly different spin.

We get a nice moment where she finds a dog in the street, and we see that she’s still got an upbeat attitude about some things… she’s genuinely happy to meet that dog.  But while meeting the dog, she see’s another version of herself.  The dog barks at it, convincing herself that she’s not just going crazy, and the image vanishes.  The dog departs, encouraging Korra to follow it.  She does, and goes to a swamp (I don’t think it’s the same swamp from The Last Airbender, but it’s hard to say.)  I won’t go into details about what happens in that swamp… some things shouldn’t be revealed even under the protection of a spoiler warning… but let’s just say that Korra might have found what she needs to help her spiritual recovery speed up a bit.

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So, how did the episode fare?  It was okay.  It wasn’t as good as the first episode of the season, but the first episode was magnificent.  Also, this episode handled some tricky issues: I think that if it had been written in a way that handled those issues better, the episode might have risked becoming too heavy.  We needed a breather episode after last week, I think, so I’m glad that this episode wasn’t quite as much of a wham.

All in all, it was fun, but Korra’s still got some recovering to do.  I think she’ll be good to go in another episode or so, something that we’ll have to wait until next week to see.

Anyway, that’s all for now.  See you next week!

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