Good lord, was there a lot of stuff in these two episodes! End of the world! Kaiju battle! Jinora is a weirdo savior figure! And though I liked a lot of things and it all definitely looked great, I… am not entirely sure why a lot of the stuff that happened happened. Maybe, like in “Sozin’s Comet,” we’ll get a new series in five years that lays out a huge, complicated mythology that explains “bend the energy within yourself!” Or maybe we’ll get into it next season (the name of which has been announced: Change) — with the spirit and human borders open, it seems like the spirituality part is going to continue to be a big deal.
Maybe it just felt this way because it’s two episodes in a row in which Korra essentially just straight brawls the whole time, but while the fights were cool, they felt a little oddly repetitive. The writers kept hitting the same climactic note, and you can only do it so many times before it starts feeling like an anticlimax. That note goes like this: Uh oh, Korra’s beat! — Korra gets reinspired by something — Korra escapes, says something impressive in the Deep Avatar Chest Voice, and does something cool to escalate the fight.
1. Korra gets tied up in vines — blows fire — “I’M GOING TO PUT YOU BACK IN THE TREE FOR ANOTHER TEN THOUSAND YEARS.”
2. Korra gets stuck in a crack — pep talk with Avatar spirit — ”YOU CANNOT WIN.”
3. Raava gets sucked out of Korra and smacked to death — Korra meditates in Tree of Time, finds self — turns into a giant blue person who can shoot lasers out of her chest.
4. Korra gets blasted with lasers and almost spirit-Valiumed out of existence — Jinora descends from heavens, explodes — Korra locates and retrieves Raava, punches a big hole in Vaatu, spirit-Valiums him away.
Though the fights in isolation were undoubtedly cool-looking, the sequence as a whole, across both episodes, started feeling repetitive rather than an exciting series of escalations. I think that’s both a result of seeing the two episodes right in a row and because the ways Korra gets out of these four jams are… let’s say much less intuitive and based in her character than Tenzin finding his way out of the fog and rescuing his family.
I really loved the parts in “Darkness Falls” in which Tenzin, Kya and Bumi bumble around the Spirit World — not just because of adorable non sequitur talking mushrooms and how happy Aang’s kids look when they run into Iroh, but because the Bust Jinora Out Of Spirit Prison story has its characters woven into its resolution. Tenzin goes into the adventure feeling like a failure for being unable to get his spirituality beyond the book-learning level, something he feels he was expected to do as Aang’s successor. The Zhao cameo isn’t just there for fun; it’s also a show-don’t-tell reminder of how much Tenzin looks like a grown-up Aang. The reasons Bumi and Kya get lost tie into their personalities (particularly Kya’s “Who are you two? You can’t tie me down!”).
And then it’s Tenzin’s book-learning and level-headed personality, which he sees as not living up to the standards of his dad’s natural gifts and charm, that make him the only one who knows where to find Jinora (“I read about it in an ancient text!”) and who can keep it together long enough to rescue her; later, he’s the only one who knows, presumably from another ancient text, that the big tree is important. Even his very literal shout of “I am not a reflection of my father!” (AKA the unofficial subtitle of all shows set in this universe) didn’t feel too on the nose. It didn’t hurt that the concept and design of the fog prison was just beautiful, particularly when it pulled back for a second to show all those people standing around sadly, completely lost.
Bolin and Mako also get character moments that stem from what they’ve been doing this season, as well as some teamwork fights, which I’m always a fan of because they work so cleverly together. (Liked the little unspoken exchange they have before breaking loose from Eska and Dezna.) Bolin’s acting abilities save the day, of all things, though I would have preferred it if his outburst hadn’t been turned into something sort of real — that’s the first sign we’ve gotten since way early in the season that he feels anything for Eska other than terror, certainly not “a big fire of love-flames.” Regardless, hysterically weeping Bolin is never not funny.
Most of the Korra stuff, however, went way over my head. There were a whole lot of things that I’m still not sure if I understand, other than as excuses to stage a sweet-ass kaiju battle. I’m gonna attempt to enumerate and write through all the points that confused me about Korra’s resolution as a way to figure them out.
THING I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND 1: Raava gets sucked out of Korra, then smacked to death? How did that happen?
THING I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND 2: Dark Avatar powers seem to have a lot more specific bonuses than Avatars. Like the power of… vines! And being a giant glowy guy! And shooting big blasty beams out of your chest!
THING I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND 3: Hey, did anybody notice that it looks like Korra airbends herself up into the tree of time? Wouldn’t she be back to just being a waterbender?
THING I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND 4: “Uh… what did you say to her, exactly?” (I imagined that Tenzin’s response to that was, “I have no idea, but glad it worked?”) I was as baffled as Bumi when Giant Blue Korra climbed out of the tree, and it didn’t become much clearer by the end of the episode, aside from “vague spiritual mumbo-jumbo made it so.”(Though Giant Korra stomping around Republic City solving problems by kneeing them in the face and then throwing them into a mountain was sort of the perfect encapsulation of her personality.) So I tried going through the timeline to see if I was missing some sort of cause and effect.
The tree of time: as far as I can tell, it acts as a backup for the past-life memories that got erased when Korra lost contact with past Avatars. I don’t think the tree itself is entirely the cause of Giant Blue Korra; I think it helps her remember how to do it. And that it’s one of those aforementioned special places like at the Air Temples where the spirit world and human world are close together (Tenzin mentions it’s got roots in both worlds) that make it easier to hork up your soul and send it out to do business in the other world.
So Korra remembers the conversation Raava and Wan had about the two sides never actually being able to destroy each other. The last line is “Find the light in the dark,” then she appears at the place where we also saw Aang go when he was on the verge of realizing his Avatar-ness in “The Guru.” (What is that glowing ball? Is it Raava, the titular light in the dark? Am I trying too hard to make sense of this when there’s a good chance the creators just really, really wanted to stage a kaiju battle? I will note that big glow-ball-holding Korra wears her hair down, which is a good look though the ponytail is undoubtedly better in a fight.) Korra then walks into the light.
“Korra’s back! And she’s a blue giant!” So, here’s where the questions come up. Is Giant Blue Korra the same as Giant Ball-Holding Korra? They’re about the same size, and the eyes are the same. Is GBHK some part of the Avatar soul that’s separate from Raava, as symbolized by her holding but not being the glowy ball? And why can she now shoot lasers out of her chest?
Anyway, GBK comes back and knocks Vaatu out with her chest-lasers, then seems to scan his chest for something. “Find the light in the dark.” OK, she remembered that Raava said the two can’t kill each other permanently, and “emerge from within” the other after a while, so she’s looking for the Raava seedling, I guess. Too soon!
One way to try to trace this stuff is the music — Jeremy Zucker often uses leitmotifs in a very literal way. For example, there’s a specific melody for the Avatar (it plays near the end of the opening credits of the first show, you know the one) that crosses shows; you don’t get any form of it unless Korra’s in the Avatar state. (For example, in this episode, it plays the instant Korra and Raava fuse back together.) There’s a separate theme for Korra (it’s this one). While GBK’s in danger of getting dissolved by spirit Valium, an ominous version of the Korra theme plays. That’d imply that the big blue whatever was Korra’s soul, right? But… what? Since when can you send your soul out as a giant blue battlebeast?
It wasn’t super clear. It isn’t super clear. The answer may very well be “Repeat to yourself: It’s just a show, I should really just relax.” This is the most sense I can make out of it:
1. We’ve seen plenty of people sit down and meditate in the physical world and sort of hork their souls out to float around. Horked-up souls can’t touch anything in the physical world, but can touch and interact with stuff in the spirit world, and seem to basically be spirits, all told.
2. We’ve seen plenty of spirits make their way to the physical world before the portals were opened; they were perfectly capable of sinking ships and beating up our heroes. It wasn’t clear how, but I know it didn’t really bother me at the time.
3. So, if you hork up your soul when your body’s in the spirit world, maybe that means that, like spirits, it can go affect things in the real world?
4. And Korra’s soul apparently takes the form of the giant Avatar-space-highway lady, which is useful because she is a hundred feet tall. Why is her soul huge? I’m not sure. Maybe that’s just what happens when you hork up your soul in the spirit world. Or maybe her soul (which is also Wan’s soul, I believe, and lots of points were just made about how Wan was special and awesome before he got powers) is just really big. Anyway, Korra was definitely the only one there with soul-horking experience, so it’s not like anyone else could have done it.
So, thinking about it that way, this finale would be a parallel to last season’s finale, which I’d argue was all about her finding identity as Korra minus the Avatar powers that made her so automatically special that she didn’t have to think much about the person she wanted to be.
And then we get to the bit that really threw me for a loop:
THING I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND 4: What the hell happened with Jinora? I legit thought she’d blown herself up for the good of the world for a hot second, but… no. No dead kids on Nickelodeon. What did she do? I haven’t the slightest idea other than “Be a special spirit kid!” Seriously, I don’t have a clue. Anybody know?
And so we get a finale that’s sort of a perfect encapsulation of the second season: A bit confusing, heady verging on nonsensical about the spiritual stuff, occasionally frustrating, highly spotty in quality control, but still, for me, more enjoyable than 95% of other shows on TV. We end with four breakups and one makeup:
BREAKUP: Korra and the Avatar line. It looks like the cord to Korra past lives is permanently cut, though I didn’t feel this as as much of a loss as I think I was supposed to. It’s not like Korra hung out with her past lives that much; heck, Aang barely did, and they mostly gave not-that-useful advice that he didn’t take.
BREAKUP: Bolin and Eska. She’s not moving in with Bolin in Republic City, even if she can bring Desna. “Eternal darkness was upon us. I became caught up in the moment.”
BREAKUP: Mako and Korra. That was a really mature thing to do! Way to go, guys! Let’s hope they stay broken up, like grownups! Let’s set an example for the next generation about what couples should do when they fight too much!
BREAKUP (ALSO SORT OF A MAKEUP): Northern Water Tribe and Southern Water Tribe. I guess it’s pretty easy to come up with a quick peace treaty when one side’s leader turns into a 100-foot-tall monster and then disappears. The South is officially independent, with Tonraq as chief, but the tribes are bros again and are now just a short trip from one another by portal.
MAKEUP: Human world and spirit world. “What if humans and spirits weren’t meant to live apart?” That is a really interesting question! What I found neat was how the comments on the last article got super bizarrely heated about whether that was a good decision or not. I don’t think Korra’s decision to leave the portals open is necessarily seen by the writers as a good or right decision; it’s just (Besides, it’s not like Korra can never close the portals again.)
I can see the decision from both sides, but the decision seems pretty nuts if you think about it for more than a few seconds. Pro: cute bunny Bum-ju spirits. Con: Mario-star-scorpion-anglerfish spirits. (Those super-brief lines were the big cameo from Grey DeLisle, aka the voice of Azula, the buzz about which I guess was a red herring.) Pro: Lots of people have bending now and can defend themselves better. Con: Lots of people don’t, too, and if spirits hated it when people chopped down trees, wait until they hear about the Industrial Age. You’ve got the good relationship Iroh has with the spirits, and you’ve got the good relationship Unalaq had with the spirits.
The overarching pro that seems to be behind Korra’s rationale is pretty vague: this mystical balance that needs to be restored. But it seems like the bigger deal there would be for Korra to give up her Avatar powers and leave Raava free to resume her eternal wrasslin’ with Vaatu when he inevitably shows back up. Which she did not.
It seems like the just-released title for Book 3 of Korra, Change, will be very appropriate. Though this season was a little frustrating at times, I’m looking forward to the huge amount of scenarios that opened up along with the portals. The creators have mentioned that the gap between this season and the next won’t be nearly as long as the one between the first and the second, so we won’t have to wait too long to find out. See you then!
- THING I DON’T UNDERSTAND 5: Why did they air the finale early, and on such short notice? I’d imagine it was some sort of thing meant to compare the show’s crazy popularity online with the actual ratings the finale is probably going to get on a Friday night. “See!” Nick yells. “Look how fast we can get 10,000 re-tumbls! …Is that what the kids are calling those?”
- “Zhu Li! Commence Operation Winged Freedom! … DO THE THING!” Damn, they look like they’ve practiced that. Good, considering the only things keeping Varrick from hitting the ground are a buckle and Zhu Li’s legs. Varrick has survived to become: Spazzy Batman!
- By all rights, Republic City should have gotten tidal-waved out of existence, like, a bunch of times.
- Asami gets one line. Sorry, Asami!
- “But how will we explain this to Mother?” That’s a conversation I’d like to see.
- Audio of the week: Both the rubber-scraping sound Bolin makes sliding up after Mako and Korra break up for real and the sympathetic hug noises he makes. So many wonderful Bolin slides in this episode.
- So many cool visuals in the competition this week, but the victor is: Mako, Tenzin, Kya and Bolin doing a parallel of the opening credits as they prepare to defend Korra.
- Cool visual of the week, runner-up: Unsubtle, but I still liked the fade between toppled Aang statue and Korra’s KO’d face.
- In the score, there was this (1-b3-1-2-1-b3-1-2) pattern playing under a lot of the finale — for example, when Korra sits down to meditate, and when Jinora inexplicably drops from the sky. It sounded really familiar at the time, and it just came back to me that the same pattern is also behind the big Agni Kai in “Sozin’s Comet.”
- Bumi was carrying Mako and Bolin at the same time? Damn.
- Re: the comments last week… You guys.We have a nice thing going here. If you are going about this with an idea of victory or defeat, you are not being cool and you are aggro-ing out people who just want to have a nice, non-confrontational talk about cartoons.