The Legend of Korra: Book Two Premier Recap

Posted by Heather on September 14, 2013
Television

The Legend of Korra S02E01&02 Recap

After a long wait, the Book Two of The Legend of Korra premiered last night with two episodes. After the jump, I’ll be providing an episode recap, thoughts and speculation. Beware of spoilers!

Recap

Episode 1 – Rebel Spirit

Spirits are attacking the Southern Water Tribe. After a quick update about Team Avatar’s whereabouts (Bolin is still pro-bending, Mako is a police officer, Asami is running Future Industries, and Korra is still reluctant to master airbending or grow her spiritual side), the entire gang (Bolin, Mako, Asami, Korra, Tenzin and his family) heads to the Southern Water Tribe for the Glacial Spirit Festival. There, they’re greeted by Tenzin’s extended family, including his sister Kya, as well as Korra’s parents. A second ship arrives from the North Pole, carrying Korra’s uncle Unalaq (the Chief of both Water Tribes), and his twin children, Desna and Eska. Unalaq laments the South’s drift from its spiritual roots, suggesting the recent spirit attacks stem from this neglect. His goal is to more strongly unite the Northern and Southern tribes. He offers to instruct Korra on the ways of the spirits, but Tonraq (Korra’s father) is opposed, saying Tenzin should continue to teach her instead.

Korra abuses the Avatar State to win an airbending race.

A decidedly un-spiritual Korra abuses the Avatar State to win an airbending race.

Meanwhile, Asami and Bolin head to an extravagant yacht to seek the assistance of Varrick, an eccentric businessman who is heavily involved in moving pictures. Bolin’s loud-mouthed honesty wins Varrick’s respect, and Asami finds herself with a business deal.

That evening, the festival begins with a feast. During dinner, Unalaq informs Korra that it wasn’t Avatar Aang who forced her to spend her childhood in a special training compound, but Tenzin and Tonraq. Feeling betrayed, she begins to question whether or not she wants to keep training under Tenzin. She’s so furious that even the carnival doesn’t cheer her up. Later that night, Korra’s polar bear dog Naga begins to howl, awakening everyone in time to see a dark spirit attack the town. Korra and her friends try to fight back, but even the Avatar State is no match for the angry spirit.

Naga howls as the spirit approaches.

Naga howls as the spirit approaches.

In the end, it’s Unalaq who tames the spirit. He uses a unique form of bending that engulfs the spirit in light, convincing it to leave in peace. This display convinces Korra that Unalaq is the only one who can teach her to master her spiritual side. After an argument with Tenzin and Tonraq, she declares that instead of training under Tenzin, she wants to train under Unalaq instead. So, Tenzin and his family leave to tour the air temples (with his sister Kya and brother Bumi in tow), while Korra and her friends stay behind with Unalaq.

Unalaq's bending calms the angry spirit.

Unalaq’s bending calms the angry spirit.

 

Episode 2- The Southern Lights

The next morning, Korra shows up early, eager to start training with Unalaq. He informs her that he’s taking her to the South Pole. A permanent storm, the Everstorm, plagues the region, making it a dangerous journey. Unalaq explains that there is a spirit portal at the South Pole that once allowed spirits to dance in the sky as the Southern Lights; the portal is blocked, causing the Everstorm instead. Only Korra can open the portal, and it can only be done tomorrow, during the winter solstice. Tonraq is opposed to the journey, but Korra won’t be dissuaded, so he insists on coming along to protect her. Mako, Bolin and the twins join them.

After a day of travel, they set up camp. Unalaq prods Tonraq into confessing that he left the Northern Water Tribe not by choice, but because he was banished. When Tonraq was a general living in the North, he recklessly destroyed a sacred forest in pursuit of enemies, angering the spirits. The spirits began to destroy the city, until Unalaq intervened with his spirit bending technique. Korra is furious with her father for hiding this from her.

Tonraq's troops destroy the sacred forest.

Tonraq’s troops destroy the sacred forest.

The next day, spirits attack, and Unalaq once again saves everyone with his bending technique. Korra arrives at the South Pole and, after battling dangerous tentacle-like spirits, she successfully opens the portal. The Southern Lights flood the sky again.

Korra approaches the portal.

Korra approaches the portal.

Triumphant, the group returns to town — only to see Northern Water Tribe warships pulling into the harbour. “There’s more difficult work to be done before our two tribes are truly united,” says Unalaq as ominous music plays in the background.

While all this is happening, Tenzin and his family visit the Southern Air Temple to learn more about their airbender heritage. His eldest daughter, Jinora, is enthralled by the statues of the previous Avatars, especially the statue of her late grandfather, Avatar Aang. She later chances on an old, weathered Avatar statue, wondering, “What Avatar is this?” If the trailers are any indication, this mystery Avatar is going to have a larger role in the story soon.

Tenzin and his family visit the Southern Air Temple.

Tenzin and his family visit the Southern Air Temple.

 

Thoughts

While I’m still optimistic that this season will pull together, I feel there are a few weak points currently holding it back.

  • Pacing – The pacing of these episodes felt odd. The first episode could have easily been condensed to two minutes, giving us more time in the actual plot instead of awkward lead-up. The biggest problem was a strange lack of urgency. It felt like Korra’s trip to open the portal was an afterthought — “by the way, I have a task I need you to do, and it has be done tonight.” Imagine how much more compelling the beginning of this story would have been if a frantic Unalaq came to Korra with, “There’s no time!” and her dismissal of Tenzin/Tonraq came out of urgency, not just a disagreement?
  • Everyone is angry – Speaking of disagreements, where did all this anger come from? Korra is angry at Tenzin for trying to teach her to airbend (an odd regression, seeing how their mentor-student relationship was so strong by the end of Book One.) She’s angry at Mako any time he opens his mouth. She’s mad at her father for far more understandable reasons, but because she’s already so angry the rest of the time, this instance of justifiable anger loses its impact. Tonraq himself seems to exist solely to put his foot down every time Korra wants to do anything; it’s a far cry from the supportive, soft-spoken man we saw in Book One.
  • The animation – For scheduling reasons, last season’s amazing Studio Mir only animated a handful of sequences this season, leaving the rest to newcomer Studio Pierrot. The change in style is noticeable in the character faces, which occasionally slip off-model or lack expression. It’s also very clear this season that some shots were higher priority than others, with a tendency to have blank talking heads during long dialogue sections. Book One‘s animation was such an anomaly in the TV children’s cartoon genre, with its gorgeous animation and expressive characters, that this feels like a step back in comparison, even though it’s still high-quality for the genre. The backdrops are still as gorgeous as always, however, and the action sequences are still well-animated.
  • Ladies? – Yet again, the story seems to be revolving around its male characters. Korra spends most of her time listening to Tenzin, Tonraq and Unalaq debate her future — to her credit, she wonders why no one asks her what she thinks, but the second she is given her own decision, she runs to Mako to ask what she should do, and gets frustrated when he won’t tell her. I’d really like to see Korra develop her own agency in this season, and I’d especially like for her to spend some time growing and bonding with other female characters in the cast.
  • Bolin, Mako & Asami – While I love a good comic relief character, the things I loved most about Bolin in Book One were his enthusiasm and his humanity, particularly early in the season. So far this season, he only exists to be a running gag. His budding relationship with Eska is, quite frankly, creepy. Mako, on the other hand, has become Mr. Nice Guy, likely due to fan backlash in Book One. The result is a watered-down, bland version of the character. I think the writers misunderstood the fan criticisms of Book One — a character can be a jerk and still likeable, so long as he sees repercussions for his jerky behaviour and learns from them. Of the returning characters, I found Asami to be the most interesting. After her father’s arrest, she stepped up to take over Future Industries, and now she’s battling public suspicion to try to make the company profitable again. As the character with the most “grown-up” storyline so far, she has potential for a complex storyline that’s an allegory for grown-up problems (work-life balance, juggling priorities, etc.) I’m intrigued to see how her story will play out.

Speculation

The show seems to be setting up Unalaq as the big bad this season. I hope I’m wrong, because I really like Unalaq, and the water-tribe-man-who-seems-to-be-an-ally-but-has-a-twisted-agenda thing already featured heavily in Book One. I can’t, however, shake the feeling that Unalaq set up Tonraq all those years ago. I hope something more imaginative is in store.

The show also seems to be hinting at a bigger plotline for Jinora, something I’m excited about. The injection of an optimistic, spiritual child into the storyline might lighten up some of the angst and anger that seems to be pervading this season so far.

Have speculation or thoughts of your own? Think I’ve misinterpreted something? Feel free to discuss in the comments section below!

Tags: ,

  • Matthew

    So I finally caught up on the episodes (yay for holidays) and I agree with everything you’ve said here, just want to toss in one or two things:

    First, Korra isn’t very patient. We knew that already, but that’s clearly the reason behind her falling out with Tenzin. She thinks she’s mastered air bending and clearly, as per him, has not yet. So clearly this is going to come into play later in the season right? It pretty much has to at this point since it’s the only way she can truly reconcile with Tenzin at this point. Plus, how else can angry bitchy Korra grow as a character? It’s funny because she’s older than Aang was in The Last Airbender (he was 12) but she’s also clearly less mature..

    Second, am I the only one who’s disappointed with the depiction of the spirits? In The Last Airbender every time we met a spirit there was a story or origin we were aware of, whether it was the face stealer or the moon spirit or Haebi whereas in these they were just generic dark spirits without any context other than “the spirits are angry”. Further, what exactly did she solve by opening the portal? And why didn’t she have to actually go to the spirit world to do it? Or at least do something spiritual other than invoke the avatar state and touch the ice? It’s disappointing when the spiritual side of The Last Airbender was so rich and detailed that in Legend of Korra it feels so dumbed down and glossed over.

    • Heather

      Hi Matt!

      I definitely agree that Korra is impatient, but her dismissal of Tenzin in this episode felt completely flippant to me, as if they didn’t have months of history between them. In Book One, we see Tenzin become Korra’s father figure, giving her advice and consoling her, to the point that Tenzin (and his family) being in danger is what finally convinces Korra to attack Amon head-on, in spite of all her fears about Amon. It felt like a complete regression to have her shrug him off instead of just telling him she needs to shift focus for now. It was like an artificial regression to make it easier for Korra to have a character arc this season, and felt like sloppy writing, to me. However, we’re still early in the season, so I’m hoping this isn’t the end of their mentor-pupil relationship, whatever form it takes now.

      I didn’t say in the review, but I’m also very disappointed that Tenzin and Tonraq are the ones who put Korra in a compound when she was young. I hope there’s more to the story than that, because it’s so counter to everything that the Avatar is supposed to be that I find it hard to believe Tenzin would agree to it. (Maybe Tonraq, because he’s proving to be very controlling.)

      I never really thought about the spirit stuff you mention, and now I totally agree. I’m hoping we’ll see more depth to the spirits as the series progresses. Opening the portal did feel anti-climactic. Why didn’t he get Korra to do this years ago? If it was so urgent, why did it only come up at the last minute? It’s possible that the whole thing was a set-up to prove Unalaq’s point (ugh). This could include Unalaq puppetting the angry spirits. I really hope the writers went with something a bit more complex/less predictable.

      • Matthew

        Oh the regression was artificial, that’s pretty much the only reason to have had the story jump ahead 6 months so that they can basically say “Korra is impatient and is totally bored now!”

        YOu’re right that it makes no sense for Tenzin to have had a part in hiding Korra away, but Tonraq I can buy. Maybe Tonraq was more persuasive in his youth. Another facet of that which is irksome, in The Last Airbender it’s explained that The Avatar travelling the world to learn the various forms of bending is a rite of passage and the travel is basically jsut as important as the study. I’d love to hear something about this from Aang when she’s eventually able to tap into her spiritual side and speak with him.

        So basically I feel like Legend of Korra has taken all the action stuff I liked from The Last Airbender but is neglecting the rest of the world they created, at least in these two episodes. I sincerely hope it’s not indicative of the rest of the series.

        • Heather

          Yeah, it would be great if Aang could weigh in on her “imprisonment” during her youth, since you’re right, it’s completely contrary to the idea of the Avatar. I’m wondering if this is partly why we’re

          SPOILER

          going to see the first Avatar’s origin

          /SPOILER

          to explain that the Avatar’s duty is to travel around and interact with the different people/cultures.

          There are also rumours we’ll be seeing more than just the South Pole this season (though I’m not sure to what extent), so I hope this means we’re going to see more of the world and its culture.

  • Karly

    I can see where Korra’s anger is coming from with the knowledge that it was their decision to keep her locked up and uptodate, they are still making choices for her.

    Now I’m really looking forward to know why they did this.

    In book one, it was said that it was Aang’s choice to keep her safe and I thought it had something to do with the equalist and the fact that Amon could take people’s bending but the people of Republic City didn’t know that and it was after her arrival that he revealed this ability, so that theory is out.

    I really do hope they just give us a good reason why they locked up Korra and don’t leave it forgotten.

    Looking forward for your next review.

    • Heather

      Hi, Karly! I definitely agree that Korra’s anger is understandable toward Tenzin and Tonraq. While a few of her outbursts felt a bit unreasonable to me (particularly toward Mako), her anger at those two was certainly justified — I was angry on her behalf, too!

      I agree, I’m interested to see if there’s more to the story about why they locked her up. It seems like an extreme decision to make, particularly since they actively hid it from her (with the Order of the White Lotus telling her it was Aang’s decision.) I hope there’s more here than we’re seeing so far. Given how Book One played out, I’m sure there are a few twists and turns yet to come.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! Next episode is coming up soon — can’t wait!

      • Matthew

        You know what would be interesting? If it comes out that the White Lotus and various other good guys did a bunch of questionable stuff in Aang’s name after he died. There’s a lot that could be explored there. It could easily go into “we nearly lost one Avatar, we couldn’t risk losing another so we compromised our principles” territory but it’s executed well then even that could be good.

        Just sayin’!

        • Heather

          That would be extremely interesting, especially if it somehow tied into the reason the spirits are so angry…

%d bloggers like this: