Originally, only episodes 11 & 12 were slated to air this week, but in a surprise move, the Korra team released the season finale, episode 13 & 14, online at midnight on Friday. It was a night of emotions, drama and unexpected twists. Read on for my recap and final thoughts. Spoilers ahead!
Since there are four whole episodes to get through, I’ll try to speed through the recap section as efficiently as possible so we can get straight to the Thoughts and discussion!
2.11 – Night of a Thousand Stars
Jinora’s body, separated from her soul, is barely hanging on, and Kya’s healing is all that’s keeping her alive.
Bolin visits Mako in jail, then heads to the premier of his latest “mover” (film). Varrick has invited the President, hoping to sway him to support the South; the slick businessman has also hired more terrorists posing as Northern Water Tribe citizens to stage an attack. Bolin is the first to clue in that attackers are in the building. In a beautifully animated fight sequence that mimics the mover showing overhead, Bolin saves the President and earns the respect of his co-star Ginger, while Chief Beifong arrests Varrick. As things are wrapping up, Korra shows up, warning the President about Unalaq’s plans and the threat to the world’s safety. Inexplicably, the President still refuses to help, saying his troops will be needed in Republic City. Team Avatar reunites at the jail, where Mako is freed. They visit Varrick in his cushy cell in the jail, where he agrees to lend them his battleship to quickly transport them to the South.
Tonraq and his followers decide they can’t wait for reinforcements; they stage their attack against the Northern Water Tribe occupants. The South is outmatched, but Tonraq bravely goes straight for the source, challenging his brother to a final showdown. Unalaq beats him down and takes him prisoner.
2.12 – Harmonic Convergence
At the South Pole, Senna tells Korra that Tonraq has been captured. Nearby, Katara is healing the wounded Southern forces, but makes time to tend to Jinora’s ailing body.
Korra needs to get into the portal and close it from the other side, and Tenzin needs to enter to find Jinora. The easiest way will be by air, since the ground is heavily guarded by Unalaq’s troops. Asami, Mako and Bolin climb aboard a plane to try to draw the troops’ attention while the others sneak into the portal by sky bison. The North is ready for them, however, and after a tough fight, everyone but Bumi is captured.
Isolated from the group, Bumi tames a menacing dark spirit by playing his trusty flute, and the music also draws the attention of Naga and Pabu. Thinking he can tame the other dark spirits in the same way, Bumi infiltrates the camp and begins to play a song. The plan backfires as the dark spirits are enraged, but through a series of calamities and flukes, he manages to defeat the soldiers, level the entire camp and free the others.
Once they’re free, Tenzin and his siblings head through the portal to find Jinora, while Korra, Mako and Bolin aim to close the portal. Asami takes a wounded Tonraq back to safety.
Unalaq is waiting inside the Spirit World, ready for their attack. While Mako & Bolin hold him off, Korra tries to close the portal, but she’s too late. The Harmonic Convergence begins, bathing the world in violet light, and Vaatu is free.
2.13 – Darkness Falls
Tenzin, Bumi and Kya look for Jinora, encountering hostile spirits, friendly mushrooms, and Iroh, who warns them that they might wander into parts of the Spirit World where they will be lost forever. Tenzin realizes this is where Jinora must be, and allows the three of them to be captured by an angry spirit, who brings them to the Fog of Lost Souls, a place where souls wander, trapped inside their most horrible memories. General Zhao from Avatar: The Last Airbender is among them, muttering frantically to himself. Bumi and Kya both succumb to the fog, and Tenzin almost does too, until he sees a vision of his father, who gives him encouraging words. Realizing he is his own man, not his father, gives Tenzin strength, and he uses airbending to clear the fog and rescue all his family members — including Jinora. Jinora is grateful, but she realizes her spiritual journey isn’t over yet, and she leaves her family to run deeper into the Spirit World.
Korra uses airbending to send Unalaq through the portal to keep him away from Vaatu. Bolin and Mako go back to the physical world to prevent him from returning, and they lose their upper hand when Desna and Eska come to their father’s aid. Korra stays in the Spirit World to battle Vaatu, and she makes good ground. Just as she’s about to seal him away once again, Unalaq, aided by his children, manages to come back through the portal and interrupt her. Eska and Desna try to capture Bolin and Mako, and they succeed at first, but Bolin manages to convince Eska to release them by appealing to their past relationship.
Meanwhile, Unalaq merges with Vaatu and takes on a new form with glowing red eyes; he declares himself the new Avatar. Korra stands her ground, and the two clash.
After a difficult battle, Unalaq seems to be on the brink of victory, but Raava’s voice gives Korra renewed strength to keep fighting back. Suddenly, Vaatu reaches out through Unalaq’s mouth and clamps onto Korra’s face, ripping Raava from her body. An exhausted and defeated Korra watches helplessly as Unalaq destroys Raava and severs Korra’s connection to the past Avatars. With his counterpart defeated, Vaatu-Unalaq grows into an immense demon-like being and declares that ten thousand years of darkness are about to begin.
2.14 – Light in the Dark
Vaatu-Unalaq heads to Republic City, intent on lessening humanity’s hold on the physical world. Weapons have no effect on the immense being, who topples Aang’s statue in Yue Bay. Vines begin to wrap around the buildings, causing destruction, but also inadvertently allowing Varrick and Zhu Li to escape from prison.
Back at the portals, Kya uses spirit water to heal a badly injured Korra, Mako and Bolin. Korra tearfully relates everything that happened: “The Cycle is over. I’m the last Avatar.” Tenzin coaches her to connect to her inner self: not Raava, but Korra. He guides her to meditate in the Tree of Time, Vaatu’s prison. Legends say that this tree’s roots bind the spiritual and physical world together, making it a source of great cosmic energy. Korra steps inside and sees her memories playing before her eyes. As the ancients once did, she must bend the energy in herself, not the elements. She remembers Raava telling Wan that neither Raava nor Vaatu can be destroyed; if that happens, one will emerge within the other.
As Korra meditates, her friends stand outside the tree to defend her against an onslaught of dark spirits. They’re eventually joined by Eska and Desna.
Korra meditates and finds herself in a cosmic space, seeing an image of herself holding a glowing portal. She proceeds through it, and a large spirit-like form of Korra emerges from her meditating body. Her giant form uses the portals to travel to Republic City, where she faces Vaatu-Unalaq. In this form, she’s extremely powerful, and nearly the same size and strength as Vaatu-Unalaq. They battle, and she manages to pin him down, but when she reaches into his body to find Raava, she is unsuccessful. Vaatu-Unalaq knocks her back and begins to use Unalaq’s spiritbending technique to try to destroy her. Just as he’s about to succeed, Jinora’s spirit descends from the sky, carrying a small light. The light flies into Vaatu-Unalaq’s chest, highlighting the area where Raava can be found. Renewed, Korra plunges a hand into his chest and frees Raava. She uses Unalaq’s own spiritbending technique against him, giving him a respectful bow and “go in peace”; he dissolves into glowing dust.
The Harmonic Convergence is about to end, so they must hurry if Korra and Raava are to reunite. Korra brings Raava and Jinora back to the portals. There, Raava and Korra fuse once again, and Jinora speaks with her father before awakening back inside her own body. Korra gives her condolences to the twins, who don’t seem overly upset about their father’s death. Before they leave, she’s about to close the portals, but then she decides it’s best to leave them open.
The Book closes with Korra addressing the people of the newly independent South, announcing that a new era has begun, and she will guide the world toward balance.
Overall, I enjoy this Book, particularly from 2.06 to the end, but there were a few issues that made it fall short of greatness. Among them:
Disposable female side characters. Let’s start with the most obvious: Asami. It seemed like the writers weren’t sure what to do with Asami this Book — even scenes about Future Industries focused more on the male characters with her (Mako, Bolin and Varrick in particular) than Asami herself. Similarly, Lin Beifong, formerly an awesome badass, was mostly incompetent when she was present at all. (My pet theory is that she was originally almost absent from this Book, but then her unexpected popularity in Book One encouraged the writers to shoehorn her into a few more scenes where she didn’t have much to do. Just a guess, though.) Kya and Katara had some functional roles, but were rarely important players. Two of the wives, Pema and Senna, have some minor reactionary scenes, and Unalaq’s wife isn’t even mentioned by name. Jinora, of course, managed to stand out from the background, but her biggest spiritual development happens off-screen, leaving us scratching our heads about how exactly she did it. Overall, aside from Korra, the male characters ran the show. I’m not saying the story has to be all women, all the time, but the fact that there are so many female characters, and so few of them have meaningful roles, is frankly puzzling, particularly in the wake of the diverse character set of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Important plot points happening off-screen. Aside from Jinora’s confusing spiritual development (which I loved, but would have loved even more if it had been fleshed out), there were several plot points that happened off-screen, such as Korra learning Unalaq’s bending technique, or Mako and Asami taking their romance from an awkward kiss to a proper rekindling, or the Northern Water Tribe forces oppressing the Southern Water Tribe (aside from a few people being pushed around a little bit). In a Book so short, it’s crucial that the most important storytelling beats are on-screen — the main story arc should take priority over the filler. And while we’re talking about storytelling issues:
Unalaq. I wanted to like Unalaq, I really did. I love a good villain, and his calm person and spiritual strength were a big draw early on. His motivations, however, didn’t make a lot of sense. I kept assuming there was more to his plan — especially when he confronted Jinora in the library and told her, “Don’t believe everything you read,” about Vaatu bringing darkness to the world. When his own child was hurt, he maintained that his goal was more important than his children’s well-being. All this seems to imply that he has some noble goal in mind. …and then Vaatu brings the darkness, and Unalaq revels in it. He claims to want to unite the physical and the spiritual realms, but then he goes Godzilla on Republic City, and is seemingly looking to wipe humanity off the map, even though he claims he wants to lead the new united world. It feels like his motivations are all over the place. This isn’t helped at all by the hammy ’90s-cartoon-villain evil grins in the later episodes, which feel out of place compared to the calm spiritual leader we saw at the beginning of the book. There are hints that Vaatu was controlling or warping him, but I don’t feel this was shown strongly enough in the narrative. At the end of the day, I can’t shake the feeling that I didn’t quite “get” Unalaq.
Character reactions that don’t make sense. In one episode, we see a disenchanted Eska pulling a wounded Desna away from her father, but in the next, they’re both loyally fighting by their fathers’ side. Mako has hard evidence about the blasts, but Chief Beifong won’t even give him the time of day, even though a terrorist attack on Republic City soil would be a top priority. President Raiko refuses to help prevent Unalaq’s uprising, even when he believes the world’s fate is at stake. Asami and Bolin believe Varrick over Mako when Mako is set up. And so on. These types of plot points weaken the narrative, because they force the characters through actions and conversations that should never have happened, making them feel like they were there to serve the plot even at the expense of logic.
Animation. I won’t harp on this too much, because I’ve harped on it in every single non-Studio-Mir review, and rumour has it that Studio Mir is animating every single episode for the rest of the series run, so this won’t be a problem in future books. It is, however, still worth a mention, because it did impact the quality of this Book.
There are other points to nitpick here and there, but I don’t want to dig into the little nitpicks too much, because I want to take some time to gush about the things I absolutely loved.
The Good Stuff!
Korra’s journey. I still feel her regression early in the series was forced, but her journey in the second half of the season was immensely satisfying! While losing her connection to the past Avatars (and to Raava) was heartbreaking, I loved that she discovered her own internal strength as a result. I also loved that she showed genuine respect for Unalaq right until the end, and was concerned about how her cousins would take the news. Though it certainly broke the heart of Makorra fans, I felt the break-up scene at the end was the most mature romantic exchange I’ve seen in Korra to date.
I appreciate that Korra chose to leave the portals open (though I think a bit more narrative foreshadowing or weight would have made this decision more impactful), and I’m excited to see more episodes in this new world.
Jinora’s journey. While a little more detail would have made this really shine, as it was confusing (I had to watch it a couple times to figure out what was going on), I do love that she was given a pivotal role, and that she has a powerful gift. I hope to see more of her in future Books.
The depiction of the Spirit World. I loved all the spirit designs in general, and the in-depth view of the world itself. It was also great to get all the nostalgic throwbacks to Avatar: The Last Airbender, from the spirit library to Iroh to Zhao.
The final showdown. Confusing bits aside, I adored the final showdown. Vaatu-Unalaq’s design was fantastic, and I loved the way Korra’s spirit self looked and moved. The animation was stunning. The result was a showdown far more epic than anything I had ever imagined we would see in this series, and I am blown away.
Overall, this Book had a slow start, and some animation and narrative issues that kept it from being great, but the good episodes were so strong that I’m satisfied overall. I’m already looking forward to Book Three. No release date has been mentioned yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Spring 2014. Or maybe Summer. I suppose we’ll see!
What did you think of the finale, and of the Book as a whole? Feel free to comment and discuss below!