The third episode of Book Two of The Legend of Korra aired last night, so it’s time for another recap. I’ll start by saying I enjoyed this episode much more than the premier, though it’s hard to say if that was due to a leap in quality, or because I watched M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender directly before I watched this episode. (That movie has the power to make absolutely anything seem amazing by comparison.) Overwhelming evidence points to an actual leap in quality. Recap, thoughts, and speculation after the jump. As always, beware of spoilers!
Episode 2.03 – Civil Wars Part 1
Soldiers from the Northern Water Tribe have arrived, and the people of the Southern tribe are not happy. Korra is wary, but Unalaq explains that the troops are necessary to protect the newly-opened Southern portal. Now he needs her to open the Northern portal as well, which will allow people to travel freely between the two poles, uniting the tribe.
Furious about the occupation, several prominent members of the Southern tribe gather in Tonraq and Senna’s home to talk about what to do next. Varrick seems to be pushing for war, but Tonraq asks Korra to reason with Unalaq first – maybe he’ll listen to the Avatar. Unalaq, however, shows no intentions of backing down; he advises Korra to stay neutral, as a true Avatar should. When she tries to put this into practice, however, she angers people for “taking sides”, and it’s Tonraq who manages to de-escalate the situation.
Korra has a heart-to-heart with her mother Senna, and learns that Varrick and his friends are planning a rebellion. Senna doesn’t know if Tonraq is involved. That night, Korra visits the palace and chances on a group of masked men kidnapping Unalaq. A fight ensues, and Korra is surprised to learn that her father refused to join the rebel group. She rescues Unalaq, who wants to throw all the conspirators in prison. Korra convinces him to give them a fair trial instead. Returning home, she has a tearful reunion with her parents, apologizing for thinking the worst of her father. They are interrupted by Unalaq and his armed guards, who arrest Tonraq and Senna for conspiring to assassinate Unalaq.
Bolin, meanwhile, is getting frustrated with being the twins’ slave. He seeks the help of Mako, who advises him to break up with Eska. Bolin thanks him for being “so good at breaking girls’ hearts,” the first callback we’ve seen to the Korra-Mako-Asami love triangle of Book One. Instead of breaking up with Eska, however, Bolin invites the twins on a “double date” with Korra and Mako, something none of them enjoy.
Meanwhile, Tenzin, still on vacation at the Southern Air Temple, is doing his best to relax, until he learns his daughter Ikki has run off. He and his siblings, Bumi and Kya, start searching for her. Arguments break out between the three of them, initially about their father Aang’s preferential treatment of Tenzin, and later about Bumi being a non-bender (in a “bender privilege” sequence that seems to prove the point of Book One’s villain, Amon: in this world, non-benders truly are at a disadvantage.)
In my recap of the premier, I mentioned a few points that I felt were holding the series back. I’m happy to report that this episode addresses many of them.
- Pacing – Much improved. I felt the Tenzin-Bumi-Kya arguments took up more screen time than they needed, but otherwise, there was a much better sense of flow and urgency.
- Everyone is angry – Korra’s anger, to me, felt much more balanced this episode – she’s still angry with her father, at first (something I do feel is justified, given their history), but she actively apologizes to Mako for being snappy with him. Tonraq and Unalaq also felt more like characters with genuine motivations this time around, especially Tonraq, who is turning out to be more complex than I expected. However, the arguments between Tenzin, Bumi and Kya – even though their grievances were justified – felt a bit too full of animosity to me. I think this was due to the excessive screen time devoted to their argument, and trimming a minute or two would have gotten their points across without over-saturation.
- The animation – The majority of the shots were well done, but there are still a few places where the drop in animation quality stands out. The most obvious is whenever a character is talking for a length of time. In Book One, we saw expressive movements and expressions, while Book Two has a tendency to animate a flapping mouth on a stationary head (though it’s still better acting than we see in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender – sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Overall, however, the quality of the animation is still unusually high for its genre.
- Ladies? – I cheered out loud when Korra and her mother had a lengthy discussion. It was great to see Senna try to repair the rift between her husband and her daughter. I also felt Korra was starting to find her footing in terms of making her own choices, and that both Unalaq and Tonraq were giving her credit for being the Avatar instead of brushing her aside. I still want to see another female involved in the main plot (and not just Senna commenting from the sidelines), but this is a step in the right direction.
- Bolin, Mako & Asami – Where was Asami? And so far, Bolin and Mako seem to just be there, with no bearing on the main plot whatsoever. I’m hoping we’ll see more Team Avatar interaction later in the story, as the strong ensemble cast is part of what made Avatar: The Last Airbender (the cartoon, not the movie I’ve been griping about) so memorable. As well, I know this is an unpopular opinion, since fans in general have been expressing love for them, but I find the twins annoying. The Bolin/Eska side plot is doing nothing for me, and I’ll be happy if/when the brothers shift to the main plot instead.
Unalaq, Unalaq, Unalaq. Why is it that every time an episode ends, you’re shown doing something meant to make us think you’re the bad guy? Is this foreshadowing, or are we being intentionally misled?
I did enjoy the way he explained the occupation as if it was in the tribe’s best interest, and how he counselled Korra to stay neutral, something that seems like sound advice.
In spite of that, it still feels like Unalaq is shaping up to be the big bad. The occupation itself and the arrest of Tonraq and Senna at the end of the episode were both reminiscent of Tarrlok’s actions against non-benders in Book One. There were also a few flickers of self-importance (“I am their Chief”), which suggest he might be power-hungry. His claim that war would lead to a battle between spirits and man rings false, especially because the Fire Nation’s attack in Avatar: The Last Airbender didn’t cause a spirit war, even though it lasted a hundred years. Is Unalaq controlling the spirits himself to add weight to his points? Or, is it possible the spirits are controlling him, that all his years of “spiritbending” have somehow opened him to their suggestion? I still hope I’m wrong, but I can’t shake the feeling that this guy is hiding dark secrets.
Ikki’s disappearance must be of some importance, since it was stretched out for an entire episode. Is it possible spirits are involved?
Any thoughts on these speculations, or have some of your own? Think I am overlooking some key points? Feel free to discuss in the comments section below!