The Legend of Korra Book 4 continues to air online on Fridays! Episodes 2 and 3 continued their look into the struggle over Earth Kingdom leadership, as well as Korra’s struggle to recover after the events of Book 3. Hit the jump for my recap and thoughts!
4.02: Korra Alone
Episode 1 ended with a battered-looking Korra leaving an earthbending fighting ring 3 years after the end of Book 3. Episode 2 takes us back to the moment she left Republic City to recover.
Korra’s recovery begins with her return to the Southern Water Tribe. With Katara’s healing waterbending and patient tutelage, Korra slowly — over the course of two years — goes from being paralysed from the waist down to being able to walk. During this time, she’s plagued by frequent nightmares and self-doubt. Her parents are worried, as are her friends (who send her letters, but she only ever replies once to Asami.) Two years in, she gets a visit from Tenzin, and she tries to show off her progress with firebending sparring (an echo of her firebending test at the beginning of Book One), but she’s still too weak to do as well as she expected.
Frustrated, impatient, and still unable to go into the Avatar State, she tells her parents she wants to go back to Republic City. As she arrives in the harbour, however, she’s overcome with negative emotions, and she reroutes to the Earth Kingdom instead. In a small village, people question whether or not she’s really the Avatar after a failed attempt to stop some thieves, and that’s the last straw for Korra. She cuts off her ponytail, pulls off her arm band and dons the garb of a typical Earth Kingdom citizen. She tries to meditate in the Tree of Time to reconnect with Raava, with no luck.
During her recovery, Korra has been plagued by a vision of herself in the feral Avatar State (as she appeared at the end of Book 3). Eventually, she follows the phantom Korra to an earthbending ring, and we see that during episode 1’s earthbending match, she saw herself fighting this phantom instead of her human opponent.
At first, it seems like this phantom Korra might be a psychological manifestation of her stress and trauma, but then a small spirit sees it, too. This spirit leads Korra to the Foggy Swamp (from Avatar: The Last Airbender), where a showdown with her phantom self overwhelms Korra. She awakens in an underground living space inhabited by Avatar Aang’s old friend Toph Beifong.
4.03: The Coronation
Wu’s coronation is fast approaching, and his bodyguard, Mako, is getting increasingly annoyed with the prince’s spoiled, obnoxious attitude.
Bolin arrives for the coronation alongside Kuvira, who’s been uniting the Earth Kingdom under her leadership until Wu takes the throne. When it comes time for the coronation, however, Kuvira announces she won’t relinquish her power. This brings Bolin and Mako into direct odds. Bolin feels Kuvira has done a great deal of good for the Earth Kingdom, and her aggression is just an act to demonstrate that she’s serious. Mako believes she’s power-hungry.
A glum Wu takes Mako out for a smoothie, but ends up beaking off to a group of Kuvira’s supporters. This leads to a chase that ends with Wu sitting on the throne and pouting. Mako gives him a lecture about acting like a proper leader, and then they escape from the angry mob.
Toph, meanwhile, gives Korra some tough love, telling her to “get over” herself: “the world doesn’t need you one bit.” She goes toe-to-toe with Korra to train her, and wipes the floor with her: “You’re blind compared to me.”
Eventually, she reveals that Korra still has fragments of the metal poison in her body. Korra is overjoyed to have a physical explanation for her ongoing weakness.
Toph tries to remove the bits of poison, but Korra begins to have flashbacks and tenses up. Toph declares that Korra will have to bend the metal bits out herself; she claims Korra wants to keep the poison in there so she has an excuse to avoid being the Avatar.
- It’s still early, so this theory could be far off base, but I wonder if Korra’s phantom self is a manifestation of Vaatu being reborn within her? In Book 2, we learned that neither good nor evil could be destroyed, and one would always grow out of the other (this is how Korra was able to retrieve Raava from Unavaatu.) Building on that, it’s possible the title of this book, “Balance,” has to do with that balance between good and evil. Will Korra have to decide whether or not to release Raava and Vaatu into the world to maintain balance? Will she have to learn to contain both of them within herself?
- There were a couple nice little callbacks to Avatar: The Last Airbender in this episode. The first was Korra finding Toph in the exact same swamp where Aang first saw visions of Toph in the original series. The second was Korra cutting off her ponytail, reminiscent of Zuko and Iroh cutting off their top-knots in Avatar — common symbolism in Japanese media that stems from samurai traditions of cutting off one’s top-knot to abandon their role.
- Speaking of Avatar, it’s time for a potentially unpopular opinion: I’m not sure how I feel about old Toph’s personality. A part of me likes that she hasn’t changed much from her Avatar days, but it almost feels too convenient to me, too obviously pandering to her fans in the original series. Katara and Zuko’s characters have both shown some character evolution, while still maintaining the traits we recognize from their younger days. I expect Toph would have grown in some ways, too, especially after the mannerisms she showed in the flashbacks we’ve seen so far — still the same old Toph, but more poised and thoughtful. That being said, “Twinkletoes” was a delightful touch.
- Let’s dive right with another potentially unpopular opinion: I don’t care about Wu, and I’m annoyed he’s hogging so much screen time. Now, given what I’ve seen around social media sites, I’d guess I’m in the minority here, so I won’t be too grumpy about him, since he’s obviously bringing people a lot of joy. (It’s possible I just hate fun.) Wu himself is a decent character; my problem with him is the same problem I’ve had with other characters these past few seasons: that I’d rather do a deep dive into the heads of the existing characters rather than waste precious screen time on new ones. One could argue we’re getting more time with Mako, but it’s mostly him being irritated, so it’s not really character development time. I’d much rather spend more time on his deteriorating relationship with Bolin and everything to do with Asami. Poor Asami. She has so many dangling plot threads, and the writers haven’t been touching them. There are still ten more episodes, so I hope she’ll have more to do.
- As a small note of interest, I love that Katara thought Korra’s phantom self was all in her head, but we later find out the spirit can see this phantom Korra, too. As well, I love that Korra still had some metal poison fragments in her body that no one else could detect. This is a familiar scene to anyone who has dealt with any kind of chronic illness (mental or physical) — internalizing other’s dismissive statements that it’s “all in your head,” only to find out later that there was a genuine cause for it. I suspect one (or many) members of the creative team have dealt with this type of situation before.
Episode 4 will be available online on Friday, Oct 24th,.
Agree or disagree with anything I’ve said? Want to throw in your own theories or thoughts? Feel free to discuss in the comments below!