The Legend of Korra Book 2, Episodes 13 and 14: Darkness Falls and Light In The Dark
Going into the Book 1 finale, The Legend of Korra was one of my favorite shows on television. It had its problems, some due to writing choices (romance!), others due to form (12 episodes did not allow for the same kind of character development that occurred on its parent show). But overall, the season was exciting. It told a coherent story with clearly defined stakes, it featured great characters, and the animation was superb. The end had problems but they were mostly due to the fact that, when it was written, the creators believed that they were making a 12-episode miniseries, and thus had to tie up all of their loose ends. I had all the faith in the world that the next season would not only be as exciting and well-told, but would improve on what had come before. Now, after having seen the second season in its entirety, I am conflicted. Book 2’s ending did make me interested to see what happens next, but getting from “Endgame” to the final scene of “Light in the Dark” was a rough journey, and one that, at times, made me consider giving up on the series after the season ended.
Before delving too deeply into the analysis, let’s briefly look at what happened in these two episodes. Unalaq succeeded in merging with Vaatu, and they became the Dark Avatar. Dark Avatar Unalaq then proceeds to rip Raava from Korra’s body, severing her connection with her past lives and removing her Avatar-ness, then returns to the physical world in the form of a giant demon to recreated the world as he sees fit. Tenzin and his siblings wander the Spirit World looking for Jinora, and find answers about themselves along the way. Asami… doesn’t do much of anything. Grr.
Much of Book 2 has been about looking to the past for answers, and that theme is addressed, whether intentionally or not, in various ways in these episodes. Unalaq and Vaatu want to return the world to how it was before Avatar Wan removed the spirits from the physical world. Tenzin and his siblings spent the season worrying how their father would perceive what has become of their lives. The origin and purpose of the Avatar was explored. And Korra was once again forced to confront who she is if not the Avatar. Unlike last year, in which Amon removed her bending via physical manipulation, Unalaq quite literally destroyed Korra’s Avatar nature by destroying the spirit provided the necessary cosmic connection for her to be the Avatar. The plot point itself felt a bit repetitive, but its execution and lesson is what made the finale so interesting and makes me curious to see what happens next. Korra, robbed of her identity (again) must figure out how to stop a being that is the pure distillation of what she had lost. She must learn a new path, a new way of solving problems. And, with Tenzin’s assistance, she contacts her own inner spirit, and uses it to engage and subdue the Dark Avatar. From this, she learns that new knowledge and innovation are just as important as tradition, and she decides to keep the portals open, thereby reintegrating the spirits into the physical world. She isn’t putting things back the way they were (from her point of view, as she is reintroducing a state of the world that hasn’t existed for 10,000 years), but is instead taking what she sees as the next necessary step in the progress of the world. And although Korra is the Avatar again, she did not regain her connection to her past lives, so she will lack the guidance that Aang had.
Next season will feature a world much different from the one we’ve been familiar with since the first season of Avatar, and I look forward to that. But there were plenty of elements in the season finale that left me unsatisfied, and ultimately, the problems of the season remain. “A New Spiritual Age” gave me hope that the early season issues would be taken care of in the later episodes, but that is not the case. The biggest problems had to do with Vaatu’s plan. Unlike last year, which had clear stakes (if Korra doesn’t defeat Amon, bending will be destroyed and Amon will take over Republic City), I wasn’t quite clear on the consequences of Vaatu’s victory. What does “10,000 years of darkness” mean? Were the humans living in a period of 10,000 years of light? Keep in mind that light and dark (which, as far as I could tell, equated to good and evil) were still in balance during the past 10,000 years, because characters like Chin the Conqueror, Fire Lord Ozai, and Amon all existed and presented challenges to peace. Surely there would be characters to challenge the darkness?
There was also the final fight between Korra’s spirt and the Dark Avatar. I really liked the idea in theory because it forced Korra to leave behind the physical. But then the fight was about two giants punching each other. Where’s the spirit magic? Where was the placating spirit bending that Unalaq used in the season premiere? Tenzin even told Korra to bend the energies in herself, which is what the lion turtle told Aang as it imparted the knowledge of energybending to him. I understand what the show was going for: Korra had to learn how to be in touch with her spiritual side and find ways to fight that were not physical. But you can’t make that the story if you’re going to have the two giant spirits fight each other. This franchise has been so clever in the past about giving unexpected but completely logical resolutions (I maintain that the energybending was not a deus ex machina), so it’s rather disappointing that they could so clearly indicate that they had a great idea but were unable to execute it properly.
Then of course there are the problems that have been plaguing the show all season. Asami had nothing to do, the romance was awful, Bolin was dumb. When he declared his love to Eska, I was so happy to see him be cunning for once, as was Mako, who also pointed out that his time as an actor was coming in handy. Turns out, though, that Bolin meant it. Which makes no sense because he was miserable every moment he was with Eska. On the other hand, I do need to give the show props for actually shaking things up with the relationships and letting Korra and Mako have a heartfelt and honest breakup. Here’s hoping they’ll never revisit that plotline again.
Overall, the season finale was an interesting synechdoche for the season as a whole. There was a lot of strong storytelling. Tenzin learned that he needs to be his own man, not the man he thinks Aang wanted him to be. Mako and Bolin were willing to fight to their deaths to prevent Unalaq from reentering the Spirit World, knowing their objective was more important than their lives. Korra finally learned what it truly means to be the Avatar. On the other hand, there were lots of bad choices and mind-boggling story choices. For example, Varrick was never really punished and no one seemed to care. (His escape means he will likely be back next season, so hopefully the characters will learn that war profiteering is bad.) And there were mixed messages, notably the way that the final fight between Korra and Dark Avatar Unalaq played out. Was it a great season? No. Was it worthless? Also no. It had a lot to like and a strong enough resolution to get me to return for Book 3. But the series is not the one I enjoyed so much last year, and, sadly, is no longer in the same league as its predecessor. Still, there is a great set-up for next year, and I should remember a lesson that I believe the creators tried to tell us, the audience, at the end of the episode. After looking to the past all season, it’s time to look forward. Avatar: The Last Airbender was incredible, but Korra has always been something different, and it’s time it started forging its own identity.
- “Korra’s back! And she’s a blue giant!”
- If you enter the Spirit World through a portal, can you leave through meditation? If you enter the Spirit World through meditation, can you leave through a portal? If so, do you lose your bending in the physical world?
- As much as I enjoyed seeing Zhao, I was unsure how he could make it to the Spirit World. My two guesses are: the Spirit World is where all human souls go (boring, and seems to contradict what we know about the Spirit World) or he was taken there by the Ocean Spirit.
- Tenzin just leaves all of the other humans behind in the spirit prison.
- So what happened with Vaatu? Much like Jet’s death, it wasn’t quite clear to me. Will there be a Dark Avatar cycle now? I would hope so, because (1) it would fit in with the status quo shake-up and (2) I think it’d be cool. But I kind of doubt it. Also, if this is the direction the show is going, the creators passed up a great opportunity to have the final shot of the season be the birth of an earthbender baby, whose eyes glow orange before reverting back to green.