TV Review: Legend of Korra (S2/E1-2)

“Rebel Spirit/The Southern Lights”

Even more so than the original series, The Legend of Korra is a television show that blurs the lines between TV for children and TV for adults. Sure, it’s got animals making funny noises and fart jokes, but let’s remember that last season ended on a murder-suicide. There have been many moments in the short run of this show that have dialed back the slapstick and dialed up the emotional pain, frequently in a beautiful and heartbreaking way. To be honest, I was worried that Nickelodeon may have tampered with season 2 a little bit, trying to bring it in line with the rest of its children’s programming. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried at all, and the show wasted no time in setting up its serialized story for season 2.

One of the issues that plagued season 1 was that it took about half the unfortunately short season to really get going. The first half was all about learning about the Korra Krew (Korra, Mako, Bolin, and Asami) and playing pro bending. And that’s fine. Location and character clarification is important, but it seemed like maybe it took longer than was necessary. With all of that icky place setting out of the way, season 2 got down to busy. It took a little while to set the scene, but within the first episode Korra had fought, and nearly been defeated by, a spirit, setting up the initial mystery of the season.

Enter Korra’s uncle, leader of the Northern Water Tribe (Unalaq), a powerful water bender capable of defeating spirits in a way that looks humane and beautiful, but immediately makes me question his motives and powers. Last season we saw Amon use a waterbending technique to remove people’s ability to bend, which makes me automatically wary of any other special waterbenders. Unalaq, through skillful use of his unique abilities (and the ability to make Korra pissed off at her dad), positions himself as the only master capable of teaching Korra, forcing a wedge between Korra, her family, and Tenzin. My worries were justified when the end of episode one concluded with Unalaq saying to Korra, “I have big plans for you . . .” which is about as mustache twirlingly evil as you can get.

The second episode sees the Korra Krew, Unalaq, and her father (Tonraq) travel to the South Pole so that Korra can attempt to open a portal to the spirit world which is stoppered by, according to Unalaq, the Southern Water Tribe’s lack of connection to the spirit world. Along the way, the fight more angry spirits and are saved by, surprise, Unalaq. Eventually Korra is able to open what Unalaq called a portal, and the spirits disappear, leaving me uneasy. Clearly the spirits were angry, but I don’t trust Unalaq, his motives, or his abilities. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if later in the season we discover his abilities to calm spirits is cruel or dastardly in some way.

Upon arriving back at the Southern Water Tribe capitol, my fears are justified. We get shots of Northern Water Tribe ships (made out of metal) descending on/preparing to occupy the southern capitol, highly reminiscent of the opening credits of the original series. It’s a clear homage to the Fire Nation expanding and taking over the world. I’d like to come back to my first point about Legend of Korra being more than a children’s series, as well as moving very much faster than it did in season 1. By the end of the second episode, we have a potentially fascist leader invading his own people’s land in an attempt to show them the correct way to live.

At first I was a little frustrated, as it seemed a similar plot to the original Avatar series, as well as setting up Unalaq as a similar Big Bad to Amon. However, the more I think about it, the more interested I am. Unalaq’s politics are essentially the opposites of Amon’s, though they may be implemented in a similar way (military force), which could lead to a fertile dissection of fascism. Secondly, I love that Unalaq invades his own people’s land first. This sets up the season for a civil war which may or may not spill into other areas of the world. It’s at once a huge conflict and a small differing in ideals. I’m excited to see the plot move forward so quickly. I’ve very much missed this world in the year and a half that the show has been off the air and I’m anxious to dive right back in.

That’s not to say that there weren’t some issues, of course, but the issues I have are mostly minor and come with being the premiere of a season. Scenes get a little too exposition-y for my liking, and Korra seems angry and angsty out of nowhere. Why is she so angry at her father after such a long time of not seeing him? After hearing why her father was kicked out of the Northern Water Tribe, couldn’t she have given him the benefit of the doubt? Apparently not. She just immediately latched onto Tonraq and told her father to go home because of something he did way before she was born. Jeez, Korra. (It actually really reminds me of how essentially every season of Buffy would begin with Buffy being pissed and annoying for essentially no reason.) Plus, and this is just a random quibble unattached to any of the points above, but why did everyone Korra had ever met go on that trip to the South Pole?

But overall it was an excellent debut, beautifully directed and animated, and I can’t wait to see how the season plays out. Once again, seriously quality programming from Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

Stray Observations

-Can we take a minute to enjoy the fact that Marko took the time to write out some police-themed one liners?

-I’m so excited that the various families are expanding. I loved how accurate the interactions between Tenzin and his siblings are, and much of that can be attributed to the talented voice cast.

-John Michael Higgins as Varrick the capitalist is absolutely brilliant. “Go rest your gams, Ginger!”

-Aubrey Plaza, gold as always. Bolin: “Like a boyfriend, or like a slave?” Eska: “Yes. Win me prizes.”

-This show once again proves to be one of the better directed series on television, live action or animated. I loved the shot of Korra and Mako holding hands, the fight scenes were visceral, and that POV shot of Bolin desperately trying to see Ginger over Varrick was hilarious.

-I’m a little nervous that splitting up the cast so much (Tenzin and co. leaving Korra) will put a strain on the storytelling, but I love that airbending family so much that I barely care. I’d watch them do anything. Plus, what was up with that glowy statue?

-And finally, how obvious is it that Bolin and Asami are going to get together? I’d say pretty obvious.

Written by: Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino, Tim Hedrick

Directed by: Colin Heck

Overall Score: 8.5