The Legend of Korra season 2 episode 10 review: A New Spiritual Age

Review Kaci Ferrell 9 Nov 2013 - 14:22

Is The Legend of Korra struggling to stretch its story out enough to fill all the episodes it's got planned? Here's Kaci's review...

This review contains spoilers.

2.9 A New Spiritual Age

Holy mixed bag, Batman. This week's episode of Legend of Korra simultaneously manages to perform a fun bit of fan service while also being a letdown. Maybe it's just me, but when we were told last week that Jinora was going to guide Korra through the spirit world, know, expected to see her guide Korra through the spirit world. At the very least, I assumed we'd get to watch them stumble through it together. Instead, they get separated almost immediately and Jinora doesn't do much besides get kidnapped by Unalaq and held ransom as incentive for Korra to open the other portal for him. I was promised two ladies either kicking butt together or at the very least fumbling their way through their adventure at each other's sides, and instead I was handed a damsel in distress. No thanks.

Meanwhile, Korra gets so scared by the dark spirits she encounters that she regresses to a child before finding her way to Iroh's tea party. I didn't know how much I missed Iroh's presence in the Avatar-verse until he showed up here, but as it turns out: I miss him a lot. He tells her that her emotions affect everything around her, especially in the spirit world, and it's a pretty important thing for Korra to hear, considering how many people find her unlikeable. Iroh gently pointing this out to her is a good way for the writers to start trying to make her a more enjoyable character while providing a good in-universe explanation for the changes. I hope they make them and don't forget about it as they have with virtually all of her other character development.

I also enjoyed a return to the library (and an update on what became of the professor...poor guy), but I think it says a lot that the two elements of this episode that I enjoyed most were the ones that brought back parts of the Last Airbender, rather than the current Korra storyline. I try not to compare the two shows, but the difference was palpable for me here.

If I may be honest, it feels like the writers have an episode order too big for the story they want to tell, so they're stretching it thin and chucking bits of filler in to come up with the rest. The result is that everything is dragging and I feel like I could skip every other episode (at least) and still keep up with the storyline. That's a major problem and I desperately hope that things pick up as we head towards the end of the season.

Read Kaci's review of the previous episode, The Guide, here.

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Good luck watching every other episode. The last and next to last episodes are one hour specials to wrap it up before this month is over.

Honestly, how does anyone expect Jinora to guide anyone anywhere. The only thing she could do is help get Korra into the spirit world. She doesn't know where she is any more than Korra does. I must say that Jinora is showing her age by blindly chasing a sparkly butterfly. I suspected from the third episode that If Unalaq could tame dark spirits that it would be reasonable to believe he could take good spirits and turn them dark. With Unalaq's ability to go into the spirit world it's easy to see that he was taking good spirits making them dark then pulling them into the material world to wreak havoc so he can be the hero and at the same time get Korra's trust. I wonder how Korra's father plays a role in the few episodes left in the series. Now with everything taking place in the spirit world how will Mako, Bolin, Asami, and Varrick end up now that it seems to be a side note in the series with the Avatar not involved at the moment.

It was a surprise that we saw what happened to the professor, but not too surprising. Anyone who saw the first series knows that there is no food or water in the library, so his visit was shorter than we believe. I love Iroh, but I was hoping to see other characters too especially his son, but Iroh was a man who always lived in his own world and the afterlife was no different.

I'm uncertain of how one reads the damsel in distress scenario into the events here. The heroines are in peril, yes, but nobody's coming to rescue them. They're not being portrayed as undeveloped objects that exist to be rescued, they're developed heroes who happen to be in peril as often happens to all heroic characters do in good storytelling.

To be honest, I'm really disappointed with the reviewing for Legend of Korra. I don't mind the criticism - really I don't - it's just that I've noticed a deteriorating quality in the reviews for this show. Just compare the reviews from the first season of Korra to the reviews for the second season: they used to be much longer, and a whole lot more thoughtful. And it's not that this writer fails to bring up valid concerns with this show's quality -- she's right about the awkward pacing, the insufficient character development, and the other disappointments that this season has brought us. It's just that she devotes little time to articulating the virtues that the show still has. The art, for one, was incredibly stunning in this episode. The spirit world is more beautiful than I ever could have conceived. And the gentle humor of this episode, the emotional kick also weren't worth mentioning. Even the writer's description of Korra's beautiful encounter with Iroh failed to capture the joy that fans of the show felt when they saw him again.Did anyone else start crying out of love for his character? Maybe it's just me...but I guess when it comes down to it, I just wish that the reviewer seemed like more of a fan of the show, rather than someone who has either lost respect for it, or never really cared for it in the first place. The reason I first loved denofgeek reviews was the coverage over Avatar the Last Airbender, which was thoughtful and funny and was actually longer than 500 words. I guess these reviews feel like they were written because someone had to, whereas the old reviews (from last airbender and possibly the first season of korra) felt like one fan of the show eagerly engaging the rest of us in discussion. I miss that.

I am shocked, no mention of the collective Fangasm we all had the moment we saw that silhouette in the forest.
But yes, I too know now how much I missed Uncle Iroh, but this will have to tide me over, until we get to see something like Firelord Zukold lol

Hi, Zach. I am actually the same person who reviewed season one of Legend of Korra. The reason these reviews are shorter and don't go into as much depth? There's...not nearly as much depth in the show for me to go into. If my reviews have become shallow, it's because I feel the show has, too.

If you disagree, that's fine, but please know that I do put effort into them still and I *want* this show to be on-par with the quality of season one (which wasn't perfect, but it was better than what season two has become) because I *want* to be able to talk about it like I used to. But when the text isn't giving me any thematic depth for me to get into, then I can't go into what I don't feel is there.

I shall just ignore the review and say:
1. IROH,IROH,IROH,IROH,IROH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2. Little Korra in Wonderland!!!!! Learning stuff!!!
3. Jinora in the Library!!!!!!! (been waiting since the trailer for this!!!)
4. Amazing upside-down flight into the Library!!!!
5. Bumi, Kaia, and Tenzin getting along!!!
6. SO many way-cool spirits!!!!!
7. Jinora in trouble (don't worry, she'll get out of it herself by using her head. Just you wait. Korra might need to help just a little. Also: Jinora in danger may be just what Tenzin needs to push him into the spirit world)!!!!!
8. Firebirds/phoenixes!!!!!!!!
9. More gorgeous colors and animation!!!!!!!
10. Awesome music!!!!!
11. Scary enemies... which means epic battles to come!!!!!
Shall I go on?

i've come to believe Zuko is being saved for finale dessert. Yum!!! ;-)

(*I've*. Typing too fast tonight, I guess. This episode made me bounce off the walls!!)

(The above Zuko reply was supposed to be to YOUR post. Sorry everyone!)

There is plenty of thematic depth if you're open to seeing it. For example, Korra didn't just revert to a child because she was scared. To me, that was a reflection of her true "spiritual" age. It re-enforces the idea that the your reality in the spiritual world is a direct result from your emotions. When we are first introduced to Korra in Book 1, Chapter 1, we are told she is all physical and non-spiritual. That part of her character continues this season.

I agree that the first half of Book 2 was difficult to deal with for several reasons. Studio Pierrot stepped in for Studio Mir and demonstrated sub-par animation, no one in Republic City (except for Mako) is thinking rationally, and Korra displayed a great deal of stubbornness and impatience. I believe the audience needed to see her in a tempestuous light, so that she could go through a huge spiritual awakening and come out more educated and informed about what it means to be the Avatar.

You're correct in that the differences with this series and The Last Aribender are marked. They should be. Aang was a reluctant hero, who initially didn't want to be the Avatar because he was a kid who just wanted to have fun. He was also raised by monks, which is why from the very start, he is kind, calm, and spiritually developed. He certainly has much more of an appreciation for nature and the world than Korra. That is because Korra was raised and completed most of her training in the confines of the Southern Water Tribe. She hadn't traveled the world until this season, so of course some of her traits will seem irrational and unrefined.

This show is art. And art is open to interpretation. You may or may not have interpreted Book 2 thus far in the way that I have through the points I mentioned above. But if you have interpreted Book 2 in a similar way, perhaps the reason why Zach feels the way he does is because he doesn't see that interpretation reflected in your reviews.

I like your review even though I don't always agree with you
Kaci. But for this episode, it seems like you have missed some points. Avatar series
rarely depict children or teenagers as powerful as adults. Kids and teenagers
have limitations because of their inexperience and lack of knowledge. Even Avatar
the Aang said that he was only a child when he was trying to save Water Nation.
Pure talent is not enough! Jinora is a kid, so she can't do anything beyond her
talent, which is using her ability to take Korra to spirit world. Jinora,
although spiritual, needs training herself. And this idea was voiced by Tenzin
like hundred times in the episode "she is just a little girl",
"where is my little girl", " little girl"... In the spirit
world, Korra was looking out for Jinora, because she is older, but because they
both have no idea about where to go or what to do, and because Jinora is a
little girl, things got out of hand quickly.

The only thing I didn’t like very much was the idea that “spirit
world becomes how you feel like”. They tried to connect the episode to Avatar
the legend of Aang, but they did this by using the library, or bringing Iroh
into the story. The explanations about how things work didn’t seem to be
connected to anything we knew from Aang’s episode. I just wish instead of inventing stuff for
us, they used some detail from series of Aang, and wrote a story on that detail.
It would be easier for them, and probably more fun for us because all fans want
to know something more about the earlier series while watching series of Korra.
They take the difficult route, and they come up with all new stuff, but it
makes their job more difficult, because they have 12 to 14 episodes to tell the
whole story each season. They had 72-74 episodes to tell the stoy of Aang
trying to bring balance to the world, but for Korra, not even 4 seasons, they
have 1 season for each story. So it is natural it leaves us unsatisfied. I just
wish they can manage to connect all seasons at some point later in the series.

I just watched the most recent episode.

I think it may have lost me. Spoilers ahead.

The whole, "Do it or I kill her" thing was dumb. I would have been a lot happier had she said no, then we got to watch how she fought to get Tenzin's daughter back later. I mean, a billion lives vs 1 you love. That would be the kind of thing to show was the Avatar's burden.

I love ATLB, and I really liked the first season of Korra.

But this season has been lukewarm, and I feel like it just went cold.

I really liked this episode. Along with Beginnings (which I think was probably in the top 5 episodes of the entire Avatar franchise), easily the best of the second season and has got me really excited about the finale. I think Jinora was more than a damsel in distress, she was able to deal with the spirit world far easier than Korra and I liked her visit to the library before she got kidnapped. Characters getting kidnapped isn't bad in and of itself, as long as that's not ALL they do, and Jinora has proven to be the breakout character of the season for me.

It is a shame that this is always being compared negatively to A:TLA... I know it's generally not as good, but episodes like this show it can be. This was certainly better than a handful of A:TLA season 1 episodes...

But 'harmonic convergence' isn't happening YET, I kind of felt like it bought some time. But yeah, she probably should have just let her die...

This is exactly whats wrong with the episode. Your list is probably how the writers went about writing the episode. They probably said, "what cool stuff can we make these characters do?" instead of focusing on the characters' motivations to determine their actions.... It's basically what theyve been doing all season. For instance, how do Aang's kids, besides Tenzin, contribute to the story. THEY DONT!

EXACTLY. Korra saying no and letting junora die would have made this series worth watching again

The Avatar's burden is not to be a cold utilitarian asshole who sacrifices people for the greater good. Leave that to Unalaq (who was willing to let his son die to open the portal) or Amon from season 1. The Avatar's burden is to make compassionate choices that value each individual as having infinite value, and dealing with the repercussions of valuing every individual so much. The Avatar's burden is to come to terms with the fact he/she cannot save everyone, but still to never give up finding way to do so, provided it never involves sacrificing a single, priceless soul to that end.

(TLA SEASON 3 SPOILER) If you remember from the first series, even Aang was unwilling to kill the fire lord, and risked everything including himself to try to find an alternative. This was even against the advice of the avatars that came before him. With Aang, the Avatar had morally evolved. And of all people, this was a genocidal war tyrant that he refused to kill, let alone a small girl like Tenzin's daughter whose only crime was to help Korra find passage into the spirit world.

If Korra had not done whatever she could to save Tenzin's daughter in that situation she would be no hero. If the showrunners had had her do that and presented her as a hero, I wouldn't by able to put this show on the high moral and spiritual level that it clearly deserves to be on, given that it doesn't have its heroes make horrible choices like that.

On a moral and spiritual level, this season of Korra is tremendously complex. Excluding some of the confusing Republic City stuff, this is among the best work the showrunners have ever done. There is enough here to write an entire book about Korra's journey in this episode alone.

Yes and every single one of the past Avatar's told Aang that he should basically kill the fire lord.

Also, it was Aang’s spiritual belief as a monk that made him to hold all life sacred, not the Avatar. Early in this season it was discussed how the avatar is not there to take sides, but to keep balance as a whole.

Third, Korra had already been cheated by...whatever his name is. She knew he would double cross her. That also comes into play. I have been hoping to see Korra grow as character, but she still seems to be the naive little girl she started out being.

I think you are mixing up "heroes" with "monks." Not all heroes are superman with his boy scout code. She would have been a hero for
stopping the genocide of millions (or however many people are in the Avatar universe.)

Or at least let her think she died. Would have been rough watching her and Tenzin go through that. Well I guess we get to see that anyway. But I still think it made Korra look really niave.

But coudl have made a happy ending getting her back.

I think my hope now lies in Junora growing int the spiritual realm and becoming as powerful as.. lol I just can't remember his name, but the guy that killed her or whatver he did to her.

Hi Greg, This is an interesting debate. As you might expect I disagree with you on the implications of many of your points, though everything you said is factual. Yes, Aang did go against the advice of the previous Avatars, and perhaps his choice was influenced by the fact he was a monk. However, the show makes it clear that the air nomads are more spiritually (and it is also implied morally) developed than the other cultures- this is the reason why they all had bending powers.

The previous Avatars were still human and flawed, and I do not think their advice to Aang should be used to determine what an Avatar's obligation is. In an interesting twist, even Raava, this universe's pure light spirit, is portrayed as being somewhat petulant in the origin story until she learns to trust Wan- so not even this angelic spirit-type character provides perfect moral guidance. Perhaps the show's most balanced character is Iroh, but his advice to Aang is quite opposed to the Guru Pathik's who is probably just as wise. Pathik might take up your side of this debate (given that he advised Aang not to try to rescue Katara in season 2 TLA), but I'm quite certain that Iroh would take my side, and he was Korra's principle guide in this episode. One of the hallmarks of this show and the previous series is how well they demonstrate that the line between good and evil is a false one- so obviously this ambiguity makes it difficult to morally judge the actions and obligations of the characters as well.

Still, while you are right that the avatar's role is to maintain balance, that does not justify the Avatar using sentient beings like Tenzin's daughter as instruments to achieving that balance. Balance is not and cannot ever built on callous sacrifice of others- this applies as much to our own world as it does the universe of this show. The Avatar is a Christ-like figure in the show's universe, a being that embodies tremendous power in a vulnerable human form. It is only by being able to feel pain and dependence that you can feel genuine compassion for others, and genuine compassion for others precludes using them as means for any end, no matter how noble that end might seem.

The purpose of the Avatar is to be that bridge- not only between the "material world and the spirit world" (which is really just a metaphor), but also between the cold, limitless expanse of the universe and each delicate but equally expansive (and priceless) living soul. If that link to "even" a single person is severed, even if to "save the world," the Avatar has failed his/her fundamental reason for existence.

Regarding your double-cross point, of course Unalaq would double-cross Korra, but by allowing herself to be manipulated by his blackmail, Korra gave Unalaq a reason to keep Tenzin's daughter alive until she can plan a rescue. She also provided a distraction to stop Unalaq from killing the girl. So what Korra did was the only thing she could have done in this situation to keep Tenzin's daughter alive.

This is an amendment to my comment 15 minutes ago, so please read that one first. I wanted to elaborate a bit on Iroh's spiritual lesson in this episode. He showed Korra that the only way to find herself was to help someone else- a tiny bird, even at significant danger to herself. In strict utilitarian terms, one mind find such advice foolish- why should the Avatar, on whom all humanity's future hope depends, risk her life on behalf so something as "insignificant" as a small bird? The answer is that that bird was in fact just as important as everything else in the universe put together. That's the lesson she carried forward in saving Jinora (and is also reflected in the dragonbird's own selfless actions at the very end).

The only true sacrifice any person can make is that of themselves. Show me someone who claims to suffer when they force others to pay for his/her own ambitions and I'll show you a individual who's callousness is only matched by his/her insincerity. This is the case no matter how seemingly altruistic those ambitions are claimed to be.

Dear God, you looked deep into that episode.

While I was ready to disagree with a lot of what your last post stated, and i still stand by much of what I stated.Your connection to Korra saving the bird as a lesson which influenced Korra's decision to save one life over many actually makes sense.

Bravo to you for picking on that. Now I have to go re-watch the episode.


I now wonder if later on Jinora will save Korra, and possibly everyone. Like the bird saved Korra.

I didn't feel this episode dragged at all but I can see why you'd think that it feels that way and that the story is being stretched; I think they could have extended the civil war aspect earlier in the book to make it more interesting and layered rather than rush it through.

As shown in the episode, Korra didn't have any power to fight Unalaq and Jinora would have died right there if she had said no.

There is another interesting debate. I believe Korra was near the already open portal. She could have sacrificed herself and Jinora by closing the portal and locking everyone in. Jinora dies, I assume Unalaq would starve eventually.

The Portal gets closed, the evil spirit is trapped another 10,000. The Avatar gets reborn.

Seem win/win.

Though not an interesting story, unless that was the very end of the story.

Hi Greg, Thanks for complementing my point about Iroh's dragonbird lesson, which you summarized nicely. It's pretty rare for people to ever complement each other's points during debates (even friendly ones like ours). I expect that the reason for your complement owes more to your open-mindedness than any skill of mine as a debater. In a conversation between a fool and a wise man, the wise man is invariably the one who listens and acknowledges his opponent's points more (that is what makes him wise!). I think it's a wonderful and rare characteristic of yours that I hope the people in your life value about you, because they are lucky. I guess so are you!

Anyway, I really enjoy exploring the philosophical depth of these shows, so it is neat to find someone in yourself that is similarly interested. I think you may be onto something regarding Jinora's role as more than a damsel in distress- as someone who may be instrumental in saving Korra or stopping Unalaq's plans.

However, just to clarify what I personally got out of Iroh's dragonbird lesson, I think it was to remind Korra how crucially important to maintain one's empathy and compassion for every single soul, no matter how grand and globally altruistic your objectives happen to be. I don't think it was necessarily a lesson specifically to tell Korra she must protect Jinora even at the risk of planetary annihilation, but it WAS a way of symbolically demonstrating how important personal relationships are, even for the Avatar and even during battles of epic significance. It's actually the exact same lesson he more explicitly told Aang when Aang was conflicted about his choice to leave his chakra training (and give up his all-important ability to control the Avatar state) in order to rescue Katara.

In other words, Iroh was helping Korra see that it is only through an intimate connection shared with a fellow traveler (the dragonbird in this case) that you can unlock the confidence, power, and motivation to save the world. While I think Korra's choice to protect Jinora is certainly related to that same principle, I expect she would have done that with or without the dragonbird lesson. Because she already IS connected to others, that is why she is a hero just like Aang, albeit one who still has a ways to go to realize her potential.

Greg, how would this be Win/Win? Tenzin's daughter doesn't get to live in this version of a "saved" universe. From her perspective, the entire universe is utterly destroyed!

You are right, for Jinora life is over. It is not a win for her, or those that love her. That however goes back to my debate that the Avatar does have a burden to carry. You have stated that the Avatar has to make compassionate choices, which I agree with. You also said that the avatar must look at each individual as having infinite value, which I disagree with. While it is up to the Avatar to feel the need to help those in need even sacrificing his or her own well being, It is also up to the Avatar to at time make choices for the better of all mankind.

In the case of choosing between Jinora's life, and letting out a spirit that will destroy the world, I believe it's the Avatar's duty to make the sacrifice of letting someone she loved die..

Remember also that in the Avatar universe, afterlife is not ambiguous. Jinora dying doesn't mean Jinora ending. However, if Vaatu breaks free he will no only destroy the physical world and all life on it, he will also seek to destroy the spiritual one too(I am making a bit of an assumption that he can do this).

The Lion turtles are no longer protecting people. Raava is living only as part of the Avatar's soul. The Avatar is the last thing that protects everyone. Its a small sacrifice to give up her life, and the life of one that she loves to keep Vaatu imprisoned for another 10000 years. She could have ended it right there. Even is she lives to fight another day, there is not guarantee she can beat Vaatu, but closing the portal from the inside would have guaranteed her victory.

I believe that you feel that the is no logical choice in the matter. That even the smallest life is worth that of the whole. I simply don't believe that. Now, that doesn't always mean that choosing the many over the few is the right thing to do in both a moral sense and the eventual outcome, but those choices still must be made.

I try.

I think we live in a world where no one listens or admits wrong anymore.

I like to argue lol, but I can be civil, I can listen to the other side, and I can admit when I and wrong.

And you are clearly a better writer than I am. I enjoy reading your posts. Even when you're wrong ;).

Discussions related to what saving Jinora's life
represents are interesting, but I don't think producers intended to give this kind of messages to us when Korra had to make a choice between closing the portal and saving Jinora. It seemed like closing the portal was not option there, and it wasn't something Korra even considered. It seemed more like Korra making decisions without thinking actually, This is why I think the situation
Korra was in is not really parallel to dilemmas Aang had to deal with. We saw Aang thinking, worrying before and after choosing Katara over mastering the avatar state, and trying to find a way to spare the fire lord's life. Korra's action,
on the other hand, seemed rather reckless, and no wonder it made some people think "Is it right that she chose Jinora over 10 000 years of peace?" That’s
because, Korra has made really bad decisions, and she usually doesn’t think very much. I actually thought, she saving Jinora shows her inherent good nature, because she didn’t even think for a second, she instantly accepted to help Jinora.

I totally disagree with this entire review. This episode was truly amazing. From its art to the plot line. It definitely left everyone on the edge of their seats. AND finally a action-packed episode that we have all been waiting for!

Hi Pianissimo, I agree with what you said here, really excellent points. I think TLA did a better job than LOK in really hashing out these sorts of moral decisions- and the fact that Korra is a less reflective character than Aang is largely the reason. That said, I really think that turning one's back on a little girl whose life is threatened would be so cold and unconnected that Aang, for all of his introspection, would not any more time considering this "option" as Korra did. BTW, it is worth noting from the final episodes of this season (this is not much of a spoiler) that Korra did concentrate on battling Unalaq when she re-entered the spirit world, rather than helping Tenzin find Jinora. So she did essentially make a choice to prioritize trying to save the world over saving one person. It's all a matter of timing and urgency, I guess.

Greg, this is beautifully argued. I particularly like what you stated in the final paragraph. Having a firm handle on moral principles is important, because in the heat of a moment they can guide us toward the right decision when we may not be thinking clearly. However, the principles themselves can never be a substitute for the choices we make on the ground- real life is too complicated to be farmed out to book of rules. At the end of the day, we must be able to live with our choices, and that's the only way to know if we have made the right decision. Based on what you have written here I think we are of the same opinion in this regard.

I have argued that our obligations lie in protecting the interests of every individual, but it would be foolish for me to argue that we should never consider the relative needs of a large group of people over those of a small one (or one person). Whether this particular situation constitutes such an example is a matter of debate here, but it is nice to see that we share some important common ground.

Thanks for saying you enjoy reading my posts, I feel the same likewise. Regarding our respective skills as writers, I doubt we can really conclude too much from a forum discussion like this. I like how you frame your arguments (the first paragraph of your most recent post is a good example), and you manage to be clear without belaboring your points as I (unfortunately) often tend to do.

So I finished the season.

And I was wrong, this season was great.

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