Korra and Jinora get a good look at the Spirit World all around them. Korra, never quite comfortable with all things spiritual doesn’t quite trust the locale. Her fears are validated when a herd of ornery groundhog spirits create a massive sinkhole, sending the girls down into some underwater cavern where they get swallowed by a massive prehistoric-looking reptile spirit, carried along a river that corkscrews around the cavern (gravity be damned), and ultimately separated.
Jinora finds herself back where she started and, with the help of Furry Foot, one of her spirit friends from last week’s episode, she happens upon the great Spirit Library of Wan Shi Tong. Being the adorable little bookworm she is, she immediately recognizes it from her studies, recognizes Wan Shi Tong and dazzles him with some knowledge, earning her permission to look around. Hector Elizondo reprises his role from Avatar as bitchy knowledge spirit Wan Shi Tong, and I love every second of it. There’s even a reference to Professor Zei. Turns out hitchhiking to the Spirit World didn’t make him immortal, but at least he got to read as much as he could until he died. Things seem copacetic, and Jinora is able to deliver some new but not terribly necessary details about Harmonic Convergence (props to the writers for bothering though), but then Unalaq shows up and it turns out his professed and “proven” friendship of the spirits has got the great strigine librarian in his pocket. Duuuuuuude.
Meanwhile, Korra regresses to the age at which we first met her in the pilot (about four years old) and is even voiced by the same actress. Lonely and frightened, the small child’s fears are soon soothed by a figure holding a lantern and I need to hold my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming because IROH! UNCLE IROH! UNCLE… FUCKING… IROH! Apparently, Iroh decided to retire to the Spirit World after his “work was done” in our realm, and I totally buy it and everything is wonderful forever. Yeah, it’s Greg’s Baldwin’s watered down Iroh, but he does a damn fine job of approximating the late Mako’s voice, and I’ll take it. Iroh does what he does best: he serves up a little tea and wisdom and sends Korra on the path to the Spirit Portals.
Korra is about to close the portal when Vaatu calls to her, addressing her simply as Raava (there are some interesting implications to this, but I’m holding my tongue for now). He gloats and taunts in a standard villainous manner, but it’s no less creepy, and just as soon as Korra unleashes some of her trademark bravado on him, Unalaq shows up with a new type of spiritbending we haven’t seen, twisting a double helix dark water around Jinora, basically threatening to destroy her soul if Korra doesn’t open the other portal. Korra, of course, can’t bear to sacrifice her mentor’s ten-year-old daughter (as well as her surrogate sister and spiritual granddaughter; God, I love this family), so she opens the other portal. Vaatu’s tree gets all red and glowy, and while he is not released, there is bad juju all around this.
Korra gets a bit of an ass whupping, since she doesn’t have any bending in the Spirit World. However, Unalaq, who entered physically rather than via astral projection, can still waterbend, and things looks pretty bad until the dragon bird spirit that Korra befriended flies her away. She manages to return to the physical world, but Jinora is not with her. She won’t wake up. The look on Tenzin’s face is enough to bring Korra to tears.
An extraordinary episode. I mean, hot damn. There was mythology, there was continuity, there were callbacks to Avatar. The pacing was excellent, the visuals effectively conveyed the dreamy, shifting landscape of the Spirit World. The way perspective would change within a shot had such a creepy, otherworldly quality. It felt truly distinct from the physical world.
This episode was incredibly balanced in the way it handled its storylines, and it didn’t even bother with Republic City. I appreciate that. While not every character in this show get equal screentime, it is worth nothing that after an episode or two where we got the Republic City characters, they’re getting a break so we can focus on Tenzin’s group.
I still feel like there’s something more going on with Unalaq and I want to know what, but I think they’re doing a fine job of conveying that without letting the cat out of the bag just yet. I just know there’s more to his history with Vaatu, and I think it will shine a lot of light on his character. Even though Unalaq was already scheming in the flashbacks of his youth, his demeanor was different; he was devout, but not quite the zealot he is now. I think that Vaatu’s influence has corrupted him more and more over time, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that story is revealed.
The twists and turns the characters are taking…I mean, making Korra, who is like a daughter to Tenzin, indirectly responsible for the jeopardy in which the life of Jinora, his actual daughter, is placed…that is just some high stakes shit. That is legit conflict. That is a nutritious meal.
What struck me the most about this episode was the irony that that the episode to deal the most with the wonky WackyLand that is the Spirit World, the place where thought can influence the landscape, where weather changes based on your mood, where mountains melt and colors taste like ice cream…the episode we spend in this crazy-ass place makes more sense than any other this season. Everything that happened, how each character behaved, even the fate of poor old Professor Zei (eh, he probably loved every minute of it) just made perfect sense.
This episode developed character, story, and mythology, and not only did it manage to up the stakes, Korra ends up doing exactly the opposite of what she came to the Spirit World to do, and she still loses. And it was also great because Uncle Iroh. Just…because Uncle Iroh.
Hell in a handbasket, was this good! Five stars. No question. Keep it coming, Team Avatar. As for the rest of you, we’ll meet back here next week for the first of the two double-features that will finish out Book Two: Spirits, “Night of a Thousand Stars” and “Harmonic Convergence.”
Wait a minute… “Harmonic Convergence “ isn’t the finale? Interesting. Very.