The Legend of Korra: Beyond the Wilds review

After last week's clip show nonsense, The Legend of Korra gets back on track with "Beyond the Wilds." Here's Mike's review...

This Legend of Korra review contains spoilers.

When several people including Jinora get trapped in the Spirit World, Korra attempts to get in to free them, but isn’t able to cross over. She merely enters a vision where she relives her fight with Zaheer. Realizing she needs to finally confront him, she goes to his prison in the mountains, finding help from the last source she’d expect, Zaheer himself. Disgusted with the rumors he’s heard about Kuvira, Zaheer finds himself aligned with Korra’s interests and helps her to enter the Spirit World, where she reunites with Raava and frees Jinora and the others, finally moving past her block completely and returning to full strength, both as Korra and as the Avatar.

Meanwhile, Raiko calls a summit of world leaders (though the leaders of the Water Tribes are conspicuously absent) to discuss what to do about Kuvira. With both Tenzin and Fire Lord Izumi reluctant to commit any acts of international aggression, which at this point would still be unprovoked, Raiko’s not free to do much, frustrating Lin and Opal, with whom the newly returned Bolin is trying to set things straight. His and Varrick’s warning about Kuvira’s spirit vine super-weapon only prompts Raiko to pursue whatever course of action he can, which means forging an uneasy truce between Asami and Varrick.

You know… where are the representatives from the Water Tribes during these proceedings? Shouldn’t Eska, Desna, and Tonraq be there? I wonder if there’s some reason they’re not. As for the leaders who are present… I find Fire Lord Izumi’s position to be very reasonable. Given the Fire Nation’s history, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to jump into a war without sufficient cause, yet she’s not a complete isolationist. She’s willing to take actions which she considers appropriate. It seems Zuko raised her well. I like Izumi, and I hope we get to see more of her before the end.

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Also very understandable is Lin and Opal’s position on all this. They have a very personal stake in what’s going on. This is their family, and it’s really great to see how involved Lin has become with her family in the three years between Books Three and Four. We saw the beginning of this at the end of last season, but you can really feel how close she’s grown with her sister, brother-in-law, nephews, and especially Opal, who is based out Republic City. She probably spends more time with Opal than anyone, so it’s great to see that relationship in play.

As for Opal, it’s good that she’s not just giving Bolin a pass because he’s sorry. Sometimes someone being sincere in their regret isn’t enough to patch things up, and I like that he’s going to have to work for it. This is carried further with the whole sweeping gesture thing. A picnic is sweet and all, but it’s not going to be enough to make up for the damage done, and the fact that Bolin thought that it might do just that is pretty insulting.

I definitely love the conflict this season between Bolin and Opal. It makes loads of sense for both of them, and it’s understandable why Bolin made the decisions he made. His actions over the past three years all seem to have been motivated by his desire to grow up and get his life together, to find a purpose and really become a man. All the more reason that this picnic bullshit feels like a step back. Seriously, after all he’s been through, both with Opal and before she came into the picture, did he really think this would be an appropriate, much less effective, means of dealing with the situation?

The subject of Bolin’s maturity has been a running theme throughout this entire series. One the one hand, his boyish awkwardness and enthusiasm can be charming, but on the other, while he is often able to recognize that he’s done something wrong, he just as often lacks the self-awareness and insight to understand why it was wrong or what steps are necessary to correct it. And I have to say that at this stage of the game I’m a little disappointed that we’re still dealing with this. Seeing him play the straight man while paired up with Varrick showed that he could still be funny and even a little goofy, but that he’d really matured and gotten his head on straight.

When he went back to save those refugees in “Reunion” he showed the same level of honor he’s always had, but it was driven by a profound sense of responsibility. He was a still Bolin, but he was a different Bolin. I’d venture to say a better Bolin.

It’s like when your wisecracking friend joins the army. When he comes back, having seen some shit, he very well may still be a wisecracker, but there’s something else there under the surface, something a little more solid and focused than before. And you can see that in Bolin, but the second he’s back in Republic City he regresses to his Book One personality, all goofy and clueless and fumbling. Unless this is a character thing that’s going to actually be addressed, I take that as a problem. And truth be told, even if he gets his shit together by the end… he’s done that before. There is nothing to suggest that he won’t just regress again ad infinitum.

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It probably would have been better for him to have handled this entire Opal situation in a more mature way from the get-go, still getting it wrong and unable to fix it within the span of a single episode, but through a more insightful, adult approach, one that shows how he’s learned from his experiences. What Mike and Bryan are doing with Bolin just feels like falling back on the easiest means of handling his character, which is to keep him in the goofy box. Guys, Varrick performs that function far better than Bolin ever did. Let’s let the kid grow up, huh? I will say that his involvement in Lin and Opal’s plan to rescue their family, in addition to being extremely resonant, considering he just escaped and that it will directly address the mess he made, will afford him the opportunity to demonstrate just how much he’s grown. Let’s hope the writers take it.

And finally, in regard to the Avatar herself…

The means by which Korra proved both to Tenzin and herself that she was capable of more than going a few rounds of earthbending Whack-a-Mole with Naga was fairly clever. To have Jinora trapped in the Spirit World again definitely plays on Tenzin’s fears, and he’s doubly as reluctant to trust Korra with Jinora’s rescue since not only is Korra not at the top of her game, but she was responsible for Jinora’s last detention in the Spirit World. This was a great way to get Tenzin squarely back on Korra’s side. Freeing Jinora and the others would not only get his daughter back to safety, but would prove that Korra was capable of doing so, implying that whatever block she’d been experiencing had been eliminated.

Both these subtle references to Jinora’s capture and seeing Korra tote out Unalaq’s spiritbending technique (along with its accompanying musical cue) after all this time were very effective callbacks to Book Two. Touches like these definitely help to sell the finality of this season by layering elements from all the previous seasons, showing their cumulative effect.

I have a feeling spiritbending will have some role to play in the climax of the series. The spirit vine superweapon has become a major plot point, and this reintroduction of spiritbending (which Korra has attempted on the vines before) would be a pretty huge loose thread to just leave dangling. It was really nice to see Raava again. Still wondering, though, about that Vaatu-esque bass chord with the Spirit Vines. Coincidence? Maybe, but I hope not.

Even before the trailer for Book Four was released, I suspected that Korra would visit Zaheer in prison at some point in the final season. Not only was I right, but it was handled better than I could ever have dreamed. One thing I’ve always loved about Zaheer as a villain was that he truly believed he was doing what was best for the world. Everything he did was motivated by a sense of altruism, a warped kind of altruism, but altruism nonetheless. His actions were never petty or selfish, he wasn’t trying to rule the world, he had no real personal agenda; he had a view of what he believed was best for the world and all the people in it, and he made many personal sacrifices to see that vision realized. And in that sense, I’ve always seen Zaheer as an incredibly moral character. It’s an alternative morality to which he adheres, one I personally think is bullshit, but he does adhere to it. His actions are consistent, and while one may not agree with them, what motivates those actions is ultimately noble: a desire to do right by the world.

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So, given all that, it’s not surprising that Zaheer (who is kept behind an airlock… saw what you did there, Bryke) is willing to help Korra. The man, while an extremist, is not foaming at the mouth. He’s not insane and not beyond reason. He sides with Korra here, rather than gloating over her failures and difficulties with Kuvira, because Kuvira stands in such direct opposition to his philosophy that the thought of her success truly saddens him and makes him fear for the world he loves. And while he’s clearly not above fucking with Korra a little bit, his help is ultimately sincere. When he gives it to her straight, that blaming him is just a cheap deflection and a means of comforting herself, he’s right. Doesn’t change the fact that he’s a criminal and deserves to be in chains, but I’ve always found it not only helpful but generally pragmatic to give the devil his due.

Korra needing to face Zaheer in chains to tell him he has no power over her so that she can feel that he has no power of her is pointedly absurd. Methinks the lady doth protest too much, and Zaheer ain’t giving her an inch of bullshit to ride out. If he had no power over her, she wouldn’t need to tell him badly enough to go so far out of her way to do it. And I love, love, love the message that recovering from a trauma doesn’t mean forgetting what happened, but rather accepting it. To forget it puts it back out in the ether, some nebulous threat forever floating in the mists of memory, unpredictable and uncontrolled. However, by accepting it as part of your past, you face it, give it form, and make it a part of you. You show it its place, and in doing that, its place no longer becomes the driver’s seat. You are free to move on.

The idea that forgetting something makes it go away or robs it of its power is so pervasive, even with something as seemingly benign as the expression “forget your troubles.” You shouldn’t forget your troubles. Forgetting them doesn’t mean they won’t be there, just that you’re fighting an enemy blind. You don’t forget your troubles. You deal with them so they’re dealt with. Forgetting is a cop out, often a deus ex machina used to avoid the work of characters cleaning up their own mess. So, I love that Korra not only refuses to forget but claims that refusal as healthy and a boon to her healing process.

In case you guys can’t tell, I’ve had a LOT of therapy.

Altogether, this episode was incredibly strong. Last week, I said the writers would need to hit the ground running, and they did. We got Korra finally clearing out the last of her block (one false resolution was fine, but this one better be the real deal); Bolin and Varrick’s glorious and, in Bolin’s case, brief return to Republic City, complete with new missions for both of them; conspiracy within the Beifong family; political strategy; the return of spiritbending; the return of Raava; THE RETURN OF ZAHEER; and some sweet callbacks to Book Two. And oh yeah, Mako is… around. Sure, why not? We now have nine episodes down, and four to go, and I’m aching to see what happens next!

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4 out of 5