The Legend of Korra Book Two Finale Review: Darkness Falls/Light in The Dark
Need a detailed recap and analysis of the two-part Legend Of Korra finale? You've come to the right place! There are spoilers ahead, so beware!
Korra’s spectacularly choreographed battle with Vaatu, Unalaq, and eventually the two of them merged into the Dark Avatar, crosses back and forth between the Spirit and Material Worlds. Mako and Bolin, meanwhile, square off against Eska and Desna and are pretty much taken out of the fight until Bolin hams it up about his feelings for Eska and how he was scared before but regrets he’ll never get to be with her again. Realizing that their father is kind of COMPLETELY FUCKING CRAZY and doesn’t value their lives at all, the twins free Bolin and Mako, who congratulates his brother on his best performance yet, but a stray tear reveals Bolin may not have been acting all that much.
Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi’s search for Jinora leads them to the Fog of Lost Souls, a sentient fog (spirit) that infects the minds of its captives with their own worst memories until they go mad. Kya and Bumi succumb and wander off. Tenzin’s own fears about failing to carry on Aang’s hope for the future start to get the best of him, when his father’s spirit appears and assures him that he is not a reflection of him and shouldn’t try to be. He has his own destiny and his own identity. Armed with this affirmation, Tenzin clears the fog just long enough to find his daughter and siblings and get them the hell out of there. The reunion is short-lived, however, as Jinora senses danger and goes to help Korra.
The two Avatars’ smackdown takes a brutal turn when Unalaq opens a freakin’ fissure in the ice and nearly crushes his own niece inside of it, but Raava stokes Korra’s fighting spirit, putting her back in the fight. The two come to a stalemate, when Vaatu emerges from Unalaq, reaches into Korra and pulls out Raava. He proceeds to thrash the hell out of her, and with every hit, Korra feels more and more of her past lives disintegrate, all the way back to Avatar Wan, until Raava and the Avatar line are destroyed. Without the light spirit, darkness grows unchecked, transforming Vaatu (and Unalaq, who has been completely consumed) into a giant, purple abomination of Gainax-esque proportions. He flies off to God knows where to do some damage as part of his coming out party. Hot damn.
Korra delivers the bad news to Tenzin: the Avatar cycle has been broken, her connection to her past lives has been severed, and she is the last Avatar. He offers the wisdom he gained in the Spirit World. She needs to let go of who she thinks she is and embrace who she truly is. She must connect with her inner spirit. Having never had much spirituality to work with in the first place, Korra doubts this solution, but what has she got to lose? Tenzin shows her the Tree of Time, which, long before it was Vaatu’s prison, was a place where the ancients would connect to the great cosmic energy of the universe.
Inside the tree, Korra sees flashes of her own life, her own spirit, which has always been unyielding and fierce. Tenzin reminds her that before Wan was the Avatar, he was just an ordinary person too. He became a legend because of who he was, not what he was. He repeats the lion turtle’s mantra: don’t bend the elements, but the energy within yourself. Korra meditates her way to that giant spirit form that Aang saw back in “The Guru,” only she succeeds in connecting with it. Her spirit leaves her body, and while her physical self stays put in the Spirit World, her spiritual self grows into a giant to face Vaatu and heads out to the Physical World. A horde of dark spirits approach, and Team Avatar form a defensive line to protect Korra’s body with a little surprise help from Eska and Desna, who are so done with spirits.UnaVaatu crashes into Yue Bay, and trudges toward Republic City Godzilla style. President Raiko, Chief Beifong, and General Iroh lead the defense against him, but he’s a giant dark spirit. What are they going to do? When Giant Spirit Korra appears, she and UnaVaatu throw down. She gets her yin-yang on and attempts to pull out the piece of Raava that exists within him, but he doesn’t break so easily. In fact, he starts darkening Korra’s spirit with his double helix of evil. It takes the added strength and light of Jinora to free Korra from Vaatu’s clutches and ignite the fragment of Raava within him. Korra reaches into his chest, pulls it out, and finally succeeds in spiritbending, using Unalaq’s own technique against him to turn dark into light, vanquishing Vaatu…at least for another ten millennia. Spirit Korra and Raava return to the Spirit World, where they merge once again, and though they are able to initiate a new Avatar cycle, Korra’s link to her past lives is gone, presumably forever.
Korra delivers news of Unalaq’s demise to her cousins, who aren’t at all saddened by it. In the end, he turned out to be a raging schmuck who managed to be simultaneously abusive and neglectful, and they won’t miss him. She then goes to close the spirit portals, but stops herself, realizing that for all his corruption, Unalaq was right about one thing: Wan was wrong to force humans and spirits to live apart. So, in her first act as the re-empowered Avatar, Korra declares that the spirit portals will remain open, and both humans and spirits will be free to travel between the worlds as they wish. Harmonic Convergence caused a shift in the planet’s energy, and the world—both worlds—are now entering a new age.
There’s a reason (aside from massive sleep deprivation) that I waited to write this review. This finale was a freakin’ roller coaster and left me so emotionally exhausted that I had nothing to give. What I wanted, I got, and though I knew there was warning of a price to pay, I had no idea it would be the Avatar line, and I spent a good chunk of last weekend processing actual grief for Aang…and Roku…and Kyoshi…and Kuruk…and my beloved Yangchen (don’t ask me why I love her; I just do)…and even for Wan, whom we’d only just met and had barely gotten to know.
There was such a tone of finality, and the fact that Tenzin encountered Aang in the Spirit World and got that bit of closure takes on a whole new tone in the context of it possibly being Aang’s last appearance outside of flashback. Because it was left unclear. Are the spirits of the previous Avatars still out there in the ether or perhaps the Spirit World, and it’s only Korra’s connection to them that’s been severed or are those spirits just destroyed? Are Aang and Roku and the others truly gone from our world? If so, the loss of them is nothing short of profound. After all, while they didn’t make a lot of appearances or have a lot of lines, their presence was all part of the backbone of Avatar: The Last Airbender. They were there throughout the whole journey, their historical actions informed the foundations of that world. I’m just…I’m looking forward to seeing where the writers go with this, and my mind is open because it was done so well, but I’m hurting people. I’m seriously hurting.
That aside, this was an incredibly enjoyable episode, and a proper finale that took its time with its denouement in a way that Book One didn’t, ironic considering that Book One’s finale was written to be the end, period, and Book Two’s was left somewhat open with knowledge of two more books to follow.
[related article: The Legend of Korra Book One – The Legend so Far]
These last two episodes were brilliantly paced and plotted, with twists I did not see coming. I knew the Dark Avatar angle was on the horizon, but I never dreamed that the Avatar cycle would be destroyed. Jinora managed to factor into the final battle in a way that felt organic and smart, and Pema’s “Be careful, sweetie!” from the tower on Air Temple Island was just so perfect and ridiculous, because what else do you say to the spirit form of your eleven-year-old daughter when she descends upon two titanic spirits engaged in an apocalyptic battle for the fate of the world?
The story of the Water Tribes’ Civil War was brought to a proper close, with Korra declaring the two tribes allies, but the South once again an independent nation, now under the leadership of her father, Tonraq, who has been appointed by the Council of Elders as the new chief. Ironically, this leaves the Northern Tribe without a chief, a position that should by all rights go to Tonraq. I suppose theoretically the title would pass to Desna, but I just don’t see that working out, so where the Northern Tribe goes from here is a mystery, hopefully one we won’t spend too much time on, but a brief explanation in Book Three would be nice.
We do get some brief appearances by the always welcome voice of Shiro Shinobi and, of course, our favorite biz-bender, Varrick. With widespread destruction ravaging Republic City, Varrick exploits an opportunity (his greatest skill) to break out of prison. Of course, he wouldn’t dream of leaving Zhu Li behind. She has to do the thing! Okay, writers. You used that freebie I gave you. Varrick is out of jail and back in the game, and I don’t care how you did it. It’s done. I’m happy. Boom.
I do commend the writers on utilizing Korra’s spirit form for the final battle. While the episodes preceding this one were great, I was a little irked by the fact that, starting with “Beginnings,” spirits were now depicted as vulnerable to the physical elements. This bothered me quite a bit, especially since it was emphasized so heavily in the season premiere that spiritual energy was something you could only fight with more spiritual energy. And I suppose there’s some wiggle room there, but I would have been massively disappointed if, in the end, she was able to just fall back on her classic (and admittedly thoroughly enjoyable) brute physicality rather than the fruits of some kind of spiritual growth. So, when the thesis of this season was for Korra’s spiritual self, specifically hers and not Raava, to defeat UnaVaatu by using Unalaq’s own technique against him, I threw up my hands and testified.
And Korra wasn’t the only one whose spiritual growth was noted. The fact that know-it-all Tenzin realized that the reason he’s had so much trouble mentoring her was that he had some growth of his own to do was perfect. As for Jinora, I cannot wait to see where she goes from here, considering that spirits are now free to roam the Material World.
This episode was amazing, but it’s core content was almost upstaged by the loads of delicious fan service, all of it related in one way or another to Tenzin’s journey through the spirit world. First he and his siblings encounter a surly scorpion spirit voiced by none other than Princess Azula herself, Grey DeLisle. Then they later encounter a talking spirit mushroom, also voiced by DeLisle. Then they encounter Uncle Iroh, who offers to lead them out of the Spirit World, and though they decline, refusing to leave without Jinora, you can see that this reunion is very emotional not just for the audience (because who doesn’t love some Iroh?) but for the three children of Aang, who haven’t seen their father’s old friend since they were actually children. All this, and then while in the Fog of Lost Souls, the writers illustrate just what this spiritual prison does to people with the most unexpected cameo of all time, none other than Avatar’s Zhao, who was last seen getting his ass whooped by the Ocean Spirit. I always assumed he just drowned. Apparently not, but seventy years of delirium has been no kinder. And we top it all off with Tenzin quoting the lion turtle’s words from “Sozin’s Comet.”
Alas, I would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the romance factor, so let’s just get to it. Bolin…ah the dilemma of Bolin. So, it looks like I got what I asked for. Ginger has just disappeared and with her all memory of Bolin’s dabbling in rapey male entitlement. I cannot say I’m sorry. Let Ginger go gently into that abyss of forgotten characters so that we can all move past this. I am aware of the irony of my intense distaste for everything about that dynamic and yet laying the burden of fixing it on Ginger’s disappearance when Bolin was the perpetrator, but he’s a main character and she was a one-dimensional plot device, so there it is. I have to say I just do not understand the point of that whole thing, especially if we were going to have Bolin show some genuine emotion for Eska in the end, even if they decided not to make another go of things. I thought for sure that the twins’ brief trip to Republic City in “Peacekeepers” would have afforded Eska and Bolin the opportunity to further develop the conflict between them, but apparently not. A pity, since that would have been cleaner, more enjoyable, and far less icky than what we got.
As for Korra and Mako, well, he finally came clean and told her that he’d broken up with her, which she already knew (her memory fully restored while inside the Tree of Time), and she shows actual growth here, not throwing a punch or a hissy fit, but by reacting like a mature young woman, hearing him out and coming to the conclusion that the two of them just don’t work as a couple. They admit they’ll always love each other, but that it may have to be as friends, and we come back to romance material that is, like, a thousand times more interesting than whatever that interlude with Asami was.
Though the season had an admittedly uneven first half, it did pull it together by the middle to ramp up to an incredible, deeply enjoyable, and emotionally powerful finale that gave every character a moment to shine (well, almost every character; Asami got shafted again). It told a good story, it paid off its narrative debts and then some, and it set the stage for a lot of really interesting possibilities for next season. Next time, we’ll take a brief look back at Book Two: Spirits as a complete piece and, based on what snippits we have, make some predictions for Book Three: Change.
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