The latest episode of The Legend of Korra pays off before the first commercial break!

Though Unalaq insists that his troops coming ashore will only serve to foster the spiritual enrichment and unification of both Water Tribes, they’re still not very welcome by the southerners. Unalaq may technically be the chief of both tribes, but in the south he’s essentially a figurehead whom the southerners believe has no right to show up, throw his weight around, and tell them how to live their lives. Varrick, in his usual bombastic manner, can only see this ending in civil war and proposes they all get proactive in showing Unalaq that they are a sovereign nation and won’t be pushed around so easily.

As the Avatar, Korra tries to remain neutral in order to bring this conflict to a peaceful resolution, but when she discovers a group of radicals planning a strike against Unalaq, she believes her father is involved and goes to stop him before he does something he’ll regret. She manages to foil an attempt on Unalaq’s life and is relieved to discover that her father refused to be a part of it, but her relief is short-lived when Unalaq shows up at her parents’ home to arrest them for conspiring to assassinate him.

Meanwhile, when Jinora and Meelo’s teasing prompts Ikki to run away, Tenzin goes to look for her. Kya and Bumi come along to help, but it turns out Tenzin’s kids aren’t the only siblings who take issue with each other. Buttons are pushed, issues bubble to the surface, and we end up learning a lot about these three’s relationships with each other, how they saw their childhood very differently, and how Aang wasn’t always the best father. Tenzin, being the favorite son was completely blind to this, but his siblings weren’t and even though they’re all adults, practically senior citizens themselves, the pain of that is still very real.

Remember how I said last week that the premiere episodes were the kind that you can only appreciate once you’ve seen the whole season? Well, I was wrong, because before we even get to the first commercial break, they have totally paid off, if for nothing else, to set up this episode.

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The conflict between the Unalaq’s forces and the southerners is palpable and real, and Unalaq once again has very solid reasons for doing what he’s doing, reasons that aren’t entirely unlike those of Fire Lord Sozin, which… damn. Let’s all take a second to think about that.

I have to say, I still think Unalaq genuinely believes in the righteousness of his cause, which is admirable. But he also believes that he can do no wrong in its service, which just makes him all the more unsettling. The fact that he arrests his brother and sister-in-law when he knows full well that they wanted nothing to do with his assault just goes to show how willing he is to take out of the picture anyone he perceives as even a peripheral threat. I don’t think Korra will stand for this, though. Impressed by her uncle though she may be, I sincerely doubt she’ll put up with her parents being jailed and put on trial, and she is the Avatar. Push comes to shove, Unalaq’s got nothing on her… unless perhaps some spirit-bending on his part could unleash some nasties on her that she isn’t skilled in fighting. Hmm…

Tenzin and his siblings are AMAZING FOREVER and I cannot get enough of them. I love that Aang wasn’t the perfect father, and totally I believe both sides of the story. I believe that Aang loved all his children equally, but due to Tenzin’s cultural responsibilities and the nature of their bond, he gave Tenzin a lot more time and attention than the others. It takes a moment for one to stop and realize that the B-story of this episode is essentially a self-induced therapy session between three adult siblings who discuss very harsh realities about attention, emotional equity, and seriously flawed parenting  on what is—at least nominally—a kids’ show. And the most amazing part is that it’s never boring. The issues are complicated, everyone has a point, and every bit of information comes across in a way that is organic and never feels forced, the story never required to stop or even slow down to service the exposition.

This episode feels like a complete return to form. There isn’t a weak spot in it. The writing was solid, strong, and made an intense, addictive, satisfying half-hour out of what essentially amounted to political discourse and family therapy. How many shows can pull that off? This episode really had that heart-pounding, adrenaline rush that marks Korra at its best, making the weaknesses of the premiere already seem like a hazy memory. Perhaps all the waterbending made it a bit misty in here. The Northern and Southern Water Tribes are on the brink of civil war, you can just smell martial law around the corner, and both Korra’s and Tenzin’s families are coming apart at the seams. And all of this in the third episode? Fuck it. I’m in. I am so in.

For a more in-depth look at this episode and Korra in general, keep your eyes open for my full analysis of “Civil Wars, Part 1,” which should go live within the next few days. See you there!

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4.5 out of 5