This Legend of Korra review contains spoilers.
After considering all strategies and plans of attack, Korra decides to surrender herself to Zaheer to save the airbenders. Not willing to just give her up, a three-pronged attack is proposed. Korra will meet with Zaheer, while Lin, Su, her metalbenders, and Tonraq head up the cliffside as back-up. While this is going down, Mako and Bolin will treat with Ghazan to secure the airbenders. Naturally, nothing goes quite as planned.
The airbenders are actually in another location, but by the time Mako and Bolin realize this, Ghazan traps them and a battered Tenzin in the temple as he lavabends it to kill them. They barely make it out, surviving only by the last minute development of Bolin’s own lavabending abilities and Kai’s arrival on his baby bison to give them a ride to safety. The Northern Air Temple, however, is destroyed. Meanwhile, Korra faces off with Zaheer, who seems on the edge of defeat, when the revelation of P’Li’s demise severs his final earthly tie and allows him to unlock an airbending technique that has lain dormant for millennia: flight. With this ability, he carries Korra off to enact the final phase of his plan.
This episode was a perfect build on the previous week’s entry. The plot continued to gain momentum without sacrificing the character moments and true emotion that make Korra what it is. Nearly everyone was utilized well, and those who weren’t had really hit their sweet spot last week, so it’s not like they didn’t get a grand finale for the season, it just already happened.
The scene between Zaheer and P’Li in the meditation chamber works on so many levels. While it finally gave us some insight into P’Li with what little backstory we’ve gotten on any of the villains, it also gave some texture to their relationship, Zaheer’s only true earthly attachment. It does this in the very scene that sets up the final scene, where Zaheer “lets go his earthly tether, enters the void empty, and becomes wind.” It’s a small scene, but incredibly potent.
The emergence of Bolin’s lavabending was incredibly satisfying and so much more interesting than having him finally succeed at metalbending. In a way, Ghazan’s very existence was a means of setting up this eventual development for Bolin, and in fact all their interactions have dropped hints to Bolin’s new skill. That’s just smart writing! And I also appreciate that Su didn’t downplay this development because it wasn’t her extra skill. She was never interested in Bolin metalbending, just in him achieving this potential she knew he had, and I appreciate how true to her own beliefs she is. It’s not just lip service.
The treatment of Su overall in this episode made me very happy. There was some theorizing online that she was also in cahoots with the Red Lotus, and while I could certainly see the textual basis for that theory, I would have been epically pissed off about it. Not so much because I have a problem with characters disappointing me – – Zuko’s backslide at the end of Book Two: Earth was at once one of the most well set up and most surprising plot twists I’ve ever seen, and I loved where it took his character – – just because I think the shock of Su turning out to be a villain wouldn’t have been worth everything it destroyed.
So much of Lin’s development this season had to do with her accepting the idea of complexity, of divergent points of view that might contradict one another and both still be valid. This is so far outside her comfort zone, especially in regard to her family, and she grew by leaps and bounds. And if Su had turned out to be in league with the Red Lotus, then it would have made Lin right all along, it would have validated her black-and-white way of thinking, her stubbornness, her self-righteousness, and in that scenario, Lin would go back to her old way of thinking, probably for the rest of her life. It would have also basically endorsed the idea that people can’t change after all; once a juvenile delinquent, always a juvenile delinquent. It would have subverted all the character development between the Beifong sisters and violated the theme of the season: change.
Lin and Su’s story comes full circle, having taken them from sisters to strangers and now sisters again, Lin especially, being finally able to tell her sister that she loves her before they team up to defeat P’Li in an encounter that could have taken either or both of their lives. Luckily, it turns out Su is just as bad-ass as her sister, and together they… well… let’s just say it was a pretty intense fight and P’Li really lost her head.
You know, Zaheer is acting pretty chill for a guy whose girlfriend just blew her own fucking face off, but he is one Zen motherfucker, so I can’t say I’m surprised. Seriously, though, while he is calm and collected and undeterred from proceeding with his plan, you can hear the grief in his voice. It’s subtle, but definitely there, and Henry Rollins, whom I was already fond of, gets a whole new level of respect from me.
And now we see what that mandala from the Book Three trailers was: the symbol of the Red Lotus. That is one hell of a plant, Korra Creative Team. And so now Korra is chained to the cavern walls, suspended in mid-air and completely unaware that her father is alive. She struggles and breathes some fire but she’s not going anywhere. And then, Zaheer brings “the poison.”
There were some other nice touches in this episode. The mention of Lord Zuko’s influence on Korra’s decision shows that they have truly connected in this life, which likely resonates with Korra all the more now that Aang’s spirit is lost to her. Her moments with Tonraq were honest and vulnerable while managing a surprising degree of restraint, and they reminded us of the strong bond between father and daughter before he appears to be killed. We later learn he hasn’t been, but Korra doesn’t.
Another nice touch was Su’s mention of Opal, who I found to be a sweet and potentially interesting character, but once she left for Air Temple Island and was pretty much absent, I wondered what exactly her function would be. And while she may come into her own more in Book Four, it’s clear now that her purpose in Book Three was more or less to give Su as personal stake in the finale, enough of one to make her leave Zaofu and bring some of her best fighters including Kuvira (we’ll talk about her more in the next review) along for the ride.
And yes, the little brother in me felt immensely gratified by Kai’s contributions to Team Avatar’s escape from the Northern Air Temple and his intel on the other airbenders’ (and thus likely Korra’s) location after being shut down by all the adults. My issues are so transparent, but I’ve made my peace with it. On the matter of Kai, while he has a role to play in the following episode, it’s really here that his arc, especially his arc with Mako and Bolin reaches its inevitable conclusion, and not in a saccharine way. Mako apologizes for going hard on Kai, who tells him it’s okay since he probably deserved it, and then…Mako still doesn’t let him off the hook. They’re cool and everything, but he’s not going to bullshit. Kai was a pain in the ass, and it’s best that he knows it.
I am so pumped for the final episode of this season. I have to admit I came to this one with my doubts, but the pacing has been excellent, with loads of pay-off along the way. And there’s only more to come.