At the Northern Air Temple, Tenzin begins the cultural education of the new airbenders, but runs into some problems when they don’t adjust as quickly to their new lifestyle as he had expected. Meanwhile, Jinora and Kai stumble upon a sky bison trapping operation and are taken captive, forcing the airbenders to get their shit together and save them.
This episode was considerable lighter in tone and content than the last few. It’s a breather episode, which is not to say it isn’t good. After all the emotional intensity of the last few installments, this breather ep came right on schedule. What struck me the most about it was how well it balanced the characters and made use of them. Every speaking role, even the minor ones, served a purpose.
The main players here were Tenzin, Bumi, Jinora, and Kai. Korra’s rather brief appearance in the episode was to offer some advice to Tenzin (as well as update him on all the developments in Zaofu) via radio about how to better command the new recruits’ attention. Except the perfectly-named Otaku, who was already an Air Acolyte and thus always offers his full attention and raises his hand for every question. Perhaps Bumi would have some insight, having been a leader of men and women all throughout his career. Tenzin naturally takes Bumi’s advice and goes about it all wrong, cracking down on the new airbenders in a very un-airbender way. It’s subtle, but with every episode, we get more and more examples of how airbending was possibly the only thing Tenzin had in common with his father, as both his sibling have more of their father. Tenzin is an airbender, but in temperament he actually resembles his mother more strongly.
We can see that Tenzin is a better listener than he was only a year ago, quicker to hear others out and acknowledge his own mistakes, but he’s still a control freak, and his first impulse is to force everyone to do things his way and dismiss dissent. The theme of this season is incredibly on point within each episode, and this one really seems to be about how slow Tenzin is to change. We can see his progress from “Welcome to Republic City” to here, but it’s incredibly gradual and not without some backsliding. To be fair, the guy is fifty-two. The fact that he’s still open to changing at all is pretty impressive, considering how set most people are in their ways by their thirties. I’m certainly no exception. And it’s not just that Tenzin is slow to change himself; he has trouble accepting change in the world around him. He has trouble accepting that Jinora is growing up, that the Air Nation may never resemble what it did in his father’s childhood. And so ironically, he expects everyone else to change overnight to suit him. Doesn’t work that way, dude.
This is pointed out to him when Pema and the rest of his family arrive at the Air Temple, that just because they’re airbenders, it doesn’t automatically make them Air Nomads. We don’t really get a lot of scenes of Tenzin and Pema alone, and we certainly don’t get much on her backstory, so it was nice to hear about how shewent straight from growing up in her parents’ home to living on Air Temple Island, training to be an Air Acolyte, and how she had to overcome some culture shock in the process. I happen to really love Tenzin and Pema as a couple. You really believe these two have a history and a connection, even just through little looks they give to one another. Props to the animators for that.
Meanwhile, the flirtation between Jinora and Kai continues to blossom, and part of that is Kai really getting Jinora to acknowledge the level of her abilities. Sure some of it is the flattery of a smitten tween, but nothing Kai says is false. Jinora is essentially an airbending master, and Tenzin in holding her back for his selfish I-don’t-want-to-admit-my-little-girl-is-growing-up reasons. I love the way Jinora’s rebellion is being handled. It’s not like a switch is flipped one day and she’s suddenly slamming the door and blasting loud music. This is a level-headed girl who has been capable, responsible, and obedient her whole life and feels she should be getting a little recognition for it. She’s not acting out to piss her parents off. She’s acting out to prove that she can handle herself, and her dressing down of her father is just teen angst heroin! “I’m not a little girl anymore! I can airbend just as well as you, I know everything about our culture and history, and I have a stronger connection to the spirits than you ever will!” Ouch, Tenzin. Sometimes the truth fucking hurts.
And the best part is that, even though Jinora is right that Tenzin should start respecting her more and acknowledging her growth, Tenzin is right that she’s not yet an adult. Her judgement has yet to fully mature, which is why she and Kai end up caged by those poachers, who…
Okay, look. I am a proud omnivore. I maintain that if animals don’t want to be eaten, they should stop being tasty. But these bison are endangered. What’s more, though it isn’t acknowledged by any of the characters, read between the lines. Look at the size of the bison fur that guy is wearing. Look at the size of the arrow pattern. That guy is wearing baby bison skin. BABY. BISON. SKIN. He must die now. And you know what, so should the Earth Queen. Just the suggestion, the RUMOR that she ate Bosco… no. Nope. Nopey nope nope nope. Bitch is going down.
So, Jinora and Kai get captured, and she sends a spirit to Bum-Ju with a message, which is then relayed to Bumi. I love how even Bumi has a better relationship with the spirits than Tenzin does. Boy, must that piss him off! Anyway, this impetus gets Bumi to round up the new airbenders (including Ikki and Meelo) for a rescue mission, and they end up making use of some of Tenzin’s teachings. It’s just one more reminder to Tenzin that it’s not the content, it’s his methods.
We didn’t see anything of Zaheer’s gang this week, but that’s fine. They’ll probably be back next week, and I have a feeling, now that we’re in the second half of the season, that their activities will begin picking up steam. After all, while it’s true that Korra’s pacing has disappointed me in the past, I am feeling incredibly optimistic about Book Three. We haven’t had a bad episode yet. Of course, I could be jinxing it, but I dare to hope.