The Legend of Korra: Rebirth Review

The Legend of Korra: Book Three keeps things going strong with another fantastic episode in "Rebirth!"

In the second-part of The Legend of Korra: Book Three’s three-part premiere, Asami arrives at Air Temple Island with a shiny new airship so that Team Avatar, of which Jinora is now apparently part (hmm… I guess helping the Avatar to defeat the ancient spirit of darkness and chaos via astral projection earns you your stripes), can go to Ba Sing Se to recruit the new airbenders. Mako shows up to see them off and give them a map marked with villages on their way that have reported airbender sightings. It takes some nudging by both Korra and Bolin, but he eventually agrees to come along.

While the trip starts out on an upbeat note, our heroes quickly find that a life of quiet contemplation without any meat, hair, or worldly possessions is actually a pretty tough sell in a post-industrial world that hasn’t been exposed to this culture in nearly two centuries. This is especially true of older people who have lives and families that they have no intention of abandoning just to have some completely new way of life forced upon them. Just when all seems lost, a young orphan named Kai volunteers to join them. It turns out that he’s really just on the run from the local police. He’s a street kid and a criminal, but his insistence that he’s changed since the discovery of his new abilities, that he believes airbending chose him for a reason, soften Korra and Tenzin’s hearts. The police release Kai into Team Avatar’s custody and he takes off with them for Ba Sing Se.

Meanwhile, Zaheer reunites with some old friends by way of two of the most visually dynamic jailbreaks I’ve ever seen. First we come to a wooden cell on a wooden ship far enough from the coastline that we can’t see it. No metal. No stone. We’re dealing with an earthbender, the likes of which we haven’t yet seen because the tattooed Ghazan has thermokinetic control over earth the way all waterbenders have it over water. Three rocks tossed into his cell and he’s able to melt them down in a spinning star of magma.

Once Ghazan is out, he and Zaheer travel to a metal prison, a cage suspended within an active volcano. It is here we meet the armless Ming-Hua (a welcome return by Grey DeLisle-Griffin), who is able to free herself when a barrel of water is sliced open over her cell, water she bends into two of the freakiest awesome arms I’ve ever seen. She tells Zaheer she’s surprised they came for her before his girlfriend. He matter-of-factly tells her that they’re picking her up next. After their departure, Lord Zuko (HOLY FUCKING SHIT, YES!!) inspects the scene. Knowing where they’re headed next, he tells the White Lotus sentries to alert Chief Beifong in Republic City that the Avatar is in danger and to inform the new chiefs of the Northern Water Tribe that he’s on his way to prevent the next jailbreak. Then off he flies on his indescribably majestic dragon, and I am a pile of drool on the floor.

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A flawless follow-up to the premiere. The show wastes no time in exploring the sociological implications of these new airbenders. Tenzin, rather understandably, is so excited and full of hope that he just assumes people will be willing to up and join him, leaving their lives behind, many of them middle-aged and even elderly. It’s telling when he insists they must learn about “their” culture, completely disregarding the fact that each of them already has one. Because traditionally, all Air Nomads were airbenders, the idea of any kind of cultural diversity among the Air Nomad population was unthinkable. Tenzin’s dream is to rebuild a culture that hasn’t existed for 170 years, which is completely blind to the fact that it hasn’t existed for so long.

Perhaps life among the Air Acolytes, people that want to be Air Nomads so badly that they did forsake their roots and adopt a different culture, has slanted Tenzin’s point of view. The idea that people wouldn’t jump at the chance to adopt the ways of his people never even occurred to him. It’ll be interesting to see how this continues to play out, especially with any Air Acolytes who actually develop airbending. What will that do to the Air Acolytes as a society? Will there be a sense of entitlement and superiority from those who “successfully attained” the ability to airbend? And what about resentment from those who haven’t?

We see more of Korra’s consistent character development when she loses her temper, but does so out of frustration while trying to impart the importance to meeting one’s obligations to a hipsterish slacker named Ryu, who looks suspiciously like Korra director Ki Hyun Ryu (SIDE NOTE: Ryu’s mom is the freakin’ best!). We also see her continued efforts to address the vibe between her and Mako, and her desire to make their friendship work. Her maturity here is enormously refreshing, because while plenty of comedy can be founded on miscommunication, in drama it tends to just get frustrating after a while.

And on the subject of character development…Mako and Bolin. I just don’t even have words for how well they’re being written this season. Bolin’s immediate feeling of kinship with Kai due to their common ground of being orphans lends him toward going soft on the kid. For one, any little brother can tell you that the opportunity to be a big brother is something you jump at. For another, Bolin empathizes with Kai because he’s been in his shoes. He’s been a homeless street kid who turned to crime to survive. For the same reason Bolin goes easy on the kid, Mako is especially hard on him. Mako is every bit the former street kid and gang member Bolin is, even more so. And now he’s a cop. For all those reasons, he won’t give Kai an inch. He’s hip to his bullshit and isn’t buying it, and he balances out Bolin’s permissiveness by going too hard on Kai.

The way this storyline plays out is a very natural, logical development of what we know about Mako and Bolin as characters. It makes good use of their contrasting personalities and their backstory, using Kai to hold a mirror up to both of them. It is, in so many words, everything their character development in Book Two was not: logical, believable, and interesting. It doesn’t feel like some wacky plot pulled out of someone’s ass. And given how little bearing last season had on either of these characters from what I can tell, you could have skipped their Book Two storylines completely and gone straight from the end of Book One into this stuff, and it would have flowed seamlessly.

On the matter of Kai, I think this character is going to be a lot of fun, because I don’t see him being exactly what either Mako or Bolin believes. I think there’s a lot of potential to this kid and the role he can play in the show from here on out. After all, he is young enough and independent enough that adopting the ways of the Air Nomads could give him a sense of purpose and direction that Tenzin could use in a potential mentee. And yes, there is the fact that his bad boy charm makes Jinora blush. Oh please, let us cash in on her throwaway one-liner from “A Leaf in the Wind” where she refuses to guarantee Tenzin a smooth ride through her teen years.

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Then, of course, we have our new villains. This sub-plot is building wonderfully, neither rushed nor dragging. The rebirth to which the episode title refers is not only that of the Air Nation, but of this band of criminal friends, each one of whom was apparently so dangerous that they were kept in solitary in a prison designed specifically for them. That’s pretty bad-ass. I’m also loving the fact that they seem to actually like each other. They’re not just cut-throat mustache twirlers who use each other. They seem to be genuine friends, and friends with… a cause? That’s right. Zaheer cited his new airbending gifts to be a sign that “[their] cause is righteous.” For all his philosophy, Zaheer seems to be a pretty even-minded guy. He doesn’t show any signs of the bombastic grandiosity of Unalaq nor the single-minded hypocrisy of Amon. What is so freaking tasty about Zaheer is that he seems like a whole new kind of villain.

And, of course, we must talk of Lord Zuko, who, at 87-years-old, looks damn good for his age. I commend Bruce Davison on his portrayal of Zuko, certainly evocative of the character we followed in Avatar, but older and wiser. This is a man who ruled the Fire Nation for decades and then passed the title of Fire Lord to his daughter, and not because he was incompetent; because he had more important shit to do. He comes in, he assesses the situation, and he knows how to take care of it. I’ve been waiting two books for Zuko to show up and I’m more excited to see the character back with a different voice–which thankfully makes loads of sense–than I was to see the appearance of his grandson voiced by Dante Basco. Oh, please… please let this not be a flash in the pan! Please let him stick around for at least a little while!

I find myself echoing Tenzin’s sentiment from the previous episode. I’m just sad Aang couldn’t be here for this. I would have loved to have seen Korra meet Zuko while she was connected to Aang. It would have been amazing. But that’s a small complaint. That’s two for two so far. Excellent.

Keep up with all our Legend of Korra coverage right here.

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4 out of 5