This review contains spoilers.
2.1 Rebel Spirit
It’s hard not to compare this episode to the pilot of season one: both were hour-long premieres tasked with the admittedly difficult job of introducing us to new worlds and concepts while also being an entertaining piece of television. Overall, I think the pilot succeeded in that. This episode, on the other hand, mostly fell flat for me. Which is not to say there weren’t a lot of great things being put into motion; the episode succeeded at the former of its two jobs… it just wasn’t overly entertaining while it was at it.
Rebel Spirit sets up what appears to be the central conflict this season: the Southern Water Tribe’s lax spirituality versus the more orthodox Northern Tribe. One of this show’s strengths is establishing interesting conflicts in which the “bad guys” have a good point, such as how the Equalists were absolutely correct that the treatment of non-benders needed to change. However, one of this show’s weaknesses is the inability to explore that to its fullest and make a meaningful statement. In other words, this show is great for initiating thoughtful conversation. Just don’t expect it to have anything to say itself.
The same thing feels true about the arc between Korra’s father and uncle, although admittedly I am jumping the gun by already being apprehensive about how the writers will handle this conflict. Maybe they will have learned from last season’s mistakes and do better this time. I really hope so!
The conflict itself is interesting: much as the Equalists had a point, so does Korra’s uncle: it’s quite demonstrably factual that the Southern Tribe’s rejection of spirituality has upset the spirits. The sheer number of violent attacks in this episode are proof of that. He isn’t wrong. But because I am cynical and still a bit bummed by how the Amon/Equalists thing played out last season, I spent the entire episode thinking, “Yeah, he’s right, but? There has to be a ‘but,’ that somehow makes him the bad guy even though he has a point.” So when, in the end, the Northern Tribe’s army started marching off their boats, I wasn’t surprised. ‘Religious’ (if it can be called that) fanaticism is hardly a new narrative, and it fits right into the ‘has a point, but going about it completely wrong’ paradigm that this show favours. It’s tried and true.
I think, ultimately, that’s why the episode fell a little flat for me: it felt tried and true. What made Avatar: the Last Airbender so great (and what worked best in Korra‘s first season) is that it took risks and was completely different from anything we’d ever seen. Even Korra managed to go places and have conversations that were virtually unheard of in the medium. But the conflicts we’re seeing here: religious fanaticism versus secularism; brother vs. brother; Korra’s preference for brute force over thoughtfulness and spirituality, these are all things that have been done over and over again. I wasn’t entertained because I felt like I’d seen it all before.
That said, the job of a “pilot” isn’t easy and plenty of shows have had middling pilots only to go on and have amazing seasons; I have hope that the same thing will happen with the “pilot” of season two of Korra.
Read Kaci’s review of the season one finale episodes, here.
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