Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo set out on their mission to find Korra with all the sweet dumplings their mother can pack for them. While it’s not an easy task to begin with, it gets complicated by some good, old-fashioned sibling sturm and drang. Feeling some serious middle child frustration, Ikki goes off on her own, only to encounter a pair of Kuvira’s soldiers. From them, she not only learns of Kuvira’s plans to conquer Zaofu, the last independent Earth Kingdom (Empire) city, but also gets an idea of where Korra may be: The Swamp. Meanwhile, in the Swamp itself, Korra’s visions of her past enemies help her to realize just what she needs to know to work the last of the metal poison out of her system.
It’s really awesome not only that the airbender kids finally get an episode with them as the focus, but their actions actually impact the plot. This was, by far and away, the most Avatar episode of Korra in the series to date in terms of both content and tone. The focus of the episode was a traveling trio of kids on a mission of great importance, having some goofy humor mixed with poignant character development. And this was no accident. Ikki points out to her mother at the very beginning of the episode that she and her siblings are more or less the age that “Grandpa Aang” and his friends were when they traveled the world on their own. It’s not just the content either. The tone is very Avatar as well. Just look at Meelo scene with that flower girl, Tuyen. It’s got a very Avatar vibe to it.
While the episode features all three of the kids, and they each actively participate in the plot, it is very clearly Ikki’s story, and it makes a lot of sense. Of the three, Jinora really has had the lion’s share of character development with her spiritual abilities and anointment as an airbending master, and Meelo is quite the little scene stealer. Ikki often gets forgotten or left out by the audience as well as her siblings, and her raging case of Middle Child Syndrome is rather openly addressed. There’s some nice continuity here, harkening back to Book Two’s two-parter, “Civil Wars,” in which Ikki runs off after a fight with her brother and sister. As it often is with siblings, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and once to again Ikki’s reaction to getting fed up with hers is walking off in a huff to get some space and vent. This time, however, she ends saving the day. Sure, she gets captured by Kuvira’s soldiers, but her chattiness softens them up and not only gets them to reveal their plans but to help her accomplish the mission she’s already on. They were just about to untie her and let her go when Jinora and Meelo showed up to save her, so I’d say she had the situation under control. It’s also a credit to the writers that even though this episode is about the kids’ search and Korra’s recovery, they still manage to deliver some slick exposition on Kuvira’s activity, confirming that her threat to Su in the previous episode, that she had plans to move on Zaofu, was not only not idle but imminent. It was a smart way to carry that beat and forward the season’s arc without shoehorning in an entire scene of characters that are otherwise uninvolved with this episode’s story. Credit to the writers for that one. Smooth move.
It’s cool that in the end, the kids accomplish their mission: they find Korra. Having them on their own adventure and competent enough to actually make a difference and achieve their goal, is really the closest to Avatar that Korra has ever gotten. After all, Jinora is the oldest, and she’s fourteen years old at the outside, Ikki eleven, and Meelo nine. They’re kids, two of them pre-teens, and they just impacted world events. Not too shabby, but after all, it is in the blood. Just look at who their grandparents were. Speaking of which, I love how Korra introduced the kids to Toph as Aang and Katara’s grandchildren. I know Aang was the Avatar and all, and Tenzin and his kids take more after their Air Nomad heritage, but it’s nice to see Katara acknowledged in that way. And I knew… I just knew that Toph would love Meelo. Cut from the same cloth, those two.
Ah, cranky old Toph. She is, as much as she ever was, a joy to watch if for no other reasons than for gems like this one. When asked for the story of how she taught Aang earthbending, she says, “What’s there to tell? I threw some rocks at the Avatar, he got all whiney, and Sokka fell in a hole.” Again, a reference to “Bitter Work,” an episode that I’ve previously declared to be one of my favorites, so I was won over right there. The writers seem to be going out of their way to harken back to Avatar as much as possible this season in what seems like a genuine effort to wrap up not only this series, but both series, and I find that to be a very comforting thought.
Just hearing Toph mention Sokka tugged at my heartstrings, because I just know she was probably busting his balls up to the very end, but felt his loss deeply, and I can only imagine cranky old Toph mourning Sokka alone in the Swamp. Him and Aang. *sniff*
Toph’s review of the previous seasons’ antagonists helps to put everything in perspective, and it really does solidify the idea that this season is the concluding act of this series, building thematically on everything that came before. Here it acknowledges that each of Korra’s enemies had, at the core of their madness, a legitimate point and a noble goal that was taken to an unhealthy extreme; their methods were unbalances because they were unbalanced.
The use of Toph in these last three episodes has been perfect, and if this is the last we see of her, I’ll be fine with it. Cranky old lady Toph really drives home something we’ve seen with middle-aged Toph and really all Korra versions of Avatar characters: the writers know these characters down to their bones and they know how to write them at different points in their lives, showing that people’s experiences influence their growth, that perspective and wisdom come with age, but at the core, we are who we are. Some things never change. Toph is still blunt, impatient, arrogant, and mildly sadistic, but she understands the value of enlightenment and of seeing the big picture, of looking beyond herself. She may take the piss out of Korra, but for all her dismissive talk of hand-holding and whining, she knows that helping Korra is something not only Korra needs, but the world needs… so she’ll do it, but she’ll do it her way.
Now that Korra has had very deep, poignant teaching moments with both Katara (water) and Toph (earth), I’m hoping that she’ll complete the set with Aang’s third elemental master, Zuko (fire), in which he will contribute to her arc in this final season. I really have enjoyed the presence of the Avatar characters in this series. I’d have liked more flashbacks of Sokka, but there’s only so much time and you can’t address everything. Plus, he’s dead. Working him into the plot would be far, far more challenging than the others. I will say, though, after this whole Toph business, the only Avatar reprisals that could shock me would be if Suki, Mai, or Ty Lee showed up to hang out. My heart and brain would just collapse under the weight of all that sweet, sweet fan service.
Both storylines in this episode converged with the kids’ reunion with Korra, which gave me all the feels. Keep in mind, this is the first time they’ve seen her – – and more importantly, that she’s seen them – – in three years. If I neglect a visit with my nieces and nephews for a few months, I’m floored at how much they’ve grown. Three years? Their height, hair, and Jinora’s flowering boobs are probably throwing Korra for a bit of a loop.
The handling of Korra’s PTSD has been beautiful and perfectly paced. Korra was barely in the premiere, allowing us to really feel her absence. The next episode told the story of where she’d been and what she’d gone through over the past three years, conveying the weight of her PTSD and the effect it had on her. The episode that followed showed several well-meaning but failed attempts to fix the problem, revealing that a quick fix from Toph was not on the menu and setting up both the physical aspect of Korra’s disability and the mental/spiritual cure to it. And finally, in this episode, she confront her issues, attains the personal enlightenment she needs, and uses it to root out the physical problem. The profundity of Korra’s injuries from her fight with Zaheer were really felt, and her recovery took its time, not too much, not too little, exactly what was needed. It was just enough for it to feel as though her full recovery, like her hug with Toph, was earned.
This episode may not have been the most fast-paced or intense, but it was fun and unexpectedly nostalgic, what with its callbacks to Avatar, tonal and otherwise. And it completely succeeded in what it as meant to do, which was to complete Korra’s recovery. Only four episodes into the season, and it feels like so much happened. And not just a matter of when it happened, but how it happened. Now, to see if Korra’s going to stop off at Air Temple Island or head straight to Zaofu.