In the latest episode of The Legend of Korra, “The Guide,” Korra reunites with Team Tenzin at the Eastern Air Temple and gives them the lowdown on everything. They’ve been cut off from the world since leaving Southern Water Tribe, so, for them, the Civil War is big news. More important, though, is the entire Vaatu situation. Korra has deduced what we all have by this point, that Unalaq is looking to release Vaatu fo…some reason? I’m still banking on Unalaq not quite knowing the full ramifications of what he’s doing, even though he thinks he does, which is Vaatu’s M.O.
Since Unalaq has got his troops guarding the spirit portal at the South Pole, Korra’s going to have to shut it from the inside, which means heading into the Spirit World, for which she will need a guide. Tenzin is the obvious choice, but it turns out being heir to the mantle of master airbender and son of the Avatar doesn’t guarantee anything. Apparently, while a very spiritual man, Tenzin just never had the connection to the Spirit World his father did. His one failure is that he’s never entered the Spirit World.
Luckily for Korra (though of little comfort to Tenzin), this knack merely skipped a generation and passed to Jinora, whose lifelong affinity for spirits—in this case, ones that are telling her where Korra needs to go to cross over into the Spirit World—marks her as the ideal guide. The whole party follows the spirits to an ancient airbender meditation circle, where some dark spirits attack them. Korra finally has some success with that glowy spiritbending technique she learned from Unalaq, and into the Spirit World she and Jinora go!
Meanwhile in Republic City, Mako tries to tell Asami and Bolin about how Varrick is manipulating everyone, but they’re hesitant to believe him. Varrick either has the place bugged or is just intuitive as hell, because he calls Mako into his office, like, a second later. In an effort to keep his friends close and enemies closer, he offers Mako a job as part of his private security detail, but Mako can see the offer for what it is: just as way to keep him on a leash and out of Varrick’s business. When he refuses, Beifong and those two douchebag cops (who I swear are being paid off by Varrick) show up at his place just in time to find some planted explosives in Mako’s closet. And as Beifong catches a strong whiff of the stupid fog (Oh, so now she has to follow any lead that comes her way? What is with how she’s being written this season?!), she has Mako arrested, which finally makes Asami think that maybe Mako’s onto something after all.
There is also a thread involving Unalaq taking the twins into the Spirit World so that they can help him open the other Spirit Portal. Desna is unsure about all this, but Eska is happy to help. The seal reacts by blasting Desna, injuring him. Eska insists they take him to a healer, and when their father tells her it doesn’t matter, she finally gets a full-bodied whiff of his crazy, says “fuck this,” and takes Desna back to the Material World. Unalaq apologizes to Vaatu for failing to open the portal, but our ancient friend isn’t too worried about it. He can sense that the Avatar is still alive and has just entered the Spirit World.
So, uh… HOLY CRAP!
Holy. Freaking. Crap. There was so much to like about this episode! First off, Korra’s recap to Tenzin on what’s been going on managed to sum up the situation neatly for both Tenzin and anyone who maybe missed an episode or two, all while referencing Sokka’s frantic overshare in “The Day of Black Sun.” Well done, show. I saw what you did there. Now that we’re out of both Republic City and the distant past of Avatar Wan, we’ve got a bright, rich color palette that is just gorgeous and really helps bring the images to life.
The return of Team Tenzin was long overdue, with Kya and Bumi displaying their usual awesomeness, Ikki and Meelo being almost illegally cute, and finally some follow-up on the Jinora thread, including a specific reference to the events of the Winter Solstice. Tenzin is really humanized a lot here, repeatedly blaming everyone else for his own shortcomings and wasting precious time in the name of proving something to himself. When Jinora steps forward, revealing the gift he doesn’t possess, he naturally comes up with all kinds of reasons why she can’t be Korra’s guide into the Spirit World, and while some are legitimate concerns, they are no less a convenient mask for his jealousy.
As for the South Pole storyline, it’s clear that the twins are on their way toward turning against their father. Unalaq seriously crossed a line, flat out saying that his ambitions were more important than his son’s life. That’s the kind of thing kids remember, Chief. Note this moment for future reference: you just fucked yourself but good. So, the twins are obviously going to turn on him. That much is certain. The question now becomes when, how, and in what context?
The only flaws in an otherwise perfect episode were the shamefully erratic way Beifong is being written this season and the continuation of this Mako/Asami bullshit, which is just such a bad choice narratively that words fail to describe the depths of its lameness. It is so clichéd and lazy and pedestrian, and I’ve just come to expect too much from this franchise to put up with this kind of repetitive backsliding. Just stop it, y’all. Just stop it.
Other than that, though, it was superb. The writing was tight, balancing the stories well and forwarding each of them at an even, steady pace. There was character development all around. Not a scene was wasted on boring shit, and we have a legit reason for Korra to spend time in Spirit World, developing her spiritual identity, instead of just heading down to the South Pole (though I could call bullshit on a few Water Tribe troops outgunning some Avatar State action… but I won’t). All that, and some continuity porn; a shout-out to Guru Pathik and one of my favorite episodes of Avatar? Oh, you win, show. You win.
I give “The Guide” 4 ½ stars, kept from a full 5 only for the misrepresentation of Lin Beifong and the propagation of shitty, tedious romance clichés. Other than that, it was top shelf. I cannot wait for next week! I’ll see you all back here then for “A New Spiritual Age.”