Legend of Korra: Book 4, Episode 2, “Korra Alone.”

God, just finished putting down my feelers on this episode. It….inspired me? (Sorry for the length, and I still think I left things out!)

Korra Alone is now one of my top favorite Legend of Korra episodes. Everything about the episode simply came together, be it the animation by Studio Mir, the directing by Ian Graham, or the music by Jeremy Zuckerman. It all simply rocked.

For fans of the Last Airbender, the title is an immediate reference to Zuko Alone, a Season 2 episode from that show, in which Zuko, our one time bad guy, is confronted with viewing his place in the world and opts to travel alone from his uncle Iroh, after both have cut their hair and left behind their homes and roles within the Fire Nation and the greater world. The shattered mirror glance at the beginning of this episode, in which Korra’s bruised right eye, swollen to a narrow almost menacing glance, reflects Zuko’s own burnt left eye.

Korra’s return home is I think really a chance for her to begin her escape from being the Avatar and perhaps also, to escape the sympathy of others to remind her that she can’t be the Avatar in her present state. We know she continues to suffer PTSD from her showdown with Zaheer from her nightmare filled and otherwise restless nights and lack of appetite, and general depression. Her mother is forced to directly ask her to see Katara, whom I think we all would have thought was going to be Day 2 on Korra’s itinerary upon returning to the South. Instead, it’s been three weeks – two weeks, of course, being the amount of time she told everyone in Republic City she would be gone. And yes, more Korra tears.

In Katara’s healing pool, it was interesting in Katara’s approach, that she could not simply fix Korra, but could only assist her in her healing. This coming from the greatest water bender/healer alive was not necessarily great news for Korra to hear. Yet, she can move her toe, and with the resurgent music of Zuckerman’s score, we are given hope that Korra’s path to recovery may not be as hard as she and we feared. Yet, then we see her again, attempting to walk and falling. One of the best parts of this episode was the writer’s decision (Bryan for those keeping score) to not let Korra have a triumphant march from disability to recovery. Korra fails and her frustration with her lack of progress after now six months leaves her to even scream at Katara, who simply remains supportive and also reminds Korra that even Avatars often have to deal with extremely painful and insufferable things in their lives. So yes, Korra, boo hoo, it’s hard to walk again, but at least you didn’t wake up from a 100 year nap to find your entire people wiped out in a genocide (Katara said that in a much kinder and supportive manner).

At the same time, Korra’s outburst reveals her other frustration of not being able to out there in the world. Thanks to the letters sent to Korra by her friends, she’s watching them move on in life, professionally and geographically. Bolin is convinced he can help the Earth Kingdom by signing on with “Sir Varrick and Lady Kuvira,” Mako is following his detective dream with the Republic City PD, and Asami continues to grow as a successful business woman. Her friendship with Asami also takes on a deeper level by her admission to Asami that it’s only to her that she can confess her inability to take on the Avatar State, and couldn’t bring herself to tell Mako or Bolin. Asami has become Korra’s confidant, and one must wonder, did Asami know that Korra had left the Southern Water tribe months earlier.

Korra’s recovery continues to the point where she can walk and even fight, but her fighting is hampered by her continual problem with PTSD. Despite her expressed belief to Tenzin, who reminds her (stop REMINDING HER) that the world can wait for its Avatar thanks to the air benders and Kuvira, Korra is not healed completely. Her body may be sound, but her mind and emotional state are still broken from the Red Lotus appeal, now close to a year or more in the past. Korra’s sparring with the fire benders is a direct call back to the very first episode of Legend of Korra, in which she defeats all three of them to prove that she has mastered fire bending and is ready to leave the South for Republic City. Even the music is the same and fight choreography also looked similar, but here, a vision of Zaheer distracts and confuses her in the middle of the sparring, leading to her defeat. As much as her sparring in the first episode symbolized that she was ready to leave the South Pole, this revealed the opposite, or at least, that she was not ready to leave to be the Avatar again.

Kuvira is mentioned with successfully uniting parts of the Earth Kingdom and Korra grumpily complains that she’s the one who’s supposed to be doing this. Now we have a straight up comparison to the roles of Korra and Kuvira. A woman who is not the Avatar is doing the job of the woman who is the Avatar, but without the powers of the Avatar. It’s a striking sign, along with Tenzin’s admission that Korra can wait to return, that the world may not need Korra anymore. To put on my tinfoil hat here, for a moment, I did wonder if some how Suyin intentionally left a little of the mercury/metallic poison in Korra to keep her out of the affairs of the world. If Suyin believes queens are out dated, what does she think about the role of the Avatar? Would it be out of character for Suyin to leave the Avatar sick, if she at least saved her life? I’ll return to my tinfoil hat later!

Despite Tenzin’s reassurances and request for Korra to remain at the South Pole and continue healing, she tells her parents that it’s time for her to leave and sets off on her own. Naga howls in sadness as her friend (the Naga/Korra hug, by the way, about tug my heart out of my chest) sailed away without her. Another distinction from the first episode of Korra, in which she takes her friend and animal companion with her to Republic City. Her decision to leave Naga behind is a tough one, and perhaps is based on Naga’s own reminder of her identity. Korra the Avatar always has Naga, and Naga is only left behind when Korra fears for Naga’s safety (and well, if the situation just doesn’t make sense for a polarbear dog to be around). However, in this situation, Naga is a source of comfort and support, and Korra’s decision to go away alone indicates that she’s not doing so out of Naga’s benefit, but out of her own personal reasons.

Korra sailing alone, the montages and scenes, were beautifully animated, and the stop on the island for a bite to eat was a great segway to the build up of Korra choosing to leave behind her role as Avatar completely. After seeing the awesome photo of Aang air bending fish(less) snacks and being asked to serve as the Avatar to stop bandits, Korra fails miserably. Dazed and lying on the ground, her failure sinks in, but doesn’t dissuade her from proceeding on to Republic City, which she approaches at night and for the first time, see’s the dark doppleganger of herself in the Avatar state, complete with matching platinum manacles and chains.

What the doppleganger represents is debatable and what it really is even more mysterious. At first sight, it seems to represent Korra’s fears of being the Avatar, or her inability to be the Avatar. She cannot return to Republic City, to her friends, and to the world, because she’s afraid she can’t be who she’s supposed to be and expected to be. That this happens after she completely gets taken down by two common thieves is not a coincidence. Thus, Korra changes her sails and departs from Republic City’s harbor for distant lands. Aware of her inability to connect with Raava, the spirit within her, (which included a great call out to the location of the end of Book 1, where she discovered the ability within her to restore bending (FIX PEOPLE), where Korra tried to meditate), Korra next finds a spot and ditches the last symbols of her past life, her Southern Water Tribe apparel and cuts her hair. She is cutting ties with who she is and was to try and re-discover Raava.

The journey which takes her to the North Pole’s Spirit Portal and to the Tree of Time, perhaps the most spiritual of the most spiritual places in the world, fails to help her find Raava. She’s encountered by cute spirits, one of which questions her role as Avatar for the lack of spirit energy; this spirit doesn’t even sense that Raava is within Korra. This is rather disturbing since Korra and Raava are one, which indicates that perhaps something is blocking the two from being connected – which is what the Avatar State represents. Our last time Korra was in the Avatar State was fighting Zaheer, as Raava’s energy was devoted to fending off the poison trying to kill her. One spirit offers to help, but Korra declines and continues to walk, across Volcano-scapes to the desert, haunted by the dark spectre of herself, which menacingly watches her until she finds her way to a small Earth Kingdom town, at which point it seems to lead her into the Earth bending fighting pit in which we found her last episode.

This helps explains a couple things. One, why we found Korra there in the premier episode, but also, one reason why she got her butt handed to her by the other fighter – she was hallucinating for half the match. After the match, and I’m stringing the events of this time period together without the intervening flashbacks, Korra is in the bathroom when she’s interrupted by a fellow who really, really, needs to go. The small bit of animation and directing there was completely funtastic. I have rarely seen someone needing to use the bathroom so badly, so well animated….okay, I don’t see it very often, period. Outside of the bathroom, Korra is again confronted by this spectre who Korra attacks and only succeeds in garnering the attention of people passing by. Upset, she picks her bag up to move on until she encounters a small white puppy. The puppy greets Korra with familiarity and then growls as the dark spectre reappears. Somehow the puppy barks at the spectre and causes it to disappear, relieving Korra by indicating she’s not the only one who see’s this frightening vision.

The dog indicates through a series of coupled barks that Korra should follow it, and so she does, out of the town, and then into a jungle, where the puppy transforms in a quasi-brilliantly lit wipe of the scene from outside the jungle to inside, into a spirit from the Tree of Time. The spirit has not given up on helping Korra and intends to take her to a person, not a thing, to help her. Just as quickly as Korra learns this, she’s faced with the spectre, who this time is not simply a menacing spectator, but attacks Korra and succeeds in hitting her, repeatedly, despite Korra’s attempts to evade or counterattack. Here the animation of the spectre is incredible, be it the slow motion of Korra as she see’s the spectre, to the movement of it, in almost natural, but not quite human manner. The supernatural manner in which it moves and attacks adds a sense of confusion and the fear of the unknown to it’s movements. Ultimately, Korra is pulled down by it into a pool of liquid metal, similar to the poison, where she’s swallowed up by it. TIN FOIL HAT ON AGAIN. Is the Spectre really Raava trying to communicate with Korra? Is it trying to tell her that there’s still poison in her, that’s keeping them from becoming one and her entering the Avatar State?

Korra awakes on a bed in a cave. An old woman speaks to her as she tends a pot of boiling food. And why bother with any further lead in? IT’S TOPH. One really cool point is that Aang’s first vision of Toph took place in a jungle (perhaps the same jungle?) and here, Korra first meets the real Toph, too. Also interesting is the aspect that Aang see’s a vision/representation of Toph, then meets her, Korra see’s representations of Toph (statues, statues, everywhere), and then meets her. What will Toph’s role be to help Korra return to full Avatar status? Will it to remove the last of theoretical poison, left by Suyin intentionally or not in Korra? Will she be the Mickey to Korra’s Rocky? In the end, I can’t wait, and this episode was awesome.

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