Nov 11 2013 2:00pm

The Legend of Korra’s “A New Spiritual Age” Introduces New Friends and Welcomes Some Old Ones

The Legend of Korra A New Spiritual Age

I started talking about “The Sting” by plunging ahead with spoilers, but I can’t bring myself to do that here. Even picking the right visual to go at the top of this post is something that needs to have some thought put into it. If you’ve seen the episode, I’m sure you know what I mean…or rather, who I mean. I didn’t watch this episode live, and someone else’s excitement spoiled me, so I want to dance around it until we get under the cut.

While I dance though, I’m making a “eee ee eee!” noise of nervous glee. Korra and Jinora go off into the Spirit World, The Legend of Korra continues to get “more Miyazaki,” and some old friends, like Wan Shi Tong, show up. As well as some others. So, are you ready to step into the fairytales of the Four Nations?


Okay, whew, now that we’ve safely thrown up all the warnings and disclaimers, oh my gosh Uncle Iroh. Eee ee eee! I wasn’t expecting that! Greg Baldwin did a great job picking up where Mako left off in Avatar: the Last Airbender—RIP Mako—so it is nice to hear him again, and even nicer to see everyone’s favorite avuncular war hero. (If you are confused by that sentence, you should be aware that Mako, the firebending occasional romantic interest from Korra is named after the voice actor who portrayed Uncle Iroh in Airbender, who passed way in 2006.) So we get Uncle Iroh and as usual, he’s created a little Zen Garden of Eden around himself, in the midst of the proverbial typhoon, complete with Raava’s tea kettle. Iroh went full Kenobi; abandoning the flesh to ascend into the Spirit World. I wonder if he get to see Lu Ten? I’d really like it if we could outro on the Spirit World watching Iroh play Pai Sho with his son.

The Legend of Korra A New Spiritual Age

Iroh’s not the only blast from the past: oh my gosh Baby Korra! Listen, “I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!” remains probably the greatest line of the series; possibly both series. Since we’re talking about voice actors, did you know the voice of young Korra is Cora Baker, Dee Bradley Baker’s (Appa, Momo, et al) daughter? Nepotism has its downsides and all that, but I have a big soft spot for these kinds of team-ups despite myself—see also Olivia and Martin Olson, the daughter/dad team-up of Marceline and Hunson Abadeer from Adventure Time. The best part about young Korra, though, is textual. It means the moral of the journey is what we’ve been saying all season: grow up.

The Legend of Korra A New Spiritual Age

Alright, before I go any further: in “Beginnings” we saw the solar system of the Avatar universe, which answers some major cosmological questions, like “is this a spherical world in orbit around a sun?” Don’t look at me like that, it is a world where hermetic elements are real, and where people have the ability to supernaturally manipulate them, I’m not taking anything for granted. This week, we have Jinora educating Wan Shi Tong about the radio—that’s my homegirl Jinora, teaching the spirits some science—and she establishes the existence of the electromagnetic spectrum. Maybe I’m over thinking it, but I wonder how that ties into, you know, atomic theory. Is the world of Avatar really just a scientific world, with the spirit-born powers of bending deriving from a dualistic other plane? Am I over-thinking this? Quite probably.

The Legend of Korra A New Spiritual Age

So the dragon-bird—it is difficult not to think of it as a phoenix—is that a thing now? What I mean is, well; the Avatar typically, or at least sometimes, has an animal spirit guide. Appa and Fang are the two we’ve seen; I’ve sort of been expecting Naga to fill the same role, but what if Naga is more like Momo, more like a pet, with this dragon-bird…ah, I don’t know. My first thought was that it was going to be Wan Shi Tong’s chick; remember the frightening aspect he took to chase the Gaang? Which, really Jinora? You thought Wan Shi Tong would be on your side, even though your grandfather made him so angry he retreated from the mortal world? I guess Aang or Tenzin must have left that part out of the story. Anyhow, because The Internet is The Internet, people are already ‘shipping Unalaq and Wan Shi Tong. There should be a rule about that...

The Legend of Korra A New Spiritual Age

Taking the dragon-bird up Mount Doom is a good piece of storytelling; Korra has been hot headed and lashing out, she’s been in a dark place, but she’s not twisted by her anger, she’s venting it. Showing her innocent side, and showing her focus in standing up for herself while remaining calm, staying centered, turning the Ghostbusters oni-dogs into foo dogs, all that jazz. While we are talking about spirits…it seems to me like there is a difference between monsters, like Koh or some of the other creepy crawlies we see this episode, and “dark spirits,” with that liquid black light coloration and transparency. Seems more like “Vaatu spirits,” though given the big umbrella that Vaatu and Raava seem to represent, that might be splitting hairs.

The Legend of Korra A New Spiritual Age

There are plenty of little bits to be gleeful about in this episode. The weird Pinocchio or Jonah scene, the giant dragonfly-bunny, the dark dragonfly bunny, Katara and Aang’s kids—I’ve said before how much I like seeing Aang and Korra share a lot of the same body language, and that holds true for Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi too—Jinora nerding out at the library, prairie dog spirits…I optimistically think the show has gotten its feet under it. No more “wait and see,” because now we’re at “see.” As for the plot, I don’t really have a lot to say. Nobody thought it would be that easy, and as predicted, the lack of bending gave Korra a major disadvantage. Sure, she could go through a Spirit Portal, and maybe she will, but I think Korra’s going to “win” this one by getting the Spirits on her side. For the record? I still think Vaatu will be freed, and that Korra will merge with him, as well as Raava.

Mordicai Knode is home sick today, so he’ll probably be on Twitter and Tumblr a lot to try to alleviate the cabin fever. No need to worry though, just a nasty cold.

Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
Yes, I cannot wait to see the rest of this season.

And yes, Korra gets to keep the Dragonbird.

Jinora's story will likely have her getting Wan Shi Tong AND the other Spirits on Korra's side.
Mordicai Knode
2. mordicai
There really were a ton of beautiful images to choose from to spruce up this review; great job Mir.
Christopher Bennett
3. ChristopherLBennett
When Iroh showed up, I grinned until my cheeks hurt, but what followed was kind of disappointing, since Baldwin seems to be out of practice at his Mako impression and it didn't come very close to the real thing.
4. Tumas
I absolutely loved the episode, and I just couldn't help but feel this was the closest thing to the original Avatar since Korra started. Last season had some references to the old gang and some flashbacks too, but I always felt there was a certain distance between them and the current story (which I guess a 'legacy' story, rather than an actual sequel, would have).

In this episode, on the other hand, the Spirit World has allowed us to visit a place of great importance in Avatar lore and to see the direct fallout of Aang's adventures on characters in the present who experienced them then: Wan Shi Tong holding a grudge against and losing faith in the Avatar, whatever his incarnation; Professor Zei's corpse in the Library; and, of course, Iroh himself! The best thing is, being set in the Spirit World, these elements fit in well and did not feel forced.

The only thing missing now is the meeting with Zuko, which I hope will take place within Korra' story soon, even if in Books 3 and 4. And it could have been just that little bit more nostalgic if Iroh would have told Korra to send his regards to his nephew. Not that I'm complaining that this didn't happen, but I feel it is a minor missed opportunity not to refer to the fact that Zuko's still alive out there and that Iroh still loves him, given the circumstances.
S Cooper
5. SPC
I'm disappointed in Wan Shi Tong. I would have thought he was too angry at all humans to help Unalaq with anything. It seemed uncharacteristic for him.
Alejandro Melchor
6. Al-X
My heart broke at Tenzin's anguished voice when he realized something was VERY WRONG with his little girl.

Korra let her guard down in the spirit world, and she was transformed into what she is deep inside: a scared and immature little girl, but the transformation and Iroh's advice both explains her past brattish behavior and fully pushes her onto the road to maturity.

If there was a doubt that Unalaq was a MWAHAHA villain... there's no dobut now. Not only are his own children just resources for him, he's willing to calcify the soul of a little girl in order to coerce Korra. I don't think he truly believes he's bringing balance to the force; it contradicts his shrewdness to be so gullibly taken by Vaatu on that regard, so I think Unalaq is simply after more power, with him reigning over mortals while Vaatu reigns over spirits (the fool). The remaining episodes should explain just WHAT is Unalaq thinking by allying himself with such an obvious evil and destructive force.
Mordicai Knode
7. mordicai
6. Al-X

Yeah I am ready for my villain's exposition now!

5. SPC

I think that gap is what allows the shippers to have their delight. That's the hook, right?

4. Tumas

Zuko, schmuko, I want to know about Azula. If ANYBODY should be the one to bond with Vaatu, it should be her. Heck, say she was the fire priestess, that's how she found out about this, bust out the Grey DeLisle, mwa-ha-ha...I'm joking. (...mostly. A little.)
Chris Nelly
8. Aeryl
@Al-X, Unalaq's stated he wants to "change the world" whatever that means. I'm looking forward to finding out!
9. dwreyes
For me, there were two really awesome moments of the episode.

Iroh having tea time and playing pai sho with the spirits is literally EXACTLY what he would be doing with his time in the spirit world. I'm glad they decided to throw that in, still showing Iroh's happy and jolly nature.

Second, when the four dragon-birds form into one giant, well, I think we can all agree to call it a phoenix, that moment was spectacular. The ensuing animation spinning around Korra as she stood in wonder just made me extremely happy. Also, Mr. Zuckerman did a fantastic job with the score, which has consistently been one of my favorite things about both ATLA and LOK.

In contrast to the amazingness of the spirit world, the plot twist with Jinora at the end has left me extremely heartbroken and upset. Unalaq is NOT a nice man and he needs to explain himself at once.
Jennifer B
10. JennB
I agree, but he did get better as the episode progressed. I was so thrown by his first scene, I thought they had used a completely different actor than they had used after Mako's death. After a quick internet search, I was surprised to find that it was the same actor.

Other than that, the episode was great. So glad the wait is over and it's time for the see.
11. Tesh
@5 Indeed. Messing with Jinora, that I can see. Helping Unalaq? That needs justification.

It was good to see Iroh again, but I do think the voice was a bit off. Too... hurried, maybe. I'll write it off as "this is Spirit Iroh" and be happy that he's still a great character.

Not really related to anything, but the moment when Vaatu dragged Korra over for a little talk, pulling her from the energy fountain... that was a nice bit of animation. Yes, it was a simple bit of forced perspective/world warping that you can get away with in animation, but it was deftly handled, and underlines the *otherness* of the spirit world. (The weird topology of the rivers was a nice touch, too, but the conversation-drag struck me as particularly effective.)

I may be biased, though, since my college and professional expertise is in animation. It's a subtle thing, but I think it was very well done.
Cain Latrani
12. CainS.Latrani
As disappointd as I am in the whole Unalaq is unrepentedly evil bit, especially since there has been no actual reason given for it, I loved this episode because Iroh.

Seriously. I felt like I was going to cry, seeing him again. He was my favorite character from the original series, and to have him back, for just a few minutes, made everything better.

Still, why is Unalaq evil? There must be a reason for it. So far, his character makes zero sense.
Christopher Bennett
13. ChristopherLBennett
@9: Technically it's more a firebird than a phoenix. Strictly speaking, a phoenix is not a bird that's constantly aflame; it's a bird that combusts upon its death and is reborn or reproduced from the ashes. Although the two do tend to be used interchangeably.

Officially, it's a dragon bird spirit, and resembles the Fenghuang, which is often referred to as a "Chinese phoenix."

@10: Funny, I thought Baldwin sounded less and less like Mako as the episode progressed. It just wasn't as appealing a characterization or delivery.
Robert Dickinson
14. ChocolateRob
Let's be honest, as a guide to the spirit world Jinora sucks. Sure she may have got Korra there but at the very first opportunity she ran off after the pretty butterfly spirits, leaving her charge behind to run into trouble. Next time you're on safari don't pick the guide that runs off after the bunny rabbits while you're surrounded by lions.

Also. That Wan Shi Tong is such a terrible judge of character.
Hopefully the season will end with him shut inside that big ole tree with Vaatu. It may be called the spirit library but it is all human knowledge that is stored there, he does not revere knowledge he steals and hoards it. If there are any books there actually written by spirits I'll be shocked. He sends his helpers out to the mortal world and takes knowledge without earning it. All in all he diminishes knowledge by hiding it. I just hope someone ends up calling him out on his hypocrisy and the library is restored to the mortal world where it's contents belong (the foxes are welcome to stay with it, at least they're actually friendly and helpful librarians).
Jennifer B
15. JennB
I'll have to watch it again and see if my first impression changes at all. I may have just subconsciously started to ignore it. It really is too bad because I have always thought he did a good job back in the original series.
16. TheAndyman
I'm glad you like this episode but I happen to find this whole season incredibly lumpy as far as storytelling goes, and this one is no exception. I think what we are lacking is any sort of villain that neither inspires fear nor drives any sort of plot. Unalaq/Vaatu are both mustache twirling cliches of The Ultimate Evile, yawn, and this episode is all over the map as far as storytelling, which just reflicts how odd and disjointed this season is.

For my money, I think Vaatu is going to end up fusing with Jinora, or at least I hope so. That would be the most interesting twist they could come up with with all this forshadowing. I might accept fusing with Unalaq but that seems cheap to me. I would honestly be very disappointed if he fused with Korra, at least at first, I think that must be how the season ends, but I hope they do something more unexpected first.

The art is great as always, but honestly this season is a headscratcher to me. Come on writers, pull it together.
Chris Meadows
17. Robotech_Master
I'd just like to point out that I absolutely totally predicted Unalaaq's hostage gambit. Completely nailed that one. I expect we'll have to wait for the next episode to see how my other guesses turn out.

Also, did you realize that the episode title is a pun? When Korra reverts to toddlerKorra, she is at a "new spiritual age." :)
Mordicai Knode
18. mordicai
17. Robotech_Master

Yeah you did, I saw you comment that on the last thread, nailed it! I hope that my "Korra merges with Vaatu" theory fares better than my "Koh is behind Amon" theory...

16. TheAndyman

Um, Dark Jinora? I have to admit I didn't even consider that. Interesting pitch, I like it, but then, I always like that sort of thing!

14. ChocolateRob

She's like 11!
Robert Dickinson
19. ChocolateRob
Yeah she's 11, it shows. They make an episode about it being her destiny to be Korra's guide but she acts her age and makes a terrible job of it. Aside from getting her there she does nothing useful and in fact makes things far, far worse. Presumably she'll do something important while a prisoner but so far she's just a burden.
Brian Coutinho
20. Rathulfr
Is it just me, or does studio Mir seem to get the better episodes? I wonder if that is intentional.

Jinora is a child - just because a child can do something adult, very adult in some cases (I'm thinking of teens who have seen their younger siblings through school - at great cost to themselves), it doesn't change the fact that they're children.
Jinora could do what her father couldn't, yes, but that didn't automatically mature her to Tenzin's age and caution - if anything Korra should have been taking care of her, only Korra is well, Korra.
Jonas Schmiddunser
21. Jineapple
Count me in with those disappointed with Wan Shi Tong...what a horrible judge of character. I hope we get some explanation why he would trust Unalaq after his last encounters with humans...

Speaking of which, dear god, can he get any more cartoon-villainy? Have you seen his facial expressions in this episode? And threatening to kill Jinora, trying to kill Korra...(Although one thing I'm not quite sure about, have we been introduced to this technique Unalaq uses? Do we know what exactly it does?)
Anyway, it's about time he gets some kind of motivation, but I doubt it'll help much.

On the whole I'm with TheAndyman...yes, seeing Iroh and Baby Korra was great, the spirit world is awesome...but the storytelling really is subpar.
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
21. Jineapple

I think the level of Snidey Whiplash is the single biggest reason people keep thinking there has got to be another twist. Now I'm thinking maybe they are just painting with a heavy brush so that at the end of the season, when Korra is like "I accept the dark side, I accept the light side, I am the Avatar, I bring balance to the Force world," they can have it be a little A Wind in the Door, where Meg is like "I love you Mister Jenkins!" to the cruel unlovable principal?
Chris Nelly
23. Aeryl
Is it just me, or does Vaatu sound like the Locnar?
Francisco Guimaraes
24. franksands
I think Unalaq asks the most important question: Why didn't Korra go through the south portal? Why spend time trying to get in touch with your spiritual side, something the she still finds hard and endanger a small child in the process? Probably because we still have more 3 episodes and obviously need a boss battle with Unalaq/Vaatu.

I would like very much of Korra absorbing Vaatu in the end and both finding balance within her.
Mordicai Knode
25. mordicai
23. Aeryl

For a second I thought Locnar was a Kingkiller reference & I was like "oh now the comments are going to get real interesting & real crazy!
Christopher Bennett
26. ChristopherLBennett
@19: In Jinora's defense, Korra handled herself just as badly. The first thing she did upon arriving in the Spirit World was to get into a fight with the locals. If she hadn't done that, if she'd stayed calm and not antagonized the spirits, then she could've easily caught up with Jinora, the environment wouldn't have turned against them, and they wouldn't have plunged into the river and gotten separated. Sure, Jinora wasn't keeping a close eye on Korra, but why would an 11-year-old expect that she was the one who was supposed to be more mature and responsible than her 18-year-0ld companion? So I'd say the fault lies with Korra, not Jinora.

@21: Unalaq's binding technique looks like a variant of his spirit-calming technique. Since Korra and Jinora actually are spirits at this point, it's understandable that he could use the same power on them.

As for Unalaq's motivation, remember that we didn't learn Amon's backstory and motivations until the second-last episode of the season.

@23: There's a resemblance, I suppose, but the Loknar in Heavy Metal was played by Percy Rodrigues (Commodore Stone in Star Trek's "Court-martial"), while Vaatu is played by Jonathan Adams, who was Atrocitus in Green Lantern: The Animated Series and Kang the Conqueror in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

@24: Korra didn't go through the southern portal because Unalaq's forces control the south polar region and she couldn't physically reach the portal. In fact, I suspect that the major action of the last few episodes may involve Korra and friends trying to fight their way through Unalaq's forces to get to one or both of the portals.
27. SwissArmyCheese
I really liked how Wa Shi Tong aligned himself with Unalaq because it goes well with the lesson Korra is learning this season on the value of the appearance of neutrality: a lesson Mako tries to hammer into Korra before the whole amnesia incident.

Unalaq managed to obtain the owl spirit's trust because he has demonstrated his pure motivation to help a spirit in need, evil or not.
Where as Aang's, and Jinora's failure to keep Shi Tong's trust came from them openly exploiting the knowledge of the library to further their partican conflict.

On the Future-Verreck Industries Alliance:
Even without the impression that Verreck is the bad guy, I still think this will destroy Asami's reputation.

With Future Industries supporting the overthrow of the current regime of the Southern Water Tribe it may permenently tain her family's name by the fact that Future Industries is now assossiated with two anti-establisment revolutionary groups:
Hiroshi Sato - Amon and The Equalist,
Asami - Nuptuck the terrorist of the south.
Christopher Bennett
28. ChristopherLBennett
@27: Err, why would Nuqtuq be perceived as a terrorist? He's a piece of propaganda used to convince the people of the United Republic that the Southern Water Tribe are the heroes and Unalaq is the villain. And since Unalaq actually is the villain, I doubt that history will end up painting the situation that differently from the propaganda films.
29. Nessa
@24 franksands: Because she wanted to close the portal, didn't she? If she physically went through the southern portal, and tried to close it, then she'd be stranded on the inside with no way out.

@16 TheAndyman: I agree, this whole season seems really ham-handed in the way they handle things, not just with the Unalaq storyline, but also Korra's character development, and Mako's and Bolin's subplots. I hate the way there's so much potential for nuance and subtlety in the storylines, but it just gets wasted in the end. I still like it a lot better than any other animated shows, but it's not as good as the first season (or Legend of Aang).

On the current episode itself: Kya must be kicking herself now. She was the one who was pushing so hard for Jinora to be Korra's spiritual guide.
Christopher Bennett
30. ChristopherLBennett
@29: But if Korra could get to the southern portal physically, she could close it from the outside, just as she opened it from the outside. The reason she had to get to it through the Spirit World was because Unalaq's troops would've prevented her from reaching it the normal way.
Scott Silver
31. hihosilver28
Loved the episode, and I'm finally excited to see where the rest of the season will lead. :-) Welcome back, Korra.
Francisco Guimaraes
32. franksands
@29. Not at all. Go through the portal, defeat Unalaq, go back and close the portal.
Or better yet, Unalaq is not able to open the portal himself, why not wait until the convergence is done, remove Unalaq from spirit world and then close the portal.
Portals in fact that did not exist in TLA.
Francisco Guimaraes
33. franksands
@30 What troops? The Northern Pole army would not fight the Avatar. Unalaq is still respected in the "mortal world" because he kept his actions hidden. I really don't think any army of the water tribes would atack one of its own, even more being the Avatar.
Christopher Bennett
34. ChristopherLBennett
@33: Err, the troops that moved in to occupy the South Pole at the end of episode 1 of the season, remember them? And those troops have been attacking their own, i.e. Southern Water Tribe members like Korra, for weeks now, ever since the war started. If they weren't willing to attack their own, there would be no war.
Jonas Schmiddunser
35. Jineapple

Also, yes Unalaq could get problems for attacking the avatar...if it became publicly known...but if his troops ambush her near the south pole, why should that news reach Republic city or leave the south pole for that matter?
36. Nessa
@30 CLB: Ah, that makes more sense.

@32 franksands: Did she know of Unalaq's presence in the spirit world, though? Her main priority was closing the spirit portal, not fighting with Unalaq. I guess she could just have closed the portal along with Unalaq inside if she'd known of it, but I don't think anyone knew that Unalaq was chumming with Vaatu inside the spirit world.
Christopher Bennett
37. ChristopherLBennett
@36: No, Korra had no way of knowing that Unalaq was in the Spirit World. She was going there to close the portal, not to confront him.
Francisco Guimaraes
38. franksands
@34 Ok, they had no problem with attacking south pole people, but it would be a very different thing to attack openly the Avatar.

@35 That is a very good question. Where is the rest of the world here? Why Republic City would calmly let a whole army of north pole ships invade the south pole like that?

@36 and 37 Even if she didn't know Unalaq was there, which was pretty obvious the he wanted help Vaatu, why go through all the trouble of astral projection, when there is already an open portal ready to be used? If the troops were really a problem, do a stealth mission, create a diversion with Mako and Asami.

An even better decision was not to go to the spirit world. Only the avatar can open the portals. The Harmonic Convergence will only happen with both portals open. Wait for the convergence to pass and the job is done.

Or fight the whole army and close the portal from the outside. Anng was able destroy the whole fire nation army when they were invading the north pole. Korra seems more powerful than Aang, since she has complete control over Avatar state.
Christopher Bennett
39. ChristopherLBennett
@38: Officially, the Northern and Southern Water Tribes are united into a single nation. So Unalaq legally has authority over the South. A lot of people in the South feel he's oppressing their distinct culture, but as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it's an internal matter, not an invasion, and thus the United Republic doesn't feel it has the right to get involved.

As for getting to the portal, we don't know if a stealth mission would've been that easy. It was safer to go to Tenzin and get his help. Given a choice between a way in where people are shooting at you and one where they don't even know you're coming, the selection isn't that difficult.

Also, Unalaq did tell Korra, just before her flight from the South, that he believed he'd be able to open the Northern Portal without her. She couldn't just assume it was safe to sit back and do nothing, in case Unalaq was right.

As for an all-out assault, that would've probably killed a lot of people. Going in through the Spirit World required no loss of life. It would be monstrous and horrible for the Avatar to think the former option was better.

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