Joey Sack ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Great Uniter’s plans for her army’s new superweapon begin to spell trouble for the rest of the world in this week’s episode of The Legend of Korra, “Beyond the Wilds.” In this episode, we see the return of old characters, reunions between friends and family, and we may have witnessed the next or perhaps even final step in the Avatar’s road to recovery, helped along by the most unlikely of allies. This is probably one of the best episodes in a season where all of the episodes have been, at their absolute worst, entertaining and engaging and, at their absolute best, amazing and some of the series’ finest stories. There’s great character moments, great developments in the conflict between the Earth Empire and the rest of the world, sprinkles of great action, and a dive into the Avatar’s spirituality that is one of the most satisfying in a long time. It’s true what Bryan Konietzko said on his Tumblr last week; things are starting to get real; very, very real, and it can only get more real from here. Because of some of the key elements in this episode, there are spoilers ahead, so you have been warned.
At the beginning of this episode, Ryu (Jon Heder), an airbender who used to live in his parents’ basement before joining the new Air Nation, is leading a group of tourists into the Spirit Wilds of Republic City for a tour. However, all is not well in the Spirit Wilds, as the vines start moving and snatch up all of the tourists and Ryu, despite his fairly meager efforts to protect them. When Korra (Janet Varney), Opal (Alyson Stoner), and Jinora (Kiernan Shipka) investigate a spike in the Wilds’ spiritual energy that Jinora sensed, Korra, through the spirit vines, learns that Kuvira (Zelda Williams) has ordered her army to harvest spirit vines from the Foggy Swamp, which is causing the Spirit Wilds in Republic City to retaliate and become more hostile towards humans. This is yet another indication that humans can live in peace with spirits, but only if they respect each other; plus, it’s possible that this is why people in Avatar Wan’s time, ten thousand years ago, were having problems with the spirits, because they didn’t know how to treat the spirits. At the end of Book Two, we were told that living with spirits would be challenging, and this is a big example that backs that sentiment up. It will be interesting to see how Korra deals with Kuvira’s meddling with the Foggy Swamp, and if the Swamp will be able to beat back the Earth Empire for much longer, as it’s clear that even Kuvira’s forces are having trouble with the vines. Also: Toph vs. Kuvira; it needs to happen. Soon.
Meanwhile, Bolin (P.J. Byrne) and Varrick (John Michael Higgins) finally make it back to Republic City and Varrick warns the world leaders (and Korra) about Kuvira’s spirit vine superweapon. Despite this, neither Tenzin (J.K. Simmons) nor Fire Lord Izumi (April Stewart) will allow their forces to be drawn into a war with the Earth Empire unless absolutely necessary, despite President Raiko’s (Spencer Garrett) insistence that they need to do something about Kuvira before she attacks the United Republic. It’s nice to finally hear Zuko’s daughter Izumi talk, and her views are quite clearly shaped by her father’s experiences and by the Fire Nation’s history with wars; it really comes as no surprise that Izumi wants to keep the Fire Nation away from aggressive moves in the Earth Kingdom, but it’s quite clear that if and when Kuvira’s forces start to attack the United Republic, the Fire Lord will surely come to the defense of the land that her father helped to create.
Bolin’s return to Republic City leads to awkward contact with Opal, since she is rightfully bitter about him helping Kuvira take over the Earth Kingdom and putting his loyalty to the Great Uniter over his feelings for the young airbender. He makes several attempts to win her back, and even uses Pabu to try and sway her, but in scenarios that would have worked in a number of teen romance dramas, Opal remains adamant in her refusal to forgive Bolin. While it seems a bit out of character for Opal to be so cold to Bolin, it’s completely understandable, given what she’s been through in just the past few weeks: her family, save for her treacherous eldest brother and her aunt, Lin Beifong (Mindy Sterling), has been captured by someone who she probably saw as an older sister before her betrayal; her home city of Zaofu has fallen under Earth Empire control; and, to top it all off, no one seems willing to fight back against Kuvira, and she can’t do anything herself because of an oath of non-aggression she took when she joined the new Air Nation. But that doesn’t stop her police chief aunt from recruiting her on an unsanctioned mission to save her family. It’s great to see Lin finally stand up for her family, and you can see that Book Three really fleshed out her character; she’s gone from a no-nonsense police chief to a no-nonsense police chief who cares about the people in her life and is willing to help and be helped when needed.
When Korra and Mako (David Faustino) learn that the vines have taken Jinora, they go into the Spirit Wilds to investigate, and discover that the bodies of all the people that the vines have abducted are being kept in strange cocoons, their souls trapped in the Spirit World. When Korra tries to meditate into the Spirit World, however, she is faced with a vision of the day Zaheer (Henry Rollins) almost killed her, and finds herself unable to enter the Spirit World. Deciding to face Zaheer, who has now been imprisoned for three years deep beneath the mountains outside of Republic City, she actually gets some help from Zaheer. The airbending anarchist points out that her blaming him is simply a coping mechanism to keep her from confronting what happened to her that fateful day, and that as long as she tries to forget about what happened, she will always have something holding her back from her true potential. She must acknowledge and accept what happened to her, and also accept that she is still alive and that her being there is proof of her power.
It’s interesting for this series to revisit an old villain, as the main villains of seasons one and two both wound up dead before they could learn anything or reflect on their past. Zaheer may have succeeded in bringing chaos to the Earth Kingdom by “taking out” the Earth Queen, but that resulted in Kuvira’s rise to power, and she is arguably worse than the Earth Queen; his bid for chaos actually brought more control and order to the Earth Kingdom, meaning everything he did was for nothing. For that reason, Zaheer is actually willing to help Korra get through her mental block on her spiritual powers. This allows Korra to make it into the Spirit World, and fully reconnect with Raava (April Stewart), finally being able to talk to the source of the Avatar’s power yet again. That was something that has been missing since Korra fused with Raava again at the end of Book Two; in the instances when we saw Avatar Wan and Raava fused together, they would actually talk to each other, in a similar way to how past Avatars could, in theory, talk to the current Avatar (well, not anymore, but before the end of Book Two). Being the first Avatar of a new age, you would think that Korra would be talking more to the spirit who ensures her reincarnation. It was nice to see the creators acknowledge that Korra was not fully reconnected to Raava until this episode, and we can only hope that this will play some sort of role in the series finale.
“Beyond the Wilds” definitely stands out among the greatest episodes this season, especially in light of last week’s entertaining (but ultimately pointless) clip show. This episode shows that Korra is definitely getting back her Avatar mojo, and a good thing too: Kuvira has a lot to answer for, between her messing with the spirit vines, her capture of Suyin Beifong and her family, and, of course, her tyrannical dictatorship over the Earth Kingdom. Here’s hoping that either Korra or a certain blind earthbender (preferably both) come in to put Kuvira and the Earth Empire in their place. New episodes of The Legend of Korra premiere every Friday on Nick.com and the Nick app. We have four episodes to go. Get ready for Korra to get a shot of adrenaline as we rapidly approach the finish line.
Overall Episode Grade: A-/A