This week the crew behind Legend of Korra have really kicked everything into nail-biting high gear with “The Ultimatum.” Tension, intrigue, multiple locations and near death experiences for some characters had a lot of us on the edge of our seats.
After the Earth Queen had her own “Did Jet just die?” moment last week, this episode really had a lot to live up to. Happily, “The Ultimatum” not only delivers, but also exceeds expectations, by upping the stakes and raising anxiety levels. After the grim take down of the Earth Queen, no one would really blame the writing team for taking a moment to have a ‘breather’ episode; instead, this is one of those episodes that has you engaged from title card to end credits and leaves you begging for more.
And just a quick off-hand note: Korra’s been picked up on Hulu! Yay?
The music with the title card is the first clue we’re in for a wild ride. That Inception level BWAAAAMMM pretty much says “shit’s on fire, yo,” and shit is indeed on fire in Ba Sing Se.
Among the chaos of the Earth Queen’s palace being looted, Mako and Bolin manage to steal an airship. Seeing the lower ring on fire, they know their family’s in trouble, and race to the rescue. Thanks to Grandma Yin, they barely make it out in time – but the scene does have it’s charming moments.
Leaving Ba Sing Se, they head into the desert looking for Korra’s wrecked airship. It takes a while, but eventually their cousin finds it. The ruins they find are pretty foreboding, but the sand sailer Asami built left tracks leading straight to the Misty Palms Oasis. We know we’re in for a treat when the airship almost crash lands into Zuko’s dragon.
With a sweet reunion (Bolin looks like he gives the best hugs), this scene is the lightest in the episode. It delivers laughs through Bolin’s fan boy squeals over Zuko, Grandma’s semi-senile antics and Lin’s deadpan welcome: “Good, you’re not dead.”
This is really the only chance fans get to catch their breath before things get real when the boys deliver Zaheer’s message: He’s going to wipe out the new Air Nation unless Korra surrenders herself to him. Knowing they’re too far away to stop the Red Lotus, the only way to warn Tenzin is via radio transmission… and they’re too far away for that, too. Zaofu is the closest in radio range, so that’s where Team Avatar heads. They send message to SuYin, hoping she can get the warning to Tenzin before it’s too late.
By the time Team Avatar gets to the Metal Clan, Tenzin still hasn’t been warned. There’s a strong signal, but no one’s answering at the Northern Air Temple. Su is understandably anxious about Opal’s safety, and gathers her best security teams to head to the rescue. Lin and Korra’s father join her to help get the airships prepared, Mako and Bolin man the radio, and Korra… heads into the spirit world. With Asami standing guard, Korra tries to find Zaheer so she can trap his spirit on the other plane, but he’s not there. She does run into someone else, though!
During a sit down with our favorite old uncle, Korra tells him about the situation. Iroh suggests Korra seek advice from Zuko.
The good news is Zuko has gotten a lot better at giving advice. The bad news is Korra’s in a tough place no matter what she does. It’s either let the new Air Nation perish to save the Avatar…or leave the world without an Avatar when it needs one most to save the Air Nation. Many have found this problem similar to the one Aang faced in the finale of the original series. To kill Ozai or not weighed heavily on Aang, just as this choice weighs heavily on Korra. It’s a giant suck sandwich no matter what Korra choses. The worst part is Korra doesn’t have her past lives to rely on anymore. Though, that may be for the best considering advice from Kiyoshi could prove equally inelegant as the last time Aang sought her counsel. Whatever Korra chooses to do, she has to act fast considering things are getting heated at the Norther Air Temple.
The tension is cranked to 11 from the moment Tenzin sees the Red Lotus’s airship. When he and Meelo slip away to warn the others, the threat suddenly feels a lot more real. The Red Lotus aren’t to be trifled with, and Tenzin knows it. You can’t help but feel anxious when Ghazan stops the new recruits from escaping, and it only escalates as each group is corralled by members of the Red Lotus. When Zaheer stops Tenzin and the family from running to safety his simple line, “Good. The entire family is here,” fills you with dread.
The Red Lotus gathers everyone together, and we find out that they don’t want to hurt anyone. Zaheer promises as long as everyone’s chill everything will be fine, but Tenzin isn’t buying it; and, frankly, neither am I. Zaheer is interesting in that he has a very soft hand with seemingly random folks who oppose him; his whole “for the people” shtick is a great angle, but it feels like it’s cracking considering he’s threatening to wipe out an already near extinct culture. When Zaheer admits that the airbenders are basically bait so the Red Lotus can get Korra, Tenzin refuses to go down gently.
“Unfortunately, you don’t have a choice.”
Ya’ll, this battle was so rad!! Getting to the juicy part first, the square off between two airbenders is gripping from start to finish. It’s especially significant because this is the first time we’ve EVER seen two airbenders seriously duke it out. This particular battle between Tenzin and Zaheer is obviously a fight between an intermediate airbender and a total master. It almost didn’t seem like a fair fight! If Zaheer hadn’t had his team, he would have lost.
Of course Tenzin wasn’t the only one who got to show off his bending prowess. We got to see Kya face off against Ming Wa, and Bumi
pull hair and bite battle Ghazan. Even though Bumi’s a novice at airbending in comparison to Tenzin, he still managed to hold his own which is pretty impressive. Really everyone got to be badass on both sides of the battle, which made it satisfying to watch.
Everyone does their best, but in the end the bad guys win out. Kya and Bumi took a serious tumble, P’Li’s explosions scared off the sky bison leaving the airbenders stranded, and Tenzin’s dire situation left many fans in tears. JK Simmons delivery of Tenzin’s “As long as I’m breathing, it’s not over,” is simply outstanding. The way we’re left worrying about Tenzin’s fate means there’s a lot of speculation if he’ll even survive to the next episode. On one hand, I’m not sure many of us want Tenzin to go, but should he die what would that mean for Korra?
A fairly universal addition to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, commonly known as the hero’s journey, is The Death of the Mentor. You see this trope in all sorts of films and shows (the death of ObiWan in Star Wars for example). It marks the hero’s separation from the safety of their mentor. At this point, the hero must truly continue their quest alone. It’s often used as a method to either empower (usually through pure rage) or completely disempower a hero, bringing them to a very dark place. When a character goes into that dark place, it’s known in the screenwriting world as the Dark Night of the Soul. This is when the hero hits rock bottom, mourning whatever they’ve lost. The hero has completely fallen and must reorient before picking themselves back up. What would the potential loss of Tenzin mean for the story in this season and the next? Based on Zaheer’s demands, Korra can’t hand herself over with anyone else tagging along. She has to face him alone – and that has a lot of people worried.
The good news is Kai manages to get away after a seriously heroic face off against P’li. Hopefully he’s going to find Korra, and perhaps play a key role in helping Team Avatar find another solution aside from surrender.
With this season turning out to be so well done, it really feels like the Korra writing team has got their groove back. There’s been a lot of complaints about the first and second season, making many bow out from the series all together. It’s rough because we’ve got a show that’s finally hit it’s stride, and so many people have been totally missing out on it. It’s kind of like the writers (all four of them…but hey look they finally got a lady writer and she worked on the original series, YAY!) took the complaints from the past seasons and addressed several of those key problems. Then again, it may be too early to really tell, since the season hasn’t finished yet.
Will Korra have to give herself up? Is Kai going to find help or is he off to try and save the airbenders on his own? Could Su really be part of the Red Lotus and if so, why would she have put Opal in danger? Could this really be the end of Tenzin? Could the metalbenders show up and save the day in the nick of time and everything be perfectly happy? Hey, a girl can dream.
By day, Carrie is the co-creator, artist, and production coordinator for the webcomic Kamikaze . By night she’s a writer, budding comic nerd, and passionate feminist. Feel free to follow her on Twitter.