Turns out I was wrong in my last recap: The airbenders didn’t escape the Red Lotus’ nefarious clutches. The only one still on the lam is Kai, the Elmo to Korra‘s Sesame Street, which means we get some Kai this episode. Greeeeeat.
But first! Team Avatar is on an airship en route to the Northern Air Temple arguing about how to respond to Zaheer’s ultimatum. Korra insists that she give herself up in exchange for the airbender’s freedom, though she concedes she won’t actually want to stay Zaheer’s prisoner. “Everybody had better chip in on a rescue operation once the exchange takes place, so help me.” Said rescue op will take two forms: Mako, Bolin, and Asami will meet with Lava Guy for the airbender handoff, and everyone else—Lin, Su, Tonraq, and Su’s metalbender guards—will hide near Zaheer and Korra’s meeting place, ready to swoop in once it’s been confirmed that the airbenders are safe.
While the good guys are in planning mode, Zaheer has a sweet romantic moment with Sparky Sparky Boom Woman—um, I’m sorry, P’li—about how they love each other very much, smoochy smoochy. There’s also an intriguing hint of backstory about how Zaheer rescued a young P’li from a warlord who was grooming her for use as a weapon. Yeah, OK, that’s pretty cool and all but check out this height difference:
Henry Rollins is a Hobbit!
Everything goes pretty predictably at first, with Zaheer insisting that Korra be put in shackles (platinum, so no metalbending) before the airbenders are released, just to be sure she won’t try any shenanigans. But then, PLOT TWIST, all the airbenders aside from Tenzin are actually weird water golems created by Water Arms. That’s a pretty impressive skill to have! I bet she and Lava Guy could put on some rad puppet shows.
Mako alerts everyone else via steampunk walkie-talkie that they’ve been played, and a pretty awesome fight breaks out between Korra (shackled, but performing admirably) and Zaheer, with Lin, Su, Tonraq and the metalbenders chipping in. I’m just gonna get the Tonraq stuff over with now, because I continue to aggressively not care about him. There’s a moment early in the episode where Korra warns her dad to watch his back, because Zaheer has a hate-on for word leaders, which seems like foreshadowing that Tonraq’s going to bite it. And then, once the fighting starts, Zaheer airbends him off a mountain. Korra thinks he’s dead, even though he’s actually rescued by a metalbender guard named Kuvira. (Whom I already know is the season four big bad, right? Anyway, I’ve already decided I like her. It’s a pretty sweet introduction—she’s given juuuuuuust enough weight so that you know she’s going to be important, but the writers don’t go full-on bash you over the head with it. It’s a nice little villain apertif.)
Anyway. Tonraq. It seems like he should die, right? I mean, he’s the Korra version of Katara and Sokka’s dad, who also seemed like he should have died heroically to further his children’s character development at some point, only he didn’t. But Tonraq bugs me in a way that Hakoda didn’t, which is weird, considering they’re the exact same character. (Ditto Kai and Jet.) I think the problem is that Korra‘s secondary characters tend to be more intrusive than Avatar‘s. The earlier show knew we were all about Team Avatar+Zuko, and characters like Jet and Suki existed on the periphery. They grew into beloved characters in their own right, but the core group always came first. Whereas it feels like Korra decided ahead of time that Tonraq and Jet were already A Thing, because, well, you liked their Avatar versions, so we don’t really need to do any more work there. I think it says something that the minor characters I’ve responded to most are the ones without an Avatar counterpart. (Varrick and Ju Di, Eska and Desna … though I guess you can claim Eska is the new Mai? Kind of?)
The whole thing is a similar problem to the one Mako’s character had in season two—Korra‘s writers keep trying to copy what Avatar did right instead of developing its own characters and situations organically and letting the show find its own spirit. Don’t get me wrong. I do like Korra. But I feel like there’s not as much love and care involved as there was with Avatar. There’s a sense of going through the motions. Everything in Avatar was planned out – the showrunners knew what they were doing! There was a series-long arc! Whereas with Korra it’s less cohesive, more “shit, we have to hit more Avatar beats, OK, now we need a villain for this season, how ’bout we make it another religious fundamenalist?”
All the season villains have been religious fundamentalists.
While I’ve been blathering on about Tonraq, the Beifong sisters have managed to defeat P’li. Lin creates a distraction while Su metalbends her shirt off and wraps it around P’li‘s head.
(Do we know if P’li’s dead? Zaheer certainly thinks she is, and the scene with the two of them earlier definitely seems to be setting up her death. I guess I’ll find out next episode.)
With P’li out of the way, Lin and Su can concentrate on rescuing Korra—who’s been knocked out by this point—from Zaheer. Except Zaheer pulls an “I belieeeeeve I can flyyyyy” and …. yup … starts flying.
Meanwhile, Lava Guy and Water Arms managed to escape to the airship, Lava Guy leaving a nice little present behind for Mako, Bolin, Asami, and a wounded Tenzin. Is it lava? It’s lava! The four of them run through the Air Temple, trying to stay ahead of the rising tide of fiery death, but things aren’t looking too good … until Bolin, in the heat of the moment (ba-doom-ch) discovers that he, too, is a lava bender! Baby! I knew you could do it!
Asami also had faith your hidden talents. I mean, just look at her face.
That group hitches a ride back to the ground courtesy of Kai and—the true underappreciated hero of this episode—his baby flying bison, who is burdened with four full-grown adults and one whipper snapper. Kai informs everybody that he knows the other airbenders are being kept in some caves nearby, so that’s probably where the Red Lotus is taking Korra, too. His theory turns out to be correct—in one of the caves, we see a shackled Korra about to be fed some mysterious poison by Zaheer.
The poison can’t be something that gets rid of her bending, right? Didn’t we already do that in season one? I’ll find out in the season finale – check back next Thursday for that recap.
This also happened. This is why you lava insurance.
Rebecca has newbie recapped Avatar and Battlestar Galactica for The Mary Sue before. She photoshopped The Rock’s head on a dolphin once. You can find her at Film Journal International, Pajiba, or on Twitter.
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