This week's hour-long Legend of Korra takes a break from our regular cast of characters to tell a different legend: that of Wan, the first Avatar. It reveals a bit more about the nature of the Avatar universe and just whose Avatar Korra and her predecessors are.
Korra takes the episode to recover from her amnesia, a process that doesn't involve unlocking her own memories, but instead involves reconnecting with her Avatar spirit, a being called Raava. Fortunately for us, this interior journey isn't through Korra's mind but through the life of Wan.
As many folks have noted, The Legend of Korra has employed more economical animation this season, but it works rather well against the representative backgrounds and elements in this episode. I wouldn't mind seeing more episodes with these woodblock and watercolor-inspired clouds and mountains. (Although when we're so used to the color-coded wardrobes of the elemental nations, the drab palette is pretty jarring.) And Wan's story has an excellent mythological feel to it, with the rogue who steals fire from the god-like lion turtle and his random encounter with Raava and Vaatu. And like Pandora (with a touch of Korra-like impulsiveness), Wan unleashes chaos upon the world in the form of the dark spirit Vaatu and retains the ever-shrinking Raava as hope. Finally, we understand why the Avatar's role is to balance the human and spirit worlds: each one is the Avatar of Raava, who bound herself to humanity to bring peace and light to the world. It's also gratifying to see after years of the franchise throwing around the word "Avatar," that Korra, Aang, and the rest of the line are, in fact, avatars of another being.
The episode is great fun (Aye-Aye in particular is a fabulous character), and it's neat to see the beginning of the Avatar cycle, but the real point of this episode is to clarify Korra's foe. We are 10,000 years into the Avatar cycle, which means that the Harmonic Convergence is upon us and Raava, through the Avatar, will have to face Vaatu once again. That's why Unalaq has been so keen on opening the spirit portal. Many commenters have speculated that Unalaq might be under the thrall of a dark spirit—and that he has been since he and Tarlaq encountered the spirits in the North. It will be interesting to see whether Unalaq is being possessed, deceived, or just feels that he's operating an important component of a sacred cycle. I'm rather hoping for the latter.
The question is whether Korra is worthy of participating in the Harmonic Convergence. It can't be an accident that the writers have made Korra this particularly significant Avatar of peace and balance at a time in her life when she is actually ornery and violent. I hope that Korra discovers that it will take more than bending skill and physical strength; I hope she channels her inner Raava. We've discussed that Korra's path as the Avatar has been rockier than Aang's because Aang always had a clear enemy to face while Korra's world operates in varied shades of gray. Will a legendary villain be enough to turn Korra into a legendary hero?
Perhaps the end of the episode signals that Korra is becoming a bit more like Aang. When Korra leaves the island, her memories restored, she leaves not with her trademark snarling Polar Bear Dog, but on an Air Bison, one who, like Appa's mother, is missing the tip of one horn. Korra's spiritual encounter with Wan may have left her open to finding balance in herself and thus better able to bring balance to the world.
All gifs from Korra Nation.