Book 2 saw Legend of Korra's Team Avatar fractured and scattered, so it's especially nice to see our ensemble not only together, but also working together in their quest to do right by the new Airbenders. Plus, we are seeing a Korra who has genuinely matured from her spiritual experiences.
We open, not with Team Avatar, but with a beautiful battle at the North Pole that shows just how formidable Zaheer's gang really is. Despite facing Zuko, Tonraq, Desna, Eska, the White Lotus guards, and a freaking dragon, Zaheer, Ghazan, and Ming-Hua were able to free P'Li.
And how much fun is Ming-Hua to watch?
Back in the Earth Kingdom, Team Avatar is dealing with the Earth Queen and the realization that she has imprisoned and conscripted the Airbenders of Ba Sing Se. We see the team actually acting as a team, with Mako legitimately trying to be helpful, Asami being quick on her feet and buying the team time with the Earth Queen, and Bumi injecting some surprising reality by pointing out the Earth Queen is legally within her rights to draft her own citizens. But it's Jinora who provides the necessary spiritual muscle.
Meanwhile, we get some insight into Kai's character. The Dai Li is trying to train the captured Airbenders, but they're more interested in ensuring obedience than building a team. Kai has picked up some skills from his work with Jinora, but he isn't going to hurt other people for the sake of showing off or because he has been intimidated into violence. Kai may be a thief and a liar, but he's not a cad. He has also utterly charmed Jinora. Who knew that blue spirits could blush pink?
Oh, and Lin's back!
Lin wants to bring Korra back to Republic City, feeling that she can better protect her from Zaheer's gang there. When Korra refuses, it's not the action of the petulant teenager we saw in Book 2; it's the action of someone who has taken on an important task and isn't about to abandon it because her life happens to be at risk. Of course, Korra doesn't know how dangerous Zaheer's gang is, but she can be forgiven for that.
It's satisfying to watch the plan to free the Airbenders come together so nicely. Even when the crew finds itself ambushed by Dai Li Earthbenders, Korra and Tenzin are able to use their own bending skills and lead the pissed-off Airbenders to hold the Earthbenders off long enough to mount an escape. And Mako, Bolin, and Jinora are able to free Kai.
I kid, of course. It happens a few other times during these episodes.
You know what I love about this show? Every now and then during an action scene, a protagonist character will find themselves in peril, and all I can think is, "That was a really cool move." I dig the Earthbending hand grab.
Korra and Tenzin may have had trouble recruiting Airbenders door-to-door, but these newbie Airbenders have felt their own power and see Tenzin as a person they can trust. And now that they are refugees from Ba Sing See, they happily agree to follow Tenzin and become Air Nomads. It gives Tenzin tears of joy.
It's sad to see Korra and Tenzin separate, but this is a separation that makes sense in terms of the story. And I imagine we'll see them reunited before the season ends.
I hope this isn't the last we'll see of Ba Sing Se in the Korra timeline. The imprisoned Airbenders are certainly a more immediate problem than Earth Queen's corruption and the pervasive poverty in Ba Sing Se, but it's something I'd like to see addressed in the future.
What's so nice about this "finding the new Airbenders" arc is that it gives us an excuse to travel the world and see what has popped up in the decades following the Hundred Year War. It gives us that globe-trotting feel that Avatar: The Last Airbender had that's been missing from Korra. And next, we're headed to Zaofu, home of the Metal Clan. With its Art Deco skylines and talk of high-speed trains, Zaofu looks like something out of an Ayn Rand novel, but without the tedious speeches about the virtue of selfishness.
One of the first things we learn in Zaofu: Toph's still alive! But no, we don't get to meet her. Yet.
Also, Zaofu is run by Suyin Beifong who is, surprise, Lin's sister.
Legend of Korra has always been a show about family—how families form, where the cracks are, the mistakes that parents and children make. And Su provides a perfect example of a person who means well, but is making mistakes with her own family. She and Lin are estranged, thanks in part to their upbringing. Toph, reacting to her strict childhood, gave her children complete freedom, something that left Su with a profound craving for the family she feels she missed out on. But Su is making the same mistake that Toph did: forcing her children to grow up the way she wishes she had. She coddles her four sons and one daughter, refusing to permit them the adventures that made her the person that she is. Nowhere is that more apparent than with her daughter, Opal, who wants to train at the Northern Air Temple with the other Airbenders while her mother insists that she stay at home.
But Opal attracts the eye of Bolin, who could really use a sweet romance.
And hey! Varrick's in Zaofu! And, more importantly:
Back on Air Temple Island, Pema, Kya, Meelo, and Ikki have been taking in new Airbenders—and Zaheer shows up. Granted, they've gotten used to accepting all comers, but they really should have been a bit more suspicious:
Fortunately, Kya realizes who Zaheer is before he gets any information on Korra's whereabouts, but it's clear that the hunt for the Avatar is on, and it won't be long before Team Avatar has to face their deadliest foes yet.
Top gif from Korra Nation.