The Legend of Korra: Rebel Spirit/The Southern Lights Recap

The Legend of Korra: Rebel Spirit/The Southern Lights (2×01-02)

Synopsis: The second Book of The Legend of Korra opens with a return to the Southern Water Tribe, where Avatar Korra learns that family drama may be the reason behind the imbalance in the Spirit World.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

After more than a year of waiting, The Legend of Korra is back with Book Two! How does the opening episodes set us up for a season in the spirit world? Let’s find out.

The first episode ‘Rebel Spirit’ is set six months after the Equalist defeat. Bolin is the only original member of the Fire Ferrets still on the team, Mako has become a cop who dishes out crappy one liners that he writes down, Asami is trying to keep Future Industries afloat after her father’s arrest, and Korra has “mastered” air bending. Well, at least on her terms. Tenzin, however, is insistent that she still has a lot to learn and is ready to escort her to the Air Temples in order to help her learn her connection to the Spirit World and continue her Airbending training. Korra’s hesitant about this, feeling frustrated about Tenzin’s teaching methods. Hmm… didn’t we go over this last season with Probending?

Tenzin being uptight and micromanaging: now with chibis!

Tenzin being uptight and micromanaging: now with chibis!

Well, no time to worry about that! It’s time to head to the Southern Water Tribe for the Glacial Spirits Festival. It’s here that we meet the new cast of side characters for the season. Of course, there is Kya and Bumi, Tenzin’s older siblings who made his life Hell as a kid. We’re re-introduced to Korra’s father Tonraq, Chief of the Southern Water Tribe and resident Hot Dad. His brother Unalaq comes in shortly after as well as his children Desna and Eska. All you need to know at this point is that Unalaq and Tonraq don’t get along, Unalaq constantly complains about the state of the Southern Water Tribe, Desna and Eska are creepy looking, and Eska is essentially a waterbender version of April Ludgate, right down to being played by Aubrey Plaza.

Oh, and then there’s Varrick.

Varrick doesn’t get a whole lot of play in this episode besides one scene where Asami and Bolin go to meet him, but it’s a good fast paced comedic scene. Varrick is an eccentric billionaire Asami needs to get Future Industries back in business, and he’s pretty much Howard Stark on Speed. A LOT of Speed. If JK Simmons wasn’t already playing Tenzin, I’d expect him to be playing Varrick and become a rehash of Cave Johnson. He disappears before ‘The Southern Lights,’ but I’m interested to see how he’s going to play into the rest of the season.

Plus, he's just so suave! [nick.com]

Plus, he’s just so suave! [nick.com]

Okay, back to the plot.

The festival is off to a great start, but Unalaq is complaining about how the festival used to be a solemn time and how the Southern Water Tribe is unbalanced. Y’know… typical buzzkill stuff. However, he’s speaking an interesting language to Korra, who’s getting pretty tired of Tenzin and not having control over her own life as she continues her training. Her dad insists that her training is fine and blows his brother off.

At the Royal Feast, Unalaq gives a speech about the spirits and Tonraq doesn’t look pleased. Korra then finds out that it was Tenzin and her father who decided to keep her in the Southern Water Tribe to learn bending and not the White Lotus. She gets rightfully angry and Unalaq makes another move to become Korra’s spiritual teacher.

Meanwhile, Tenzin’s siblings pick at him and Gram Gram Katara looks on sadly. It’s a small moment, but it breaks your heart because you’re reminded that everyone that Katara had at that age has been gone for a while now.

Katara and Aang's kids are full of joy and sadness for the audience.

Katara and Aang’s kids are full of joy and sadness for the audience.

At the festival, Korra asks Mako what to do, then gets mad when he doesn’t give her a straight answer. I swear, how am I supposed to feel for this couple when all they do is constantly snipe at each other for two episodes? It’s like a Katy Perry about Travis McCoy with those two. It doesn’t matter which one. Just pick one. I promise it fits.

Bolin also gets up the nerve to ask out Eska. She declares that she will make Bolin hers and orders him to win her prizes. I decide right then that they are the April and Andy of this show.

She's even got the April Ludgate Death Stare down.

She’s even got the April Ludgate Death Stare down.

Later that night, a dark spirit attacks the festival grounds. Korra, Tonraq, Mako, Bolin and Tenzin try to subdue it, but have no luck, even when Korra trips the Avatar State. Unalaq manages to subdue it, which is what convinces Korra to train with him and discontinue her training with Tenzin. Tenzin begins to make way for the Southern Air Temple the next morning. Katara insists that he brings along Kya and Bumi, saying, “When you get to be my age, you’ll be thankful for the time you had with your siblings.” Oof, way to stab me in the heart with dead Sokka’s boomerang, Katara. Lucky for us, Tenzin relents, promising us a season of Kataang children hijinks. Huzzah!

Plus, how much do I love that Tenzin had to give his big brother a airbending boost onto Oogi? I bet Aang used to do the same.

Plus, how much do I love that Tenzin had to give his big brother a airbending boost onto Oogi? I bet Aang used to do the same.

‘The Southern Lights’ picks up right after the end of ‘Rebel Spirit’ with Korra starting her training with Unalaq. Which he starts with going to the South Pole to unlock the blocked Spirit Portal. Way to throw her in the deep end, Uncle Unalaq.

Mako, Bolin, Desna and Eska are along for the ride and Tonraq insists on coming along to protect Korra from the Everstorm that exists in the South Pole. The fabulous Asami and her perfect hair are nowhere to be seen for this dangerous mission, so I’m already less enthused.

"GO AWAY, MAKO." In that moment, Bolin says what we're all thinking.

“GO AWAY, MAKO.” In that moment, Bolin says what we’re all thinking.

During their travels, the group is attacked by dark spirits that destroy most of their supplies, nearly kill Bolin before he’s saved by the creepy twins, and are only subdued by Unalaq. They settle in a cave to keep warm where it becomes exposition time! (Well, not before Eska calls Bolin her “feeble little turtle duck.” That’s oddly cute, I will admit.)

It turns out the reason Unalaq and Tonraq are so mad at each other was that Tonraq was banished from the Northern Water Tribe after he destroyed a sacred forest where spirits resided in order to expunge some barbarians who had attacked the tribe. The spirits got mad and attacked the village. Hot shirtless Tonraq tried to defeat them, but Unalaq subdued them with his magical spirit bending skills. Their dad got mad and banished Tonraq, relinquishing his spot as chief to Unalaq.

But mostly, I was distracted by shirtless Tonraq. What can I say? I'm only human.

But mostly, I was distracted by shirtless Tonraq. What can I say? I’m only human.

Now, it was at this point I paused the episode and had to wonder: Tonraq had to have heard the story of Princess Yue at some point in his life. He might even be a cousin to the Moon Spirit herself for all we know. You think he would have learned something about what happens when you mess with the spirits and the balance of the universe being in line to become the leader of the Northern Water Tribe. Apparently not, though. Good job, Tonraq. You doomed us all for not remembering the sacrifice of the Moon Spirit. Sokka is mad disappointed in you, I’m sure.

Well, if Sokka isn’t disappointed, Korra sure is. She gets mad at her dad for not telling her this vital piece of information about her family’s history and tells him to leave. Mako promises her dad that they’ll look out for her, and she gets snippy about that too. Please tell me again why these two are meant for each other if all they do between being couple-y is argue?

The group reaches the Everstorm, which is brewing over a destroyed forest similar to the one in the North. Unalaq tells her that she has to go in alone to fix the portal. The boys protest against it, insisting that they go where she goes, but Korra assures them that she’ll be okay. She goes in and is immediately attacked by dark spirits. She holds them off in time to make it to the portal, but her very Korra-like way of trying to punch the portal until it breaks just makes them madder and attracts more to her. They get a hold of her, but she trips the Avatar State and works to break free. After a struggle, she manages to reach far enough to tap on the portal, which breaks up the Everstorm and restores the Southern Lights to their proper place. Tonraq looks on proudly as he makes his way back to the village.

The whole sequence is pure visual magic. It's worth a watch for the animation alone.

The whole sequence is pure visual magic. It’s worth a watch for the animation alone.

While all of this is going on, Tenzin and his family make it to the Southern Air Temple, where Aang was born. The Air Acolytes shower Tenzin and Pema with praise and gifts for bringing in the next generation of airbenders, but don’t seem to realize the fact that Aang had two other kids that weren’t airbenders. This seems to steam the two older kids, and I wonder if it’s going to foster any sort of resentment in the later episodes.

Tenzin takes his children into the temple and while Meelo and Ikki are being themselves, Jinora seems to be having a spiritual encounter of her own. She senses something in the statue room with her while looking on at her grandfather’s statue, and later that night, something wakes and leads her to a statue of an Avatar she’s never seen before. The moment Korra touches the portal, the statue lights up and Jinora is entranced. From the previews for this season and these moments in the premiere, it seems that Jinora has a bigger role this season. This excites me because Jinora is my favorite of the Tenzin’s children and these spiritual connections are probably essential in her becoming an airbending master like her father and grandfather before her.

Screencaps can't encase how lovely this was to watch.

Screencaps can’t encase how lovely this was to watch.

Back in the South, Korra makes her way out of the woods, makes up with Mako yet again, and travels back to the village with the remaining group. However, as the sun rises, Korra looks out to see the Northern Water troops making their way into the Southern village. She asks Unalaq what’s going on, and he says something cryptic about needing to restore balance to the Southern Water Tribe by other methods.

And that’s where the episode ends.

YEAH KORRA. I'M CONCERNED ABOUT WHY YOUR UNCLE HAS TROOPS INVADING YOUR HOME TOO.

YEAH KORRA. I’M CONCERNED ABOUT WHY YOUR UNCLE HAS TROOPS INVADING YOUR HOME TOO.

There’s a term in the Southern United States that is often used to describe the Civil War. That term is “The War of Northern Aggression.” Now, I don’t particularly like using that term because the South was being pretty terrible during the Civil War, but I seriously do think Unalaq is trying to actually start a War of Northern Aggression.

‘Rebel Spirit’ and ‘The Southern Lights’ are a pretty solid start to Book Two of The Legend of Korra. The animation is beautiful in this book and it does a good job of introducing the Spirit World issue that’s going to be a part of this season. Plus, with the cliffhanger of a Water Tribe civil war, it seems that we might be back to the classic travel stories from the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series. However, I worry that it could easily just be a rehash of the Equalist battles from last season. Plus, with the introduction of Eska and Varrick and the constant sniping between Korra and Mako, I worry that we might lose focus onto romance yet again. And as much as I enjoy Bolin being Andy Dwyer, I hope he gets some actual character development this season.

And don’t leave Asami in the dust!

3 responses to “The Legend of Korra: Rebel Spirit/The Southern Lights Recap

  1. Korra kinda pissed me off this entire episode just because she was kind of a dick to everyone. Every time she was pissy to her dad I’m just like, “Oh, my God. I don’t care if you’re the Avatar. You’re a shitty daughter.” Also, like, Korra. C’mon. How could you not see what was coming? Your father was trying to tell you that you can’t just go trusting your douchebag uncle.

    • Well, her dad is being a bit overbearing, but yeah. I’m hoping that sense will win out over teenage angst by the end of the season. Especially if her uncle is being this much of a douche.

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