The Legend of Korra: “Beginnings” Recap
Wow. Last night’s The Legend of Korra, “Beginnings” Part 1 and 2, still has me reeling! It felt less like an hour-long episode of television and more like a feature length film. It ranks among the best episodes the Avatar team has ever produced (including Zuko Alone), and it may rank among the best hours of television that I have ever enjoyed.
Warning: Spoilers Follow
“Beginnings” picks up after Korra has washed up on a beach somewhere in the Fire Nation with no memory of who she is and the power she carries. But as with last week’s episode, “The Sting,” we barely see Korra at all, which now makes three episodes in a row where the titular character of The Legend of Korra disappears into the background of the story.
However, this is to the show’s credit. For much of Season 2 so far, the show has felt rushed, focusing on far too many storylines in far too short of a time. So whereas The Sting allowed the writers to narrow in on Mako, Bolin, and Asami, Beginnings allows the writers the opportunity to do some much needed backstory. It feels like the show has been kind of fumbling along up to this point as there’s been no real central conflict other than a so-so water tribe civil war story, but with Beginnings, Korra finds a purpose.
After washing up in the Fire Nation, Korra is taken by a group of elders to a pool of healing water, which is a neat nod to how the four nations now live in relative harmony (remember in The Last Airbender how the first Fire Nation elders Aang encounters want to capture him?). In the water, she begins to reconnect with her Avatar self, and we’re introduced to the first Avatar: a loveable street rat named Wan.
It’s interesting how Wan is first introduced as a morally ambiguous character, stealing food from the rulers of his city. But as we find out, he’s stealing food to provide food for his friends (both of the human and animal variety). This low-life characteristic of him, though, also leads to him stealing fire and his ultimate expulsion from the city in which he lives.
In the course of this, we find out a lot about the world of Avatar. Wan lived 10,000 years before Korra in a time when all of humanity lived in cities on the backs of giant lion-turtles. The lion-turtles protect humans from the spirits, and grant them the power of the element whenever they venture into the wilds, where the spirits live.
This story is also told amid gorgeous animation, which is done in an ancient Asian art style. The studio behind Beginnings, Studio Mir, also did the first season of Korra and will be animating every episode after episode 9, which is a relief. I don’t know which animation studio has been doing Korra up to now, but each episode of season 2 has so far felt very static. But in Beginnings, we get zooms, camera pans, swirling smoke, and characters actually move even when they’re not talking. It’s little touches like a character blinking in the background that allow you to get lost in the show.
Anyways, after Wan is expelled he meets up with one of my favorite side characters ever: a spirit named Aye-Aye, who gives Wan the name of Stinky. Aye-Aye doesn’t get a lot of lines, but he leaves a memorable mark on the episode.
After learning the ways of fire-bending from the spirits, Wan begins to travel the world, eventually running into the great spirits of light and darkness: Raava and Vaatu. After an unfortunate misunderstanding, Wan unintentionally lets Vaatu, the spirit of darkness, loose into the world. He subsequently teams up with Raava to set things right, gaining the power of the other three elements from other lion-turtles. The Avatar is thus born, conceived in order to rectify a mistake.
As we learn, Raava and Vaatu must battle every 10,000 years at the time of the Harmonic Convergence. If Vaatu wins, though, then it’s pretty much game over for humanity. Fortunately, Wan is able to save the day. However, there’s a twist: the 10,000 years is almost up. The next one will be up in just a period of weeks, meaning Korra doesn’t have much time left to learn the ways of the Avatar.
This also provides a fascinating new perspective on Unulaq, the leader of the Northern Water Tribe who is leading an invasion of the Southern Water Tribe. He has been keen to open the portals to the spirit realm at the North and South poles, and the corresponding area in the spirit realm is where Vaatu is currently imprisoned.
Obviously, Unulaq is acting in concert in some form with Vaatu. However, we still don’t know his motive. Is Vaatu tricking him, leading Unulaq to think that he is acting in the best interest of humanity? Or does Unulaq intend on using Vaatu to establish himself as leader of the world? Perhaps he’s even looking to merge with Vaatu to create an anti-Avatar.
Whatever is happening next, the stakes have been raised substantially.