This post originally appeared on The Mary Sue.
Let’s start off this recap of season two premiere “Rebel Spirit” with the thing I want to get out of the way:
Korra and Mako are officially a couple now. They’re sweet and cute, except for the part where they’re constantly bickering, because Korra’s not the greatest at communicating her emotions, and Mako’ always saying the wrong thing. There’s no indication of what Asami thinks about all this–she’s in this episode, but she only ever interacts with Bolin. They are my new BFFs.
That’s all I’m going to say about the love triangle this episode.
Done with it! Let’s move on.
Last season, the council (minus Tenzin) fucked up just about everything it was possible to fuck up, so we learn in a quick “catch you up” montage that they’ve been dissolved and replaced by a President, whom we’ve not yet met. Bumi, Tenzin’s older brother and the now-former second in command of the United Forces, has retired and is now living on Air Temple Island. (You retired, Bumi? You haven’t even done anything yet!) And there’s a brand new threat to the Southern Water Tribe: Korra goes Lovecraft when we see a tentacled spirit monster rise from the depths of the ocean and drag a boat under.
Back in Republic City, Bolin’s still pro-bending, though both Korra and Mako have ditched the Fire Ferrets, Korra to concentrate on her airbending training, Mako to be a cop. We first see him, on a motorcycle, chasing and then subduing a van full o’ criminals, after which he quips: “Looks like you had some car trouble. Good thing the police are here.”
WELL YOU’RE NO DAVID CARUSO, SIR.
(PS – The revelation later in the episode that Mako did, in fact, write that down in advance is something I enjoyed. It smacks a bit of forced dorkery, rather than the organic dorkery that developed in Zuko in season four of ATLA, but I still appreciate the effort.)
Asami, meanwhile, has taken over her father’s business, which is facing some tough times. Its former CEO being outed as the #1 ally of the biggest terrorist threat to face the city in decades will do that. Still, Asami is determined to get financial backing at the Southern Water Tribe’s Glacial Spirit Festival, where she’ll meet with a high-flying industrialist named Varrick. Asami Sato: Bisexual ninja race car driver businesswoman extraordinaire.
In fact, everyone’s going to the Glacial Spirit Festival, including Korra, Tenzin, and Tenzin’s family. Afterwards, they’ll go on a grand tour of every Air Temple, both to get Korra in touch with the spiritual side of bending (something she still sucks at) and because Tenzin’s a big dork who likes history vacations. Hey, Tenzin:
I would like it to be known that the first note I wrote upon the gang arriving at the Southern Water Tribe is “who’s the hot water tribe lady?” Seriously, though:
That is Aunt Kya, Tenzin and Bumi’s sister, named after Katara’s mother. Tenzin’s not scared of her… anymore.
Another family reunion comes when the Northern Water Tribe’s Chief Unalaq and his two kids–Eska and Desna–roll up in a fancy boat. Turns out, Unalaq is the brother of Korra’s father, Tonraq, and there’s not a lot of love lost between the two siblings. Unalaq is very “old man yells at cloud” about the Southern Water Tribe: Kids today with their festivals and their fun and their Snapchat. Back in my day, we spent all our time communing with the spirits, and we liked it. Tonraq thinks Unalaq is a holier-than-thou blowhard, which… yeah, OK.
But, for all that Unalaq maybe needs to get over himself a little bit, he does have a point: Something in the spirit realm has to be out of whack for spirits to be attacking ships. Neither Tenzin nor Tonraq told Korra about that, which is a little over-coddly and weird. And, sure, Korra’s reaction to Unalaq telling her he’ll teach her about spirits is YEAH I’LL FIGHT THOSE FUCKING SPIRITS, so maaaaaybe they were right to be concerned that Korra would run off and do something stupid if she knew, but… she’s what. 16? 17? She’s not a little kid. Aang saved the world when he was a preteen, and sure, Korra’s personality is much more volatile than Aang’s, but Korra did just save Republic City from Evil Terrorist Dude. She’s displayed competence and emotional growth; there’s no reason not to tell her about it at all. I’m just saying–this episode’s presenting Unalaq as kind of a dick (at the least) or suspicious (at the most), but I’m inclined to be sympathetic with what Korra does later on.
Asami and her loyal assistant Bolin go to visit Varrick, who’s a turned-to-11 caricature of an old-school Hollywood producer, and I love it. He instantly bonds with Bolin, so you know the dude has good taste. After staring in Asami’s eyes for a few seconds…
…he decides to cut a deal with her to save her company.
Later on, at a feast in Unalaq’s honor, tensions rise: Unalaq wants to poach Korra away from Tenzin so he can teach her about spirits. Tonraq objects. Korra’s pissed off at being micromanaged her whole life. Varrick’s just concerned with his otter penguins. I made this photoshop of Unalaq as the Church Lady, because it works surprisingly well.
Could it be… commercialism?!
That night, at the Festival, Bolin tries to get his flirt on with Unalaq’s daughter, Eska, who’s like a scarier April from Parks and Rec.
Well. That explains that, then.
Korra rants about Tenzin and her father, and how they’re both determined that she focus exclusively on airbending instead of even attempting to deal with the Southern Water Tribe’s big spiritual conundrum. After all, being the conduit between the spirit and physical worlds is pretty much the #1 item on the Avatar’s job description.
That night, a spirit arrives to fuck shit up, and everyone but everyone–Korra, Mako, Bolin, Tenzin, Tonraq–is unable to defeat it. STOP TRYING TO FIGHT THE SPIRITS, KORRA. Tenzin thinks to ask it, “Hey, WTF is up with you?,” but he just gets slapped in retaliation. Unalaq shows up and does some Tai Chi thing, and the spirit mellows out and leaves.
Unalaq, again, offers to teach Korra everything he knows about the spirit world if she’ll come and be his student, instead of Tenzin’s. Tenzin emphasizes the importance of finishing her airbending training. Yo, chucklefucks: I’m going to go out on a limb and say that both things are important. And Tenzin: Weren’t you just talking about how important spiritual connection is? Why can she only have one teacher? I’d hazard a guess that there’s something shady about Unalaq and his offer, so Tenzin and Tonraq being wary of him makes sense, but that’s the kind of thing you talk about instead of forcing Korra to choose between two extremes.
(In fact, it smacks a bit of bad writing to me–manufactured drama borne of characters not sitting down and having a five-minute conversation with each other, in this case about how Korra’d like to learn from Tenzin and Unalaq, thanks. How is the teenager the most mature one here?)
Because this show is determined to give us a love triangle and a mentor triangle, we end up with Tenzin and his family–including Bumi and Kya–riding off for their Air Temple tour without Korra, who has opted to be Unalaq’s pupil. He tells her “I have great plans for you,” which isn’t ominous at all.
MVP screencap of the episode: