The Legend of Korra Newbie Recap: “The Southern Lights”

This post originally appeared on The Mary Sue.

There’s no Asami in this episode. Or my new favorite dude, Varrick. WHATEVER, I DON’T CARE.

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After last episode—where Korra, perhaps inadvisably but also understandably, ditched Tenzin to be tutored by shady fundamentalist Unalaq—our heroine is ready to PUNCH SOME SPIRITS IN THEIR SPIRIT FACES. Unalaq, killjoy of killjoys, informs her that she’ll actually be training to get in touch with her spiritual side, as being the Avatar involves working with spirits instead of beating them up. I know, Korra. I’m disappointed, too.

A key step in her training will be going to the South Pole, where a scary spirit storm has been raging for decades. Tonraq announces his intention to join Korra on her road trip, which considering his teenage daughter will be opening a mysterious spirit portal, doesn’t seem like all that unreasonable request. Korra, as is her wont, accuses him of being overprotective and yells at him for always thinking he knows what’s best for her. It’s very shades of Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Ariel: I’m sixteen years old! I’m not a child anymore.
30-year-old me: Listen to your fucking father, Ariel.

I’ve touched on this before, but: Korra’s teenage rages are completely appropriate and understandable considering she is, well, a teenager. And they’re not completely unjustified—people tend to either treat teenagers like they’re helpless children or adults who should have 100% of their shit together, with no in between. And teenagerhood is a stressful time, so a certain amount of HOMG DAD STOP TRYING TO RUN! MY! LIFE! is expected. Not to mention the adults in Korra’s life have a tendency to make wrong decisions when it comes to their local Avatar. BUT. Whenever Korra goes on one these benders, I do a little eyeroll and wish I were watching Pabu do magic tricks instead. I have lived through my hormonal teenage years and offer a hardy “no, thanks” to the idea of revisiting them, even fictionally.

Everyone still kicking it at the Southern Water Tribe—with the exception of Asami, who’s being scarce for some reason—starts off to the South Pole, which they have to reach by the winter solstice a few days later. An angry spirit tails them, and Naga gives it an excellent DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? look.


We’re then treated to a lovely camp side story, during which we learn that the spirits being pissed is all Tonraq’s fault. 20 years ago, he was a general in the Northern Water Tribe, but everything changed when the Fire Nation some barbarians attacked. After being chased from the city by Tonraq and his troops, they took refuge in a holy forest, acting on the assumption that they wouldn’t be followed.

Tonraq, doing exactly what Korra would have done, followed them anyway, capturing all the barbarians and destroying the forest in the process. The spirits lost their shit and were subdued only when Unalaq showed up to do his funky fresh hypnotic mojo. (How’d he learn that, anyway?) The angry spirits had already done enough damage to the town, so Tonraq was banished. He went to the Southern Water Tribe, giving up both his home and his position as heir to the Northern Water Tribe throne to his little brother.

You know, drawing narrative parallels with Azula is really not making me trust Unalaq all that much.

Korra’s pissed off that her dad never told her about any of this, and he admits that he was wrong to keep it a secret from her—but he also asks that he learn from her mistakes and not fuck with the spirit world, arguing that it and the physical world should be kept separate. Uh, Tonraq:


Unalaq takes the opportunity to drive the wedge between Korra and her father even further, pointing out that we in the NORTHERN Water Tribe have beautiful northern lights instead of an unending storm, because SOME people are able to keep their spiritual shit together, HINT HINT.

Now’s a good time to take a detour and check in on Tenzin’s history vacation. He and his family have made it to the Southern Air Temple, where the monks who run the place are all atwitter to see the world’s only surviving airbenders. Tenzin shows his children to the temple’s most sacred place: a room holding a statue of every incarnation of the Avatar. This is too innocuous compared to the rest of the episode. There’s something weird going on with this.

Back at the Southern Water Tribe, Korra and co. reach the South Pole and are attacked by angry spirits, sending both her and her father into insta-I WILL FUCK YOU UP mode as Unalaq (probably) facepalms in the background before doing that thing he does to neutralize the situation.

In the aftermath of the battle—which sees Bolin foiled by a giant snowsuit, necessitating his rescue by Eska and Desna—Tonraq insists that they scrap the South Pole plan and go back home. Korra counters that he should leave, which he agrees to do. Mako, trying to get in good with the in-laws, promises Tonraq that he’ll take care of his daughter in his stead.


Korra, who’s really in the habit of pushing people away lately, quizzes Mako about why he’s so buddy-buddy with her father, accusing him of being on the wrong “side.” Chill out, Paranoid Patty. She’s had a pretty drastic personality change since the end of season one, which saw her settle down from some of her GRR ARRGH ANGRY TEENAGER tendencies. Do these trust issues come from anywhere? Is there a narrative justification we’re not privy to yet, or is it just inconsistent writing?

Korra arrives at the South Pole, where Unalaq, instead of providing her any guidance, tells her he trusts her to figure out what to do, even though she has no clue what that is. Appreciating that someone’s treating her like an adult for once (Korra, he’s manipulating the hell out of you!), Korra ventures into the creepy-ass ice forest alone, where she’s confronted by another herd of angry spirits. She gets to the clearing where the portal is and is able to create a barrier between it and them, but again, she has no clue what to do. When it doubt: punchy punchy.

Cut to Tenzin’s kids, which isn’t creepy at alllllll. Jinora wakes up and, in a daze, walks to the Aang statue, where she and it have a moment. Is Aang trying to pull a Roku and communicate from beyond the grave that his successor is fucking up, using wise-sounding but ultimately too cryptic to be actually useful advice?

Korra finally manages to open the portal by going into the Avatar state. The Aang statue lights up. It’s awfully dramatic for the second episode in a season. I’m going to hazard a guess that something not-good got out.

But Korra’s accomplished her immediate task: Opening the portal and bringing back the Southern Lights, a sight so beautiful it brings Bolin to tears.



Korra walks back to her buds all cool-girls-don’t-look-at-astronomical-phenomena-like and apologizes to Mako for being nuts lately. They all head back to the Southern Water Tribe… where they find a whole fleet of Northern Water Tribe ships preparing for an invasion.

I’m sorry, I mean a friendly visit to help the Southerners deal with their shit and stop them from sucking.

A friendly invasion.


MVP screencap of the episode:



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