The Legend of Korra Book 2: Spirits Review

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The Legend of Korra remains one of the most compelling and beautiful shows on TV, even if its second Book didn’t quite live up to the first.

Yes, unlike the wonderful Book 1: Air, Spirits had a little trouble getting off the ground. For a while, Book 2: Politics seemed like a more apt title. But about halfway through the season, we got the show we know and love back at its full potential.

One thing the first half of the season did accomplish remarkably well was introducing a slew of new characters. In the premier we were introduced to Bumi, Kya, Tonraq, Unalaq, Eska, Desna, and Varrick, all of whom played major roles throughout the season. Some worked better than others, Tenzin’s two siblings being some of the greatest characters the universe has ever introduced, while others didn’t totally seem necessary, like the funny but ultimately pointless Varrick.

After a solid two-part premiere that introduced the idea of dark spirits and the portals Korra would need to open, we went on a four episode pantheon of actionless civil wars, Republic City’s backdoor politics, and teenage romance. None of it was inherently bad, and the politics were clearly well thought out, but it didn’t exactly make for the most exciting start to the season.

I don’t expect every episode to be action-packed, but Book 1 had a much better way of keeping things politically charged while giving us some great bending.

Then we got Beginnings, the the fable-like origin of the Avatar. We learned of Wan and how he learned all four elements. We saw the opposing spirits of light and dark, Raava and Vaatu. We got one hell of a standalone story that just happened to fit into the grand scheme of Korra’s storyline. Beginnings was the best thing about this season. The fantasy and world-building seen here is what got us to fall in love with this universe to begin with.

But despite being a standalone story, the season improved significantly once Korra had some direction in her mission: defeat Vaatu before the Harmonic Convergence. This led to a journey into the Spirit World, something that maybe should have happened earlier, but was as great as you might expect nonetheless.

Finally, the last four episodes invoked the power of the Last Airbender finale Sozin’s Comet. It was essentially a Korra movie that had the Avatar and her friends battling for the fate of the world. And what a battle it was. Korra and Unalaq’a fight in the penultimate chapter was the best bending in the series yet. But the emotional stakes were high as well. We really felt Korra grow this season, making her decision in the finale to leave the portals open all the more poignant. Her quest to find herself and leave her legacy behind was smartly done, while paralleling flawlessly with Tenzin’s arc.

The best thing about the earlier parts of the season was Tenzin’s vacation with his family. We learned a lot about his childhood; growing up as the Avatar’s son doesn’t seem as glamorous as you might have thought. But in the end, he was able to be there for Korra and guide her into saving the world.

Mako and Bolin also had solid arc this season. Mako finally came into his own as a beat cop working under Lin Beifong (who was sadly missing from most of the season!). He had more purpose than he did last season, giving his choices that much more weight.

Meanwhile, in the comedy event of the season, Bolin became a movie star! Nuk-Tuk, hero of the South! Well, it was a propaganda film, but this subplot really offered some of the best humor of the season, even if Varrick’s plans seem disjointed and his character was never truly defined.

But even when Korra is floundering, it’s still funny and knows how to pack a punch. That is to say, a bad episode of Korra is still a lot better than a good episode of a lot of other shows.

Going forward, the world of Avatar is very different now. Spirits and humans live among each other, something that hasn’t been done since before the time of the Avatar. It has been revealed that Book 3 will be titled “Change”, which seems only a little appropriate.

But change always has potential to be a good thing. The fact that Book 2 led to a new and exciting direction for the world is enough to keep me watching next year. But the strong humor, action, storytelling, and everything else, really, are a much better reason. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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