Romantic relationships in the Avatar franchise. How do they work? Most characters in both shows suck at everything involving smooches and cuddles, although, to be fair, it was a little less obvious in The Last Airbender. Aang spent 100 years in ice and was a monk, so he wasn’t exactly expected to be an expert in the matters of the heart. Plus, the most important characters were kids. Kids are not supposed to know how these things work, so it’s okay, and even a little bit adorable, when they suck at expressing their feelings or turn any relationship into a Greek tragedy. Even Zuko’s weird teenage relationship with Mei was not completely insufferable, mostly because they were barely around each other. Still, and this may also be because I’m an alien, I found every episode focusing on romance particularly hard to get through, because focusing an episode on romance meant a contrived conflict that I didn’t even care about to begin with. On a related note, did you know that Sokka totally got laid during one episode? Remember how Suki left his tent and when Aang entered it, Sokka was wearing a lei? Yeah. Lei. Laid. Did I blow your mind?
Anyway. Romantic relationships in The Last Airbender were awkward. In The Legend of Korra, they were just painful to watch. Korra’s crush on Mako, Mako’s crush on Korra, then on Asami, Bolin’s crush on Korra, Lin and Tenzin’s weird bickering, the whole love part of the first couple of seasons was just embarrassing, and even more so knowing that most of the characters were above seventeen years of age. When you’re almost a legal adult, even if you don’t know better, you should at least try a little harder.
Why am I talking about this, you ask? Well, it’s because our characters are now pretty much all twenty and above, and it seems like we’re in for some more cringe-worthy relationship drama, folks. Brace yourselves.
We start out in Republic City, near the local banyan tree, where a tour is about to begin. The tour guide happens to be Ryu, who you may or may not remember as that dude who lived in his parents’ basement until he got airbending, a fact that his mother likes to talk about, especially to the tourists of his tour group. Ryu guides the tourists around the vine-covered parts of Republic City, reading the history of the spirit vines from cards like he doesn’t give a damn about what he’s doing. To be fair, even if he was actually interested in his job, it turns out that the people he’s guiding are only interested in taking pictures. The tourists’ attitude may be a tiny detail of the episode, but having grown up in a touristy place, it resonated deep within me. The tourists are so clueless that when a vine moves and seems to charge at them, one of them tries to poke it with a stick. Right. Why don’t you do that and see what happens to you, bud? Of course, the vine attacks and captures Ryu and his tour group.
On Air Temple Island, Korra plays with Naga when a pouty Opal appears. Opal complains that nobody cares about her family’s abduction. Korra assures her that everybody cares. I don’t know, Korra, I want to care, but her constant frowny bitchy face makes my grumpy French self wish that Kuvira had already killed her family. While Korra and Opal talk, Jinora comes to warn them: she just felt something disturbing in the Force, I mean, in the spiritual energy coming from the vines. When the three girls inspect the vines, however, nothing seems to be wrong. On Jinora’s insistance, Korra touches the vines in the hopes to detect an eventual problem. And a problem there is indeed: it’s named Kuvira, and it’s harvesting vines back at the swamp. When Korra shares her vision with the other girls, they decide to split up: Korra and Opal will warn President Raiko while Jinora will keep searching for Ryu’s tour group.
President Raiko is already having a meeting with the other world leaders, concerning Kuvira. Prince Wu suggests tricking her with a false vacation prize, attacking her with badger moles, or finding out if she has allergies – ideas which everybody ignores, because they would at best make okay C-plots for B movers. Raiko wants to take Kuvira down, which Lin agrees with, but Tenzin very wisely remind them that technically, they have no reason to attack Kuvira. Korra and Opal arrive then.
I love Korra’s reaction when she realizes that the world leaders were having such an important meeting without her. She doesn’t yell, nor does she exactly make a scene. She just points out that they invited Prince Wu and not her. Prince Wu, the guy whose biggest concern in life are allergies, over Korra, the girl who saved their asses countless times and happens to be the Avatar. Also she’s hot. But I digress. Raiko is about to dismiss Korra quite rudely when Bolin and Varrick come in, still muddy from their trip with the escapees. Raiko wants them arrested, until Bolin announces loudly that they didn’t come back empty-handed. That’s when Bolin and Varrick reveal, in their own words, that Kuvira is in possession of a deadly super weapon (“like a weapon, only super”), while Korra guesses that this weapon probably has something to do with her vision of Kuvira harvesting spirit vines. Raiko demands a preemptive strike, to which Tenzin and FireLord Izumi kindly tell him that if he wants to be the idiot that will attack first, he’ll do it without their support. Raiko has no choice but to choose a defensive strategy.
As Opal leaves the building, disappointed and pouty, Bolin joins her. He tries to apologize for his behaviour but Opal is far from being convinced. Lin interrupts them to talk privately to Opal. Lin tells her niece that since nobody’s planning on attacking Kuvira, they will have to rescue their family on their own. Meanwhile, Korra and Zuko reunite with Bolin, a moment filled with awkward dialogue, apologies, and adorable group hugs.
In another part of town, after discovering a broken camera on the ground, Jinora encounters hostile spirit vines. The chase is intense, but short. The vines catch up with Jinora, who has just enough time to send a desperate spiritual call to Korra before being captured.
Korra and Mako convince Lin to let them in the security perimeter she and her men have established. Almost immediately, several rogue vines attack Korra and Mako. They fend them off until they find themselves in a spooky abandoned building, where they discover a cluster of human-sized vine grapes. Inside the grapes, Jinora, Ryu, and the tour group, none of them responding to any of Korra’s attempts to reach them. Their spirits are trapped in the spirit world. Korra tries to follow them there, but has yet another vision of her fight with Zaheer instead. She comes out of it more frustrated than ever and decides to get rid of her fear for good by facing Zaheer. She asks Tenzin to tell her where he is detained.
That, folks, is when we get into the relationship stuff. Let’s do this.
Bolin reunites with his best friend Pabu and tells him that he needs his help to win Opal back. Oh, boy. Pabu carries a message to Opal, after which we see her running to a place where Bolin is waiting for her with a romantic picnic. Opal, who thought Bolin had broken both of his legs, is even more frustrated when he suggests that she just relaxes and eats with him. Opal then uses all the sarcasm her tiny body is capable of to rip Bolin a new one, then leaves. Opal has been kind of annoying since the beginning of this season. It’s not that I don’t agree with a lot of what she says, it’s just that she behaves like a frustrated teenager. She doesn’t cry, nor does she really rant, she just pouts a lot. She didn’t come off that way in the previous season and I just don’t enjoy this aspect of her personality. Still, Bolin. You’re asking a girl whose whole family is in the hands of a woman that you are personally scared of to “relax”. What the hell, dude?
Meanwhile, Raiko has a meeting with both Varrick and Asami. Asami and Raiko distrust Varrick, which… yeah, I love that man but I wouldn’t trust him in a million years. However, Raiko knows that Asami and Varrick are the two brightest minds around. He wants them to work together. Asami agrees. She also makes sure that Varrick understands that double-crossing her again would basically be the last thing he’d ever do.
In the mountains, Korra and Mako arrive at the high-security prison where Zaheer is detained. They pass a gigantic door (requisite number one for a kick-ass prison) and take a lift to reach an underground level, where two metalbenders manipulate heavy chains to open a thick gate that reveals a sas. Korra enters alone. Inside his cell, Zaheer meditates while levitating, because, of course, he just has to remind you that he can levitate and the Avatar can’t. What a douchepistol. Zaheer guesses that Korra must be in a bad place to have come to him, to which Korra answers that she just wants to tell him that she will not be scared of him anymore. Zaheer puts his best mad man face on and dashes towards Korra. His chains hold him back but Korra immediately steps back, terrified. She is about to leave when Zaheer reveals that he knows she hasn’t been able to enter the Spirit World. Korra blames him for this: Zaheer broke her, changed her life forever by setting limits to a power she thought infinite. Zaheer argues that Korra is the only one creating those limits. After all, she fought off a poison that was supposed to kill her. Korra doesn’t care what he thinks, despite knowing that he is probably right. Zaheer’s “yeah, I screwed up” face when Korra brings up Kuvira actually feels nice. I liked Zaheer as an antagonist in Book 3. He was the kind of evil that people could get behind. I would never trust someone who thinks it’s necessary to assassinate people (I’m an Aang kind of person), but he had charisma and some interesting ideas. I just enjoy seeing him realize some of the errors of his ways. Zaheer agrees that Kuvira needs to be stopped. He offers to help her enter the Spirit World. Korra is reluctant but has no other choice.
Zaheer guides Korra into the Spirit World. At first, she enters her own mind, reliving her fight with Zaheer once again. She is anxious, but Zaheer tells her to let go, to let the memory play and stop fighting it. When Korra falls in the tornado at the end of the memory, she breaks free from her fears and finally enters the Spirit World. There, Korra reunites with Raava, who guides her to the place where the spirits of Jinora, Ryu, and the tourist group are being held. Korra thinks she’s helpless without her bending, but Raava encourages Korra to use the spiritual energy around her. Finally confident in her power, Korra frees the spirits. By accepting her past, Korra has reached a new step in her spiritual journey. She is no longer trying to return to her former glory, but rather embracing her new, older, wiser self. I love this Korra more than I can express here. I want to see her kick Kuvira’s butt with the sheer force of her spiritual power.
Meanwhile, on Air Temple Island, Bolin talks to Opal as she and Lin are getting ready for their secret rescue mission. Bolin apologizes for everything he’s done and confesses his deep love for Opal, something he probably should have done before, instead of trying to trick her into going on a date with him. Opal is touched, and admits that there is one way for Bolin to win her back: coming with her to rescue her family.
I would have sincerely preferred to see the Korra scene end the episode. It would have kept the focus on Korra, who kind of went through something important. The Opal/Bolin storyline also makes little sense to me. I get the intention: they had to find a way to have Bolin go with Opal and Lin. What I’m asking here is: how come Bolin didn’t think about it himself? Bolin is not the idiot that this episode shows us. He’s a bit clumsy and goofy, but is he really that bad at life? Also, this wording, guys? Opal literally tells Bolin that she will start loving him again if he saves her family. Ugh. Look, this episode has a lot of exciting stuff in it. I just wish that the writers would completely drop any romance-related drama. They do literally everything else really well. I don’t think anybody’s going to have a heart attack if they don’t talk about the characters’ relationship problems ever again. Especially not me.