Korra must journey to a remote part of the South Pole to open the portal to the spiritual world.
It’s almost weird to see the gang traveling again after season one firmly kept the entire cast in one location. Republic City was gorgeous, but I never got the feeling I was really seeing enough of the place. Maybe it’s the overuse of industrial browns and grays (granted, very detailed and beautiful browns and grays), but I missed the vibrant palettes that Avatar: The Last Airbender emphasized so magnificently. The Southern Water Tribe in “Rebel Spirit” is all right, but the colors really shine in “The Southern Lights.” There are some exceptional backgrounds in this episode. I love the pristine nature and purity of the Southern Air Temple. The South Pole’s drab wintry wasteland gets a major boost once its sky is adorned with the Aurora Borealis. Even the everstorm looks gorgeous and I think it was a good choice to color the storm clouds a jade green; it really compliments the indigo sky perfectly.
On a slightly related note, I find the restoration of the Southern Air Temple to be especially touching. Knowing Aang’s home is being taken care of by people dedicated to the Air Nomad’s culture is really sweet. I also liked the concept of the spirits creating the Aurora Borealis. The description of them “dancing” in the sky is reminiscent of creation myths of old – something I’m sure Unalaq would approve of!
My feelings on Korra remain largely the same as they were in “Rebel Spirit”. While her reactions aren’t entirely justified, I think she’s right to be peeved off. She’s still acting bratty and selfish, but at the same time, can you blame her? She may consider herself a victim, but Tonraq is treated sympathetically by the show all the same. In his youth he desecrated a spiritual nesting ground to ambush invaders who ransacked the Northern Water Tribe. The spirits retaliated until Unalaq sent them packing. Tonraq’s father expelled him over the incident, leading to him making a new life in the South. I get the hint his younger days were proud, but rife with bad judgement from a rash and forceful personality. He knows better now, but a few of these traits still persist in his current self. He’s headstrong and snappy, I can see where Korra got most of her personality from. Yet as a middle-aged adult, Tonraq is much more refined and in control over his anger. He’s visibly upset he hid secrets from Korra and seeks to redeem himself.
In either case, their conflict has a long way to go before it can be resolved and I’m glad the show is realizing the negative long term effects this could have if they don’t make peace with each other. Like I said in the last recap, nobody is exclusively right or wrong, they share blame and good reasons for acting the way that they do.
I also love the cultural differences between the North and the South. It was a driving force and major source of conflict for Katara’s character when she migrated from her home to the Northern Water Tribe, so it’s good to see the creators continue the world-building contrast between the two Poles, especially one that utilizes the Old vs. New concept.
I really like that there are subplots that are completely separated from Korra’s but still seamlessly connected to her story. Understandably, Tenzin’s kids were largely comic relief in the first season on virtue of their young age. Jinora looks like she’ll be getting a bigger role this time, though. She finds an obscure statue of a mysterious Avatar which proceeds to light up when Korra opens up the portal to the spiritual plane. How this mysterious Avatar is connected with these wayward spirits is something I’m excited to find out about, while I’m also looking forward to seeing what goes on with Jinora.
My only two negatives here are Bolin and Unalaq. I don’t like Bolin’s comic butt monkey role. When in doubt, he’s the one whimpering in a corner, then getting the full brunt of silly physical abuse. I think it really undermines who he is, as he didn’t start off this idiotic or mistreated during the earlier season one episodes. Sometime around the second half they decided to shove him out of the spotlight and make him a walking joke. Bolin was interesting because he shared a comic relief role with Sokka, but was also distinctive enough to be his own character. Now I feel like he’s channeling him without the snarky attitude. But much like Sokka, I hope Bolin will eventually grow into his own character and gain some dignity to balance this part of him.
Unalaq was fine up until the last minute of this episode. When he ordered an army to march up to the Southern Water Tribe and explained Korra’s hometown has a long way to go to reach spirituality, that’s when I felt his potential antagonistic role got way too obvious. We already had an extremist in the first season, so I can’t help but think this is aspect is going to end up being really tedious. I’m at least confident that Unalaq won’t be a starkly villainous type, so we can assume that he’ll be given a reasonable amount of depth that explains his decisions.
It doesn’t quite as dazzle as well as “Rebel Spirit”, but “The Southern Lights” continues to exemplify the quality of The Legend of Korra’s quality. Let’s hope the series continues this trend.