The Legend of Korra - "The Guide" Episode 21 Recap
Korra goes to Tenzin for guidance to reach the Spirit World. Meanwhile, Mako tries to convince Asami and Bolin about Varrick’s trickery.
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Korra has her head back on straight. After anger consumed a good chunk of her common sense, her brief memory loss and substantial visit with Wan allowed Korra to see the bigger picture with a clear mind. Korra seems to have learned her lesson; she remains calm and patient throughout the entire episode and doesn’t lash out at anyone. When she feels a sense of urgency, she politely tells Tenzin they need to hurry. She maturely takes responsibility for her actions that caused the civil war. Korra encounters a lot of setbacks to get to the Spirit World as well, but not once does she dismiss Tenzin and she goes so far as to apologize for turning her back on him. It’s great to finally see Korra express something beyond wrath.
“The Guide’s” central plot is excellent, albeit a bit slow-paced (I figured Korra wouldn’t reach the Spirit World until the end). Tenzin’s dilemma is especially poignant and makes perfect sense for his character. He confesses he’s never been to the Spirit World despite countless attempts over the years. The “Civil Wars” two-parter hinted he was the favored child because of the legacy he carries and it’s something Tenzin takes very seriously. The man is in his fifties; he probably dedicated decades of his life trying to uphold his father’s culture and philosophy. Witnessing his ten-year-old child easily connecting with the Spirits wounds his pride greatly. Bumi’s constant teasing likely didn’t help either. Bumi was being a jerk about it, although if you look at it from his perspective it’s a cathartic moment for him. Finally, his little brother isn’t the super special son that he had to put up with all his life. This explains a lot about Tenzin’s stubbornness and he refuses to give up for a long time even after his secret gets out.
I think this is why Jinora kept her natural abilities a secret for as long as she could. “The Guide” never elaborates, but I theorize it was to keep her father’s pride intact. She’s a studious girl, so she likely has an understanding of the dedication and work Tenzin puts into his mediation – it probably does feel like an insult that she got her gift so early with little effort. There could also be a more childish reason: Jinora kept this to herself just to make her feel unique. A lot of the themes in Book Two deals with sibling rivalries, so for Jinora to see something her brother and sister can’t sets her apart. Tenzin does react with frustration, but the show doesn’t hesitate to portray him as the goodhearted guy that he is. His ulterior motive may be to get into the Spirit World, but he trains Korra to be the best Avatar she can be with sincerity. Tenzin never chides or takes things out on his daughter either; he’s proud of her and eventually gives her permission to guide Korra into the Spirit World. Tenzin may well never get the chance to go himself, but Aang’s legacy will live on.
“The Guide” reveals Unalaq has been working for Vaatu for some time and he spends the reminder of the episode trying to open the Northern Portal to no avail. I wish I could say more about the guy, but he’s just rotten to the core. When his own son is injured, Unalaq tells Eska to forget about him and focus on opening the portal. Eska refuses and takes her brother to safety. It’s a rare human moment coming from her, but it’s still kind of hard to feel sympathy knowing what she pulled in previous episodes with Bolin. Regardless, it’s nice to see another layer to her character. I suppose if there is anything interesting left about Unalaq, it’s that we still don’t have a clear grasp on what he wants to do with the world. What changes does he intend to bring?
Varrick is unquestionably the best; I love his eccentricity and unorthodox personality and I was worried he’d lose his funny aspect after “The Sting” revealed him to be a serious mastermind. “The Guide” takes things a step further and flawlessly implements both his weirdness and cunning deviousness. Varrick tries to bribe Mako and when that doesn’t work, he blatantly hints Asami and Bolin will be in for a world of hurt if Mako blabs. This occurs right after he steps over hot coals to try and get rid of his foot fungus. Despite his goofy exterior, the scene is genuinely frightening and proves just what kind of a man he is.
The bad news is that Mako’s subplot is lacking and there’s one decision in particular that left me flabbergasted. Mako’s stressed because no one believes him about Varrick, which is understandable since Asami and Bolin benefited greatly from the billionaire. Varrick is also a genuinely likable guy and has a charismatic personality that easily lures people in. Mako’s candid decision to go behind Lin’s back and oftentimes rookie mistakes likely didn’t help his cause either. And he should have known better than to trust criminals who’d frame him at the drop of a hat, desperate or not. Indeed, Mako is sent to jail for possessing money and detonators that were clearly planted in his apartment.
Yet at the same time, I still think this is too contrived. Mako feels like the only savvy good guy in the show; no one stops to think that just maybe he has a point, until it’s too late and they all just blindly follow whatever is on the surface for the sake of plot. This might not have been a huge issue, except Book Two keeps doing this and everybody acts clueless and moronic to push conflict. After a certain point, you wonder if these guys should be trusted with anything.
This reaches its nadir when Mako and Asami rekindle their romance. When Asami kissed Mako back in “The Sting”, it was an extension of leftover feelings brought forth at her lowest moment. She needed comfort and Mako smartly didn’t take advantage of it. I really thought that would be all there was to it. At best, I figured the two would at least sit down and talk this over instead of what they actually did. Mako returns Asami’s affection and the two kiss, presumably restarting their relationship. I get it: they’re both stressed out and going through the motions, but Mako broke up with Korra a week ago. I thought it was pretty poor of Mako (and to a certain extent, Korra) to immediately hook up with each other shortly after he broke up with Asami during Book One, but now I don’t know if I can even root for Asami either. I can’t believe she’d be just as callous and reconnect with her ex without even thinking about the possible longtime consequences this could have. I thought Mako would be the better man and just drop the issue; is he not aware of how Korra might feel once she finds out her best friend and ex-boyfriend instantly got back together without a single thought? I don’t understand why none of them ever stop to think when it comes to their love lives. Romance brings out the worst in them and just like what happened in Book One, this is the product of insensitivity and shortsightedness. At this rate, I think they all need to simmer down and take a break from each other because I can’t perceive how this will lead to anywhere good.
Overall though, “The Guide” is really great. I loved Korra’s behavior here and Tenzin’s plot hits all the right notes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Mako’s subplot, I’d be more forgiving of the characters’ ignorance if it weren’t a running staple in Book Two. However I could do without the love subplot or the potential drama it might stir up. It didn’t work the first time and I don’t have any hope they’ll get it right this time.