Korra and Jinora explore the Spirit World in order to close the Southern Portal.
I was not prepared for this episode. “A New Spiritual Age” is everything I wanted from this show: unexpected twists, lovable characters, and epic narratives. Not to mention the arrival of an old character, which left me incoherent.
Upon entering the Spirit World, Korra and Jinora are immediately separated. While Jinora “befriends” a certain owl who just so happens to know ten thousand things, Korra is lost in the woods and scared enough to revert to her younger self. Fortunately she is rescued by a familiar face—Iroh. I think this became one of the best episodes ever at this point. Iroh is exactly who Korra needs. He takes her to his tea party (of course) and reassures her with some sound advice. He’s exactly how you remembered him: jovial, wise, and kind. It makes perfect sense that he’d live in the Spirit World after his death; the original series occasionally hinted that he had a connection with the other plane and I don’t think anyone is more worthy to join than him. Iroh’s lost none of his touch and his cameo is a fantastic treat for longtime fans. I also noticed he’s wearing his Earth Kingdom clothing from the last episode of Avatar, indicating he likely did what he always wanted to do: retire, drink tea, and play Pai Sho all day. Heck, he’s still doing all that! It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Iroh’s message is essentially what “Beginnings” denoted: one can seek light in spite of darkness, but I also think it’s a very subtle commentary on Korra’s personality. She spent the first half of Book Two as an angry, vengeance person who rapidly succumbed to her wrath. She refused to listen or stop until she got what she wanted, no matter how far she had to cross to get it. Personally, I think the last straw came when she threatened the judge via death by polar bear-dog. It only caved from there on. Iroh telling her she has the light isn’t just a literal meaning, but figurative. Korra needed to regain the “light” she lost because the “darkness” consumed her enough that it backfired on her. I also think this is why she ended up in child form. On the surface, the distorted, Euclidean nature of the Spirit World frightened her enough that she started wailing like a kid who wanted her mother. If you dig deeper though, you’ll notice she took on a form that likely fit her current behavior. She was immature and entitled—she has been acting like a child for a while. “A New Spiritual Age” can be seen as a literally coming-of-age tale and it looks like Korra finally grew up.
There’s a smaller, second lesson concerning Korra’s role as the Avatar. She struggled with it throughout Book Two: everybody expects her to be neutral while she personally chose one side over the other. Regardless of what side she chooses, her ultimate goal is to help whoever is in need. Even returning a baby phoenix-dragon to its home, however insignificant an act it may seem to be, can create a positive impact. There could be a possible running theme dealing with karma: negative actions will produce negative outcomes and it’s something Korra paid dearly for. Performing good acts will produce good outcomes and she got it when the phoenix-dragon gave her an edge against Unalaq. Korra learned a lot this episode and I can only hope Iroh’s wisdom will carry it through for the rest of the show.
Jinora proves her capability by outsmarting Wan Shi Tong and figuring out some crucial information to deliver to Korra concerning Vaatu and the Harmonic Convergence, but her current fate completely blew me away. Unalaq may be a predictable bore, but when he plays the evil card, he plays it well. It’s not enough to threaten to kill Jinora in order to get Korra to open the Northern Portal, no, he almost strips her soul. Now that’s just cold. Korra reluctantly opens the portal and buys Jinora some time, but is unable to save her before she’s warped back to the material world. The fear in Tenzin’s voice as well as Korra’s horrified expression is all that is needed to understand the grave situation. It’s a magnificent cliffhanger and I’m eager to know how they’ll get Jinora out of this mess. Whatever sympathy I had for Unalaq is officially gone now.
Studio Mir takes it up a step in this episode; the Spirit World is a gorgeous place that defies laws of physics in favor of forced perspective and impossibly trippy backgrounds. My personal favorites are the quick shift in distance between Korra and her destination and the swirling river of doom. I also like that mortals who enter the realm are specifically affected by the metaphysics of the Spirit World. I bet Unalaq couldn’t annihilate souls if he had been in the material plane.
“A New Spiritual Age” is a worthwhile edition to The Legend of Korra. Revisiting old places and people we know and loved in Avatar aren’t just fan pandering, but rather things fully integrated into the plot. Nonetheless, Iroh’s return was overwhelming and something fans of the original Avatar will likely appreciate. Korra’s journey is symbolic and satisfying and the unpredictable plot twists are immensely rewarding and tense. I guess if there is a bit of a misstep, I do think some of the voice acting was a bit stilted. I feel like Jinora and even Iroh could have emoted better than what we got, but this is a minor issue and barely takes away from the episode. I am brimming with anticipation for more.