[Preface: These reviews are written after having seen the first season in its entirety. Down-the-road spoilers are avoided. My focus is on the writing, not music or animation.]
The co-creators of ATLA and TLOK have always held this to be true: no one is wholly good or wholly bad; people are either in balance or out of balance. In this episode, Tarrlok falls out of balance by going to the extremes to get what he wants.
In the larger scheme of things, Tarrlok goes to the extreme by imposing curfew on all non-benders. When Korra says to him that he is just as bad as Amon, she is not saying it just to provoke him. Much like Amon, Tarrlok would risk dividing the city into benders versus non-benders to reach his goals. On a personal level, Tarrlok shows himself out of balance when he uses the most perverse form of bending: blood-bending.
The other important event of this episode is the formation of the new Team Avatar. Much like in ATLA, each character comes to Team Avatar for their own reasons but these reasons are always well constructed. Asami needs to undo the damage her father's works cause to the city. Mako and Bolin both care about Korra; they know how to fight as a team alongside her. More importantly, from "The Revelation" episode, they know from up-close the dangers that benders such as them would face if Amon succeeds.
The Air children are endeared to us at the beginning of this episode. Ikki proves a match for Bolin, Jinora has the cool assurance of an erudite, Meelo is as cute as he is crass. One of the most surprising moments, which vies with blood-bending reveal, is when Ikki says, "Asami, did you know Korra likes Mako?" It is very telling how used I am to dramatic clichés that Asami walking in on Mako and Korra kissing would not have been much of a surprise. But this had me nearly falling off my chair in shock.
Much like in the previous episodes, it is when Korra is struck helpless that she gets visions of Aang. This time there appears to be blood-bending involved but it is still difficult to tell with clarity. It is a nice way to keep us in suspense.
Despite everything it gets right, this episode has some flaws. The first one may not really be a writing flaw but rather a character flaw. It is that Tenzin sees nothing wrong in getting people released from jail merely by requesting it. Does he think bureaucracy and red tape should apply to others and not him?
The other issue is the lack of Korra's growth as a character despite hinting at it. At two points in this episode, Korra's preconceptions are challenged: once by the mother in the non-bending family who says, "You're our avatar too". And again by Tarrlok who says to Korra that she is just like him because she uses her bending to intimidate people too. Sadly, neither of these excellent issues are explored in any depth. Korra accepts the former and shrugs off the latter without much thought. And even then, when she confronts Tarrlok, it is for her friends' sake and not really for the oppressed non-benders.
The final and biggest issue is of the characters, or lack thereof, of the three other council members. They have absolutely nothing to say, no defense of Tarrlok's views or placation of Tenzin's opposition. They exist simply to vote in Tarrlok's favour. For less screen time, Lo and Li in ATLA got ten times the characterization.
Overall, it is a mixed bag of an episode, especially given the viewer confusion as to why a new villain is being introduced so late in the game. Nevertheless, because it all eventually ties in to the main plot, I do not dock any points for it. I give it a healthy B+.