[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.]
A kidnapped Korra seeks help from her past life while her friends desperately try to locate her. Meanwhile, Tarrlok is forced to face the consequences of his actions.
One of the biggest strengths of ATLA was the crafting of each character. Strong or weak, bender or non-bender, hero or villain, they were most of them multifaceted, wholly original individuals. With this episode, I can definitively say that Legend of Korra has kicked it up a notch and does an even better job of characterization. That is because this show has no easy villains, if any villains at all.
Amon is fighting for a just cause. So, although his methods are extreme and he is antagonizing Korra, he cannot be called a villain because he is not acting out of malice. Similarly, Tarrlok wants glory and wants to be the saviour of Republic City. His bitterness towards Korra is justified. Still, at least his blood-bending of Korra should be called 'villainous'. But what happens when he has lost his bending ability? Once again we are in the same situation as with Tahno, the leader of the Wolfbats. Yes, he was a repulsive character before the final match. However, after losing his bending, it is difficult to not have some sympathy for him and it is nearly impossible to brand him as a villain. This type of layered characterization is what makes the characters from this series more memorable than many others.
This episode has good pacing as well. It intertwines the breakneck action of the search for Korra with the expository flashbacks of Aang. The flashbacks were put to good use for two reasons. Firstly, it let fans of ATLA know that the gAang had many more adventures even after the series finale. That is a comforting thought. Secondly, it reinforced a theme from ATLA: that the burden of the current Avatar may be a direct result of the action or inaction of a previous Avatar. Aang had to deal with the consequences of the choices that Roku and Kyoshi made. Now Korra has to deal with Aang's mercy in letting Yakone live.
Some assorted observations follow.
1. Our radio narrator is back to recap the series. I am glad it did not take him long to recover from his electrocution in "And The Winner Is?".
2. It is awkwardly convenient that a group of five can find the Equalist hideout within hours even though the police could not do it for weeks.
3. When Tarrlok brings Korra down the stairs, his pose is almost like that of a puppet-master controlling his puppets. I like that reference.
4. Once again, only when Korra is helpless does she manage to connect with her past life.
5. Amon becomes my hero! He IS the solution. His appearance is sudden, unforeseen, dramatic. He basically rescues Korra from the clutches of Tarrlok. But what is he? Did the spirits give him the power to resist blood-bending? These are interesting questions raised by this episode.
6. Finally, we see that putting Korra in extreme danger brings out Mako's affection for her.
Overall, this is a well-paced episode with plenty of twist and turns and revelations.
As the episode title implies this segment of the Korra saga looks back on a sequence of events that took place early on in Republic City's history and directly influence Korra's current situation. The flashbacks of early Republic City included Aang, Sokka, and Toph from the original series as they worked within the governance of the city. Their reappearance was refreshing to me, and though I liked the older versions of Sokka and Toph much better than that of Aang it was great to see the old team again fighting crime.
The problems I had with this episode included a number of story progression hiccups, but that on the larger scope of things won't matter all that much. Asami's excessive concern over Mako's romantic interests in Korra, and Mako's sudden outburst of feelings for the missing Korra I think beyond being a bit cheesy make it obvious that Asami is, in all likelihood, going to get dumped in a future episode. The search party sequences of the episode I also noticed were at times a bit jumpy and a bit outside the realm of likelihood - the chance finding of equalist tunnels, almost obviously in plain sight, and convenient escape to name a few.
Though there were a number of flaws in the animation, within the whole scope of the episode, which was on the whole masterfully and beautifully animated and framed, they can be more or less overlooked. The one concern I hold however is that in creating a separate series the animation of the Avatar world doesn't lose its vibrant colors, seeing as this episode used even more excessively pale grey-brown colors. Adventure filled and action packed, the fight sequences, though quite epic already, I feel could have been carried out with a bit more poise and clarity to capitalize on how amazing bending can truly be.
The major problems that I had with the episode however deal with the rules of the Avatar world regarding special abilities, and how those rules (the explanations for and limitations to abilities) directly affect the flow of the story. The 3 flashback sequences from the previous 3 episodes are combined and extended in this episode - finally giving a clear explanation of what happened way back when, but surprisingly only making for more questions. What explanations in this episode and even in the flashbacks are revealed only lead to more confusion and questions, specifically centering around bloodbending. I hope the mystery of Tarrlok and Yakone's form of bloodbending is not overlooked in future episodes, which would be a major oversight. So far Blood bending, without the full moon, with extreme power, in extreme scope, has been accredited (by Sokka) as simply enough another bizarre bending ability, or seeming impossibility, such as "spontaneous combustion" or metalbending. Korra attributed Tarrlok's ability to nothing more than the fact that he was Yakone's son - implying hereditary ability. While the mysteries of Combustion Man's abilities were similarly never addressed, in the same sense neither were his powers of such scope as this new form of bloodbending - or Amon's abilities for that matter, and neither were they of such intricate influence to the plot.
Amon's abilities in this episode were again a center of mystery, making me questions their origins in bloodbending to extreme scope like Tarrlok, energybending, or if his abilities should be attributed to something else entirely. How it was that he was only barely bloodbent as Tarrlok defended himself only adds to the mystery of his abilities. His powers require a logical explanation.
In the same sense I was disappointed with the spirit connection and Avatar State's depiction in this show. I was pleased that Korra was able to connect with Aang's past memory, but that connection was minimal and uninformative compared to the connections Aang made with Roku. It seem Korra's spirit connections are unique. Aang's use of both the Avatar State and energy bending in the flashback lacked the depiction and emphasis I believe they deserved.
Because of the continued, and nearly suspense-less, lack of explanations regarding these mysterious abilities, abilities which are such a vital part of the whole story's scope I'm going to give this episode a certified B- rating. They kept me watching, they kept me entertained, I really liked the animation, I loved the appearances of the original characters in a new setting, and the adventure Korra and her friends took, but without feeling suspense over these huge burning questions that have arisen mysteries rubbing me the wrong way.