Korra has matured. She has learned to think like the airbenders, to approach a problem in multiple ways. When Tarrlok makes it clear that Noatak's blood-bending is superior to her ability, Korra jumps to the idea of fighting propaganda with propaganda. She decides that instead of defeating Noatak physically, it would be far more efficacious to turn his own revolution against him. This is something that the Korra from the beginning of the series would likely not have done. She is now seeing the bigger picture and is able to act accordingly.
The action sequences are classic avatar style. Highlights include: Asami sorting out her issues with her father, upon seeing up close how far gone he really is. Naga and Pabu proving their worth as core members of the new Team Avatar. Iroh single-handedly taking out a wave of air-planes. But, although the battle at the airfield is well planned and does not outstay its welcome, the interesting events are happening elsewhere.
Korra, very ably and succinctly, sows doubt in the minds of the crowd. Of course, these seeds of doubt do not bear fruit until much later on. But it seems that she does have some rhetoric ability in her.
Then, out of nowhere, Amon brings out air-benders. This really frustrated me. I guess that the intention was to make the audience feel the terror that Korra feels when she thinks that air-bending is going to be wiped from the world forever. However, it comes off as a rather contrived attempt to raise the stakes and it also somewhat cheapens Lin's sacrifice.
Then comes the nail-biting final confrontation between Mako, Korra and Amon. When Amon took Korra's bending away, I was left literally open mouthed. I did not expect that to happen. At that point, I only wished for them to beat a hasty retreat. Then, when Korra discovered that she could airbend, I was actually confused. I put aside my immediate confusion and just went with the jubilation of the moment when Amon is completely unmasked.
But, just like with Azula, the creators of the series are not content with the viewers feeling jubilant at the completely fall of a human being, no matter how villainous they are made out to be. The boat scene with Noatak and Tarrlok is the most heart-wrenching in the entire series. Tarrlok, it seems to me, goes through the most amount of character development over the course of the series. And with his final act, he becomes my hero. Although it could be argued that the single tear from Noatak's eye may be proof that he knows what Tarrlok is doing. All in all, a very dark and unexpected scene which went a long way in redeeming, or at least making us feel for, the two antagonists of the series.
Meanwhile, at the South Pole, Mako tries to make Korra realize that she is more than just her avatar abilities. However, love does not just heal all. Korra feels broken and cannot love another until she can feel whole again.
I have heard the theory floating around that when Korra is crying by the cliffside, she is considering jumping to her death and perhaps hoping that the next avatar is reborn with connections to all the elements. I would have considered this far-fetched if the boat scene had not shown a murder-suicide already. In fact, if Korra is really considering ending herself, then it lends even more credibility to what we have seen throughout this series: that her connection with Aang is strongest when she is feeling most helpless. Now that she is connected to Airbending and is "at her lowest", it makes some sense that this is when Aang would finally manifest.
It is just added bonus that Aang's theme plays as Korra tries out her Avatar State for the first time. :D
This episode is not perfect because it does leave some things unexplained, like how Korra's airbending was unlocked and how Amon captured the airbenders. Other than that, it did a good job tying up a lot of story threads in a very limited time. I cannot wait to see what the next season will deliver!