The Legend of Korra: Korra Alone
October 10, 2014 7:27 AM - Season 4, Episode 2 - Subscribe

The past three years of Korra's life are revealed in a series of flashbacks which began with her return to the Southern Water Tribe and a two week stay that extended to two years. Between the flashbacks of Korra's struggle through rehabilitation, to gain the use of her legs and to deal with her PTSD, she is haunted by the vision a dark spectre version of herself in the Avatar state, adorned in the chains and manacles from the Red Lotus' attempt to kill her and break the Avatar cycle. The episode concludes with Korra being lead into the great jungle of the Earth Kingdom and a sight for sore eyes.

As usual, Korra Alone can be watched on Nickelodeon's website for free or through its app, but can also be purchased from iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.
posted by Atreides (25 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Nice to see you twinkle-toes!"

*does happy dance up and down*
posted by Fizz at 7:43 AM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I love that they didn't wait till noon to drop it this time. Watched it while eating breakfast.

So many feels. I have to work so I can't get into it yet, but can we all just appreciate the genius of the fish-vendor's photo of Aang doing his spinny air trick, with the same goofy expression as an adult he had as a kid? That was the best. (I think he was spinning the seaweed rolls).
posted by emjaybee at 7:45 AM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Interesting to see depression being dealt with on a kids show, even in passing. (the "I'm so tired" line was actually pretty hard for me, just out of nowhere like that)

Really interested to see what hallucination-Korra turns out to be.
posted by curious nu at 8:11 AM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

God, just finished putting down my feelers on this episode. It....inspired me? (Sorry for the length, and I still think I left things out!)

Korra Alone is now one of my top favorite Legend of Korra episodes. Everything about the episode simply came together, be it the animation by Studio Mir, the directing by Ian Graham, or the music by Jeremy Zuckerman. It all simply rocked.

For fans of the Last Airbender, the title is an immediate reference to Zuko Alone, a Season 2 episode from that show, in which Zuko, our one time bad guy, is confronted with viewing his place in the world and opts to travel alone from his uncle Iroh, after both have cut their hair and left behind their homes and roles within the Fire Nation and the greater world. The shattered mirror glance at the beginning of this episode, in which Korra's bruised right eye, swollen to a narrow almost menacing glance, reflects Zuko's own burnt left eye.

Korra's return home is I think really a chance for her to begin her escape from being the Avatar and perhaps also, to escape the sympathy of others to remind her that she can't be the Avatar in her present state. We know she continues to suffer PTSD from her showdown with Zaheer from her nightmare filled and otherwise restless nights and lack of appetite, and general depression. Her mother is forced to directly ask her to see Katara, whom I think we all would have thought was going to be Day 2 on Korra's itinerary upon returning to the South. Instead, it's been three weeks - two weeks, of course, being the amount of time she told everyone in Republic City she would be gone. And yes, more Korra tears.

In Katara's healing pool, it was interesting in Katara's approach, that she could not simply fix Korra, but could only assist her in her healing. This coming from the greatest water bender/healer alive was not necessarily great news for Korra to hear. Yet, she can move her toe, and with the resurgent music of Zuckerman's score, we are given hope that Korra's path to recovery may not be as hard as she and we feared. Yet, then we see her again, attempting to walk and falling. One of the best parts of this episode was the writer's decision (Bryan for those keeping score) to not let Korra have a triumphant march from disability to recovery. Korra fails and her frustration with her lack of progress after now six months leaves her to even scream at Katara, who simply remains supportive and also reminds Korra that even Avatars often have to deal with extremely painful and insufferable things in their lives. So yes, Korra, boo hoo, it's hard to walk again, but at least you didn't wake up from a 100 year nap to find your entire people wiped out in a genocide (Katara said that in a much kinder and supportive manner).

At the same time, Korra's outburst reveals her other frustration of not being able to out there in the world. Thanks to the letters sent to Korra by her friends, she's watching them move on in life, professionally and geographically. Bolin is convinced he can help the Earth Kingdom by signing on with "Sir Varrick and Lady Kuvira," Mako is following his detective dream with the Republic City PD, and Asami continues to grow as a successful business woman. Her friendship with Asami also takes on a deeper level by her admission to Asami that it's only to her that she can confess her inability to take on the Avatar State, and couldn't bring herself to tell Mako or Bolin. Asami has become Korra's confidant, and one must wonder, did Asami know that Korra had left the Southern Water tribe months earlier.

Korra's recovery continues to the point where she can walk and even fight, but her fighting is hampered by her continual problem with PTSD. Despite her expressed belief to Tenzin, who reminds her (stop REMINDING HER) that the world can wait for its Avatar thanks to the air benders and Kuvira, Korra is not healed completely. Her body may be sound, but her mind and emotional state are still broken from the Red Lotus appeal, now close to a year or more in the past. Korra's sparring with the fire benders is a direct call back to the very first episode of Legend of Korra, in which she defeats all three of them to prove that she has mastered fire bending and is ready to leave the South for Republic City. Even the music is the same and fight choreography also looked similar, but here, a vision of Zaheer distracts and confuses her in the middle of the sparring, leading to her defeat. As much as her sparring in the first episode symbolized that she was ready to leave the South Pole, this revealed the opposite, or at least, that she was not ready to leave to be the Avatar again.

Kuvira is mentioned with successfully uniting parts of the Earth Kingdom and Korra grumpily complains that she's the one who's supposed to be doing this. Now we have a straight up comparison to the roles of Korra and Kuvira. A woman who is not the Avatar is doing the job of the woman who is the Avatar, but without the powers of the Avatar. It's a striking sign, along with Tenzin's admission that Korra can wait to return, that the world may not need Korra anymore. To put on my tinfoil hat here, for a moment, I did wonder if some how Suyin intentionally left a little of the mercury/metallic poison in Korra to keep her out of the affairs of the world. If Suyin believes queens are out dated, what does she think about the role of the Avatar? Would it be out of character for Suyin to leave the Avatar sick, if she at least saved her life? I'll return to my tinfoil hat later!

Despite Tenzin's reassurances and request for Korra to remain at the South Pole and continue healing, she tells her parents that it's time for her to leave and sets off on her own. Naga howls in sadness as her friend (the Naga/Korra hug, by the way, about tug my heart out of my chest) sailed away without her. Another distinction from the first episode of Korra, in which she takes her friend and animal companion with her to Republic City. Her decision to leave Naga behind is a tough one, and perhaps is based on Naga's own reminder of her identity. Korra the Avatar always has Naga, and Naga is only left behind when Korra fears for Naga's safety (and well, if the situation just doesn't make sense for a polarbear dog to be around). However, in this situation, Naga is a source of comfort and support, and Korra's decision to go away alone indicates that she's not doing so out of Naga's benefit, but out of her own personal reasons.

Korra sailing alone, the montages and scenes, were beautifully animated, and the stop on the island for a bite to eat was a great segway to the build up of Korra choosing to leave behind her role as Avatar completely. After seeing the awesome photo of Aang air bending fish(less) snacks and being asked to serve as the Avatar to stop bandits, Korra fails miserably. Dazed and lying on the ground, her failure sinks in, but doesn't dissuade her from proceeding on to Republic City, which she approaches at night and for the first time, see's the dark doppleganger of herself in the Avatar state, complete with matching platinum manacles and chains.

What the doppleganger represents is debatable and what it really is even more mysterious. At first sight, it seems to represent Korra's fears of being the Avatar, or her inability to be the Avatar. She cannot return to Republic City, to her friends, and to the world, because she's afraid she can't be who she's supposed to be and expected to be. That this happens after she completely gets taken down by two common thieves is not a coincidence. Thus, Korra changes her sails and departs from Republic City's harbor for distant lands. Aware of her inability to connect with Raava, the spirit within her, (which included a great call out to the location of the end of Book 1, where she discovered the ability within her to restore bending (FIX PEOPLE), where Korra tried to meditate), Korra next finds a spot and ditches the last symbols of her past life, her Southern Water Tribe apparel and cuts her hair. She is cutting ties with who she is and was to try and re-discover Raava.

The journey which takes her to the North Pole's Spirit Portal and to the Tree of Time, perhaps the most spiritual of the most spiritual places in the world, fails to help her find Raava. She's encountered by cute spirits, one of which questions her role as Avatar for the lack of spirit energy; this spirit doesn't even sense that Raava is within Korra. This is rather disturbing since Korra and Raava are one, which indicates that perhaps something is blocking the two from being connected - which is what the Avatar State represents. Our last time Korra was in the Avatar State was fighting Zaheer, as Raava's energy was devoted to fending off the poison trying to kill her. One spirit offers to help, but Korra declines and continues to walk, across Volcano-scapes to the desert, haunted by the dark spectre of herself, which menacingly watches her until she finds her way to a small Earth Kingdom town, at which point it seems to lead her into the Earth bending fighting pit in which we found her last episode.

This helps explains a couple things. One, why we found Korra there in the premier episode, but also, one reason why she got her butt handed to her by the other fighter - she was hallucinating for half the match. After the match, and I'm stringing the events of this time period together without the intervening flashbacks, Korra is in the bathroom when she's interrupted by a fellow who really, really, needs to go. The small bit of animation and directing there was completely funtastic. I have rarely seen someone needing to use the bathroom so badly, so well animated....okay, I don't see it very often, period. Outside of the bathroom, Korra is again confronted by this spectre who Korra attacks and only succeeds in garnering the attention of people passing by. Upset, she picks her bag up to move on until she encounters a small white puppy. The puppy greets Korra with familiarity and then growls as the dark spectre reappears. Somehow the puppy barks at the spectre and causes it to disappear, relieving Korra by indicating she's not the only one who see's this frightening vision.

The dog indicates through a series of coupled barks that Korra should follow it, and so she does, out of the town, and then into a jungle, where the puppy transforms in a quasi-brilliantly lit wipe of the scene from outside the jungle to inside, into a spirit from the Tree of Time. The spirit has not given up on helping Korra and intends to take her to a person, not a thing, to help her. Just as quickly as Korra learns this, she's faced with the spectre, who this time is not simply a menacing spectator, but attacks Korra and succeeds in hitting her, repeatedly, despite Korra's attempts to evade or counterattack. Here the animation of the spectre is incredible, be it the slow motion of Korra as she see's the spectre, to the movement of it, in almost natural, but not quite human manner. The supernatural manner in which it moves and attacks adds a sense of confusion and the fear of the unknown to it's movements. Ultimately, Korra is pulled down by it into a pool of liquid metal, similar to the poison, where she's swallowed up by it. TIN FOIL HAT ON AGAIN. Is the Spectre really Raava trying to communicate with Korra? Is it trying to tell her that there's still poison in her, that's keeping them from becoming one and her entering the Avatar State?

Korra awakes on a bed in a cave. An old woman speaks to her as she tends a pot of boiling food. And why bother with any further lead in? IT'S TOPH. One really cool point is that Aang's first vision of Toph took place in a jungle (perhaps the same jungle?) and here, Korra first meets the real Toph, too. Also interesting is the aspect that Aang see's a vision/representation of Toph, then meets her, Korra see's representations of Toph (statues, statues, everywhere), and then meets her. What will Toph's role be to help Korra return to full Avatar status? Will it to remove the last of theoretical poison, left by Suyin intentionally or not in Korra? Will she be the Mickey to Korra's Rocky? In the end, I can't wait, and this episode was awesome.
posted by Atreides at 9:03 AM on October 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

Haha, yes, Toph is definitely a Burgess Meredith-type character. I had not really considered Suyin might leave poison in. I don't know that I buy that.

I think when Korra rejected her Avatar self to fight the poison in the cave, she split in two. And now she can't reunite. She is either Avatar or Korra, but can't be both at the same time. And her Avatar state is lost and appears menacing because she is still traumatized by it taking her over against her will. She will ultimately have to embrace it. How that works out will be interesting.

It brings up the idea of the ways the Avatar state is like possession and might be felt as a violation rather than enjoyed as a superpower.
posted by emjaybee at 9:12 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think we can all agree that something happened in that time span of Korra/Avatar State fighting off the poison. I do like your perspective on Korra and the Avatar State. On another site discussing the episode, someone mentioned how Korra's rejection or inability to enter the Avatar State is another symptom of her PTSD, and Korra's fear at accepting the Avatar State is generated by her fear that by doing so, she will be forced to confront how something terrible was done to her.

The question, what is the Avatar State? Is it simply being juiced up by Raava's spirit powers? Or is it something more? Obviously, when one entered the state prior to Book 2, they spoke with the voices of all past Avatars at the same time, so it's an interesting aspect that to assume the Avatar state is to make a connection with all past Avatars at once. Generations of voices and personalities, yours, but not yours, all coming together within you at once. Which is definitely different now, thanks to Book 2.
posted by Atreides at 12:15 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know that it was timed specifically but today is World Mental Health Awareness Day.

And seeing Korra in her wheelchair talking about how tired she was and suffering from the effects of PTSD, well it feels appropriate. I think it's good to not stigmatize these issues and the people who write and produce The Legend of Korra has been great with how it handles them. At times light-hearted when it needs to be (the friendship and support from people like Asami & Bolin) as well as serious when we see her family intervening and guiding her to seek help even though she may not want it.

As someone who is struggling with my own mental health concerns, it makes a difference to me. I'm glad this show exists.
posted by Fizz at 12:33 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, great post Atreides. You raise some interesting points, not sure I agree with all of them but a great review of this week's episode.
posted by Fizz at 12:37 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, this is a great essay on Kuvira's rise, fascism and class tensions in Korra.
posted by emjaybee at 12:54 PM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Thanks, Fizz. I never expect anyone to agree with everything or anything I throw out there, though I'm fearing that I might be tipping over into GYOB territory with the length of it.

That is a great essay, emjaybee, thanks for sharing it! Incidentally, the fascists we most associate with the political movement arose to power in the 1920s and 1930s, which was also when the design aesthetic art deco rose to popularity. Which clan/nation loves art deco? The Metal Clan!
posted by Atreides at 1:05 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Legend of Korra continues to be the best American animated series currently airing and a bad fit for the Nickelodeon network. It's improved so much from the first two seasons, the realism and maturity of the world is so rare in the medium over here.

But I'm a bit concerned about how they're going to handle things going forward, seeing as in the fictional world there's spirits and stuff that really muddies the realism and the messages. The whole spirit-Korra hallucination/gaslighting thing in particular wasn't my favorite development. I would have liked it better if Korra had just wandered for a few months and just happened to come across Toph instead of being lead there by a plot-destiny spirit. I realize it's fiction, but they managed to make everything else relating to Korra's recovery "real" so I would have liked it if they had continued it.

The AV Club review addresses my point, but, eh, I have different ideas about fiction.

I still really liked it and look forward immensely to the next episode.
posted by Small Dollar at 1:50 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

But I'm a bit concerned about how they're going to handle things going forward, seeing as in the fictional world there's spirits and stuff that really muddies the realism and the messages. The whole spirit-Korra hallucination/gaslighting thing in particular wasn't my favorite development. I would have liked it better if Korra had just wandered for a few months and just happened to come across Toph instead of being lead there by a plot-destiny spirit. I realize it's fiction, but they managed to make everything else relating to Korra's recovery "real" so I would have liked it if they had continued it.
I understand your concerns regarding the real versus the spirit (especially in the context of deus ex "spirit" which often just fixes things in this universe) but I don't see too much of a problem.

The way Korra reacts to the pressures of her role as the avatar and as a young woman are all very real. The moment in the wheelchair, the tear on her face during the ascension, those are all very real moments and despite living in a world with spirits, she still has to find a way to deal with her emotions and the stress and issues that come with being an avatar.

Also this same battle between the real and the spiritual parallels our own. We live in a world where many people have to balance their belief and faith in a god or gods versus the day to day struggles they face.
posted by Fizz at 2:12 PM on October 10, 2014

God, this episode just about broke my heart. Just seeing her frustration and exhaustion and everything...

My shipper heart is delighted that she can only express her true feelings to Asami. I know I'm living in a dream world, but it's a pretty one.

That Aang picture cracked me up, because it's so good to see he's still that same dumbass. I bet he tried to teach Tenzin that trick. I bet Tenzin never learned due to bring too serious.

I want a little six legged leaf/wing spirit guide that is also an adorable little puppy. I'm actually working out the knitting pattern in my head. Oh my god, too cute.

And I'm hoping for a total Yoda thing with Toph. And then I want her to go back to the Earth Kingdom and it'll be "Oh shit, kids. Mommy's home."
posted by Katemonkey at 2:40 PM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I totally hope we get a White Lotus at the end of ATLA moment with Toph, where you have this elderly grandmaster of bending just pulling off some insane stuff because they're just that awesome.

I want a little six legged leaf/wing spirit guide that is also an adorable little puppy. I'm actually working out the knitting pattern in my head. Oh my god, too cute.

A keen eye over on Reddit pointed out that this little fellow, or at least of the same variety of spirit, was playing in the fountain/glacier/fountain at the Misty Palms Oasis last season.

One of the very cool things about this episode is reading everyone's interpretation of what the dark Korra doppelganger represents, which is another reason this episode was so darn tootin' great. There's so much to mentally chew on and it's nearly undefinable with any easy understanding. Beyond animation, is there really a show on American television that is doing this type of thing?
posted by Atreides at 2:53 PM on October 10, 2014

One of the very cool things about this episode is reading everyone's interpretation of what the dark Korra doppelgänger represents,

I believe this doppelgänger is her demon/fears personified. Someone above hypothesized that until she accepts this part of herself she will not be complete and I agree with that interpretation.

It could also be a left over part of her sickness and until she is spiritually cleansed she will continue to see this phantoms/ghosts. It is interesting that other spirits are able to see this version of herself which lends itself more to the idea that it is a darker part of herself that is still a part of her.

The demon/fear would also fit in with the idea of the avatar state and more of a call back to earlier in Book 1 & 2 where Korra had to accept that she is both light and dark and you cannot be just one, there must be balance.
posted by Fizz at 3:13 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote.

I was expecting more parallels with "Zuko Alone," where I think the key highlights were actually about his *not* being alone, but instead relating at least somewhat closely with people outside his identity as a fire nation prince, probably for the first time in his life, and consequently opening his eyes to the world in a different way, before having to use/reveal his heritage in order to live out the way he'd chosen to relate by standing up to the earthbending hammer thug.

Korra instead seems to be turned inward despite her outward travels, and never seems to escape her identity. Even in the ring fight -- which in episode 1 indicated to me that she might have been living without the identity of the Avatar for some time -- it's revealed in episode 2 that fight is *very much* focused on Avatar identity issues. So, by contrast to Zuko's travels, with everyone she meets, she appears to be either an irrelating stranger, or (still) the Avatar.

The parallels to Zuko's named episode being light, then, I wonder if there's other meaning of the title. Is shadow Korra really just... her? Her Jungian shadow?

And maybe (if that's where this is going) this is where we really get to see her start to try and stretch not just beyond the PTSD but beyond the impatient + solve-problems-by-punching-things character we've mostly seen her inhabit.

Crossing my fingers, anyway.
posted by weston at 10:53 AM on October 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Atreides: IIRC the Avatar state is the last ditch effort where he/she gains a 3x boost but if they die inside it then the reincarnation cycle ends there. There was a episode where Aang was wondering why he could't just brute force his way through the fight w/the Fire Lord using it. It's powerful but very limited in use during fights.

I think it retains the 3x boost effect but Korra can't exactly gain wisdom from her past lives now.

I wished they had a OVA-style where the audience got a idea how everyone in A:tLA ended up in their respective careers and lives. Seeing all the cameo scenes is nice and all but I really want a dedicated side story (aside from the comic books).

IDK if just me being obsessed w/Persona series but it reminds me of the Shadows everyone in P4 fought which reflected their dark sides and negative experiences. I want to agree w/Korra and think it's all a hallucination but at the same time not sure if her POV can be relied upon.

The entire recovery at the Southern Water Tribe was hard to watch even when she could walk again esp during the mock fight. As the audience we're probably the closest person apart from Korra to see how she's changed from day 1 to now. One of the cheerier scenes is her reading all the letters from her friends but entire mood is very melancholic.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:00 PM on October 11, 2014

Rewatched it today. It's still so good. I was actually really sad at the scenes where she was struggling to walk. Also enjoyed her threatening to slap Tenzin, who sometimes nails the comforting thing, and sometimes trips up on his own seriousness and ponderousness.

Clip for next episode went up today. Prince Wu!
posted by emjaybee at 5:33 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow. "Let's depict three years of recovery and PTSD. In 24 minutes." And they did it.

I'm happy that this serious isn't going in the direction I feared it might go- Korra is recovering, but she's still fighting. She may run, but she won't give up.

I'm also revising my opinion on the theme of the season. I think the role of the Avatar will still be in question, but the theme of "Balance" will be parallel threads of Korra trying to find her own balance, and the world being torn between anarchy and fascism.
posted by happyroach at 11:48 PM on October 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I said I would knit him, and I did.

A rough version of him, anyway.
posted by Katemonkey at 3:52 PM on October 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

posted by Atreides at 3:56 PM on October 12, 2014

That's a really adorable spirit there.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 4:58 PM on October 12, 2014

I think there is one other, probably crazy, possible interpretation of the avatar state spirit.. Its been very focused on Korra, but its entirely possible that Raava is going through either similar issues or lingering effects of the poison. Less likely I imagine given the characterization of Raava so far. Maybe Raava is trying to push her way back to Korra and Korra's illness is causing this spiritual backlash? Might explain why the other spirit seems to be real?
posted by Feantari at 9:28 AM on October 13, 2014

I'm'm thinking the most reasonable explanation is that it is Raava, given that the other spirits didn't sense Raava's presence with Korra. I am getting shades of "A Wizard of Earthsea" from this.
posted by happyroach at 9:53 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

The absence of Raava's energy has to be a major giveaway by the writers toward Korra's current condition and the appearance of the Avatar State doppelganger. This being noted by one spirit and the fact that the leaf spirit can see it, implies that there is a spiritual element to what is going on. You also have the fact that Korra was physically attacked by the spirit, which unless it was entirely in her head, is also something that just a mental projection could not do.

The hard part for me is the scene where she's pulled into the mercury/poison pool. To me that felt something of a hallucination, unless the spirit/doppelganger changed to that appearance.

I think we have four days until this question is answered, which I'm sure will happen in the next episode unless we focus hardly a drop on Korra - WHICH CANNOT HAPPEN 'CAUSE TOPH.

Perhaps it is a case that Raava was somewhat separated or forcibly rejected by Korra during her fight to survive and not let the Avatar cycle end, and Raava is attempting to rejoin Korra, who subconsciously has fears and stress about the moment. Perhaps Korra is afraid subconsciously of joining with Raava because she internally believes she is not worthy to be Avatar anymore. Perhaps she fears that she will be the end of the cycle if she continues to fight as the Avatar.
posted by Atreides at 10:58 AM on October 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

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