When Nickelodeon made the decision to take The Legend of Korra off air, many speculated it was because the tone and content of the show worried them. After “Long Live the Queen” and “The Ultimatum,” I think I can understand why Nickelodeon would be wary of scheduling Korra next to any of their other “kid-friendly” programming. Things are starting to look very bleak in the world of Korra; it really seems like it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Last week we learned that the writers have no problem having Zaheer follow through on his threats. The unfortunate thing is it seems like the creative team knew this and tried their best to address Nick’s concerns while still telling the story they wanted to tell. No one in the show utters the word “dead” when discussing the end of the Earth Queen’s reign, and after the third and fourth time a character uses a euphemism for “dead” or “killed,” it becomes painfully obvious. It’s a really small complaint in a spectacular episode that moves the show in a direction that feels surprising and inevitable all at once.
“The Ultimatum” picks up right where “Long Live the Queen” left off, with Mako and Bolin trying to find a way out of Ba Sing Se as people loot the palace and anything else they can find. We immediately see the result of Zaheer’s so called liberation of Ba Sing Se. People are running wild and even the guards have joined in on the looting and destruction. Mako and Bolin can’t even stop to do anything about it; the message Zaheer gave them for Korra is too important. As serious as everything going down in Ba Sing Se is, the show takes the time to inject some humor into the proceedings before we get to the troubling second half of the episode. Mako failing to commandeer the airship and Bolin’s not so great piloting skills are fun little moments to catch your breath as the episode pushes forward. I also really enjoyed their reunion with their family in the lower ring. Grandma Yin is sure to become a fan favorite and she made me laugh almost as much as Bolin did this episode. Her reaction to Bolin’s heartfelt moment had me in stiches and it only continued when she met Korra and Asami. There was no way she would dethrone Bolin as the funniest character when you have Bolin reuniting with Pabu and then going full fanboy when he meets Zuko. Once everyone is done saying hello, Mako and Bolin deliver Zaheer’s message. Zaheer is headed to the Northern Air Temple and will wipe out all of the airbenders unless Korra surrenders herself to the Red Lotus. In that moment we realize why Mako and Bolin were so desperate to find Korra and the episode takes a big turn.
The back half of this episode is The Legend of Korra firing on all cylinders. It has great character beats interwoven with top notch action choreography with the stakes at an all-time high. We get a little bit of Korra wrestling with the decision she will eventually have to make when she comes face to face with Zaheer again. This is definitely going to be a big moment in the finale, and so far the show isn’t giving any hints as to what Korra will do. She consults both Iroh and Zuko for advice now that she has severed her connection to the previous avatars and neither of them knows what Aang would do in her position. I certainly don’t know what choice Aang would make and I have no idea what Korra will do, especially given what happens in the last moments of the episode.
The Red Lotus’ attack on the Northern Air Temple is a master class in animation, editing, and action choreography. Tenzin has been acknowledged as the only airbending master many times, but we’ve yet to see him really show off his skills. In fact, over the entire Legend of Korra series we’ve seen Tenzin have his share of struggles, from traveling to the spirit world to his ineffective teaching styles. With all of those struggles in mind, it was amazing to see Tenzin make a stand for his family and for the airbenders. And you know what? He is bad ass! When push comes to shove Tenzin can throw down with the best of them. This entire sequence is so exciting and tense. The show has slowly built up Zaheer and the Red Lotus as legitimate threats, culminating in their elimination of the Earth Queen. This means that the entire time Zaheer, Ghazan, Ming-Hua, and P’Li are attacking there is a very real chance that one of our beloved characters could die. Opal is held at icicle point. Ming-Hua and Kya’s battle includes all sorts of deadly ice creations. Bumi spends most of his fight with Ghazan playing the scariest version of the “floor is lava” game that I’ve ever seen. There’s this glimmer of hope because as formidable as we’ve seen Zaheer be, Tenzin actually slowly gains the upper hand in their fight. Unfortunately, Kya and Bumi don’t fare nearly as well and eventually Ghazan and Ming-Hua join Zaheer and they overpower Tenzin.
Kai gets a moment again, and even though he’s far from my favorite new addition it was cool for him to have a triumphant moment and put himself on the line for Jinora and the rest of the airbenders. The Kai of this episode is a far cry from the shady kid who kept stealing people’s stuff from earlier episodes. The transformation happened a little too quickly, but the kid was kidnapped and imprisoned underground for a little while. I’m sure an experience like that would have a strong impact on a person. I was glad that ultimately Kai survived along with Bumi and Kya. I was so tense during the entire battle I kept waiting for someone to strike a fatal blow. Although it didn’t happen in this episode, I’m terribly afraid that the finale may involve Tenzin’s death. We end the episode with Tenzin cornered and saying that as long as he’s breathing he’ll continue to fight. The word choice is a deliberate one on the part of the writers, and it doesn’t bode particularly well for Tenzin. With Korra presumably on her way to the Northern Air Temple she is going to be devastated by what she finds, especially if something happens to Tenzin. In what direction will the result of the Red Lotus attack push her? Whatever happens, we’re in store for a spectacular finale.