Like all great redemption stories, Korra – our titular hero – needs to reach her lowest point before reclaiming her position of power and confidence. People love a good comeback, and for the way the season has been starting out, we should be treated with a largely satisfactory one with Korra. Before she can be at her strongest she needs to struggle through her weakest moments; before she can be content with who she is and who she is meant to be, she must face who she was; before she can join her family and friends again she must place herself through unquestionable struggle and pain to see if she has what it takes to protect them. She’s on a hero’s journey and she’s already more that worthy of the enlightenment that she’s seeking.
We witness a few flashbacks of how she got to the brawling ring, beaten and bruised, and it’s been a long, painfully introspective journey. She’s spent a great deal of time with Katara, who tells her she can’t heal her completely, but she can lead her to healing herself. She spends her time recuperating and as more and more time passes, years pass, she becomes agitated by her own inability to gain her old strength back. Through this frustration she decides to set out on her own, tells her family that she’s going back to Republic City as her alibi, and goes.
The other hardship that she’s facing is a hallucination of herself where she’s still fatally drugged and fighting for her life in the Avatar state at the end of season three. It’s this vision that leads her into the ring, and when she leaves, she finds a spirit waiting for her. It leads her into a swamp where she battles her hallucination and begins fighting tooth and nail to survive.
“Korra Alone” makes up greatly for how little Korra there was last week, and that instantly makes it better. It’s also one of the best examples of character introspection that the show has ever done. Korra needs to regain her strength, and while her body and mind are getting there, she needs her spirit to be whole again, and she can’t do that while she’s being haunted both in her wake and her sleep.
Korra’s worst enemy has always, to a large extent, been herself, but never more so then in the second episode, “Korra Alone.” The episode’s title as well as its overall way of digging through its content is reminiscent of the episode “Zuko Alone” from Avatar: The Last Airbender. In the episode, Zuko tries to make it by in exile without his uncle, while he remembers how his father became Firelord and what happened to his mother. Zuko and Korra are going through similar journeys in these episodes – each of them are grappling with who they are and where they’ve been. Each of them are trying to get by on their own after being helped out for much of the growing, and each of them are trying to determine what their next step will be.
Beyond the character similarities, they were also both chances for the filmmakers to experiment with the structure of an animated television series that’s primarily marketed for younger viewers. Rather than try to manipulate their attentions with loud noises, vibrant colors, and inconsequential actions sequences, the directors are allowing the viewers to take in what they’re seeing and decide for themselves what it means.
I feel the need to take pause to mention just how phenomenal the visuals are in this episode. While the Airbender universe has always displayed some wonderful animation, if anything was a consistent fault to me in The Legend of Korra, it was how sometimes the animation fell flat with the background character shots. Characters would become blurs of faces. However, the shots of the scenery are so intricate and so stunning that it’s hard to nitpick, and this week’s episode was a prime example of what they can do. Scenes such as Korra practicing her bending on a cliffside while the night sky envelops her show the expanse of the world, while moments of her hallucinations disappearing into the crowd or the slow motion effects of her fighting herself in the swamp show an innovation of animated tools in the medium.
The episode ends on a particularly nostalgic note after an episode full of them. Korra is brought into a cave beneath the swamp where an old woman hobbles about readying things for her guest, and we realize as she calls Korra an old friend – or at least one in her past life – that this is Toph.
With that exciting moment come and gone, this week’s episode ends, and we’re set up for the next.