Oh, "The Ultimatum." You had the totally unenviable position of being the episode that precedes the two-part finale, which means you ended up spending two of your three acts with characters making declaratory statements about what they were going to do and what they needed to do, and, egads, it wasn't very interesting. At least the third act had plenty of action to end on a strong—if disheartening—note.
It was a narrative necessity, of course. Despite Korra being willing to play fast and loose with Zaheer's movements around the world earlier in the season, Mako and Bolin couldn't just magically appear at the Misty Palms Oasis and explain how they hijacked an airship, rescued their family, and then tracked down Korra in a long stream of exposition. That would've been lazy writing, and I can better abide an episode that basically amounts to a "Hurry up and wait" type of situation for the audience than an episode that takes narrative shortcuts.
At least there were decent moments peppered throughout all the "We need to get out of the city!" "I'm going to help arm the airship!" "I'm going to go to the spirit world!" "I'm going to take a nap!" bits of dialogue, and most of them were funny. Mako and Bolin's struggles to pilot the airship were amusing, with plenty of banter to go around plus a nice visual emphasis, as Mako's normally perfectly coiffed hair was in serious disarray after landing but also almost crashing at Misty Palms. Grandma Yin's reactions to things—from Bolin's heartfelt reunion with Pabu to her confusion regarding the identity of the Avatar to wondering why Mako can't date a nice girl—also helped to keep the majority of the episode from feeling too staid.
Grandma Yin was also the center of the moment I wish the show had lingered on a bit more, but ended up dismissing with Bolin hoisting the old woman over her shoulder. Zaheer may've opened the floodgates for Ba Sing Se to change, but he did so without any concern for the possible repercussions, including the loss of life and homes that some families may've passed down for generations. Yin's refusal to leave was played as a little dotty—especially given the danger surrounding her family—but there was a kernel of emotion to it, one that for all of Zaheer's talk of giving people freedom, he might not being willing accept as legitimate. Instead, he views it more as the result of Yin being immersed in a corrupt ideology and internalizing its supposed virtues to her own detriment.
I'm sad that Zuko won't be around for the final battle, but I'm glad that he and Korra finally had a scene together in which they actually engaged in conversation and not just, "Oh, hello there!" like in last week's episode. Korra may not have access to her past selves, but she does have access to those who knew Aang, and they can guide her in a similar, albeit not the same, fashion. Hopefully in Book 4 we'll get more of Zuko acting as an advisor to Korra.
As long as it doesn't come at the cost of Tenzin, of course. While I doubt the show would kill off Tenzin—I WOULD BE SO SAD; TENZIN IS MY FAVORITE—it was tough to watch Ghazan, Ming Hau, and Zaheer take turns striking him with their elemental abilities. I was glad for the pan behind that wall. I was also glad, however, that Zaheer finally faced something of a challenge as he Tenzin fought. It remains a criticism for me that Zaheer has been such a natural airbender, so watching him run and then end up on the ropes against Tenzin before P'Li intervened was a much needed power-balance correction. Plus, I like it when the show lets Tenzin loose. All the forms of bending look different—something I've always loved about the show—but I always enjoy watching airbending combat. It feels more distinct from the other forms.
The action in general was pretty good this week overall, something I've sort of struggled with for most of Book 3. Spectacles like Ming Hau's multi-tentacled attack or Bumi's comparatively unorthodox tactics—biting and hair-pulling—provided some variety, even if it was clear that Kya and Bumi were in over their heads against the waterbender and the lavabender. Between that and Tenzin's airbending, it was definitely one of the stronger action episodes, a good sign as we head into the finale next week.
– "I don't see any 'Up' buttons! I see levers and switches and ooh! There it is!"
– How are we feeling about Su being in the Red Lotus still? I feel like it could go either way now, with the Metal Clan's security force being the group's trump card, but I won't be surprised if I'm wrong, either.
What did you think of "The Ultimatum"?
AIRED ON 12/19/2014
Season 3 : Episode 13