Whereas "Beginnings" was good on any number of levels, it was also a much-needed morale boost after the slog of episodes that preceded it, and it helped to reestablish a baseline for the rest of Book 2. Sure, last week was mostly set-up, but "A New Spiritual Age" helped to pay off some meaningful dividends, and to keep things moving. There's momentum now, folks! And that momentum was propelled in this episode by delightful cameos that almost felt like fan service, but were motivated enough that they didn't trigger the "It was fun, but the episode would've been fine without 'em" feeling that I typically assign to fan service.
So. Iroh. Not Prince Eric pretty boy Iroh. The original Iroh. Iroh Classic. At first I thought "A New Spirtual Age" was going to play a cruel joke and have Iroh be some sort of shape-shifting evil spirit, and I likely would've broken my television if that'd been the case. But no, instead we had Iroh there to help an insecure, reverted-to-her-child-self Korra come to grips with her anxieties about the Spirit World, and to serve as the bridge between the Spirit World and the Physical World.
Iroh was known for his good advice and great tea ("The key to both is proper aging.") in Avatar: The Last Airbender, so it was all the more appropriate that Legend of Korra would have him use a tea party/wedding reception to gently guide Korra toward understanding her fears. A gentle nudge that she's now the metaphorical teapot that carries Raava—and thus has that light inside of her—helped to reinforce the lessons she learned in "Beginnings," but in a different context. Learning about Wan retaught her about being the Avatar; Iroh's lesson helped to her lock in that knowledge and gain the confidence, not bullheaded pride, she needs to actually be the Avatar.
What I really liked about all of this, however, was the notion that Korra's attitude during Book 2, and arguably during much of Book 1, contributed to the lack of balance between the two worlds. "You have light and peace inside of you. If you let it out, you can change the world around you," Iroh told her. Her anger, her frustration, her act-first-and-ask-questions-later behavior—they all seemed to have contributed to putting things out of whack. While I do think Unalaq has been doing things on his own end, I also think he's been taking advantage of the ripple effects of Korra's actions. I've wanted to see some sort of consequence for her conduct, and I can't think of a better one than giving the angry spirits more negative vibes to feed off of.
Less important but no less pleasurable was Wan Shi Tong, he who knows 10,000 things. I enjoyed his blustery arrogance in A:TLA, and it was fun to have that rolled out again here (I'm so watching "The Library" after I finish writing this). But then to have Jinora school him on how radios work? Priceless. Wan Shi Tong can blame all the foxy assistants he wants, but he totally bought into the "little man inside the box" theory. Like Iroh, Wan Shi Tong's role in the episode was more than just the return of a fan-favorite character. His presence helped to make Unalaq's appearance both surprising and not surprising: Wan Shi Tong does what is best for him and his knowledge, and he saw Unalaq as beneficial to that cause. That's all that mattered to him. Their connection also helped to fill in a potential gap regarding how Unalaq learned as much as he has.
Speaking of Unalaq, if I had a quibble with this episode, it was with him. I've long appreciated his well-intentioned (if misguided) emphasis on the spiritual side of things, regardless of how he wanted to execute it—freeing Vaatu, or freeing Vaatu and merging with him, as a number of you have proposed. But I felt like he was definitely off in this episode. Perhaps it was a transition to the "madness" Korra called him on, and certainly he's become more consumed with his plot as the show's progressed, even to the detriment of his own children. But he seemed more villain-y this week than he's ever been. I mean, he had a one-liner for Jinora, and one-liners don't really seem like the Unalaq we've, well, barely gotten to know, but still.
That's still just a minor quibble, though, and one that can hopefully be corrected in the next few episodes as Book 2 approaches it conclusion. Thankfully, I'm at least looking forward to that conclusion in an excited way, and not in a "Good grief, can this be over now?" way.
– Studio Mir is back! Did you see all the facial expressions while people were talking? Their expressions matched their words! Please never leave us again, Studio Mir.
– I know I was missing Republic City while we were in the South Pole and then hating Republic City while we were in Republic City, but, wow, what a difference in enjoyment I felt at not detouring over there.
– I now feel like Raava hiding in a teapot with Wan was done just so they could have Iroh appear and do his thing. I'm not complaining about it, but in hindsight, it comes off as a very deliberate decision.
– "Come visit me again. In this life, or the next." Iroh 4 (every) lyfe, y'all. Even if it's not Mako doing the voice.
– A reminder that next week, there will be two new episodes and the same goes for the week after that. Home stretch of Book 2!
What did you think of "A New Spiritual Age"?
AIRED ON 12/19/2014
Season 3 : Episode 13