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The Legend of Korra S02E07 & S02E08: "Beginnings" Part 1 & "Beginnings" Part 2


When it was first announced that a bit of Book 2 would focus on the first Avatar, I was a little wary. I questioned the necessity of such a narrative, and wondered how it might detract from or enhance the more serialized story that the rest of the season would be telling. I worried that it would feel shoehorned in, that it would be a story that the writers and producers very much wanted to tell, and that they'd simply contort the show whatever position was necessary in order to tell it.

As Book 2 progressed, however, I came to look forward to it, and not just because I knew that Studio Mir had returned to animate it. If you've been reading along, I've become steadily frustrated with the show this season. Based on comments here, and discussions I've had with a few people offline who also watch Korra, I'm not alone. I began to see "Beginnings" as the opportunity for the show to take a break and to provide, well, if not a course correction, then at least a clearer sense of Book 2's intentions.

"Beginnings" accomplished that. The two-parter was enjoyable and gorgeous; it not only told a compelling story but likely provided us with an inkling of what Unalaq potentially has planned, and why he waited as long as he did to invade the Southern Water Tribe.

From an aesthetics point of view alone, the episode was a complete success. I was thrilled with the decision to base the look of the memories in the style of ukiyo-e woodblock printsIt's a genre of Japanese art originating from the Edo period, and the name translates as "pictures of the floating world" to emphasize—and I quote from a book here—"the ephemeral beauty and fame of Edo's courtesans and actors as well as the seasonal attractions of the city's scenic spots." The genre extends beyond those subjects, of course, with Hokusai's Great Wave Off Kanagawa (Wan's waterbending in his fight with Vaatu recalls Hokusai's waves, in places) perhaps being the most recognizable example.

What was so wonderful about this was Korra's decision to maintain the sense of flatness from the ukiyo-e, so, yes, things were supposed to look just a tad off as the characters, obviously not done in the same style as the backgrounds, moved about flattened spaces. Beyond that, the coloring, including the use of gradients and watercolor-esque splotching, gave "Beginnings" a distinct vibe, separate from both Studio Pierrot's work up to this point and Studio Mir's work in Book 1. Two examples:


Notice how the wall and the tree on the left don't have a clearly defined line between them, and how they bleed into each other? Or how bits of the building are lighter than others, even the tower with the stairs in the upper left? It's significantly more interesting than if it were a uniform slate gray, isn't it?

And here, so much lovely fading and color shifting, between the sky going from a dark blue to a pinkish sunrise hue that then spreads into the surrounding mountains at the horizon point (such as it is); the steady white that invokes foam, spray, and mist at the waterfall's end; and the calm blue water around the bridge.

I could go on, but suffice it to say, I was very happy with the degree of detail and care that went into the look of these episodes. It's something that Studio Pierrot likely just wouldn't and couldn't have done, and if Studio Mir needed the time off to regroup and re-energize in order to pull off a very different style of art, then it may've just been worth all the really ugly off-model installments we received before this.


Wan's story was decidedly old-fashioned, too, a sped-up and slightly scrambled version of Joseph's Campbell's "The Hero's Journey." There's nothing wrong with this, though. It fit with the far-flung aesthetics that the flashbacks utilized, and as an origin story for the Avatar, it made complete sense to structure the story in that way. While I wish it hadn't unspooled quite as quickly—I would've liked to have seen more training and more interactions between Wan and Raava, as well as more Vaatu ("Enjoy your final days! See you at the end of the world!")—it would've required at least another episode to satisfy that particular itch, and that wouldn't have been necessary in the long run.

Of course, I also would've liked the final battle between Vaatu, Wan, and Raave to have gone on longer, too. Gorgeously animated, to be sure, but it was also the sort of stellar action sequence that had simply been lacking throughout Book 2. This isn't just an issue of animation, but of planning and storyboarding (and budgeting) fights in a way that hints at an epic scope. Admittedly, you don't get more epic than the birth of the Avatar and sealing chaos away in a tree, but Book 1 managed to achieve intensely powerful action sequences fairly consistently. The duel in "Beginnings" Part 2 will hold me over for a little while, but I wouldn't refuse some more greatness.

Most importantly for this episode, though, was that I liked Wan. He was an amalgamation of both Korra and Aang's personalities, between his aggressive tactics with the Chous that screamed Korra and then the more restrained, diplomatic approaches he used as he attempted to broker a compromise between Jaya and the forest spirits. Indeed, the first Avatar was our bridge between the two most recent Avatars, a way of showcasing who Korra could become.


Which leaves us with Korra and the present day. I'm glad the amnesia aspect was downplayed in favor of a very long flashback/past life regression, instead of the Fire Nation priestess knocking Korra on the head with a staff until she remembered everything. The amnesia was an excuse to tell this story, going back to the very start of this article and the show contorting itself to tell Wan's tale, but at least there was a narrative purpose behind it, ham-fisted though it may have been.

In many ways, this flashback severed the same purpose as the flashbacks from Book 1: They filled in narrative gaps for the audience—as flashbacks often do—but also for Korra. She learned about Yakone and Amon through memories, both her own from past lives and from Tarrlok. Here, both Korra and we as viewers learned about the harmonic convergence that connects Raava and Vaatu, and from that we can take a guess as to what what Unalaq has planned. 

The most obvious option, and probably a likely one, is that he intends to release Vaatu from his tree prison, and drop the barriers between the physical and spirit worlds. Given Unalaq's speech from way back in Episode 1, and all the talk of annihilation that Raava did in this one, I imagine that Unalaq is motivated by a "destroying the world in order to save it" mentality. Or at least to save it for the next 10,000 years.

I do balk at this development, given that so little time has been spent with Unalaq since leaving the South Pole, meaning that we really did likely spend a few episodes spinning the wheels with Varrick and the inertia of the Republic City government just so Korra could come to this realization. We could make the argument that much of the narrative leading up to this episode was supposed to serve as a parallel to the problems that Wan experienced in his time, but none of it was as explicit, or even implicit, as it likely could have been.

As I discussed when Book 2 first started, there were hints at exploring the tension between a more secular world and a more spiritual world, and how the Avatar, and those in this world, needed to balanced those impulses. With Unalaq and the spirits receding into the background, we drifted away from that tension, even if Varrick, in a not-very-nuanced way, provided an example of the secular dangers Unalaq warned against so early on in the season. Without the juxtaposition of Unalaq's perspective on these events, it all became scattered, losing much of its thematic heft.

Hopefully, now that Korra's in on the scheme, we can start getting spiritual again.



LEAVES ON THE WIND

– "I think it's on the other side of None-Of-Your-Business Valley."

– "I've never had a human as a pet before."

– I like to think that if Mako were still alive, he would've have voiced Vaatu, and the character would've sounded a little bit like Aku.

– At least we now know where the sky bisons have been coming from.

– I do recommend the book I quoted above, Christine Guth's Art of Edo Japan. It has plenty of pictures to illustrate the text, and Guth's writing is very accessible, so don't let the fact that it's printed by a university press deter you from reading it.

– A quick scheduling note: There won't be a new episode next week, so we'll meet back here to discuss Episode 9—"The Guide"—on November 1. "The Guide" also marks the final episode animated by Studio Pierrot, with Studio Mir taking over for the remaining episodes. And there was much rejoicing.


What'd you think of "Beginnings"?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 12/19/2014

Season 3 : Episode 13

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Noel Kirkpatrick: Good article. I was also thrilled at the art in these two episode. Though I believe you are wrong to assume that the art in episode 7&8 were based on Japanese art. Though traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean art are similar there distinct differences. When I first saw these episodes the style felt really familiar to me, and when I learned that Studio Mir were the animators I realized why. I have several family members who paint traditional Korean art. I grew up with this art in my daily life, and even dabbled with Korean calligraphy. I recognize the style in these episodes with Korean traditional art. Another reason I make this point is because Studio Mir is a KOREAN animation studio. I highly doubt that they would use Japanese art over Korean art. I ask that you revise your article, and maybe also ask Studio Mir on the style that they used. It's like giving credit to Mexican art when its American art, both are art, but the styles are different.
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Well, I hate it. As I am happy them bringing the gentle turlelions back, feels like I'm watching a hybrid of Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away"/"Princess Mononoke". Not that I don't like Hayao's work as they are actually my favorites but it feels like they've just copied his works. It has becoming unimaginative for me.
I think it also doesn't tie up with the first Avatar (Aang) as they are supposed to learn bending from the Dragon/Moon/Mole/Bison. I'd love to think that that they have something more behind that. Sigh... Oh well... I just thought.
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I loved Part 1 and 2, I always wondered who was the first Avatar and how did he/she became the Avatar and this episode was a dream come true. I almost Cried when Wan was going to die and Raava told him they would be together and forever. Love/Friendship!
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OMG,I stopped watching it for few weeks,but this 2 parter is the best thing ever!!!! I never really cared much for Korra,but I LOVE WAN !!!! This thing is gold mine,everything about it I loved. Oh powers,that be,please make show about Avatar Wan. Love,love,love the art style,story....everything !!!
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Every so often there are T.V. episodes that, as you watch them, define a series. This two part episode was Avatar's defining story. I gasped, I laughed, I even liked Korra in a scene! Yes this season's impossible became possible.

My only complaint is that the second series should have been "The more obvious legend of WAN" Is it too late to do a reboot? Can books three and four be about WAN and subsequent avatars?

Regardless, these episodes almost negated all of season 2 and gave the second half of the season legitimate purpose. From here on everything that occurs in Avatar:TLOK should be referenced "After Beginnings, A.B." and "Before beginnings, B.B." aka Vaatu's version of avatar.
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Unalaq becoming the 'Dark Avatar' is a great idea, but they shouldn't kill him off at the end of Book 3. Build him up like Ozai for the series finale...That's what Korra needs: direction. A set goal like Aang had. It will give her purpose, and the show better structure. and make Varrick this season's big bad to defeat.
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I prefer it the other way around. Unalaq is more interesting as anti-villain to me. Before Civil War part 2 he had a lot of good points like how the Avatar needs to travel the world and get life experience or how his brother was ignoring the dark spirit problem and not telling Korra about it. The way he goes about things are villainous and wrong, but it was what makes him a good anti-villain who self serving, but has good intentions or points. Verrick even before he revealed to be a villain has been selfish and serving without any good intentions behind it. Verrick is more unexpected but would just be plain for entertaining as Vaatu servant or host than Unalaq would be.
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Didn't the firebenders learn fire bending from the dragons? Looks like they need to get their continuity straightened out.
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If you watch the scene where Wan starts living with the spirits, there's a very clear scene where he trains along a dragon. This scene calls back to the episode where Avatar Aang and Zuko learn the origins of firebending, the movements (the dancing dragon) mimic the movements of the dragon in flight.

TLDNR version: The Lion Turtles gave firebenders the element, the dragons helped them refine it into a martial art.
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Not really actually, The humans learned how to USE the elements from the Lion turtles, but they learned how to master it aka BEND it from: dragons for fire, the moon for water, molebadgers for earth, and the sky bison for air. Just like how Wan learned how to master fire from a dragon by doing the first dragon dance.
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Hmm... I can see where all this is going... a dark Avatar is on the way
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And no, this would not be cool :|
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why not?
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really? You not tired of seeing this? Again another battle between a dark and white knight?
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No, that never gets old, and it could be used very well here.
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Besides, asymmetry is beautiful.
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this is really one the best episode ever since korra! I also love the origin of the avatar... strong 2 episodes! and Wan is Awesome :D
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I agree. The art was beautiful, and it was an interesting origin story...
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This is what I've been waiting for. It was beautiful, brilliant and perfectly paced. The dialogue and "twists" were predictable, but in that way an origin story has to be in order to succeed with a pre-established story. I completely agree on the speculation for where the series will head the rest of this season (and maybe even an overall series arc) but there is also a potential kill-switch embedded here: The Avatar is hosting the good of the world, preventing what's likely to be a scheduled time of chaos. Eventually, the Avatar will die-die, good will be consumed by evil and chaos will reign. The Avatar just needs to get out of the way.
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Way back, maybe even before they announced a sequel series to A:TLA, I said that it would be best if it focused on the original avatar and how he came to be. After seeing these two amazing episodes, I still think that focusing this series entirely on Wan would have been the best course of action.

Now I know budgeting and issues with the animation studios might have prevented a whole series from looking and feeling this good (reminded me very much of A:TLA), but I think from a story and character sense it would have been much more intriguing. I could really care less about Korra as a character, even if she does learn a thing or two from this experience.

I just think Wan and his identity as the first ever avatar made him a much more interesting character with a more interesting story than a random, angry teenage girl that was merely a vehicle for showing us a bit about life after Aang. Even the flashbacks of Aang and the gang were few and far between. Wan's journey to becoming the first avatar was something the fans could have been excited about and understood more clearly than simply a random avatar hanging out in Republic City and having a variety random, poorly plotted adventures.

I loved the story, characters, and animation of Beginnings because it had a clear, organized plot and a likeable character doing interesting things. Again it reminded me a lot of A:TLA, which Korra has not done in a long time if at all. I wish they had fleshed out Wan's story in an entire season or two rather than wasting our time with Korra.
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Well said.
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Unalaq going to try to combine with Vatu to create an EVIL Avatar
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Studio Mir will be animating the last the episodes of the season? THANK YOU JESUS!!! But seriously, that's good fucking news, I've been seriously disappointed with the animation this season as I've said every week, and this episode reminded me how much I loved the animation of season one that when they ended I was sad we were stuck with the mediocre work studio Pierrot's been doing. But hearing that we only have to sit through it for one more episode has really put me in a good mood. P.S. I loved these episodes, it would take too long to get into every detail I loved so suffice it to say I love it all, every writing and creative decision. It gave me hope that the show can return to the highs it reached in season one.
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Loved this 2 parter. Definitely up there with the epic battle with Aang and Ozai in the finale. I also agree about how Vaatu reminded me of Aku from Sam Jack. Even the movements seems similar. Reading this review, I have a better appreciation for the animation used as a tribute for the old japanese art form. That said, I didn't think the whole season was that bad with the other animation studio doing the work instead of mir, but season 2 has been inconsistent story wise and the recent few eps have been more focused and brilliant. I am eager to see how they tie the 2 story lines together. I do hope Unaiaq isn't going to be a stereotypical bad guy. If it does turn out to get people prepared to fight the evil spirit, then i guess he'd be justified, but if it was some sort of mind control, i guess that could work as well. But if they end up with him releasing vaatu to say maybe be the anti-avatar for power, then I'll be disappointed like with fire lord ozai.
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I completely agree. Unalaq is a jerk, but he could still have good intentions. He's no hero or even a anti-hero, but anti-villain is still a strong possibility. He made good points at the start of the season. He was right about the Avatar journeying to the world is how they learn what they need to do to be the Avatar. He was also right about his brother was ignoring the spirit attacks and not telling Korra about it when it is her job. The dark spirit wanted to kill Korra and the Avatar spirit, which Unalaq did't want to happen and was visibly surprised by it. There is a good chance he isn't doing all of this simply power like he did with his brother so long ago, but trying to prepare the world to fight dark spirits and setting Korra up to fight Vaatu, maybe with some selfish motives at being the mentor to the Avatar who helped her save the world and wants to be to her Zuko.
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these past two episodes have completely renewed my faith in TLOK. It was absolutely old school avatar. I mean the animation, the Asian influence, the spirituality of the avatar. Everything. I loved the lionturtles and the throwbacks to ATLA (dragon dance). One of the best episodes of avatar in general. One thing though I remember in the original avatar they mentioned that the moon was the first water bender and that was how people learned how to waterbend. Same with the sky bisons being the first airbenders, dragons were the first firebenders, and badgermoles for earth. in this episode the lion turtles gave the power to bend
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Oh, but haven't you noticed that the people who received bending from the lion turtles were mediocre? It shows the scene where Wan does the dragon dance and learns original firebending. These creatures and spirits -moon, badgermoles, dragons, and bison- did not GIVE the ancestors the abilty to bend; they only taught them how to use bending properly. Beginnings followed the correct mythology because it only shows how the ancestral benders gained bending. The myths that describe original bending masters came after.
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oh also that tree that wan imprisoned the dark spirit in just reminded me of that tree in season 2 of avatar "the swamp". its probably just a coincence
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Hey people! Anybody else thinks, like I am, that the oasis' guardian spirit resembles Sokka's personality or is it just me?

Amazing & gorgeous episode.
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Seems like a fitting title, because it feels as if the season just 'began'. This is the kind of origin story and mythos I was expecting from the book.

The origin of the bending powers were great, although I would have loved to see the origin of waterbending and earthbending instead of them being montaged. The epic battle in the end was a great parallel to Aang's battle against the firelord from the last series.

Although now we get to know how the 'spirits' work, I would still love for the story to go into the spirit world. According the story, they were still in the 'material' plane. I just hope everything picks up next episode.
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I thought these episodes were absolutely stunning. They reminded me of why I love the Avatar universe to begin with. These series truly are works of art, which is showcased with "Beginnings", Edo style landscapes. I love that Avatar is not afraid to become dark, although it is essentially a show for children. Wan's story was really dark, ending with the moral that conquering evil is a never ending battle. Wow, talk about depressing. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of these episodes, and hope they tie together the slightly chaotic story lines that have come so far. Also does anyone else think old Fire Nation healing woman could be Azula? She had a similar hair style. Just putting it out there.
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That would be awesome. AWESOME. And reading the comic books, it just could be possible.....
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Azula? c'mon she trying to demolish an Earth nation and was pity by her own mother. Theres no way a heartless woman can become a healing mag. -.-
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I acknowledge it is a theory based on wishful thinking. A desire for any characters from the original, but the Search Part 3 hasn't come out yet maybe Azula has major character development (represented by her fire changing from blue to red) and spends the rest of her life healing and looking after sky bison. Hey, it's just a theory.
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azula fire was blue where old lady used red flames
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Anybody else got the feeling that Korra will be the last Avatar? That's why it is so important to tell her Legend? The Last Avatar.
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nah they r not gonna kill the frenchize so easily also there r 2 more books in line to be made
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Raava said out of Darkness there be light and out of like there be dark. it an endless loop and a new Avatar will born after the last era end. When Aang era end most of the old school bender were little shown in the Book 2 which enter pre-modern era thus need an avatar in the ATM era. Ofcause to finish master piece it need to end. Yes i think Legend of Korra will be the last Book of Avatar story...but we all welcome it if the author can write another book.
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I mean, she might be the last avatar because Raava might finally separate itself from the Avatar's body. Which makes sense.
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I really enjoyed this story, but like you I wish it was longer. Unlike a previous user's comment, I really enjoyed seeing the lion turtles, and the fact that they were the ones who gave bending to the humans isn't shocking/surprising to me at all, because if you recall it was a lion turtle that gave Aang the ability to Energy Bend, which he used to take the firelord's bending away.

I also liked how they established that no human could hold the power of multiple elements without the help of (or merging with) a spirit. Which explains how the avatar is able to use all the elements, because the avatar his half human/half Raava.

The only thing that I really wish they would have explained is how the avatar cycle was created. While I understand why the avatar would never be linked to one nation alone, further explanation on its creation would have been enjoyed. (Don't say its the damn Seasons...that's just a simple answer with no effort envolved)
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I believe Raava reincarnated the way she did to follow the order that Wan learned the elements, fire, air, water, and earth.
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"The only thing that I really wish they would have explained is how the avatar cycle was created. While I understand why the avatar would never be linked to one nation alone, further explanation on its creation would have been enjoyed. (Don't say its the damn Seasons...that's just a simple answer with no effort envolved)"

I think it has to due with What Nation needs them the Most. Like Aang was needed because his nation would be destroyed and Korra is needed because of the War of the tribes.
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From my interpretation it was in the order Wan learned the elements from the Lion Turtle, he learned Fire first followed by Air, Water, and Earth. Not exactly an explanation, but I think it is the closest were going to get.
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Makes sense
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knowing how power hungry unalaq is, i wouldnt be surprised if he was trying to combine with vaatu the same way the avatar has raava, the episode started off slow for me but i quickly became interested in what was happening, also why was vaatu sealed in the same bending sphere aang created so that he could access all of his bending abilities against the fire lord.. found that part kinda dumb
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I am sick and tired of amnesia stories so that's why I am so glad this wasn't a amnesia stories, more like a flashback to the first avatar (loved Wan impulsive and dyplomatic). Loved the art and how everything unfolded quite nicely before my eyes. I don't think Korra will have an extreme change of personality I think she still needs to find her own path on her own, she should take one of those famous trips "to find herself" (yeah I know it isn't a great idea for the show cause Korra is not really likable, but I do think it would help her)
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I adored these episodes.
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So I take it I'm the only one that absolutely hated this episode?
This show was boring enough as it is but this origin story made no sense what so ever with the original story.

First the lion turtles? Really? The absolute worst part of the original show is what you chose to bring back? and in multiples? Fine.

But if they just gave people the ablitiy to use the elements how does this relate to the origin stories of bending? (The sercret tunnel episode in the original episode)

And why on earth would just getting the elements from the lion turtles and merging with a spirit be a development of a martial art?!? And why would that form the Avatar cycle?

And the story itself was just "meh", too cliche for my test.

Honestly I'm seriously close to just giving up on this show entirely.
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If I recall correctly, in the previous series, they never mentioned how humans got their bending. They only said that they were taught. Firebending was taught by the dragons. Waterbending was taught by following how the moon pulls and pushes water. Airbending was taught by air bisons. And earthbending was taught by how badgermoles moved through the ground. In other words, the humans were mimicking the movements of these things. Having the ability to control the elements is different from learning how to use/bend them.
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Excellent point! When I watched the episode I was thinking "did they just change the origin story of bending?". But of course they needed to get the power first before learning how to use it.

Though it still leaves the question of energy bending. In the previous series the lion turtle said that before bending the elements people used to bend the energy within themselves. That kind of hints that everyone had energy bending and then later they developed the bending of the elements by observing dragons, moon, skybisons and badgermoles. Or something.
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You missed a lot more than that. Unfortunately, if you did not see the originals, this episode will not make as much sense to you. This episode does make me confused since even though the spirit world was sealed off, spirits have already made their in between the worlds without the northern and southern poles. That was the part that got me a bit confused.

The lion turtle in the original told of the origins of bending, which is granted by the bending of the spirit to either give or take away bending. That was reflected in the episodes here. Bending is granted by a spirit (lion turtle in this case) that bends the spirit of the person in order to grant them control over an element. You could say that the lion turtle in the original gave Aang the power to spiritbend and added it to his original arsenal of the four elements. However, each person could only hold 1 bending power because the spirit of a human is not strong enough and they needed the aid of a spirit to obtain it in the first place. If a person was aided by a spirit, then they could hold more elements by changing the person's spirit each time the user needed to change elements. If the spirit is too strong, it will kill the human though, which prevents a spirit from possessing a person for too long. I believe what allowed for the creation of the Avatar is that Raava was severely weakened to the point where it could no longer directly affect Wan. The thing is that the death scene of Wan makes me think that the Avatar is not reincarnated, but rather that Raava chooses whom to possess.

The tunnel episode in the original reveals that there are some animals and the moon that possess a natural affinity for bending. These are discovered to be the Sky Bison (Air), Badger Mole (Earth), Dragon (Fire), Moon (Water). This allows bending to take additional forms.
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Raava said she was forever bound to Wan's reincarnations, which is why they are able to wield multiple elements. That Raava now exists within the Avatar, is what I gathered. Also with the animals, maybe the lion turtle gifted them with the power over elements before humans, correctly making them the original benders as said in the original series.
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I suggest you re-watch the secret tunnel episode because you are all wrong. The story there clearly states that the lovers were the first earth benders. People were shocked of what they accomplished.

This episode places Wan not only as the first ever Avatar, but as the first Bender of any element including earth.

No, that doesn't fit together at all. I'm not even going into the whole "I sealed the portal00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000"
Really? We haven't seen spirits in the human world? The owl? The panda? Heck, we were told of people in the spirit world (Iroh)

I don't mind going around to "okay, we changed some stuff but we still like it" but trying to actually say that this fits in is just mind boggling.

It reminds of all the Lost fanboys that kept trying to defend how the whole series was written in advance with full consistency... lol
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I don't believe that they ever said the two were the first Earthbenders. I believe they said that the two lovers were the first ones to learn from the badger moles like how Wan was probably the first to learn from the dragons. Wan probably learned the other elements from the other spirits and with the guidance of Raava, which might explain how he learned the other elements despite us not having seen him meet the other animals who might be capable of teaching him.

As for the spirit portal thing, I think that there are other ways to reach the spirit world without having to go through the gates at the poles. The stronger concentration of energy probably makes it easier to go to the other world. Technically, the poles were sealed, but Aang was able to meditate and make his way to the spirit world. The only difference is that the body goes too instead of only the spirit. Aang was also able to manifest his spirit in the physical world, which means other animals might be able to do the same. If both world were sealed off, there's also likeliness that some chose to stay in the other with some spirits choosing to stay in the physical world and some humans choosing to stay in the spirit world.

Iroh knows a lot about the spirits and culture of various people. It is possible that he perhaps learned a way to access the spirit world and has been there before. It wouldn't be unlikely considering that the great library housed a lot of information that might include ways to access the spirit world. We know Zhao managed to discover it and perhaps even Iroh knew of it before considering that Iroh knows about the effects of an eclipse and when it would occur. The problem is that we do not know much about the spirit world still.
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OK 1) yes, I suppose there is an inconsistency with the secret tunnel myth, but bear in mind, humanity was reasonably separated, maybe Oma and Shu were the first true earth-benders known to whomsoever wrote the myth (I doubt the Avatar was as well known as it is now)
2) Hei-bei could briefly create portals to and from the spirit world (as seen in Siege of the North) Tui and La (or however their names are spelt) probably stayed behind when the portals closed. As for Wan Shi Tong: I also suspect he stayed behind to maintain his library.
3) Yes, Iroh entered the spirit world, Given that we also see Genora in the spirit world in the trailer, it may be possible for anyone to enter the spirit world spiritually, providing they are spiritually balanced

As for your question, the only other comment I've read saying that they flat-out hated this episode was justified by the fact they expected it to follow the theory from wikipedia.
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The lion turtle gave Aang the ability to energy bend, thus allowing him to take the firelord's bending away. So they were just using what was already established, that lion turtles can give bending.
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The scene where Wan mimicking a dragon is basically him learning or creating the dancing dragon/fire bending form. From my understanding is the lion turtles gave them the power, but the actual bending forms was created by observing the source like with Wan and the dragon. There was a scene where one of the guards comment on Wan uses fire as extension of himself as oppose to just throwing it like they did. I assume that the bending forms were created by the dragons, air bison, badger moles, and the moon, while the power they got from the lion turtles.
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I liked learning the backstory, but it was a waist of 2 episode, specially when we only get 12
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So seeing Bolin make a movie that is totally unrelated to the main plot was less wasteful than the origin of the Avatar? Okay.
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Bolin's B story line isn't the whole episode. I'm invested in Korra, & in Aans cameos.
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Really, can't you appreciate just how beautiful these episodes were. I watch Avatar for episodes just like these, that are rich in mythology, characters and visuals.
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I think this story is going to be important later on in the season. I'm pretty sure Vaatu is going to end up being the big bad come the finale. So this back story should end up being very important.
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I think most of what's happen in book 2 will play a part in Vaatu plot and we should be patient and wait and see. I know a lot of people are disappointed with the book so far, but I do think a lot of plot points going to pay off. The Civil War I think is Vaatu manipulations to strengthen himself in preparation for his rematch with Raava/Avatar. I think Verrick plot is key to Bolin and Asami character development.
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I'm hoping by the end of the book I will have a greater appreciation for the episode I wasn't crazy about. All I know is this episode was amazing, and I think it will play a part in Korra's spiritual journey, as well as the rest of the seasons plot.
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Same here, but after this episode and the interview in New York Comic Con I have faith that everything will tie together. Learning about Vaatu and how hate and conflict makes him stronger makes me think Civil War, Unalaq and Verrick's actions are far more connected than we realized.
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We actually get 14 in Book 2. 13 in Books 3 and 4.
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This is what the show should have been from the start of the second season 6 episodes ago. So much fantasy, imagination and adventure The only problem I have is that there was pretty much nobody of the show "cast" except of the brief Korra appearances, that lead me to the thought, that we will be back to the dumb and not very interesting guys like Mako and Bolin in no time, which is very sad.
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And this episode confirmed that Avatar happens on another planet-the scene with all the planets lining up in front of the sun during the harmonic convergance proves that's another solar system.
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No offense but this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.
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Who else kept on wondering during the whole episode "Hope this changes Korra's personality for the better and makes her more bearable to watch" ?
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It better. If not.....she's a lost hope...
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She'll get there. Remember how long it took Zuko to come around and be a better person. It looked hopeless when he betrayed his loving uncle for his abusive father, but he wised up late, but he did eventually.
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I believe that's what supposed to happen. The interview in New York Comic Con with the voice actors and creators has them saying straight up that made Korra this way in this book on purpose. They mentioned her pride swelled and that the first half of the book is part of tearing down her pride and make the wrong decisions to learn and grow. I believe this episode is meant to be the turning point where she starts to grow. I haven't minded. I wanted Korra to be arrogant and create her own problems after beating Amon until she backed herself into a corner and digs herself out.

That seems real to me for a character with that much pride and talent. Lord knows I'll probably get a lot of hate for this, but it reminds me a bit of Zuko had to be humbled in book 2 to lose the arrogance and pride to become more empathic character. This seems lot like what happening with Korra now.
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At this point, I've resigned myself to her current personality trope, and am OK with it to certain degrees. Now, if she's like this in Book 3...well, a conversation will occur.
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I think we'll be good in book 3. When they showed the trailers and previews for book 2 way back in before the premiere there was one where Korra apologized and being humble to Tenzin and reconciling with them getting ready for her spirit training. I think that Korra's arrogance being overbearing and alienating people around her (and fans) was intentional for the character growth the writers and creators had in mind.
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It was good, very pretty. Nothing to complain about on my part, not that I'm looking for something, lol.
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It was one amazing origin story for the avatar. If they wanted to, they could do another spin-off taking place entirely in Wan's time period. There is alot of mythology to explore, that they have just barely scratched the surface of.
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But then I'd want every episode animated in this style. And I don't know if that would be economically feasible. Sigh.
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I loved the Beginning. It added a new layer to the Avatar mythology and explained so much. Rava (I'm probably spelling this wrong) being the spirit of light kept her darker counterpart in check to keep the world in balance made sense to me. I always figured the Avatar was really a spirit who just started reincarnating as a human to learn how humans live to keep balance. For me this confirmed things

I loved Wan. He was a great character in his own right. There was enough similarities with Korra at first, but enough differences between them and other Avatars that he was own character. The Lion turtles giving bending out I'm also ok with. This explained why only certain humans could bend one element if they all just learned to bend by watching animals or a celestial body. I wasn't sure if environment and genes are what determined how ancient benders could learn only a certain element over the one of the other 3. It doesn't contradict that either. They writers clearly showed us Wan mastering fire bend by watching a dragon (creating the dancing dragon) was a way to show that while the lion turtles gave them the power they made bending by studying the animals who were the original source.

It explain why the Avatar is the bridge between worlds, the only one who can master and hold all 4 elements, and why it is charged with keeping balance in the world, and why it reincarnates as a human. Rava's dark counterpart (I forgot his name) is the true main villain of the book. It's been 10,000 years since the last battle. I wonder if he's been manipulating Unalaq all this time to free it so it can battle the Avatar aka Rava to destroy the world or maybe Unalaq is actually trying to help Korra battle it by opening both gates and Verrick is the one being manipulated by the dark spirit. It was Verrick who convinced the South Pole to fight against the North and prolonging the war, which we know strengthens the dark spirit. Verrick's actions may not just be making money. Verrick has been playing both sides. He seems more like the true villain to me as oppose to Unalaq now.

Great episode for me. It reminded me of Avatar and Firelord from the original series.
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I'm thinking Unalaq wants to become the Dark Avatar...
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That would be cool, and they shoudln't kill him at the end of Book 3 either. Build him up like oZai for the series finale.. and make Varrick this season's big bad to defeat.
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Dark Avatar would be so awesome. And if Vaatu merges with Unalaq, he probably could do that, but theres no lion turtles left to give him more elements.
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Man, it makes me sad everytime I think of Mako. Such an amazing voice. I prefer Aku over Uncle Iroh, but the heights and the depth of voice of his voice were absolutely stunning. Aku's laugh!?!?, amazing.

Doubly sad that if someone ever manages to put together a Samurai Jack movie to give it the ending the show deserves, it will be substantially diminished without his voice.
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Amazing episode!!! And I know this theory is a little out there but what if unalaq is trying to create a dark avatar by absorbing vaatu.
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I absolutely loved this episode!

I guess we know why if the Avatar died in the avatar state the incarnation cycle would be broken and the Avatar would cease to exist.

Have been lied to about the Avatar State?
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The two episodes were nothing short of astounding. The animation was breathtakingly stunning, the action sequences were choreographed beautifully, and the story flowed quite seamlessly. I especially appreciated the meticulous detail devoted towards the mythological aspects of the flashback, such as emphasizing the yin-yang nature of the Avatar universe, the diversity of both the spirit and material worlds, as well as the salient and irreplaceable role the Avatar truly bears.

Wan was a riveting character on his own, and I agree that the episode should have focused more on his interactions with Raava and Vaatu. Still, while his multi-faceted disposition was rather conspicuously reminiscent of both Aang and Korra, I couldn't help but feel a mixture of Spike Spiegel and Samurai Jack from Wan.

Wan's rebellious nature eventually led him down the path of living amongst the spirits, similarly to how Aang's defiance caused him to freeze himself within the iceberg, while Korra's personality to the core screams disobedience. All three were explored alongside their responsibilities as protectors of the world, but with Wan, it was a result of his own blunders. I think this two-part exposition on the origin of the Avatar actually did more to justify Aang and Korra's respectively questionable behavior, because unlike Wan, they didn't choose to involve themselves with the Avatar lifestyle, it was merely thrust upon them.

I thought this was a nice and much-needed "refresher" episode, which provided a regrouping of sorts for Book Two as now the plot can unfold sequentially without the somewhat disorganized delineation leading up to this point. Perhaps the subplot pertaining to Varrick could have been held off until now, but regardless, I'd say the writers got their act together.

I don't think I can last three weeks for Studio Mir's animation, though.
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Whilst telling a great story in the past, it also has major ramifications in the present

The story in the present has been rather bland for me these few weeks. Now we have a threat only an Avatar (most likely one with full control of the Avatar state) can handle, and precious little time to defeat it

I know it's been stated elsewhere, but 10,000 years is too short for 'a thousand life-times' especially when you consider people like Kyoshi who lived for several hundred.

Also, we now have a real reason to care about Varrick's plotting. By fuelling a war and also turning the United Forces against the North (mostly by them being entirely incompetent, but I digress) he's just making Vaatu stronger.

As for Unalaq, suffice it to say he must have made contact with Vaatu before (probably before the spirit portal was open) IGN suggests they're going down a Dark Avatar route, would be an interesting angle to take.

The stage is set, the pieces are falling into place, 2 weeks can't come soon enough
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Plus Points:
+ Beautifully - and distinctly - animated. Absolutely gorgeous.
+ Admirable voice-acting by newcomers for Wan, Rava, Vaatu and most of the rest of the guest cast.
+ Tight, efficient narrative that has been missing from most of season 2's otherwise rather klunky storytelling.

Minus Points:
- Makes the rest of season 2 up to this point all the worse for comparison in almost every respect!
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Absolute Perfection.

I'm sure that Korra learnt her lesson and from now on she is not gonna be so whiny for the rest of the show. At least i hope so...
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A beautiful episode, and you can hate every other episode of Book 2, and I won't argue, but this episode was amazing, as well as a great stand alone episode, I'd like to think you could enjoy Wan's story without knowing anything about Korra. I hope the season stays this good, because the first half was disappointing.
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This was amazing and I didn't want it to end.
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An absolutely outstanding episode which hopefully suggests that Book 2 will rise to live up to all our expectations.

Can I just take a moment to say how much I love these reviews Noel. Each review has gone much further than just summarising the episodes and instead goes into so much detail and discussion about what everything means. They've certainly helped me to think more about the different theories and reasons behind the characters and story, and have helped me enjoy TLOK more than I otherwise would have. So thanks, and keep up the good work :)
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Thanks for the kind words. I do try and avoid being too recappy/summary-y in all my reviews, so I'm glad to see that you're finding my take on things enlightening, and, more importantly, get your own gears turning when thinking about the episode. My ego's always happy when people agree with me, but I'm also happy when people disagree and there's a solid discussion as well.
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