We've already reached the halfway point of Book 3! And because the season's only been running for three weeks, having a State of the Show-type of conversation feels decidedly weird—but here we are, so I suppose it's time to discuss everything we've seen thus far.
At this point in Book 2, we were entering the "Beginnings" two-parter, which would turn out to be the season's only legitimately good pair of episodes. By then, many viewers pretty firmly believed that Korra had taken a severe dip in quality, both in terms of narrative and in terms of animation, and that there was very little the show could do to recover. In contrast, at this point in Book 1 we had just finished "And the Winner Is..." and "The Aftermath," episodes that escalated the plot and then dealt with that escalation. In other words, by the time we had diagnosed Book 2 as beyond saving, Book 1 was just getting cooking.
Book 3 is somewhere in between, as it exists somewhere in between Books 1 and 2, quality-wise. There's no clear sense of what the second half of Book 3 will be about—presumably, it'll follow Zaheer and his gang as they step up their game, now that they've determined where Korra is, and I suspect the Earth Queen will return in some capacity—but at least its first half was more coherent and entertaining than the first half of Book 2.
But everything comes down to expectations. While Book 2 was a mess, it was a quasi-ambitious mess that the writers hadn't properly planned out and didn't want to commit to... or in the other words, the exact opposite of Book 1, which was grandly ambitious and paid off those ambitions. Book 3 has dialed back on all of that. It's good, and it's entertaining, but I do miss Korra's ambition. I'm hoping that things will shift in the back half of Book 3 as we uncover Zaheer's plans. I want to know about his apparently "righteous" path, and what it has to do with the Avatar.
"Old Wounds" was something of a shaggy episode, and it was the weakest installment of Book 3 thus far. I say "weakest" as opposed to "bad" because the episode itself wasn't bad in terms of its content or purpose; rather, it was herky-jerky in how it presented its story and got to the endpoint of Lin and Su reconciling and Opal making her decision to join the other new airbenders at the Northern Air Temple.
For instance, there was no real reason for Lin to leave the acupuncture session that was our gateway to the source of Lin's resentment toward Su. It served to reinforce that Lin didn't want to deal with her past, but there was only one scene for this to register before she was back on the table with more needles in her, and it wasn't even much of a scene, as she hallucinated Korra as the younger incarnation of Su. A longer, more elaborate sequence of Lin stumbling around Zaofu might've provided more justification, but what we saw instead felt pointless.
What all that needle work stirred up wasn't pointless, however. Lin's scar was the result of attempting to arrest her own half-sister decades ago, leaving Lin with a reminder of her half-sister's devil-may-care attitude and Toph's willingness to let Su get off scot-free. Carrying that sort of emotional baggage could drive anyone to feel bitter, but to see it every day when you look in the mirror? It's little wonder that Lin would be unwilling to talk to Su or the rest of her family. But all was well by the end of the episode, with Lin and Su ready to move on, and to start a new chapter of their lives.
Opal is doing the same by deciding to head off to join Tenzin, thanks to Lin's advice. Unfortunately, the tension that spurred Opal to leave came out of nowhere. There had been no hints that Opal's hesitancy to leave Zaofu had anything to do with disappointing her parents, or that she had any hesitancy at all. It existed purely so Lin could have a bit of emotional redemption at the end, and things like Su saying that she never gave Opal enough freedom we have to take on faith, because it's not like Korra has given any indication that Su locked Opal away in Zaofu.
Zaheer and the gang suffered from similar problems this week as they tried to escape from Republic City. They had no problem sneaking in, apparently, but sneaking out required hijacking a vehicle and its driver... and then stealing the vehicle outright and getting out of the city. These scenes likely could've been cut in order to give Lin or Opal—or Lin and Opal—more time to flesh out their respective stories, but I guess we really needed to see Zaheer divine that Korra's at Zaofu. I guess we'll also see just how safe that city is, and soon, hopefully.
So the question of how (and if) these new airbenders would fit into the Air Nomad nation was addressed in "Original Airbenders," though not in a very interesting way. There was plenty of grumbling and such as the folks adjust to itchy robes that didn't keep them warm and sat through long stories about gurus and monks, but the new airbenders didn't seem resistant to the idea of becoming Air Nomads so much as they were just resistant to how Tenzin was attempting to integrate them into the culture. As a result, the clash is less one of culture and more one of personality.
Taking this path sidesteps the thornier, more complex issue that the Air Nomad culture may need to adjust to bring new airbenders into the fold. It may still happen later on in Book 3, but as presented here, it's just that Tenzin is—again—a very lousy teacher who just assumes everyone is as passionate about his favorite subject as he is, and is flummoxed when they're not. Thank goodness Pema reminded him that these are still people like who, like her, are willing to enter a new culture -- hard beds and all -- and they just need a sense of community. So far as teaching and integrating people into a culture goes, this is probably the best approach. People need a sense of investment in something before they can personally commit, and while certain aspects of Air Nomad culture may need to be adjusted -- i.e., seeing family members who don't want to become Air Acolytes like Pema -- once the airbenders feel like they belong to something meaningful (achieved with the rescue effort), then they may be willing to listen to all the guru stories Tenzin has to tell. Maybe.
In addition to coping with these new airbenders, Tenzin also struggled with Jinora and her Kai-influenced bursts of confidence regarding her desire to be tattooed as a master airbender. Two things about this, and both of them positive. 1.) Kiernan Shipka is doing a bang up job with Jinora, and has been since the first episode of the series. She was one of my favorite aspects on Mad Men before I quit the show, and she's one of my favorite aspects of Korra. 2) I'm really happy to see that the show isn't dropping Jinora's development that started last season. I thought she'd have more to do last season, but I've come to like the small, steady steps the series is taking with her. Like with Tenzin's stories last season, and the Lin story in "The Metal Clan" and "Old Wounds," the show is doing a nice job of fleshing out its non-Korra characters, and I'm glad Jinora's benefiting from that.
– Zhu Li still has the worst job in the world. I hope she quits one day.
– I think about mustaches, too, Bolin.
– I guess Asami just stayed aboard the airship this week?
– Mindy Sterling, who voices Lin, and Anne Heche, who voices Su, both give great performances when they're talking to one another. It's a testament to their skill and Andrea Romano's voice directing (not to mention the show's editors) that it sounded like they were recording at the same time when that probably wasn't the case.
– P'Li's character design is just so up my alley. She's all lanky limbs and that long hair braid (plus her combustion forehead, of course). She's a very unique-looking character for the show.
– Baby. Sky. Bison. SO CUTE. I WANT ONE.
– "Bumi ruins everything."
– "I even heard she ate her dad's pet bear!" NOT BOSCO!
– For those of you who are potentially wondering, female airbenders don't seem to shave their entire heads. It appears that they just shave the front half—so the tattoo is visible—while keeping the hair on the back half of their heads. Additional fun fact: The Eastern and Western Air Temples were for the female Air Nomads, while the Northern and Southern ones were for the males.
What did you think of "Old Wounds" and "Original Airbenders"?
TONIGHT AT 8PM
Season 3 : Episode 10