Watching The Legend of Korra: Beginnings on Friday felt like watching a masterpiece develop. Like watching Enter the Dragon for the first time. Taking a break from all of the action that has been building up over the last several weeks, “Beginnings” goes back to the… uh… beginning. Literally.
So instead of the regular recap of the episodes, we decided to “bend” our own rules and combine the forces of Julie and Rodrigo — our regular recappers and the two resident Avatar Aficionados — to process the tons of information that was delivered to us in this two-part special.
Beginnings, Part One
The very first scene cuts to Korra mumbling “Raava, Raava, Raava” on a stretcher as she is rushed to a very old, wizened Fire Temple priestess. After a fiery physical examination, Korra is placed inside some healing water so she can reconnect with her Avatar spirit. That’s when we meet Wan, the young man who would become the very first Avatar 10,000 years before Korra.
Wan is a street rat straight out of Aladdin. He steals food from the rich so he can feed his little band of misfits, including a friend who is heavily disfigured from messing with some tree spirits, as well as some pets (not a monkey, though). But our young hero doesn’t want to live such a powerless life for much longer: he steals “The Power of the Element,” which is a rudimentary form of fire bending. Turns out his village is built on top of a gigantic Lion Turtle, and he stole the Power of Fire from him, and so the Lion Turtle banishes Wan to The Spirit Wilds.
The Spirit Wilds is a forest straight out of Alice in Wonderland, with spirit creatures who basically look like the casts of Labyrinth, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Little Shop of Horrors, Pokemon, and The Neverending Story got together and had a block party. It is beautiful, cute, and terrifying at the same time: a lot of the spirits have kid voices (in fact, I swear one white-masked spirit is totally voiced by Turtle Tuck from The Wonder Pets), they can take over a human’s body at will, killing them if they stay inside for more than a couple seconds.
The spirits hate humans because back then, humans were animal-hunting, deforestation-obsessed buttheads. However, Wan shows them that at least he isn’t so bad, and he earns the spirits’ trust.
He even learns real firebending from a white dragon, which we actually have seen before:
But all is not well in the spirit realm. As he travels around the world, learning about other civilizations built on top of other Lion Turtles, Wan encounters two spirits in a major battle: Raava, a white spirit who brings light into the world, and Vaatu, a black spirit who brings chaos into the world and talks like Darth Vader. The two fight each other every 10,000 years for control of the world, and although Raava has had the upper hand for a while, Vaatu tricks Wan into disentangling him from her grasp, thus setting him free to infect spirits with his vileness and start a human-spirit war. D’oh!
The things to take from “Beginnings Part One” are the importance of and relationship with the Lion Turtles. Let’s start with the fact that we can make the connection with the Lion Turtles and the Turtle Island creation story that is well known through many North American Native societies. The Turtle in this sense in the Avatar world provides a center of safe space and is the resource of element bending. It functions as a Protector, like the anemone for the clown fish (ahem, rewatch Finding Nemo if you don’t get it). But the Lion Turtles also can give humans the power to bend one of the four elements — which is a little contradicting since we have always been informed that earthbending comes from the badger moles, firebending from the dragons, airbending from the air bisons, and waterbending from the moon. It will be interesting to see how they decide to tackle this from here on out. In addition, we know that a lion turle gave Aang the power to take bending away, so these majestic beings are like almost godlike in some way.
This brings us to the spirits Wan encountered, Raava and Vaatu. One is light (Raava); one is dark (Vaatu). Both are entangled in what seems to be a neverending dance. We have seen reference to this before. The Yin and Yang when we were introduced to Tui and La (“push and pull” in Chinese), the Koi fish in the “Siege of the North” Parts 1 and 2. This battle is what keeps the balance in both the spirit and human world. When Wan interferes in this battle and is deceived by Vaatu, he breaks the balance and creates what is now known as the mission for all future avatars. To restore balance to the world.
Though this episode did not have a lot of action, it did have tons information that filled in some of the missing moments in Avatar. The amount of detail put into this story almost had a magic realism to it. Like we were in one of Aesop’s Fables. Very intrigued in what the future brings.
Beginnings, Part Two
We see the world’s first society of air monks and their flying Lion Turtle city. They coexist peacefully with spirits, and everything looks idyllic until Wan catapults himself into town. Vaatu is stronger than ever, and turns all the air monks’ pets into dark spirits. Raava swoops in to drive the dark spirits away, but she is significantly smaller than before.
“As darkness grows, light fades.”
Wan wants to make up for his huge mistake by accumulating the powers of all the elements and helping Raava rein in Vaatu once more. The Air Temple Lion Turtle expresses misgivings, but gives the air bending ability to Raava, and tasks her with training Wan on air bending so they can work together to defeat Vaatu for good. Choice quote from Wan: “I can’t let the world fall into chaos because of my mistake… I will help you restore balance to the world.”
I never really wondered how a faceless tapeworm/jellyfish/kite expresses annoyance and skepticism, but she does quite effectively:
Wan has one year to master the other two elements and train with Raava for the ultimate 10,000 year showdown: the Harmonic Convergence. The multiple element training is extremely difficult for him, as Raava can only inhabit his body for a few seconds at a time, but after a few months of practice, he gets stronger. He also learns that the human world and the spirit world are normally on two different planes, but spirits can enter the human world through two portals (in the north and south poles).
Raava is now small enough to slip into a teapot (maybe a throwback to A:TLA’s Uncle Iroh’s love of tea?) as Wan takes her back to the original Spirit Wilds towards the southern portal. Wan sees his old friends, both spirit and human, but Vaatu knocks him unconscious and makes the others fight each other until all the humans were annihilated. So harsh, especially by kids’ show standards, but it sets Wan up for the most amazing battle scene in the Avatar franchise.
The planets align, the Harmonic Convergence begins, and Wan and Raava enter the spirit realm to try to fight Vaatu, who by then is absolutely omnipotent. As a last-ditch desperate measure, Wan commands Raava to inhabit him and to not let go no matter what. His body cannot handle her, and he keeps blinking in and out like static, probably blinking between the human realm and the spirit realm. Vaatu toys with him like a kitten batting around a dead mouse, until Wan reaches back into the portal and triggers history’s very first AVATAR STATE! Raava declares, “We are bonded forever!” and together, they encapsulate Vaatu inside a ball of all four elements, and jails him inside a tree.
Now the bridge between humans and spirits, Wan seals both portals and commands all spirits to go back to their own world, at least until humankind learns basic kindness and peace. The Lion Turtles announce their retirement, saying humans now need to learn how to take care of themselves and work together.
However, we cut to a battle scene, and an elderly Wan is dying on the battlefield. He laments his failure to bring peace to the world: “Darkness still surrounds humanity.”
Raava, still inside him, comforts him as he passes away: “We will be together for all of your lifetimes, and we will never give up.” Cue waterworks.
Korra wakes up then, and the fire priestess asks, “Do you know who you are?”
Korra replies: “My name is Korra. And I’m the Avatar.”
Turns out that’s the right answer, so she gave Korra a sky bison (the original species, too!)
Cue music and picking of jaws off the floor!!!
So we learn that the Avatar’s legacy isn’t just one of divine superheroism. Each reincarnation also inherits the mistakes and unrealized desires of their former lives. That must be so much pressure, something we never really appreciated before.
Julie: Wan has officially trounced General Iroh as My Legend of Korra Boyfriend, although he may have to duke it out with Zuko for My Avatar Franchise Boyfriend because Zuko is so dreamy and conflicted.
Rodrigo: APPAS, APPAS and more APPAS! The whole battle against Vaatu is a total foreshadowing of Aang’s battle against the fire lord and still so cool to see.
Things we are wondering…
- How does Unalaq know about the Harmonic Convergence?
- Who is the old lady at the fire sage island?
- What battle was Wan fighting when he died?
- So when you tap into the avatar state you are connecting with Raava?
Like we said earlier, we were left with our mouths wide open and, depending on the household, a couple of “HOLY SH*T” and “GO KORRA!” exclamations might have been exchanged during this two-part episode. But what’s even cooler is that Steven Yeun, — aka Glenn from The Walking Dead — was the voice of avatar Wan. Can’t wait to see what comes next.
- NOC-aps: The Legend of Korra, Sting and the Police (thenerdsofcolor.org)