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Book 2: Spirits

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Discussion of Book 2: Spirits (aka Season 2) will be done in this topic! This is a place to discuss particular episodes, arcs and moments from Book 2. Please remember this isn't a complete catch-all topic -- check out the forum for character topics and other places for show-related talk.

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While not a disaster by any means, I thought overall that Book 2 encompassed a lot of missed opportunities.  I felt (and still feel) that the fact that the Equalists in Book 1 had VALID POINTS should have been the basis of Book 2.  Logically to me the extension of that Book 1 story--doing the flipside of it--was the way to go.  Sure, the threat to the world in Book 2 was benderish, but it wasn't tied back to the Equalist storyline and exploring that aspect, and that's what I wanted to see.

 

I will say the "Beginnings" episodes were some of the most gorgeous work I've ever seen, and totally was worth diverting from the main flow of the season.

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While not a disaster by any means, I thought overall that Book 2 encompassed a lot of missed opportunities.  I felt (and still feel) that the fact that the Equalists in Book 1 had VALID POINTS should have been the basis of Book 2.  Logically to me the extension of that Book 1 story--doing the flipside of it--was the way to go.  Sure, the threat to the world in Book 2 was benderish, but it wasn't tied back to the Equalist storyline and exploring that aspect, and that's what I wanted to see.

 

I will say the "Beginnings" episodes were some of the most gorgeous work I've ever seen, and totally was worth diverting from the main flow of the season.

 

Beginnings was definitely the highlight of the season, I wouldn't have minded if they kept diverting if it's like that.

 

The Equalists did have some legit points, it's just a shame the show decided to brush them aside as extremists that were quickly dismissed after Amon was over.

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Somebody on the Comic Book Resources forum posted a pretty good defense of Book 2:

 

 

Okay so first, yay, I basically really enjoyed the finale and was completely surprised and delighted by the final two minutes.

That out of the way, dudes, you're all killing me with your Book 2 hatred. I mean, fine, you're all gonna throw cabbages at me, I'm sure, but I honestly think it's got a ton of great stuff and it's probably my favourite finale. So, with no expectation that I'll actually change anyone's minds, I'm totally gonna try and explain why anyway:

Part of why I feel this way is that I really didn't like Book 1. I thought the Equalists were awful (not in premise but in execution), I hated the love triangle (I appreciated that they didn't throw Asami under a bus, but everything else about it was a complete cliche) and Korra's spiritual arc felt totally unearned. She got her bending back because, uh, we have five minutes of the show left.

I feel like most of the stuff people don't like in Book 2 is stuff they feel was a rehash of Book 1, except I feel more like it was an apology for handling it poorly in Book 1, and a do-over that, while often not perfect, is still way better.

I also think there's a bunch of really great stuff in Book 2 that people tend to gloss over. I see a lot of, "Book 2 is terrible except for the Wan episodes," or "except for Varrick," or "except for Aang's kids."

 

So here's a list of stuff I either think was straight up great or at least a much better than it was in Book 1:

1) The character stuff with Aang's kids and their interactions. This was also a much more poignant and emotionally effective take on what it's like to be a non-Bender among Benders.

2) Jinora's spiritual development. It was interesting, unexpected, and a lovely throw back to the age-range of the heroes in ATLA. The moment where she's the one who shows up to help Korra at the end was triumphant, earned and lovely. I found something genuinely uplifting in giving that role to a "little sister" figure, too.

3) Varrick! I mean, come on, he's hysterical, people love him and his Book 2 stuff is why. Totally a break out character.

4) Related to the above, the humour, generally, was just SO much better. The first Korra Book had Bolin as the funny guy, but other than that it's basically "Ahahaaaa, Meelo farted." But in Book 2 we get stuff like Bolin in the movers, which is hilarious, but also made for a great action set-piece at the end when he saves the President to the backdrop of his own movie. Along with Eska and Desna, better and more surrealistic use of Meelo and the introduction of Bumi, I feel like there was a lot of genuinely funny stuff that felt a lot more authentic to the Avatar universe.

5) The Avatar Wan episodes. Nuff said.

6) Korra goes on a vision quest! I think I'd've been a lot more annoyed with the Wan stuff if Korra's spiritual arc had involved her being largely absent, but it doesn't, because straight after those episodes we dive into her big Spirit World journey, guided by Jinora, meeting Uncle Iroh, etc.. It's exactly the type of thing I thought she needed to justify getting in touch with her Avatar state in the first Book, but we never got.

7) The Love Triangle. Yeah, I hate it, but this time I'm supposed to. Until now I was never totally confident that I was right about the take-home message, but now it's clear I was right to suspect it was them putting the issue to bed forever. The point was that it was terrible and no one should be dating Mako. The end of it was subversive because it looked at the cliche it had pushed the characters into and went, "Wait, this is toxic. Do not do this." As opposed to Book 1 which milked the cliche unironically for drama.

8) The political set up. Was the Water Tribe civil war perfectly explained? No. But I think it was handled far better than the Equalist situation. I think people maybe don't see that because the Equalist thing is an idea we immediately understand would be an issue in the world. But I think that made them lazy. They didn't actually explain or explore anything or follow it up. They actually tried to explain the Water Tribe's political situation and the complexities involved. Again: not perfect, and I did have some flashbacks to the first season's two-dimensional approach to politics, but it was definitely better.

8) Korra being a brat. I'm not against her starting out as headstrong, impulsive and sometimes kind of a jerk. The problem was in Book 1 that it wasn't for reasons that were sympathetic. She honestly came across as a bully once or twice. It's not perfect in Book 2, but when she makes bad decisions, or gets angry at people for not doing what she wants, I get why. The personal dramas she has going on (fear of screwing up like she did in the first Book by being too hot-headed, followed by her nation being at war) explain it in a way Book 1 never managed to. It's not necessarily pleasant, but it feels purposeful, and it's also mostly gone by the back end of the season.

9) Unalaq. Yes! I liked him as a villain! The best villain ever? Well no, obviously not, but I like that he had valid points, and I like that I felt people reacted to him in rational ways. When Korra believes him in the beginning, it's because he's saying things that sound sensible. But this doesn't get dragged out beyond the point of reasonable believability and by the halfway point, she's worked out what he's about. Still, ultimately, she agrees with him about the Spirit Portals. In the end, Korra chooses a benign way to enact Unalaq's goals, which I find interesting.

10) Korra's spiritual arc feels earned. To me, at least. She goes through a period of questioning herself at the start, followed by an actual inner spiritual quest, and finally has to genuinely fight her way through a "lowest point" when she is separated from Raava, leaving Korra, alone, to keep fighting and to take back that power. She fixes herself in a much more emotionally satisfying way than Book 1 because we see her go through a brutal battle to get it. She restarts the Avatar cycle in a way that makes me feel the series earned the use of the word "Legend" in its title.

I mean, there are things I wish they'd done differently. I wish Asami and Lin had more to do. In general, Book 3 is better on an episode by episode basis, and certainly it's where the show just explodes into foregrounding women. Regardless of where it ultimately went (though I am in favour of the ending we got!) I am enormously in favour of the love triangle's emotional fallout being friendship between the two women originally set up as rivals and that's another great thing about Book 3.

But I do legitimately love the narrative arc of the second Book.

When people complain about the way Korra's final felt less epic than Aang's it makes me think about how they were fundamentally structured differently. Aang's spiritual awakening took three Books and was planned to from the start. On the other hand, Korra tells linked, but discrete stories. We can blame Nickelodeon or the writers, I guess, and I certainly don't think it was necessarily as well-executed as it could have been, but there's nothing conceptually wrong with this approach.

I still prefer ATLA to LOK (though I do love LOK) and that's because I love the big spiritual stuff, which is probably part of why I like Book 2 more than a lot of people. Sure I wish it had had more time to develop or more build up - but I'm not sure I wish they'd saved it for Book 4 either.

Aang changes the world but we don't really get a chance to see it. We see the changes he ultimately brought about either in the comics or in the inferences we can draw from Korra's story. On the other hand, Korra gets her epic spiritual apocalypse right in the middle of her series. She changes the world and we spent the entire last half of her story watching her deal with the consequences of her actions. I think that's a really cool idea.

With the consequences of opening up the Spirit Portals permanently.

With the consequences of restarting the Avatar Cycle and having to deal with this stuff solo because her past lives are gone.

I know some read the loss of her past lives as a tragedy and a sign of failure, but I read it as an explanation of the fact this is the "Legend" of Korra. No Avatar since Wan had to deal with Vaatu. It was the end of one age and the beginning of a new one. Korra ensured it was reborn in light. Korra became the new First Avatar. The new Wan. In 10,000 years, it will be a completely different Avatar facing down Vaatu, searching his or her soul for the lost dream-memories of Korra's life, making apocalyptic choices about the way the next Avatar cycle will proceed.

So yeah.

Book 2: Really not that bad? :-)?

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Good points.  I think my objections to Book 2 stem from the following:

 

1.  Animation.  Studio Mir >>>>> Studio Pierrot.  One scene in particular perfectly illustrates Pierrot's limitations: Episode 9, Korra finds Tenzin and tells him about Wan and Vaatu.  As she spouts out this increasingly outlandish story, her face remains frozen in the same expression the entire time.  If this were Studio Mir, her face would probably be swelling and growing red the longer she continued, or some other comedic thing would happen.  Thank God Studio Mir returned for the final episodes.

 

2.   In the early episodes, Korra didn't just seem like an avatar drunk on her own power, but also like a spoiled rich girl.  Her uncle was the freaking chief of the Northern Water tribe, the wealthy half of the two water tribes, and she just seemed to take it as a matter of course.  Even after she regained her humility, she watched her dad become chief of the Southern Water tribe.  This show has always had a bit of a problem with elitism, some of which was probably intentional and some of which wasn't.  In any respect, her arrogance in the first season seemed easier to deal with because it came from her being the avatar only -- she seemed to come from ordinary beginnings otherwise.  The second season just added another layer I didn't particularly like.

 

3.  The Water Tribes political situation was rammed into the first couple of episodes.  I kept trying to remember if we knew about these issues in the ATLA.  I'm not sure I even knew that the tribes were technically united under the Northern Water Tribe chiefdom.  In any event, it made no sense, given what Unalaq was up to, that he would draw further attention to his scheme by sending NWT ships to the south.  

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Yeah, I've always been a bit bewildered by the hate for season two. I think Book 1 had better animation and started stronger, but Book 2 had a lot of great ideas and a good (albeit a little confusing ending). All things considered I'd rather have a weak start and a strong finish than visa versa.

 

Plus, I've always loved the idea of the spirit world, even as far back as the original series. The episodes in which Jinora takes Korra into the spirit world were some of my favourite parts of the show in its entirety (the revisit to the spirit library, Korra reverting to a child, seeing Iroh, the meerkats that make a whirlpool, the Alice in Wonderland homage with the tea party - all great stuff).

 

Asami and Lin were sadly underused, but I'm glad they broke up Mako/Korra and ended the love triangle once and for all. It was a mature way of handling things instead of insisting on OTP 4EVA!!!

 

Plus, "Beginnings" was awesome. If Bryke/Nick ever revisit this material, I would LOVE a series that explores the past lives of the Avatar - maybe a half-hour episode for each one that explores the impact they made on the world. I'd love to see more of Avatar Kuruk's battle with Koh (after the face of his wife was stolen), or Avatar Kyoshi kicking ass across the world - as well as all those thousands of individuals who existed between Wan and Korra.

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