When we left Mako and Bolin, they had been tasked by Zaheer with delivering a message to Korra. Amid looting and rioting, the pair manage to commandeer one of the Earth Queen’s remaining airships and, after a small detour to pick up the rest of their family from the outer wall, they head out into the desert to find Korra.
Unfortunately, the desert is expansive, and it takes a long, long time to finally spot the downed airship and the conveniently-still-there sandboat tracks away from it. They land in the oasis and reunite with everyone there, and we finally get to hear Zaheer’s ultimatum. Korra must turn herself over to the Red Lotus, Mako and Bolin tell her, or Zaheer is going to attack the Northern Air Temple.
Enraged, Korra goes looking for Zaheer in the spirit world, but instead encounters the spirit of Zuko’s Uncle Iroh. She asks him for advice on what to do, and he suggests she ask Zuko instead, as he often advised Aang in times of trouble. Zuko tells her that while the Northern Air Temple is important, it’s also important for the Avatar to remember that she represents all people, and it might not be wise to sacrifice herself.
Korra decides instead to contact the airbenders and warn them about the threat, hoping they can evacuate in time. Unfortunately, the warning comes too late: Tenzin turns from the radio to see Zaheer’s airship docking. Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi make a desperate attempt to defend the temple, but despite some truly noble efforts, the Red Lotus ends up beating the shit out of them.
Probably the biggest problem I had with this episode was that, for an episode called “The Ultimatum”, it lacked any real sense of urgency. The ultimatum in question was pretty time-sensitive, so I’m surprised that Bolin and Mako weren’t more stressed when they were looking for Korra. It was played more as a humorously long family journey through the desert rather than giving the implication that the boys were in any rush to give Korra the message. The same problem emerged when the gang tried to contact the Air Temple to warn them. First, they had to leave the oasis and travel back to Zaofu so that they’d have a strong enough signal to reach the Temple. Then, when Bolin tried the radio, Meelo answers first, playfully refusing to get Tenzin until Korra sternly butts in. The time they spent on these little detours and gags made the episode seem draggy and took away from the oomph of the action. At the same time, it seemed odd for Zaheer to attack the Air Temple long before he actually heard from Korra whether she was going to turn herself over to him. Maybe he just assumed she’d reject him based on the airbenders shifting into defensive mode?
That said, the action is ramping up dramatically, and I expect the finale next week will be intense. The level of physical violence we’re seeing has gone up significantly from previous seasons and I’m not sure what to expect from the final episodes. It was particularly brutal watching Tenzin being overpowered by Zaheer and his gang—he had been holding his own against Zaheer, but when Kya and Bumi were defeated everyone but Combustion Lady ganged up on him. And given that the last thing Tenzin said before the credits rolled was “While I’m still breathing, it’s not over”… I’m kind of afraid we’ll be having a funeral next week.
I’m also still of mixed feelings about including Uncle Iroh. This season has tied back to the original show more than ever, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just hope that the writers don’t fall back on Iroh as a failsafe, sage-advice-dispensing, get-out-of-plot-problem free device. I’d be interested in getting to see Zuko and Korra talking about him and getting to know each other better, as Zuko was clearly intrigued to hear that his long-dead uncle had been advising the current Avatar.
I am sort of concerned that several characters’ plot arcs from earlier in the season have been left in the dust, specifically Kai and Opal. In the wake of the Red Lotus business going on, their character development has basically been abandoned, despite it seeming certain at their introduction that they’d be important. In fact, even the main characters are suffering from this problem: Bolin’s desire to metalbend has kind of been shelved, I’m unsure how Lin and Mako haven’t been fired from their jobs, and I have no idea what’s going on with Asami’s company. Nothing came of Varyk living in Su’s house except that Varyk now apparently lives in Su’s house, and they’ve only included cameos of characters like Desna and Eska, whom I had found interesting but whose role in the story is now apparently over.
As far as less plot-relevant things are concerned, the episode did have a few little touches that I liked a lot. For example, when Zuko leaves, he says that he has to get back to his daughter—the Fire Lord—because the Red Lotus’s activity means political leaders are in danger. I didn’t realize Fire Lord was a gender neutral title, but that’s awesome, and now I really want, and hope, to meet her. I was pleased insofar as not abandoning plot threads is concerned that Bolin and Mako did go back for their family before leaving Ba Sing Se, and their Grandma Yin did provide most of this episodes laughs by being the unintetionally awkward, over-helpful grandmother.
In the end, this episode was kind of disappointing. It had some bright spots, but ultimately the pacing was bad and the narrative has abandoned too many of its characters. And, despite inching ever closer to the reveal, we still don’t know what Zaheer wants to do with Korra once he lays hands on her. There’s only the two-part season finale left, so hopefully next week we’ll get some closure. Till then!