Published on October 13th, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee0
The Legend of Korra – Korra Alone Review
Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender will remember the episode entitled Zuko Alone, where the character separates himself from the person who cares for him most, his uncle, and ventures into the Earth Kingdom alone. The narrative features flashbacks of arguably the most painful event in Zuko’s life, the disappearance of his mother. Korra Alone shares many traits of its forerunner: separating herself from her family and friends, Korra journeys the Earth Kingdom while flashbacks fill in some of the missing details of the past three years, which Korra describes as the most difficult years of her life. Haunted by the ghost of her Avatar self, a memory from her fight with Zaheer, Korra seeks to reconnect with her Avatar spirit and is led towards the one person who can help her, Toph.
Although Korra Alone is the second episode in the season, in many ways it feels like the first. It covers the events of the past three years while laying out Korra’s physical and emotional placement at the start of the new season. While the first episode focused on other characters until Korra’s appearance at the end, in the second, apart from in flashbacks, none of the other characters appear. All in all, the first two episodes could each be one half of a two-parter, and compared to previous seasons where first and second episodes were released together, I’m led to wonder why the show runners chose to air these episodes separately. My conclusion is that, following on from Korra’s predominant absence from After All These Years, the time that separates the episodes adds to the stand alone nature of Korra Alone, and intensifies the feeling of her isolation.
In brief, Korra Alone starts where the previous episode left off. Korra has been beaten in a cage fight, is scratched and bruised, with nowhere to rest or recover from her injuries. We know she has been missing for six months and it’s evident that Korra has been on the move all that time. Suddenly, she is attacked by the image of her Avatar self – hair dishevelled, chain wrapped around her arm, fixed gaze – and fights back against a perceived enemy no one else can see. When offered help from concerned onlookers, Korra stresses that she does not need any help and hurries away.
Yet, she comes upon a small, white puppy who growls and barks at the Avatar-spectre, giving Korra the only evidence so far that the images she sees are not only in her mind. She then chooses to follow the puppy into the nearby swamp, while flashbacks reveal Korra’s struggle to regain her physical strength with the help of Katara, and her ongoing failure to recover spiritually and mentally from her experiences last season.
There are several things that I thought were particularly strong about this episode. Firstly, the visual and structural depiction of Korra’s fractured self, as seen in the image of her reflection in the broken mirror. As in Zuko Alone where his duel swords functioned as an emblem of his inner conflict, here Korra’s self is divided into her physical self and her spiritual self. She can no longer access her Avatar spirit, which haunts and stalks her across the world in her search to regain her connection with Raava. Even the spirits at the tree of time don’t recognise her for her lack of Raava energy and because she doesn’t look like the Avatar.
This is the second thing that I want to stress: Korra’s new design. We often change our appearance to reflect times when our identity is in conflict with our physical selves. She cuts her hair, severing her iconic pony-tails for a jagged bob cut. Symbolising the search for her identity, Korra, like Zuko, abandons the clothing and hairstyles of her nation and culture. She dresses in unspecific Earth Kingdom clothes taking on the appearance of someone insignificant, an every-body, to avoid being recognised as the Avatar, and to avoid the responsibilities of the associated role which she feels she can no longer perform effectively. As well as being visually dynamic and interesting, this change serves to highlight the division between Korra’s current and past selves.
Lastly, I want to mention the music because I love Jeremy Zuckerman’s score and I was really impressed with how music functioned in this episode. Music from Book One, highlighting the cyclic nature of Korra’s journey, has two important appearances in this episode. Firstly, after Katara has brought into perspective the loss of Aang’s entire people and culture in her bid to encourage Korra to not let her suffering break her spirit, A Peaceful Place plays while Korra regains the ability to walk. Then, in a parallel scene to Korra’s Firebending test and her first appearance, she dons her training gear to demonstrate her newfound strength, but falters when she envisions Zaheer’s attack on her. In the moment when Firebending Training rises, and Korra should beat back a direct firebending attack, she is blasted backwards and falls. The contradiction of our expectation shows the audience how far Korra is removed from the playful, optimistic young woman she was when we first met her.
Korra Alone may mark the true beginning of Book Four for some, due to providing backstory and an update on the show’s main character that was missing from episode one. However, this episode is in fact more removed than that; it is a stand-alone, as the title describes. If you were hoping for more details on the series’ plot, or the political goings on in the Earth Kingdom, you will have to wait. Nonetheless, Korra Alone is invaluable as a set up to the series, and as an insight into Korra’s character and her place in the ongoing narrative. It is a beautifully structured and designed episode that speaks volumes about her emotional and spiritual mind-set as Korra tries to recover from her highly traumatic experiences last season and her current crises of identity.