After a heated encounter that sent Team Avatar racing along the streets of Republic City and warding off Earthbender gestapo atop a speeding train, Asami says what’s on all of our minds: “It was kind of like old times.”

Man, it really was.

This week’s ‘Legend of Korra’ proved that absence does, in fact, make the heart grow fonder. Yes, we’ve seen Korra surviving solo since episode one, we know Mako ensures the continued existence of Prince Wu, and we’ve seen Asami off-and-on, most recently visiting her father. None of these characters were away from the action...except they were. They were incomplete. In a tender character arc that could have easily been rushed with artifice, “Reunion” extends the Korra’s “I’m back!” moment through visible hugs and team-building action. Penning the episode, Michael Dante DiMartino explores little moments (Korra and Asami admiring each other’s looks), down beats (Mako’s realization that Korra never sent him letters), and the intangible exhilaration that comes when settling back in with friends. The episode’s rousing car chase is all about character, companions working in tandem.

After an abrupt exit from the Zaofu conflict, that capped the in-motion Kuvira plot at the knees in an unfortunate way, “Reunion” winds all the loose string back up. There are logic sacrifices to be made; As Korra laments her failure in single combat, Tenzin comforts her by suggesting that it’s up to all of them to take down Kuvira. Then where were you guys during The Battle of Zaofu!? As a Tenzin apologist, I’ll blame it on the lack of telegraphers on Air Temple Island.

Her surrogate family’s warm embrace helps gloss over the preceding events. There’s clarity when Korra is back with Team Avatar, balance. When she unceremoniously switches back into her Waterbender garb, it’s like flipping a light switch. She’s not her old self — the hair! — but what Jinora thought was remaining poison may have been a void that could only be filled by Mako and Asami. And Bolin, when he fights his way back to civilization.

“Firing on all cylinders, ‘Reunion’ becomes a pillar for the series, an episode I’d point to explain why ‘Legend of Korra’ is one of the best shows on television.”

For those befuddled by Bolin’s lack of action this season, his parallel story in “Reunion” played like a mini ‘Defiance,’ Ed Zwick’s portrait of Jewish WWII survivors blasting their way through Nazis as they survived in the woods. There’s a little more comedy in the Bolin-Varrick travelogue, the latter lost in a nostalgic Zhu Li fog, but there’s a tremendous amount of moral insight too. Captured by re-education camp escapees, Bolin finally learns of Kuvira’s torturous ways. She’s rounding up Water- and Firebenders to stomp out potential adversaries. She won’t stop at an Earth Kingdom. This is Fire Lord Ozai all over again.

In real life, Bolin and Varrick, clad in Earth Kingdom solider outfits, would probably be dead. But the fugitives need their assistance. Kuvira built a wall around the territories borders. If the Water- and Firebenders are to get home, they’ll need someone to sneak them through as “prisoners.” Baraz, the one that looks just like Spike Spiegel (and sounds like him too — they share voice actor Steve Blum, who also played Amon), is skeptical of their hostages, but Bolin makes an impassioned case. He was wrong. Kuvira is an enemy. He sees that now. Roll your eyes, but that’s what it took to move entire nations into action.

The action in “Reunion” is up there with the best of Book 1. Close-quarters and angular, Bolin and the refugees versus Kuvira’s stormtroopers takes full advantage of the technological advancements (yikes, those mech-suits are nimble!) and classic bending. Bolin’s primary moves, throwing rocks and ripping up ground, becomes a visual crescendo to lavabending, an explosive attack that always pops. Varrick gets in on the fight too, MacGuyvering an EMP to take down the mechs. The slimeball innovator is officially a good guy. Maybe there will be a happy ending for him and Zhu Li after all…

Colin Heck deserves props for his direction on “Reunion.” Animation is a collaborative, blurrier medium than live-action film, but since his name rolls on the end credits, allow me to praise the man for narrative-first choices that glue the episode’s extended action together. As soon as Prince Wu stumbles into the bathroom for a full whiff of knock-out cologne, the Korra gangs-back-together storyline kicks into overdrive. Eat your heart out ‘Fast Five’ — here’s an extended, multi-vehicle chase that remembers who its players are and why they’re there.

It’s been some time since we’ve taken a drive around Republic City, cluttered with spirit vines, and layered with Asami-approved highways. Heck takes us around corners, above buildings, and soaring through those spatial planes with Korra’s airbending zipline. Geographical plotting wrings all the suspense out of this sequence. When they stop the getaway car and find only one guy, it’s a huge smack to the face. “All hail the Great Uniter!” says the assailant. Don’t tell me Hydra was behind this all along.

Using spirit vine communication powers — a moment I appreciate more because the move is second nature to Korra, more attuned to universe than ever — Team Avatar tracks Wu to the train station. Again, this is season high levels of design, the Republic City hub feeling as lively and detailed as a $150 million blockbuster like ‘Hugo.’ It’s bustling, but not so much that Korra, Asami, and Mako can’t jump aboard the right train in time. Suddenly, “Reunion” is like a Bond movie, Team Avatar duking it out with Earth Kingdom gastapo before taking their escape to train car’s roof. Everyone gets their due, Mako firekicking through some baddies, Asami taking an electrified swing at another. Fleeing the scene proves most useful, a jump that feels like something Tom Cruise would do. Firing on all cylinders, “Reunion” becomes a pillar for the series, an episode I’d point to explain why ‘Legend of Korra’ is one of the best shows on television.

“Reunion” ends with a gasp: Kuvira has made her way to Toph’s swamplands, intending to harvest the richest source of spirit energy: The Banyan-grove tree. That won’t sit well with our hero. Perhaps the endgame is in sight? Oddly, that’s not what lingered in my mind when the credits rolled. I was too high on the Team Avatar hug, and something even simpler: A smile. When Asami says that the fight was like old times again, she has a caveat: “…except for the getting on each other’s nerves part.” “Actually, that is like old times for me and Korra,” says Mako. And then Korra smirks. She’s happy. She loves the bickering, she loves the making up, she loves being in the heat of battle with friends. This is her life! This is balance. And this was a brilliant, heartwarming way of bringing this show into its final descent.