‘The Legend of Korra’ Book 4 Review: “Beyond the Wilds”
“I figured you would show up sooner or later.”
Oh, Zaheer. So smart. So in tune with the world's harmony. So Hannibal Lecter-like.
As Toph and the diabolical airbender mentioned in the past, Korra isn't that different than Zaheer, ideologically speaking. They both want peace between the physical and metaphysical, the rulers and society, the bending and non-bending. In “Beyond the Wild,” Korra came face-to-face with the notion, confronting Zaheer in his elaborate prison cell. How does she stop Kuvira? How does she get Zaheer's violent attack out of her head for good? How does she become whole again? Last seen suffocating Korra to death with a well-placed airball (or last seen phoning Vaatu in last week's so-strange-maybe-it's-good “Remembrances,” if that counts), Zaheer now calms Korra with zen quotes. Not only should she be able to revive her full power, the imprisoned master explains in more elegant words, but there's more to unlock.
“Beyond the Wild” opens with a scene that would make John Carpenter giggle. Reacting to Kuvira's harvesting of the Banyan-grove tree, the vines in Republic City's Spirit Wilds are out of control. Leading a tour through the entanglement, Jon Heder's Ryu is the first to stumble upon the aggressive growth. Vines attack with velocity, wrapping around the tour group and leaving only Ryu's broken camera as evidence of the attack. It's 'Legend of Korra's' horror movie moment.
The strange events cause a disturbance in the Force. Jinora alerts Korra, who taps placid vines for a glimpse at Kuvira's destructions. She's gone Ferngully on the Foggy Swamps. The time to act is now. President Raiko, Prince Wu, Tenzin, and Fire Lord Izumi thought the same thing. By the time Korra barges in to their meeting room with the news, the representatives are already discussing how to deal with Kuvira (Wu's idea to stage a fake all-expense-paid island trip as a trap is unanimously turned down). Lin wants to go on the offensive. Tenzin urges for peaceful negotiating. Korra is just pissed off — why is she not part of these discussions?
Bolin and Varrick arrive just before tension shatters into hot-headed arguing: Korra is building a Weapon of Mass Destruction. For a story evoking World War II, “Beyond the Wild'” catapults us to the early 2000s and the Iraq War's beginning stages. President Raiko feels Bolin and Varrick's claims are enough for a full-blown attack. Fire Lord Izumi resists the plan, citing the Fire Nation's legacy: “Too much of its history was spent fighting nonsense wars.” Fire Lord Izumi/Pabu 2016, people.
The council ultimately settles on a defensive strategy, a plan that doesn't suit Lin or Opal. Kuvira is currently holding their family hostage. But Republic City isn't negotiating with terrorists. There are no plans to retrieve Suyin and company. Lin and Opal decide to go rogue. The moves makes both women come alive in a whole new light. By the end of Book 3, Lin was all hugs and kisses with her ZaoFu-based sister. Now she's ready to fight her way through Earth Kingdom clowns to get her back. Opal has fire too. She doesn't have time for any of Bolin's romantic nonsense (Guys, for future reference: Pretending both of your legs are broken in order to lure a woman to a picnic is inappropriate). There's fire behind those eyes now.
“Beyond the Wild” is taut until the very end, some of the most impeccable writing of the season. There's room for everything. After Jinora is caught by the Spirit Wild — a soaring setpiece reminiscent of Spielberg's high-flying action directing in 'Minority Report' — writer Joshua Hamilton carves out a little extra preamble before the rescue mission begins, allowing Tenzin's anxiety boil and Korra's self-doubt manifest as frustration. To rescue Jinora, Korra will have to meditate into the Spirit World. Tenzin, who previously expressed doubt in the most heartbreaking way possible (“We called you back too soon”) wonders if Korra's father shouldn't lead a search party through the open Spirit Portal. “No one thinks I’m capable of anything,” Korra tells Tenzin, an observation that drills into her core. Confidence is a tricky abstract; The Avatar feels ready to march into Zaheer's prison, tell him to buzz off, and walk out ready to meditate once again. But she's inhibited by a lack of support, her own psyche included. This is depression, a tangled web of feelings and attitudes, knotted even further by outside forces who think they're helping. Korra manages to escape the gravitational force of her own consciousness, defying Tenzin and meeting Zaheer on her own. Not everyone who suffers in this way is so lucky.
This is another great episode full of vivid environments and production design. I dream of the day I can throw on my Oculus Rift and take a virtual tour of Zaheer's prison — everything looks impeccably, logically designed. When Korra enters the main chamber, it's a true Thomas Harris reveal, complete with a flying, growling Zaheer. All he needs is a nice chianti. Zaheer sits Korra down for a life lesson in understanding her full potential. “Blaming me is a crutch to make you feel better,” he tells the Avatar. Remaining poison isn't holding Korra back. It's Korra's fear of the unknown, fear of her own limitless power. A breakthrough occurs in an incredible sequence where Korra literally breaks through; Reliving Zaheer's assassination attempt, Korra succumbs to the memory. “Don’t fear what might have been.” Korra worries about death, but she didn't die. She survived. She defeated her enemy. As Zaheer sucks the air out of her lungs, the rock around her body cracks, dropping her into the Spirit World. She sees Raava again. “I've always been inside you.” She finds Jinora and the other captives inside the Spirit Wilds seedling pods. Korra needs to bend them free... but she doesn't have powers in the Spirit World. Or so she thought. “You're the most powerful here.” Aw, shnap. Game changer.
Prime 'Legend of Korra' is the fusion of philosophy, meditation, and animated wonder. “Beyond the Wild” delivers on all three, a momentous blast of positive energy before Korra inevitably confronts Kuvira. A line to Mako on embracing the past, not trying to eradicate its darkest moments, is a lesson most adults can't learn, let along the kids who may be watching the show in their developmental years. To package it all with weirdness — compare the shadowy noir of Book 1 to the bonkers Spirit goings-on of late! — ensures that we'll never be ready for what 'Korra' throws at us next. With Korra aware that she can bend within the Spirit World, all bets are off when it comes to the world's WMD problem. Can humanistic understanding trump cynicism and a hunger for power?
We're winding down to the finale, but next week may be a step away from the final Korra vs. Kuvira throwdown. “Beyond the Wild” concludes with Bolin's redemptive moment. He tells Opal, “I’m not going to stop trying to win you back. Because… I love you.” That's what Opal needed — plus a little help on this covert mission to free Su. Prepare for the 'Zero Dark Thirty' of the Korraverse.