Welcome to the new style of Legend of Korra. Where Mike and Bryan and able to do almost anything they want and we sit around slightly shocked that Nick is airing it. This week’s episode, “The Ultimatum” may have been even darker than last weeks, “Long Live the Queen” even though no one actually kicked the bucket. Where “The Ultimatum” succeeds is that it does not allow itself to fall into the trapping of the conventional setup episode, which has happened a lot over the history of Avatar. We get a lot of the payoffs we have been hoping for: Korra meeting Zuko, Tenzin vs Zaheer, Kai not being a selfish prick, all of Aang’s kids teaming up to fight a powerful enemy and not just random fodder. If you had told me that was going to happen I would have told you that would be a great season finale. Luckily, we still have two episodes remaining so let’s dive in.
How about that opening shot? Ba Sing Se quickly devolved into chaos and revolution as we watch the entire capital of the Earth Kingdom burn to the ground. As for a graphic image that makes a pretty powerful statement as even when Azula took over Ba Sing Se or when Iroh and the White Lotus liberated it there was never this much damage to the city seemingly. Of course being that it is Mako and Bolin in the middle of all of this and not Korra, they make the necessary decision to save their family from a burning building. Why this scene is so important is that it shows there are still some staunch believers in the old ways and that there is seemingly a gap between the older generation and the younger. Also, it allows Bolin the shining moment of teaching his grandmother, who worships family, that as long as they are together they will have a home. Hokey, yes, but it was a nice sentiment and Bolin does not often get those moments.
After Mako and Bolin finally found Korra and Asami, and led to my third favorite moment of the episode in Bolin fangirling over Zuko, we finally found out Zaheer’s ultimatum. Come to the Northern Air Temple or everyone dies. This was a huge escalation in what we had come to of Zaheer as a character, as to this point the Air Nation seemed to be one of the models for the Red Lotus’ ideal society. We know Zaheer is a man dedicated to his cause, and this helped to show just how far he was willing to go. What made this ultimatum so great was Korra’s response to the whole situation. She did not just blindly rush into what we could all see was a trap and instead chose to try and warn Tenzin of the incoming attack. It shows some real growth in her character that she was willing to hold off on rushing into danger and it was made all the better when she decided to venture into the spirit world and attempt to talk to Zaheer.
This led to my second favorite moment which was actually a combination of two things Korra once again talking to Iroh and then finally talking to Zuko about what she should do. Iroh is basically the smartest person in the entire avatar universe and I am very happy to see that even in death, he can fundamentally change people perception of the world, much like he did last season in “A New Spiritual Age.” I really hope we continue to get mileage out him as he is one of the best characters in the entire universe. This all led to Korra finally talking to Zuko and Zuko displaying is inner Iroh. It is fantastic that Zuko became one of Aang’s best friends and that he was effectively able to give counsel to Korra about what she should do. What was even better was Zuko finding out that Iroh is in the Spirit World giving counsel to Korra, now we just need that great Zuko Iroh scene and I will be set.
So, it turns out Zaheer is just as tired of waiting for Korra to show up and meet him in person as we are. Yes, Zaheer’s ultimatum of telling Korra to come to the Northern Air Temple or he will kill all of the new Air Nation was cold blooded but you can’t really complain as it was the only valid option to force Korra’s attention. This action sadly seemingly conflicts with Zaheer’s true purpose of anarchy and kind of lowers him to standard villain who just wants to kill people, I am hopeful that Zaheer just returns to being an anarchist but I can understand why he is pissed at Korra always slipping his grasp a la Aang slipping Zuko’s. Fate has been constantly screwing over Zaheer, and the chaos that Zaheer so loves and philosophizes has been keeping his one true goal just out of reach. I am pretty sure that is the definition of poetic justice and if I were in Zaheer’s shoes I would just say screw it and force Korra’s hand as well.
This of course led to the showdown between Team Aang’s kids and the Red Lotus and man was it awesome to watch. We knew that Zaheer was powerful, but he was no match for a true airbending master like Tenzin. The masterful choreography of their showdown was absolutely astounding and it was awe-inspiring to see Tenzin finally unleash on a real opponent who had pissed him of. That wasn’t even the coolest fight in my opinion as the Ming-Hua v Kya fight gave us some truly badass waterbending, I mean come on that Kya icicle break and toss followed up by the truly terrifying Ming-Hua Octopus form. That was badass to end all badass. Despite all of this action there were some truly terrifying moments in all these fights such as Kai getting shot out of the air by P’Li and Tenzin’s refusal to give up. I actually thought for a second that Kai was going to die after he disappeared into the clouds and was not shown like Kya and Bumi. Luckily the baby air bison who I will only assume is Kai’s mount saved the day. Of course Tenzin refused to give into Zaheer and is now teetering between life and death as the last we saw of him the Red Lotus was beating the ever loving crap out of him. Let’s hope the Big Boss makes it out of this in one piece.
So a very tense and exciting setup to next week’s two part finale. Get excited.
Final Grade A
+Aang’s Kids vs Red Lotus
+Iroh and Zuko: Spiritual advisors
+Tenzin’s refusal to give in
+Bolin fangirling over Zuko
-Iroh lost Wan’s teapot! What the hell man that was really important!
-Iroh saying Aang and Zuko’s friendship “got off to a rocky start” is the understatement of the century.
-I have never been more terrified in this series than when Tenzin said “I will fight to my last breath” to Zaheer.
-I would just love to point out Iroh 2 is still out there somewhere. Maybe we could call him up and ask for help Zuko.
-If there was one thing that saddened me about this episode is it feels like there should have been another Air Nation episode before it to show Opal integrating into the team and Kai becoming the leader he is now