Korra Episode Review – K409 Beyond The Wilds
K409 Beyond The Wilds
Written By – Joshua Hamilton
Directed By – Ian Graham
Animated By – Studio Mir
After a budget required recap episode in “Remembrances” Korra returns to form in a big way with K409 Beyond The Wilds. This is such an amazing character development episode, Korra, Zaheer, Opal and Bolin all get good focus here and added to stuff like Izumi speaking for the first time and the set up going forward you have a fantastic episode. The only worry going forward is that with only 4 episodes to go we have a massive amount of things to resolve that have been set up.
If I had one issue with this episode it would be that the set up for Korra’s final step in her recovery has not been very clear given what this episode deals with. What I mean by this is that in the opening recap from Shiro Shinobi when he mentions that Korra is still haunted by memories of Zaheer, rather than it being a simple statement of something that was well known going into this episode, it was a big surprise for me. I literally said out loud “Wait, she is still haunted, I thought this was dealt with in K404 The Calling”. My issues really have nothing to do with this episode and more about how unclear they have been in previous episodes about the various steps forward in Korra’s recovery and what exactly she has moved past at each point. I thought that Korra had dealt with the memories of her fights with the past villains in K404 The Calling with Toph, because it was her doing this that allowed her to remove the poison, like in this episode Zaheer stops Korra from entering the spirit world, the visions kept her from removing the poison. They have now retroactively explained this by Toph’s advice being helpful, but not exactly what Korra needed. Toph was telling Korra to leave those old fights behind and in the past, while here with Zaheer she has to Â completely accept what has happened to her. It works, but it should never be a shock when certain issues are still a thing and I feel that was the case here with a few things with Korra.
The other thing would be Raava. Again it is not a big issue, but again The Calling seemingly dealt with this in full. In K402 Korra Alone when Korra goes to the Spirit world the spirits say they cannot sense any Raava spirit energy from her, in this episode Zaheer mentions the Avatar Spirit (AKA Raava) has not been in the Spirit world in years. Suggesting that Raava has been blocked by Korra’s block and they cannot sense her because of Korra’s own issues. Skip forward 2 episodes and you have The Calling, Korra removes the poison out of herself and when she finishes her eyes are glowing signifying that she can use the Avatar State again. She later uses it in K406 Battle Of Zaofu, yet in this episode a big deal is made when Raava “returns” to Korra after stating she has always been inside of Korra. It is a powerful moment and amazing that we get to see and hear Raava again. The problem is that Raava and the AVatar state are so linked it needs an explanation as to how Korra can recover one without the other.
Lets take some time to address what the Avatar State is and how it works. In basic terms it is a defence mechanism that activates automatically to protect the current Avatar from death, with the implication being that Raava/spirits of the past Avatars take over Korra’s body fighting for her and giving her back control when she is safe. Avatars can control this technique and activate it on their own either briefly for a quick boost of power or continuously for full power mode. Then we come to Beginnings where we get details of really what the Avatar State is technically. It is human and spirit merging as one, before Wan fully becomes the Avatar he can have Raava merge with him for an effective Avatar state power boost. Â The reason dying in the Avatar State destroys the cycle is that it is spirit and human dying at the same time, rather than just the human dying and the spirit being reborn in the next Avatar. Dying in the Avatar State destroys the union between Raava and the reincarnation cycle of Wan. Now we come to Korra at the present time, with no past lives any more the Avatar State for Korra is literally Korra gaining Raava’s power alone. So how can Korra use the Avatar State is Raava is blocked off? Sure it can be explained away by just assuming it was a completely mental thing blocking Korra from speaking to Raava, but it remains cofusing and all because “The Calling” made it seem like Korra had already made the two steps she made in “Beyond The Wilds”. Beyond The Wilds does a good job at what it does, but it really was not clear that these two things were still an issue for Korra going into this episode.
The only thing that seemed wrong was when Korra had her vision of herself when fighting Kuvira, but because of “The Calling” it made me believe that this vision with Kuvira was something different and more specific between Korra and Kuvira. Korra’s vision of herself seemed different than her other visions as she was interacting a lot with herself, yet her villain villains were more he as a spectator. Even now I am not fully sure if the vision of herself in the Avatar State has been resolved with this episode or if it is actually that Korra has some form of block with Kuvira, as many speculated does Korra see a bit of herself in Kuvira and thus struggles to fight her.
While I had issues with the set up, the way this episode actually dealt with Korra dealing with her spiritual block was simply amazing. Definitely one of the best character focused episodes in the series. As Korra and Avatar often do this deep issue for Korra was dealt with in such a powerful way, there was emotion, good life advice and amazing dialogue too. The idea that Korra really had not tried to enter the spirit world via meditation until now was interesting and at that moment she realised that her fear of Zaheer was blocking her entrance into the spirit world worked so well, because it straight away showed Korra and us the solution, she would have to confront Zaheer 1 on 1. I also like that the impetus for her making this decision was that it was the only way she would be able to save Jinora and everyone that was chosen, it shows how much Korra cares for those around her, that them being in trouble she finally decides to deal with the root of her issues.
I also liked that throughout the early part of the episode Korra saw a few moments where she felt like people who used to rely on her have now lost faith in her. Tenzin was the main character in this sense here and it worked, because to some extent he had lost some faith in her ability, but it was also coming from a place of caring for her and not wanting her to push herself too far, so when you have that moment at the end of the episode where Jinora tells her father that it was Korra who saved them all, it is a big moment where he has that knowing look on his face “I should have believed in her and won’t lose faith in her again” that is the sense I got from that look from Tenzin. It means that Korra’s development in this episode is not just to help herself, but also so that she can prove to everyone that she is still capable.
What this episode will be remembered for is the Korra and Zaheer confrontation. This is my favourite section of the episode and possibly the whole season. For me this scene makes Zaheer as a character so much more interesting, while I liked him in Book 3 I always felt like the Book 3 villains were overall fairly weak compared to the others, but having him back here post defeat adds such an interesting dynamic to this scene with Korra. I was so fascinated to see how these two would work together on screen given what happened last time they met, and I was so happy that Zaheer was not just a crazy madman like he seemed to turn into at the end of Book 3, instead his time in prison seems to have calmed him down allowing us to get a fascinating conversation. With Korra I loved the animation on her face as they travelled deep into the mountain prison, this meeting is so important to her, but she has such a mix of emotions about it, she wants to show she has moved past him and has her meeting all planned out, she has a speech she wants to give to Zaheer and leave, but she doesn’t think at all about what he will say to her and how she will react to what he does. Ultimately she hasn’t got past him and is still afraid of him, but the idea that Zaheer is actually the one to help her through her issue with him is so good.
There is so much to talk about in their conversation, but I think what I really like is that Korra has only been thinking of Zaheer as this mad villain who is pure evil and tried to kill her, when in reality he is an idealist who took his ideals too far and is actually a very spiritual and intelligent man, he is not a villain who terrifies you with his mere presence as seen back in Book 3 Change. Korra and Zaheer’s first meeting was just a conversation, no violence, just them talking, showing us that these two despite everything can actually just have a conversation without there being the classic hero villain tension. The issue here is just that Korra is afraid of him because he nearly killed her, but she has yet to fully realise that she ended up beating Zaheer, she won, she survived, he lost and is the one in prison now. He is in prison, yet seems free, while Korra is free yet is imprisoned by her mind.
I like how after Zaheer tests Korra’s statement that she is not afraid and scares her, the two do just talk to each other. Korra is no so terrified of him that she straight away runs off and cannot get any words out, after a few back and forths she is even calling him out on what he has done to the world. She went in afraid and just gradually realised that he is not really someone to be afraid of. The big moment in the conversation is Zaheer revealing he knows Korra cannot meditate into the spirit world, he has been there and spends most of his time in the spirit world. I love that Korra cannot believe that despite him being in prison he can go to the spirit world yet she despite being the Avatar and being around spiritual places cannot, it angers here that her enemy is able to do what she cannot.
What I also like is that this dynamic is not just a simple case of the old villain helps the hero, Zaheer primarily just points out Korra’s faults and what is holding her back, insulting her by saying that she is holding herself back despite her limitless powers, he ends up helping Korra because he does point out her issues, but does not just kindly help her through them all. A big moment for me is when Zaheer proves to Korra that she has limitless power by pointing out that she should have been killed by the poison yet wasn’t.
Korra does find some confidence during the meeting and brings up that Zaheer’s actions despite wanting freedom just created a situation for someone even worse than Queen Hou Ting to take control, Kuvira. This changes Zaheer, literally you see his face change from confidently speaking to Korra to being more remorseful and more trying to actively help Korra, because at that moment Korra is fighting for the same ideals that he has, to free the world of a tyrant dictator and he will help her take down someone he hates more than Korra. It makes sense why he suddenly wants to help and also shows that even though his ideals were extreme he truly wanted to better the world by getting rid of dictators.
The big healing moment then happens, Zaheer helps Korra to meditate into the spirit world, straight away her vision of Zaheer starts and I really love that the key moment of healing is simply that Korra just had to watch the vision in full and realise and accept what happened to her, yes she was poisoned and nearly died, but the truth of the matter is that Korra beat Zaheer and did survive. It is perfectly shown visually as the vision shows Korra hitting the ground, the moment Korra sees as her “death” but instead crashes through the vision into the spirit world. It is a nice life lesson that sometimes just forgetting a bad event isn’t the solution, sometimes you just need to accept what happened and be able to go on with this in mind. This is exactly what Korra does, she gets past her block, regains her connection to Raava and now feels whole again. I definitely took this line as her healing being fully done and this whole sequence was perfect for such a big moment. I do also appreciate that Zaheer did not have an ulterior motive really, here was no twist or Zaheer asking Korra for something in return for his help, he is helping her to take down someone he also wants to take down. I don’t expect to see much more with Zaheer, if there is anything else I would expect a small scene after Kuvira is defeated showing Zaheer happy that another dictator has been dethroned.
As for the plot of the episode, it worked well to play perfectly into both Korra’s development and a way to catch all the characters up on Kuvira’s idea for a spirit vine weapon. Using the fact that Kuvira is disturbing the balance of the spirit vines as a way to create a conflict for Korra in Republic City that requires her to complete her recovery to resolve is a cool concept. It still leaves open what specifically Kuvira is planning to do once her weapon is complete, but the whole spirit vine involvement in the plot is a cool mystery and a great way to bring the spirits into the story. It also gives Varrick and Asami something to work together on for the next few episodes, this too should be an interesting dynamic as Asami really has had enough of Varrick’s antics and just wants to do her job with the least amount of annoyance from him as possible. It will be interesting to see if Hiroshi and Varrick’s issue with Zhu li comes back up in upcoming scenes with these two plus what their plan is as a counter to a spirit laser, spirit shield???
Another big moment was that after 4 Books of waiting we at last got to hear Fire Lord Izumi speak. While it was never going to live up to the insane hype, her first big scene was fine. You got to see her base view as a world leader, eager to not make the same mistakes with her nation as other Fire Lords have made in the past, so she takes a more defensive approach to dealing with this conflict. She played into an interesting political side plot as we see all the world leaders views on how to deal with Kuvira. Raiko surprisingly wants to go on the offensive as does Lin, but Tenzin and Izumi both don’t want to until they feel it is absolutely necessary. I liked seeing Raiko actually making some decisions rather than just being inactive in times of crisis as he has been before, especially in Book 2. This time round it is Tenzin and Izumi who want to be more defensive and you do not know for sure if they are right, while they don’t want to make and harsh moves yet given that Kuvira has not attacked them directed, they are also leaving it open for Kuvira to make the first big move and with a spirit laser is there really a defence that can stand up to that. I would like to perhaps see Izumi talk her son General Iroh and perhaps they are on opposite sides of the issue as a member of the United Forces he may want to take the initiative and strike against Kuvira and be against his mothers stance. This I think is key for Izumi, that she get some scenes outside of her making big world leader decisions so we get to know her better personally. As far as who I think her mother is her name perhaps hints at it I ZU(ko) M(a)I, anyone?
Final thing to discuss is the Bolin and Opal stuff. I found this to be a really good exploration of a romantic relationship, because Bolin comes back and almost expects an apology and an admittance of being wrong to perfectly heal things with Opal, he knows that he inadvertently helped to do a lot of bad things to Opal’s family, but instead of trying to prove to Opal how much he cares about her by showing how willing he is to fix these mistakes he instead tries to fix things romantically with Opal. Which doesn’t work because for Opal what has happened to her family comes before romance at this stage, Bolin missed the point and Opal is rightfully mad at him and calls him out for this. You can see in her face and the way she reacts when he turns up suddenly that she does still care for him, but that him not believing her before is something that will take time for her to forgive, but she is open to it. The final scene works well here because Bolin now realises that there is no one thing he can do to heal things perfectly, but that he will not stop trying to heal things because he loves her. Her reaction to this worked so well for me, as she is not ready to say it back to him, but knows she cares deeply for him hence why she thanks him for saying that and doesn’t just brush him off, she knows he now understands the magnitude of what he did and he is now trying to fix things properly. Him joining the Bei Fong rescue mission is a really good idea as we are going to get so many great interactions between Lin, Opal, Bolin and based on the next episode’s clip Toph.
Overall a really good episode. One of the most powerful and emotional character journeys we have seen in an episode of Korra and the fact that it was the person who caused the issue that helped her through it makes it all the better. This episode was a win for Book 4 and also Book 3, an excellent use of continuity using the fact that Zaheer did survive the end of Book 3 and remains on Korra’s thoughts. Add to this some nice political issues with the world leaders and all of the set up for character interactions and you have an excellent episode. I only hope the remaining 4 episodes have enough time to develop everything that has been set up and there has been a huge amount of things set up so far.
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