One of the particularly great things about Legend of Korra Book 4 is the way it has managed to, ahem, balance the show's enormous cast. In this week's episode, Tenzin's kids take center stage when they journey to find Korra. And, in the meantime, we learn exactly what made Korra's former antagonists villains.
Well, it is time for Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo to follow in their grandfather's footsteps and have a kids-only adventure. To some extent, the choice to send the three of them is a practical one; Jinora has a close spiritual link to Korra, and while Pema is looking after young Rohan, Tenzin is dealing with diplomatic matters. But it's also a rite of passage. The Airbender kids are expected to grow up and learn some independence from their parents—and reliance on each other—by going on their own missions. It'll probably help ensure they grow up with a stronger bond than Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi had.
Jinora and Meelo have gotten their share of characterization over the last few seasons, but now we have a stronger sense of where they are. Jinora's spiritual duties have made her serious, and while she is still the spitting image of Aang, it's clear that she's got a lot of Tenzin in her as well. Meelo is still the farting, nose-picking little brother, and growing up hearing about Aang's adventures have left him with a romantic (and not terribly pragmatic) sense of life on the road. Pro tip: Even if you're grown up enough to ride an air bison without your parents, DO NOT throw away the food your mother packed for you.
I admit, though, that half the reason that i was pissed about Meelo ditching Pema's bag of food is that this episode left me with a craving for sweet bean buns, and I could not imagine throwing such deliciousness into the river.
Ikki, however, has been suffering from middle child syndrome, not just within her family, but on the show as well. Aside from her Airbending skill and her affection for Korra, we haven't had much of a reason to pay attention to her. So it's only right that Ikki is the one who finds the strongest lead on Korra, while Jinora uses her strategy of randomly flying about and meditating and Meelo binges on poisonous berries.
Ikki gets herself captured by a couple of Earth Empire guards, and in keeping with the show's recent trends, these guys aren't idiot henchdudes, but actual human beings. At first they suspect that Ikki might be an Air Nation spy, but one of them quickly realizes that she's Tenzin's kid and that Kuvira might view her as an asset. Here we learn what Ikki's strongest traits are: she's friendly, empathic, and not easily rattled. She immediately treats the guards like friends, and not in a sucking-up-to-them way. Hell, she's got one of them feeding her macaroons within five minutes.
And I love that, just as the Earth guards are helping Ikki out, Meelo and Jinora storm in to "rescue" her. Aww, I liked those guys. I wouldn't mind catching a glimpse of them one more time before the book closes.
Meanwhile, Korra is bored. Bored, bored, bored. Toph isn't hitting her with things anymore. In fact, she's barely taking time out of her day to insult Korra anymore. It's entertaining for us when Toph relates the bare facts of moments from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but Korra never watched the show, so she doesn't get much out of it.
Korra has to get to a place where she is emotionally ready to remove the metal toxin from her body, and Toph knows that. So she sends Korra back into the swamp, where Korra relives her battles with her greatest foes: Amon, Unalaq, and Zaheer.
This where we dig into the real meat of the season, the theme that this book, "Balance," is trying to resolve. All of Korra's foes had certain laudable values: Amon wanted equality; Unalaq wanted humanity tied tot he spirits again; Zaheer wanted freedom. The problem was that all of these people were extremists. Good values aren't enough; you need balanced execution as well. What's left unsaid is that Kuvira is the queen—I'm sorry, the empress—of imbalance.
Korra finds her personal balance among her people, and she has isolated herself from them for too long. It's no coincidence that when she sends a tendril of energy out in the world, it leads Jinora right to her. When Tenzin's kids find her, it's like a reunion of siblings. Korra adores her friends, but it's fitting that the children who find her are essentially her family. That's what ultimately gives her the strength to remove the metal from her own body. It isn't easy, but she's found her heart again. With her heart comes her determination. And with her determination comes Raava.
Toph bids good riddance to Korra and the Airbender kids, and if this is her exit from the series, it's a perfectly fine one. But with Kuvira's army headed to Zaofu, will Toph simply sit back in her swamp and watch? Or will she turn up to lend her own kids a hand?