The Legend of Korra
Book 2: Spirits
I honestly wasn't sure what to expect from the second season of Legend of Korra. After the first season, it was evident that Korra has become a fully realized Avatar, with the ability to tap into the Spirit World and the powers of water, fire, earth, and air at her fingertips. On top of that, she just emerged victorious from a man who could wipe out the world's bending ability just by putting his finger on an element bender. Things were bleak before, but it seems like the balance has been righted after "Book One: Air."
This is not the case, however, and season two continues to show us that the Avatar has more problems to deal with; boyfriend troubles and mastering the spiritual aspect of airbending being only a few of them.
The beginning of "Book Two: Spirits" has Korra in a seemingly blissful paradise. She finally knows where she and Mako stand with regards to each other, she is finally able to continue her training in mastering all of the elements to become truly adept at being the Avatar, and there doesn't seem to be a pressing need to save Republic City--or the world--from imminent danger. Outwardly, life for the Avatar seems perfectly peaceful. There may have been the continued reappearance of dark spirits, the constant burgeoning Republic City crime rate, and the worrying fact that Korra's uncle wants to reopen the portals to the spirit world. But hey, who said life was perfect?
The season in entirety has a polarizing effect for me, and I found myself absolutely detesting the first half of "Book 2". I found Korra's character stagnant and arrogant, and she was repeating the same intemperate mistakes that she'd made in "Book 1." There was still a lot to learn, but Korra didn't seem to want to make the effort in learning. Instead, she spends most of the first half of the season throwing temper tantrums that pushed a lot of her friends away. Meanwhile, we get glimpses of Tenzin's family as they try to reconnect with each other on their Air Temple field trips; the whole exercise seemed to drag on, even though I understood the importance of spending some time with K'ya, Bumi, Tenzin, and Tenzin's children.
Again, I was pretty annoyed by the first half of "Book 2." But I did say the season itself had a polarizing effect for me.
What changed the dynamic of the season were the two-part episodes titled "Beginnings." It sparks a complete change in the Legend of Korra formula by going back to tens of thousands of years in the past, all the way to the first Avatar, Wan. After Korra finds herself in troubled waters (no, seriously, she gets sucked down by dark water spirits), members of the Fire Nation attempt to revive the Avatar by sending her mind back to the past. Plot-wise, the episodes were important for Korra because she needed to understand why the spirit world was separate from the mortal world. And this understanding evolved into "Beginnings, Part 1" and "Beginnings, Part 2."
Stylistically, the two-part special was gorgeously depicted. The story of Avatar Wan--and the beginnings of the Avatar Cycle--was told beautifully in a different kind of animation work that separated it from Korra's present day. It also gave way to a historical retelling of the Balance of the world--yes, capital B--between light (Raava) and dark (Vaatu). These two episodes alone made me love the world of the Avatar so much more, and to be honest, I could so get behind an entire season or two of just Avatar Wan being the main character.
"Beginnings" also marks the first time in LoK where its titular character does not show up. It is assumed that Avatar Wan's past is playing out in Korra's mind, and only at the end of "Beginnings, Part 2" does the audience get to see Korra wake up and get back to work saving the world. Which is a good thing, to be honest. After seeing her past, Korra quite literally becomes a changed woman, and it's for the better.
From then on, the season picked up, in both urgency and epicness. I absolutely loved the play on light and dark throughout the rest of the season, and Raava and Vaatu are easily the most awesome depictions of Yin and Yang ever. Korra as a character has moved on from her petty pre-"Beginnings" squabble and is more focused on the bigger picture. She has a villain to beat, and she has the cosmic force of the universe to wield in order to come up victorious. I mean, spirits, Korra, not even Aang has tapped into his phenomenally cosmic powers. I mean, Aang has been seen as a giant blue water monster before, but Korra wins in the "epic giant battles against a dark god" department. Color me impressed.
Aside from the first half of the season, the only other thing I would gripe about regarding "Book 2" was the lack of competent character battles. Besides Korra, not one of Team Avatar seemed to pull his or her weight. I mean, Asami usually does, but she was practically sidelined in Book 2 as Mako's "other woman," which was kind of annoying. Mako himself drove me nuts, and while Bolin's relationship with Eska was definitely laughable, I wasn't happy with Team Avatar as a whole. Eska and Desna far surpassed any of the benders in combat, and I barely saw Lin Beifong in action (which was a darn shame). Jinora was the only other person I'd have considered the Most Valuable Player in the great scheme of things. Her spirit-bending and the surprise visit of an Avatar: The Last Airbender character were pretty much the other highlights of the season, right up there with giant-cosmic-Korra and Avatar Wan's storyline.
The ending of "Book 2" did open up many questions for the next season. I will also admit that I might have been heartbroken over what happens to Korra at the end of "Book 2"--and trust me, my heartache has little to do with her relationship troubles and more to do with the Avatar Cycle. But I won't go into that again.
In any case, Book Two: Spirits started out as a spark, and ended in a cosmic bang.