The Legend of Korra returns from its mid-season break and gets the plot rolling immediately. If “The Guide” is indicative of what’s to come from Book 2’s second half, we should be in for a spiritually dense thrill-ride, but how about the episode itself? From opening to close, this week’s installment is purely a set-up episode, and like any proper set-up, it promises more than it delivers on individually. That being said, “The Guide” does a great job of selling the season’s upcoming content, but isn’t always succeeding in its own duration.
One of the more endearing moments of the episode is Korra’s apology to Tenzin, along with Tenzin and Korra’s developing relationship in general. Their pairing is a good change of pace from Korra rejecting other familiar characters, which is also due to Korra’s new behavior. In fact, of all the cast in “The Guide,” she seems the most productive and objective. Even I, while never having any major problems with Korra’s character, notice her more likable personality. The MVP of the episode, however, is Tenzin, who struggles to accept his own imperfections.
Following an exaggerated reaction from Korra (a nit-pick in its truest form), we learn that Tenzin has never been able to enter the Spirit World, despite his mastery of spiritual knowledge. Having him overcome his personal issues has been hinted at through the interaction with his children in past iterations, but to have it come full-circle is significantly more effective. It’s always fun to pull Tenzin from his cool, collected shell and having a large chunk of the plot dedicated to him solidifies “The Guide” as his best outing so far.
Unalaq gets a fair amount of screen time this week as well. While his villainy has been primarily two-dimensional, his ploy with the spirits, Vatuu specifically, ties his involvement into the season’s plot solidly. He hasn’t exactly had the chance to develop as a character, but the focus placed on him will hopefully be consistent for here on out.
The only piece to the puzzle that hasn’t gotten any better, and actually seems to worsen with each passing week, is Mako, Bolin, and Asami’s adventures in Republic City. What began as an intelligent detective tale, now dampens more enthralling plots that deserve the screen-time. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a healthy dose of Varrick here and there, but if I had to decide between a few jokes and a journey into the Spirit World, I would choose the latter.
Unfortunately, Bolin is the worst offender of needlessness. It’s disappointing to have a character who shined amongst others in the first season, confined to “Nuktuk.” Nuktuk was humorous and a clever way to build Bolin and Varrick’s consociation, but what has it added to the story? If you’re still thinking about it, then you realize the problem here.
What makes the Republic City sections acceptable, though, is that they’re still fun. Relatively weak, but entertaining. It’s a simple argument, but I believe it’s worth noting, especially if you share my intrigue in Varrick as an antagonist. I’m actually more invested in him being a villain than I am with Unalaq, primarily because “Avatar” has had plenty of power-hungry baddies, like Unalaq, but there has yet to be a comedic villain, like Varrick could be.
Among other flaws, the one that worries me the most is the possibility of another love-triangle, or at least relationship drama between Korra, Asami, and Mako. I can’t believe the writers would allow Book 1’s greatest shortcoming to return in an identical fashion, and technically it hasn’t occurred yet so it’s hard to judge as of now, but it remains enormously possible. Particularly with the plot gaining serious momentum at the moment, more shipping issues could be quite damaging to the season as a whole. We can only hope it’s either a mislead that will actually work itself out by seasons end, or that Mako and Asami will remain an “item” for the rest of the Book 2, and Korra will eventually win him back in a future season, after having them mature separately.
Lastly, being that this is the final episode animated by Studio Pierrot, I find it appropriate to address the mark they left on the series. I’ve had my fair share of gripes at Pierrot’s quality, in comparison to Mir’s work on the series, but I think the studio exited on a decent note. In episodes prior, there were often awkwardly stoic scenes the required minimal animation that Pierrot just couldn’t seem to accomplish. The results were conversations between characters where only their mouths moved, but such is not the case with “The Guide,” (for the most part) in which Pierrot does a solid job of having everything move. It allows for a natural and realistic look to the animation that is far less distracting than it would be otherwise. Next week will see the return of Studio Mir, and with a less stylized episode than “Beginnings,” so it’ll be interesting to see the difference between the studios in a more comparative view.
“The Guide” is ultimately more beneficial to the overall season’s plot, than it is in its own respects. The episode provides a clear direction for the rest of Book 2, which is a refreshing transition from the sporadic arcs from previous episodes (I mean, seriously, it took seven episodes to revisit Jinora’s juncture with the glowing statue… seven! And whatever happened to Korra’s dad and the rebels?). Apart from Mako’s side of the story, all of the subplots are very strong and make me genuinely excited for what’s to come. As for the episode itself, it’s definitely great, though I’ve seen Avatar produce more admirable set-up episodes (“The Guru” anyone?).
It probably won’t blow you away, but “The Guide” is immensely entertaining and lands an 8.5/10 because of it.