The Legend of Korra: Beginnings Part 1 and 2 (2×07-8)
Synopsis: In order to regain her memories, Korra goes back into her deepest Avatar memories to witness how the Avatar line came to be.
Wow. Just. Wow.
I think it’s fair to say that ‘Beginnings’ is officially everything I’ve wanted this season to be. It’s actually kind of surprising to me that this jewel of a two-parter is smack dab in the middle of a lackluster season. Like, I’m fairly certain that this episode will go down as one of my favorites in the entire Avatar franchise. It’s up there with ‘The Siege of the North,’ ‘Tales of Ba Sing Se’ and ‘Sozin’s Comet’ for me.
After Korra washes up on the shore of the Fire Nation island without her memories, all she can do is mutter the name “Raava” over and over again. She is immersed into a pool to help her regain her memories and to fight off the dark spirit that’s eating away at her. Immediately, she is told by her past spirits that she needs to go back to find who she is and whoever Raava is. Immediately, I want to start crying because of Kyoshi and Aang. Mostly Kyoshi because I love Kyoshi more than any of the other Avatars and want a miniseries about her life.
Korra goes back further and meets a man named Wan, who tells her that he will show her how he became the first Avatar. This is where the real amazing stuff begins.
Off the top so I don’t spend the entire recap geeking out about it, the animation in this two-parter is GORGEOUS. Studio Mir, who animated the first season of The Legend of Korra came back to animate this episode and the results are beautiful. The scenes of Korra’s in-between state are ethereal and the scenes of Wan’s story is the world’s prettiest kinetic painting. It’s surreal, dream-like, and oh-so-fitting for how this part of the story comes about.
The opening of Wan’s story is a lot like the Disney version of Aladdin. Wan is a poor kid living on the streets of the city he lives in. He constantly attempts to steal food from the Chou Brothers and nearly gets away with it, but is caught and only manages to take a few scraps away. Which he gives his share of scraps immediately to the animals. Quickly, we see the kind of person Wan is: He’s clever, resourceful, quick on his feet, and kind. Granted, he’s a bit arrogant too, but it’s the beginning of his journey.
Being the resourceful thing that he is, Wan volunteers to go into the Spirit Wilds to find food, but comes up with a new idea when the Lionturtle that the city sits on grants the venturing party the power of fire. Yes, the origins of elemental control come from the Lionturtle. Which I think fits perfectly with the various origin stories of Bending. I mean, you have to learn to control it from somewhere. However, humans have to give back their power when they return to the city.
Wan, however, manages to avoid this. He pretends to chicken out of finding food in the wilds, but instead of giving the fire back, he takes and stages a food raid on the Chou brothers. Most of the party gets away, but Wan refuses to kill one of the Chous when he is caught. He is banished to the Spirit Wilds for his crime, but the Lionturtle allows him to keep the power of fire. Kind of like Prometheus, but with no one getting chained to a rock.
As resourceful as Wan is, he has a lot trouble during his first night in the Spirit Wilds. Like being nearly eaten several times and being covered in mutant bees at one point. After all night of wandering, he tries to sneak into an oasis guarded by an aye-aye spirit, but the spirit refuses to let him in due to the fact he’s a human. When the other spirits (who remind me a whole lot of some of the bathhouse spirits in Spirited Away) tell Wan that there are other lionturtles, Wan decides to go look for them. However, he gets caught up in rescuing a cat deer and fights the hunters he initially set out with to save its life. Witnessing this act of kindness, the Aye-aye Spirit allows Wan into the oasis and Wan decides to stay in the Spirit Wilds for a bit and master firebending.
Two years pass and Wan decides to finally seek out the other Lionturtles. As he travels, he comes across a fight between two giant spirits. One of them convinces Wan to help it, which he does. However, that was a type A Bad Move on his part. It turns out the spirit he freed was Vaatu, the spirit of darkness and chaos. Raava, the spirit of light and peace was trying to keep him at bay before the Harmonic Convergence that would either plunge the world into darkness or continue for 10,000 years of light. Raava is angry of course because Wan just messed up the balance of the world. I would be too.
After his first parting with Raava, Wan finds people from a lionturtle with control over air. Yes, we get to meet the first air nomads! He begins to speak with them, but their village is soon attacked by dark spirits that have been changed by Vaatu. Raava swoops in and with Wan’s help, Vaatu disappears, but only for a short while. Feeling guilty about what happened, Wan goes to the lionturtle and asks him to grant him the ability to control air. Since no person has had control of more than one element before this point, the Lionturtle gives the power to Raava to hold until Wan masters it.
Initially, Raava isn’t too intent on being buddies with Wan, but they become close companions in their travels as Wan realizes he needs to have control of all of the elements in order to defeat Vaatu. As they travel back towards the Spirit Wilds, Wan comes across some of his friends who followed his example of going off to live in the Spirit Wilds using fire from the Lionturtle. However, many of them have been lost to the spirits of the woods, who see the humans as a threat. Wan’s spirit friends begin to encroach and Wan tries to broker a peace between them, even tripping a version of the Avatar state that keeps them at bay when Raava merges with Wan. However, because Raava is afraid of killing Wan, she breaks the state and Vaatu’s influence wins over the battle. The possessed spirits kill Wan’s friends and the once giant Raava is small enough to fit inside Wan’s teapot due to her weakened state. It’s sad, but it also gives me costume ideas.
Wan makes his way to the South Pole for the Harmonic Convergence and enters the Spirit World. Vaatu arrives and Wan says that he will have to get through him first before he can approach Raava. Wan holds his own decently for a bit, but he’s still only a human in the face of what is basically a god. He and Raava join up again, giving Wan control over all the elements, but leaving him weakened after a short time due to Raava’s weak state and fear of killing him. When it seems all hope is lost as Vaatu joins the two portals, Wan touches the portal and permanently merges his spirit with Raava. This trips the first real Avatar state, where Wan uses all of his abilities to imprison Vaatu in the Spirit World, send all the spirits back there, and close the portals to keep humans from freeing Vaatu. Y’know… the portals that Unalaq is so determined to open for some strange reason? Yeah, now it makes a little more sense and gives me a theory that maybe Unalaq is in league with the ultimate spirit of darkness.
After the Harmonic Convergence, Wan makes it his life goal to bring peace and balance to the world, especially now that humans are leaving the lionturtles and starting their own nations. As an elderly Wan begins to die, he apologizes to Raava for not being able to keep darkness and chaos out of the world. She tells him that it will be okay and that she will be with him for all of his lifetimes. As Wan passes away and we hear the cry of the next Avatar being born, I’m just a sobbing mess because I feel like the story of Wan and Raava is one of the sweetest told in the series. She loved Wan so much that she promises to stay with him and help him with his goal of bringing peace to the world. Leave me here to cry my eyes out. I’ll be okay in twenty minutes.
Korra comes to, remembering everything and aware of what she must do. She is gifted a sky bison and told that she needs to hurry because the next Harmonic Convergence is in just a few weeks. She flies off, on a new mission to set things right.
I don’t think I’ll be able to stop gushing about ‘Beginnings’ for a very long time. Between beautiful animation and a lovely origin story of the entire universe, ‘Beginnings’ was just a top notch episode that I have come to expect from the Avatar team. It just makes me hope that this episode is an upswing for the rest of what has been so far an underwhelming season, and that this is Korra getting a kick to becoming less of a hot-headed superpowered teenager and more of an Avatar.