It’s taken four seasons of the Avatar franchise to get to this point – where it all began. Leading up to this, Korra was savagely attacked by a dark spirit and washed ashore on an island of fire-bending monks. With no memory of who she is and infected by the dark spirit that threatens to destroy her, the monks use the healing properties of their island to restore Korra’s memory by allowing her to find herself by connecting with her Avatar predecessors. Korra has had difficulty accessing her past lives, thus this episode allows us the rare view into the life and creation of the first Avatar – Wan.
The world, thousands of years ago was a frightful and savage place, full of spirits and small pockets of humanity. The multiple pockets of human colonies were disconnected and most weren’t aware of one another. Each of these pockets was shepherded by their own ancient Lion Turtle that bestowed upon them the bending powers of Earth, Air, Water and Fire. These gifts were bestowed upon them by the Lion Turtles in order to allow the humans to protect themselves from the brutality and savagery of their environment. These Lion Turtles were like living ancient Gods among men and were revered as such.
However, there was an imbalance across the land. The spirit world and human world collided, and always not in peaceful or constructive ways. Many humans were fearful and distrustful of the spirits and many spirits were distrusting and spiteful of their human neighbors. Wan lived amongst the sect of humanity that was shepherded by a Lion Turtle that bestowed the bending gift of fire. Wan was a reckless and untrustworthy youth. After receiving his fire bending skill from the Lion Turtle, he showed his shady colors and was banished by the Lion Turtle from his village but was allowed to keep his bending skill. Exiled, he discovers a spirit community and eventually is befriended by those spirits.
Years later, he masters his fire bending skills with the aid of his new spirit family and leaves his homeland in search of other human communities. Along the way, he encounters a brutal struggle between two interlocked spirits Raava and Vaatu. Vaatu, appealed to Wan to free him from Raava’s grasp. Wan, without regard for the consequences uses his powers to free Vaatu from Raava’s grasp and soon discovers that he freed a malevolent spirit into the world that would tip the balance between good and evil in the world.
Raava, the spirit of peace, balance and light, held Vaatu, the spirit of darkness and chaos, in an eternal embrace to always keep the balance between the good and evil forces in the spirit world in check. With Vaatu now freed, the anger and fear of spirits towards humans began to turn them into warped and angry specters with the lust to destroy the human world. Wan, in his dismay and regret dedicated himself, with the aid of Raava, to bring balance back to the world by defeating Vaatu and spreading respect of the spirit world to mankind. However, as a fire bender, he was ill-equipped to handle the ever growing power of Vaatu, thus he came up with a plan – search out the other bending-giving Lion Turtles and learn the other bending skills. There was only one problem – no human ever held more than one bending skill nor did they have the capacity to do so. It was theorized that Wan would only be able to do so if Raava partially bonded with Wan, infusing him with some of her power, to allow him to retain the additional bending skills.
Over the years, Wan attained all of the bending skills and became the most powerful bending human in the land. With the passage of time though, Raava physically became smaller and Vaatu became larger as his influence of darkness became more prominent and the goodness in the world began to disappear. Spirits have the ability to inhabit human forms for a short period of time and merge with them, but if they stay in the human host too long they risk killing them. Raava and Wan used this spiritual ability to help Wan temporarily enter what we now know as the “Avatar state”.
In their last battle at the time of convergence between the spirit and human world, Wan and Raava were able to permanently bond and Wan was able to lock Vaatu away and sever the connection between the human and spirit world – removing the potential of any other human from accidentally freeing Vaatu in to the world. Wan, as the first Avatar, dedicated his life to spreading peace across the land, being the protector of the spirit world and uniting all of humanity. He fails. In his last dying breath on a battlefield, he regretfully apologizes to Raava for failing to bring peace to the land. Raava, forgives Wan but assures him that they’ll keep trying in all of the next lives – they’ll never give up until peace and balance has been achieved.
Korra, now restored, knows she has a lot of work ahead of her as the convergence will be soon upon them again and she must work hard and fast to restore the balance between the human and spirit world and continue the legacy of Wan and her predecessors to bring peace to both.
The thing I love most about this series and continued storyline is the depth of character and humanity the writers bring to each character. In the prior series we got to see how Aang’s predecessor, Roku, became the Avatar and witness his ultimate and untimely demise as witnessed by his friend and spiteful Fire Lord Sozin. The Avatars are no less human and have no fewer human frailties, thus they live life as normal humans and often times die like normal human beings. The Avatars we’ve been able to witness show that being perfect and the most honorable isn’t what makes them the Avatar or even why they were probably chosen by the Raava essence to be the Avatar. As we’ve found out by Aang’s children, he was still a father with many faults and that for all his power – he was still just a man. However all of the Avatars have the capacity to push beyond their limitations and still uphold the ideals Wan set forth. They may not all succeed completely or succeed for long to bring peace to the land, but they all try with all their might to be that symbol of harmony – even if that harmony comes with a lot of baggage.
This is Korra’s journey this season. To become the Avatar and uphold the ideals that have been generationally gifted to her. To be the force for unity and peace, but be the engine of enforcement and discipline if the situation calls for it. What we’ve learned in these two episodes is that Korra’s fate and the fate of the world are never certain – but she’s going to try to the best of her love and ability to save the world – one spirit at a time. This brings us to her Uncle, Unalaq, who is seen coming out of the spirit world through a portal. Is he in league with Vaatu? Has he also been seduced into helping him, not knowing that Vaatu will ultimately destroy the world? The clues seem to all point to this assertion, but I’m so eager to let this story play out and witness one of the greatest animated series weave its intricate and four-dimensional tale.
It’s rare when an episode can move me to tears.