This week's episode of The Legend of Korra - “A New Spiritual Age” - is dedicated entirely to Korra and Jinora's attempt to close the spirit portals from within the spirit realm. The otherworldly setting makes the entire episode feel like an extended dream sequence. There's character growth and a couple surprise cameo's, but even so the episode ends up feeling a bit cold and perfunctory.
It doesn't take Korra long to cause a stir with the spirits once she and Jinora cross over. Simply asking for directions leads to the girls being flushed into some sort of spiritual river, eaten by a giant water spirit, and then separated in the river's rapids.
Jinora ends up in a grassy green plane where she meets up with her “imaginary” spirit friend, Furry Foot. Furry Foot takes Jinora to Wan Shi Tong's library, last seen in the Book Two episode of The Last Airbender, “The Library.” She trades some knowledge to Wan Shi Tong the owl-spirit librarian – informing him that radios do not, in fact, have little singing men inside of them – in order to gain access the library and search for a way to get to the spirit portals. Wan Shi Tong, however, seems more interested in the fact that Jinora came to the spirit world with the Avatar than in anything else.
Meanwhile, Korra ends up in a dark spirit forest. She's lost, and seems to be surrounded by strange spirits. Korra suddenly becomes a child again, a manifestation of her inner fear, confusion, and feelings of helplessness. She becomes startled by a young dragon-bird and swats it down, injuring the spirit creature's wing. Korra apologizes and remains in the forest with the bird until she is found by none other than Uncle Iroh.
Iroh – who apparently willed himself into the spirit realm when he had grown tired of his mortal life, all Obi-Wan Kenobi style – takes Korra to a spirit tea party celebrating the wedding of two frog spirits. He teaches Korra that, in the spirit realm, her emotions become her reality, corrupting spirits as the emotions turn negative. Iroh imparts some wisdom on Korra about the importance of maintaining a positive perspective on matters and how helping others can sometimes be the best way to help yourself. Once sufficiently enlightened, Korra begins her trek to return the injured dragon-bird to its nest on a mountain peak.
Jinora, with the help of another spirit in the library, finally finds a book containing information on where to find the spirit portals. Unfortunately for her, she finds it just as Wan Shi Tong returns to the library, accompanied by Unalaq. There's an interesting exchange in which Unalaq reveals that he does not believe Vaatu will destroy the material world once he is set free, but we don't get any more information than that. Unalaq takes Jinora captive and returns to the spirit portals.
Korra encounters some dark spirits on her way to the dragon-bird nest. In a very Aang-like move, she soothes the angry spirits with her positivity and confidence. The spirits then help her bring the dragon-bird back to its nest. The dragon-bird is reunited with its three siblings, and then the dragon-birds merge together to become a much larger dargon-bird. Her task complete, Korra regains her confidence and returns to her original form. Korra rides on the dragon-bird's back, heading towards the spirit portals.
Once she arrives, Korra speaks briefly to Vaatu – who only refers to the Avatar as Raava – before moving on to close the spirit portals. It is then that Unalaq reveals himself, with Jinora as his hostage. The scene plays out exactly as you would expect: Unalaq threatens to corrupt Jinora's soul if Korra doesn't open the second spirit portal. Korra is helpless to resist since – without her physical body – she cannot use her bending powers. Korra has no choice but to open the second portal, and so she does, only for Unalaq to go back on his promise to release Jinora. Unalaq and the dark spirits attack Korra, but she is rescued by the dragon-bird. Korra awakens in the physical realm and has to tell Tenzen that Jinora remains in the spirit realm.
It's worth noting that the Studio Mir, the series' original animation studio from Book One, has returned for this episode and will animate the rest of Book Two. If you're wondering why this matters so much, the only other episodes they've animated so far in Book Two were the “Beginnings” episodes. That should give you an idea of what they're capable of. They're simply some of the best animators around and an important part of what makes The Legend of Korra great. It's good to have them back.
Its hard to really judge this episode of The Legend of Korra for its own merits since it doesn't really have a narrative arc of its own. The events of the episode are important – the peaceful way in which Korra deals with the corrupt spirits on her way to the dragon-bird nest feels like a huge example of her character's growth – but they occur in a happenstance manner without any real tension or buildup. It serves more as a necessary chapter of this book's season-long story, pushing the characters forward towards the climax, than as a story of its own.