Korra's Long Recovery

Monday, October 13, 2014

Korra tackles PTSD and we finally see Toph

Any episode that intentionally draws a callback to “Zuko Alone” has high expectations riding on it. “Zuko Alone” was one of the best episodes of the original show, focusing entirely on Zuko as he struggled to understand who he was and what it meant. Zuko was grappling with his exile from the Fire Nation and his feelings towards his father, debating whether he really wanted to identify as a Fire Nation prince and the son of Ozai1. Korra’s struggle in “Korra Alone” is considerably different, but it’s a similar identity crisis in the wake of the traumatic events of Book 3. While this episode doesn’t quite surpass its namesake, “Korra Alone” is a strong episode, a deep dive into the Avatar’s current psyche.

The Crippled Avatar

I don’t think we’ve ever seen an Avatar so damaged as Korra2. After Zaheer’s poisoning, Korra is paralyzed, suffering from PTSD, and unable to reach the Avatar state. She’s in no state to handle the responsibilities of being the Avatar, not to mention dressing or feeding herself. She spends over a year just getting back the ability to walk again, and that’s with Katara’s healing skills to cure her paralysis, at least physically. The harder part ends up being cutting through the mental block to get the atrophied skills back. Even when she’s physically fit, Korra still gets struck by PTSD attacks that prevent her from really getting back to fighting shape.

What the episode does really well is demonstrate the frustration and the fear that survivors of traumatic experiences have to go through. Two years into her recovery, Korra impatiently leaves her home to attempt to speed up her recovery. And, right away, she gets a stark reminder that her powers are diminished: right after a comparison to Avatar Aang, she tries and fails to catch simple thieves. People start doubting whether she even is the Avatar. The loss of an identity coupled with the fear of the trauma literally manifest into a “dark Avatar” spirit for Korra. This avatar spirit is everything Korra is not, at this moment — connected with the Avatar state, strong and powerful. Korra chases it, fights it, wants it, and yet is afraid of it, and since nobody else can even see it, she can’t even talk about it.


After spending months in Republic City, no longer identifying as the Avatar but desperately trying to get her powers back, the Spirit World draws Korra to the swamp. After another fight with the dark Avatar hallucination3, Korra runs into the one character from the original series we haven’t seen outside of a flashback yet: Toph. It’s an interesting choice for healer, and given Toph’s own condition and history, I think it’s a statement: Korra isn’t about to get better. She’s going to learn to adapt instead. Toph didn’t become a great earth bender by curing her blindness but by working around it, and I think we’re going to see Korra fulfill her role as the Avatar despite the permanent damage she has endured.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for Korra. She’s not really closed to being healed, and may never be. The world has moved on without her, for now, despite her wishes, and I don’t see how she gets involved again, even though it’s inevitable that she will. And with Raava missing and a suspicious dark spiriting hovering around her, how messed up would it be if it turned out Zaheer succeeded, and (at least for a brief period of time) Korra isn’t actually the Avatar at all? My theory is that Korra is going to have to set up a new Avatar identity, one that endures far better than the current one — and it will only be possible because Zaheer broke Korra so thoroughly.

Stray Observations

  • It’s interesting that both Korra and Aang first encounter Toph in the swamp.

  • What’s Toph doing in the swamp anyway? The swamp gave the original Team Avatar visions of what was important to them — I wonder if Korra will see something similar.

  • With Katara and Aang (kinda) both making an appearance in this episode alongside Toph, this episode brought back some old memories.

  • The letters from Asami, Mako and Bolin were pretty much perfect.

  1. In a heartbreaking ending, he’s forced to call upon his identity in order to save the life of a little Earth Kingdom child, but as soon as he does, the child wants nothing to do with him. Zuko hated his identity and the isolation it caused, but for a long time it was also his only source of power and respect, until he joined Team Avatar. Mini-review in the footnotes? Why not? A 

  2. OK, so we’ve seen Aang basically die, but he’s not there for long. 

  3. It’s never actually clear whether the dark Avatar is actually real or not. Korra seems to be hallucinating it, especially when it replaces her earth bending opponent in the ring. But the spirits can sense it, so something exists at a spiritual level. At the swamp Korra fights it especially hard; if it’s really a hallucination, there are some serious levels of self inflicted pain right here.