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Villain Overview

You think what Avatar Wan did was good? Driving almost all the spirits from this world? The Avatar hasn't brought balance, only chaos. You call yourself the bridge between the worlds, but there shouldn't be a bridge. We should live together as one.
~ Unalaq to Korra, reflecting his true motives.
It's true that when Wan fused with Raava, he tipped the scales in her favor. But this time I'll be here to even the playing field. When Harmonic Convergence comes, I will fuse with Vaatu and together we will become the new Avatar. A Dark Avatar. Your era is over.
~ Unalaq's plan for spiritual balance.

Unalaq is the secondary antagonist of The Legend of Korra. He served as a background antagonist of Book: 1 Air, one of the two main antagonists (alongside Vaatu) of Book 2: Spirits and a posthumous antagonist in Book 3: Change. Unalaq is the second major threat faced by his niece, Avatar Korra and, alongside Zaheer, the worst human threat Korra ever faced. A militant religious zealot, Unalaq was so obsessed with the spirits that he devoted his life to studying them, and seemed to prefer them over humans, even his own family. Since the world had experienced 10,000 years of Raava's influence, Unalaq fused with Vaatu, the spirit of chaos and darkness, to balance the scales with 10,000 years of Dark Avatars. Unalaq successfully changed the world forever by ushering in a new spiritual age, but was the only Dark Avatar.

Though he initially seemed to be a gentle and wise individual who offers to train his niece in the ways of the Spirits, his deadly and ruthless side was revealed when it is learned that he was only using Korra to release the powerful dark spirit. Unalaq's motivation for this was to forcibly restore spiritual balance in the world, which he had been planning to do for decades. Unalaq's will to achieve this end was so great that he was willing to stop at nothing. Unalaq's actions directly or indirectly resulted in Korra's attempted kidnapping and brainwashing as a child, his brother's banishment, a civil war between the water tribes, severing the Avatar's connection to their past lives and infesting Republic City with spirit vines that would plague the city for years to come. Unalaq's actions also had positive impacts, however, as they led to humans and spirits coexisting, Korra becoming a spiritual Avatar and the return of new airbenders to the world for the first time in almost 200 years.

He was voiced by Adrian LaTourelle.

Personality

Unalaq is cold, stern and intimidating. Unalaq seems to be a psychopath or sociopath as he rarely shows any type of emotion or warmth at all and does not seem to take pleasure in much of anything. Unalaq's whole personality seems to revolve around his deep spirituality and he is typically reserved, unassuming, serious and dull. Varrick even once mocked Unalaq's dry personality by proclaiming him to be "diabolical but incredibly boring and unpopular". Unalaq was treacherous and remorseless, with no compassion towards anyone. Unalaq also seems to be a misanthrope, since he does not seem to be close to or care for any other human, even his own children. Despite this, Unalaq perfectly understood human nature and was especially cunning and manipulative, able to skillfully deceive numerous people multiple times by lacing elements of truth into his lies. 

Unalaq was willing to double-cross his own family to serve his own ends, and did not care when his own son, Desna, was severely injured by his waterbending; even flat-out saying that opening the spirit portal was "more important" than his family's well-being. Despite this, both of his children were by his side almost to the very end, only turning on their father when they realized he was too far gone. Desna at one point even proclaimed that his father is the wisest man alive, and he trusted his judgment. Unalaq was also perfectly willing to endanger the lives of everyone in the northern tribe in the process of getting his brother banished, as, in his mind, the ends justified the means. Unalaq also sold out his allies in the Red Lotus to save himself, and let them rot for over a decade in separate prisons (one of which Unalaq constructed). With his plans coming close to fruition, Unalaq abandoned his composure and adopted a more malicious demeanor. He started to outwardly take visible delight in the suffering of those who attempted to stop him from doing what he believed needed to be done. Unalaq also threatened to destroy Jinora's soul with spiritbending if Korra did not open the northern portal, and threw Jinora's spirit into the Fog of Lost Souls even after Korra agreed to his demands. 

Despite his indifference to other people, Unalaq was an obsessive and pious fundamentalist when it came to the spirits and the traditions associated with them. Unalaq devoted his entire life to studying the spirits and even developed a form of specialized bending that was tailored specifically to a spirit's dark energies, or a human's soul. Before the portals were opened, he frequently meditated into the spirit world, where he forged sincere and strong friendships with numerous spirits, including Wan Shi Tong and, of course, Vaatu. Wan Shi Tong referred to Unalaq as "a true friend of the spirits" when Jinora objected to Unalaq's plan. 

Motivation and Beliefs

You don't know what you're talking about! Our father is the wisest man in the world. If he says what he is doing is right, I believe him.
~ Desna proclaims his faith in his father's intentions to Korra

Due to his devotion to the spirits, Unalaq looks down on everyone around him, believing himself to be the most qualified moral and spiritual authority in the world. His belief in the Avatar's failed duty, coupled with his own spiritual affinity, led him to fuse with Vaatu and take on the role of the Avatar himself, showing willingness to use any means to achieve his goals. Unalaq was even willing to kill his own family members so he could succeed in his plans, as he believed that a spiritual reset to the world was more important than the safety and well being of individual people. Unalaq seemed to hate the modern world and technology, believing that by embracing technology, humans have strayed too far from the natural order and, as a result, have become distracted from the traditions and the spirits. Unalaq especially had a disdain for the far less spiritual southern tribe, something that he seemed to pass onto his children, as Eska expressed similar sentiments. When it came to dealings with the south, Unalaq was blatantly callous, patronizing and self-righteous, rejecting the south's more progressive ways and attempting to push the north's spirituality on the south. 

Unalaq possessed a near-inhuman sense of patience, as he devised his plan to release Vaatu decades prior to actually succeeding. Even though his ultimate goal was to get rid of nations of any kind, Unalaq had his brother banished so he could be chief, as he needed to control both of the spirit portals for his plan to succeed. Unalaq deeply agreed with the Red Lotus's mantra that chaos is the natural order, which is likely why he was so fanatically devoted to Vaatu. Unalaq's ruthless and brutal pursuit of enforcing tradition and spirituality on the world was very similar to what the Red Lotus wanted to do once world leaders were eliminated, as they planned to force anarchy on the world by preventing any governments from being established. However, Unalaq took the Red Lotus's philosophy a few steps farther, since he believed in physically tearing down modern civilization and forcing people to honor the spirits with himself as the spiritual authority. This is a stark contrast to the beliefs of the Red Lotus, as, while spiritual, the Red Lotus prioritized personal liberty for the humans, and did not believe in forcing anyone to follow religious beliefs and customs. As the Red Lotus saw the Avatar as a world leader, Zaheer pointed out that Unalaq becoming a Dark Avatar was always a plan he kept secret from the rest of the group, as they would not have allowed it. Also, while the Red Lotus wanted to end the Avatar cycle, Unalaq wanted to create a new one that enforced a new spiritual world order. Unalaq even took this a step farther by ripping Raava out of Korra's body and destroying all of the Avatar's past lives. It is unclear if Vaatu's influence drove Unalaq to do this as revenge for being trapped in the Tree of Time, or if Unalaq did this out of his own volition because he was enraged that the Avatar cycle virtually erased the world's spirituality.

However, despite his many character flaws, Unalaq was not all bad. His desire to unite the human and spirit realms as per the natural order of things came from a genuinely benevolent place, and he believed that he was changing the world for the better by releasing Vaatu and ushering in 10,000 years of darkness. Unalaq did not view his plans or Vaatu as evil, careful to specify that there is light and dark in all spirits, and maintaining a balance with the darkness in the world was paramount to its natural order. When Jinora claimed that Vaatu could destroy the world, Unalaq flatly rejected this idea and told her not to believe everything she reads in books. Even Korra agreed that keeping the spirit portals open was correct, and ultimately Unalaq's desire for a spirit-human coexistence became a reality. Unalaq's spiritual guidance also allowed Korra to finally accept her spiritual duties as the Avatar, something Tenzin had failed to do, as she had struggled with spirituality for her entire life up to that point. Also, by causing Harmonic Convergence, Unalaq indirectly resulted in dozens of nonbenders being able to airbend, thus balancing out the airbenders for the first time in almost two hundred years and allowing Tenzin to truly rebuild the Air Nation and finally fufill his father's legacy. Also, some of Unalaq's teachings to Korra were genuinely wise, as she was able to use spiritbending to vanquish Vaatu and recalled his words about finding the light in the dark to pull Raava out of Vaatu. Even years later, Unalaq's wisdom helped Korra handle the situation with Kuvira delicately; as Unalaq told her that, as the Avatar, she had to stay neutral in conflicts, even if she wanted to help her people. 

Powers and Abilities

  • Waterbending: Unalaq was an incredibly powerful waterbending master, being able to engage in combat using only a minimal amount of water. When deprived of other sources of water, Unalaq was able to effectively utilize a water skin in battle. His move set ranged from strong torrents, water spouts, and unleashing multiple ice projectiles in rapid succession. His water attacks were strong enough to shatter boulders and earth shields summoned by earthbenders.
  • Spiritbending: Unalaq could utilize a specialized form of healing infused with spiritual energy and knowledge, which involves converting the energy within spirits. This ability allowed him to effectively calm angry spirits, to the extent where he was able to stop multiple dark spirits at once from destroying the Northern Water Tribe. Conversely, he could utilize spiritbending to create imbalance inside a spirit, by channeling negative energy. When performed on a human spirit, Unalaq claimed that this technique had the potential to destroy the subject's soul.
  • Dark Avatar Powers: After fusing with Vaatu, Unalaq became the Avatar's dark counterpart and the human embodiment of darkness, disorder and chaos. Because of this merger, Unalaq became significantly more powerful, being able to use his own version of the Avatar State, with orange-glowing eyes instead of white. Because of his deep spirituality, he took quick control of the Dark Avatar State, which helped him augment his waterbending and be on par with the Avatar; he was capable of unleashing much stronger water whips, creating ice fissures, and highly destructive tidal waves. In addition to his enhanced bending, he displayed the ability to project Vaatu's tendrils from his mouth, which he used to extract Raava out of Korra. He also gained Vaatu's ability to spontaneously generate and manipulate vines and various types of plant life. After Unalaq destroyed Raava, he ascended into a new, giant humanoid version of Vaatu. He gained incredible size and strength in this new form, being capable of ripping out the statue of Aang Memorial Island with great ease and resisting the attacks of the United Forces fleet without struggle. He still had access to his waterbending, in addition to several of Vaatu's powers, such as his energy beam and vine control.
  • Other Skills: Unalaq was a highly agile and capable fighter, able to hold his own against younger, athletic benders such as Mako and Bolin. Unalaq was able to make use of his great knowledge of the Spirit World to gain an advantage over his foes. A notable example was using the spirit portal to cross worlds, thus retaining his physical body and consequently his bending in the Spirit World. Thanks to his allegiance to Vaatu, he was granted control over dark spirits, which he used as his vanguard against his enemies.

Gallery

Trivia

  • Unalaq is the only villain that has been killed directly by Avatar Korra.
  • Despite every main villain of The Legend of Korra crossing the Moral Event Horizon at some point, Unalaq is regarded as the evilest of them all. Even Zaheer thought he was evil for leaving him and his friends in prison.
    • Still, his philosophy of a world where humans and spirits were living together was carried on through Avatar Korra, and Unalaq had genuinely benevolent motives as he wanted humanity to achieve spiritual balance.
  • Unalaq wants to freeze the earth in Varrick's movers. This foreshadows his true plans of plunging the world into 10,000 years of darkness.
  • Unalaq's appearance looks similar to Tarrlok or Yakone after his plastic surgery.
    • Unalaq also has another similarity to Tarrlok, as he was the second middle-aged waterbender who mentored Korra instead of Tenzin.
  • Unalaq can be considered a foil to Ozai. Whereas Ozai was a firebender, Unalaq was a waterbender. While Ozai was the father of a main character, Unalaq was the uncle of a main character. Both characters also usurped their brother's birthright, albeit for different reasons. Ozai wanted power, and Unalaq needed to control the spirit portals so he could usher in a new age of spirituality.
    • Varrick's movers also cement the similarities between Unalaq and Ozai. In the movers, Unalaq has the same beard and a similar outfit to Ozai (especially in the Ember Island Players episode). His plan in the movers also mirrors Ozai. His plan to freeze the earth is also a reference to Ozai's plan to burn it.
  • Unalaq can also be considered a foil to Iroh. Both are uncles of a main protagonist, both serve as wise mentors of a main protagonist, both are powerful benders and both have a deep connection with the spirits. Iroh used waterbending moves to redirect lighting, and Unalaq used waterbending to balance a spirit's dark energy. However, that is where the similarities end. Unlike Iroh, Unalaq attempted to force humanity to respect the spirits and honor the traditions associated with them. Iroh was also a good man who wanted to end conflicts and bring peace to the world, while Unalaq was a wicked man who wanted to bring chaos to the world, as he thought it was the natural order. Iroh was also a member of the White Lotus, while Unalaq was a member of the Red Lotus

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