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Villain Overview

It's true that when Wan fused with Raava, he tipped the scales in her favor. But this time I'll be here to level 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.
With you out of the way, I will be the one true Avatar!
~ The Dark Avatar preparing to destroy Korra.

Unalaq is a major antagonist in Avatar franchise, serving as the one of four main antagonists of The Legend of Korra (alongside Amon, Zaheer and Kuvira). He serves as one of two main antagonists (alongside Vaatu) of Book 2: Spirits, one of the two posthumous overarching antagonists (alongside Vaatu) of Book 3: Change and a posthumous antagonist of Book 4: Balance.

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 ten thousand years of Raava's influence, Unalaq fused with Vaatu, the spirit of chaos and darkness, to balance the scales with ten thousand 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 his brother's banishment, Korra's attempted kidnapping and brainwashing as a child, Korra being locked away in the south for over a decade, 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 two hundred years.

He was voiced by Adrian LaTourelle.

Personality

Highly 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 has gone too far. 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 had 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 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. Korra had a deep hatred for her uncle after he betrayed her, and was convinced he only wanted to release Vaatu to gain more power, and that his carelessness would result in the world being destroyed. However, Korra did not understand until the end that Unalaq's true motivation was to not destroy the world, but create a new one, one where the spirits and humans lived as one under his rule. Korra realized Unalaq has brought up some points despite how awful he was, so she decided to keep the portals open.

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 good intentions to Korra

On the surface, Unalaq wants to do good, but he is very deluded and ruthless, intending to force a new world order of spirituality on society. Korra initially believed that Unalaq was jealous of his brother, which is why troops arrived in the south. However, Korra would later realize that Unalaq needed the troops to protect the portal from Korra entering it again and closing it before he could release Vaatu during Harmonic Convergence. Korra claimed that Unalaq was only doing this because he wanted power, however Unalaq himself rejected this notion. Other examples of Unalaq's ruthlessness can be seen in a flashback when he allowed the spirits he cared so much for to be hurt when a sacred forest was destroyed by bandits paid by Unalaq. Unalaq viewed this as a necessary action to allow him to become chief so he could control the land the portals were on and eventually free Vaatu. 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. Unalaq hates Avatar Wan and Raava, as he blames them for spirits being driven off the mortal plane and segregated in the spirit world. Ultimately, his goal is to end this separation and make sure humans and spirits can coexist together.

Unalaq also fiercely believes the Red Lotus' ideals that chaos is the natural order, which is likely why he was so fanatically devoted to Vaatu. In order to achieve this, he resolved to free Vaatu from his prison in the tree of time, as was originally planned when the Red Lotus attempted to kidnap Korra when she was five years old. Unalaq, as well as the rest of the Red Lotus, believes that Vaatu must roam the Earth once more and plunge it to chaos, planning to destroy all world order with the great spirit. Unalaq is also the one who convinced Vaatu to spare and subjugate humanity rather than destroy it. 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. Unlike the rest of the Red Lotus (who viewed the Avatar as a political authority), Unalaq planned to become his own Avatar after fusing with Vaatu, as he needed Vaatu's power to shape the world as he wanted. Whereas the rest of the Red Lotus believed in total individual autonomy, Unalaq believed that people needed to be forced to respect spirits. Zaheer would later call Unalaq's goals for becoming a Dark Avatar "selfish", as once their plan was foiled, Unalaq allowed Zaheer to remain in prison while he altered the plan and executed it himself years later. 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. Regardless, Unalaq viewed his actions as a necessary means to an end that would accomplish the greater good.

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

Powers

  • 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

Nigh-Omnipotence: 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.

Abilities

  • Master Combatant: Unalaq was a highly agile and capable fighter, able to hold his own against younger, athletic benders such as Mako and Bolin.
  • Spirit Expertise: 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.

Trivia

  • Unalaq is the only villain that has been killed directly by Avatar Korra.
  • Every major Legend of Korra villain is an allegory for a political ideology. Unalaq clearly represents theocracy, a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god. Some famous theocratic villains include Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Governor Thomas Danforth from The Crucible and Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes.
  • Unalaq can be considered the main antagonist of The Legend of Korra, since he directly and indirectly caused the events of the show to occur.
    • Unalaq indirectly caused the events of season 1 to happen after his attempt to kidnap Korra resulted in her being sheltered in the south for her entire life, only escaping and fleeing to Republic City to learn airbending from Tenzin. When she finally went to the city, she fell into conflict with the Equalists, and Amon took her bending. Unalaq was directly behind the events of season 2, as well as season 3 when he caused many including Zaheer to gain airbending, which he used to break the rest of the Red Lotus out of their prisons. Zaheer ended up killing the Earth Queen, which led to Kuvira gaining power (in addition to the spirit vines almost killing numerous main characters including Jinora, and also, the spirit vines also being used by Kuvira to create her superweapon, the dramatic horcrux of the season), thus Unalaq indirectly caused the events of season 4.
  • 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 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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