This is an older piece I actually wrote on facebook a few years back. I figured it could be put to better use here, with edits for clarity.
I have been steadily enjoying The Legend of Korra since its first two episodes leaked to fans in late March. Its late in the game to give the show accolades, but suffice it to say that the show is well-written with great animation. Now I’ve recently learned that the show was late into production when the team found out Nickelodeon granted them another season. This explains A LOT about how it turned out. Let’s look at the positives of the finale first.
The good stuff:
- The music by Jeremy Zuckerman has been fantastic in both supporting the action and drama, as well as establishing the series as an ‘in continuity show’, but its own separate entity as well.
- The filmic nature of the series really lends itself to creating atmosphere really well. The creators are ambitious and know what they want to do and how certain techniques will create that. And when they want to get creepy, they can get creepy. The scene of Amon taking Korra’s bending away is sincerely frightening. The panic and tension are visceral, and I admire that such emotion is created from the use of angles, and again the great supportive score.
- Steve Blum.
- No seriously, it’s always a treat to hear him, and his final scene with Tarrlok was fantastic (not just because of Blum or course, but the silence from Tarrlok, the tear; it was a really poignant scene.)
- The new and unique bending tactics used. It’s been interesting to see the practical evolution of bending for stadium use (being more direct in techniques, etc.), but the finale adds some more interesting uses, such as the use of fire bending for various propulsion. It illustrates creativity and reflects a growing and changing world. (Also, I shall now nickname General Iroh Firefly.)
Because of the aforementioned production schedule, the entire series was originally planned to wrap up in these finale two episode. And it shows. There is simply not enough time to exposite everything, and there is plenty of subtly I didn’t see the first time around. Here’s the stuff that I had trouble with, but as I read and rewatched, actually makes sense.
- Bloodbending being the source of Amon’s power: The flow of chi is established as a the key to a bender’s power. Block the flow with accurate attacks, and a bender’s power is rendered temporarily useless. It’s feasible then for Amon to take bending away by permanently messing up their chi flow with his bloodbending – detailed knowledge at the hands of someone who can manipulate and control your body would be disastrous. The question then is how did he figure out the proper technique to remove bending, but seeing as chi blocking has existed long before his time and he’s a bending prodigy, there were plenty of resources at his disposal to figure that all out.
- Korra getting her bending back: At first glance, I was really frustrated with this because it appeared that all Korra needed was an emotional low point to get want she wanted. Aang’s statement that change often happens when things are at their worst made sense, but how Korra actually made a connection to him then didn’t make sense at first. She wasn’t meditating, and any kind of sub-conscious connection would feel forced and unearned. However, reading the A.V. Club article helped shed some light on the scene, revealing it to actually make much more sense in the series. The article asserts that Korra’s identity issue and spiritual block were connected. It’s explained much more in detail here, but the basics are this:
- Korra prevailing identity in her life has been that she’s the Avatar. Those are even her first words in the whole show.
- Amon theaters to take here identity away. (Episode 4 really highlights this the best.)
- Flashforward to later: Amon does take away her bending (He severs the connections she has to the three elements she had ties to. Afterwards, Korra finally connects to air, so that fact that she can still air bend makes sense as well – Amon can’t sever a connection that didn’t exist.)
- Korra visits the best healer in the world – Katara – but her previous bending skills cannot come back.
- She leaves in anger, even telling Mako she’s not the Avatar anymore. As a person whose identity was intrinsically linked to her bending, what’s left for her now?
- She journeys to a cliff. Here is where the subtly comes in: Korra considers suicide. It’s never explicitly named, but the angles, her actions, and her reactions, all make perfect sense with this motivation (remember, in film, like all media, there is always an intended purpose for a shot, a scene, etc.)
- However, she doesn’t do it! it’s this affirmation of acceptance of identity that finally breaks her spiritual block, and she acquires her bending powers again.
- The theme of identity is highlighted again and brought to fruition when Tenzin finally calls Korra “Avatar Korra.”
- The above is just a summary, but the crux is the suicide contemplation. Without this, her triumphant return would be totally unwarranted.
- Because the Avatar has the power to take bending away, it makes sense why the Avatar can also give bending back (even if that original power was a deux ex machina of the first series.)
Jamming everything into two episodes means a lot got left out. Though I think overall the finale is satisfying, there is still plenty left that is far from perfect.
- How did Tenzin and his family get captured? We never learn how it happened, though it’s plausible the airplanes could have contributed in some way.
- What about the other council members? Tarrlok said he was the only one at Air Temple Island, so where are the rest? They probably are in the underground compound, so this is more of a nit pick.
- “My grandfather would have respected the Avatar’s instinct.” That doesn’t change the fact that it’s probably not a good idea for Korra to directly confront Amon again (remember what happened last time?) Whatever happened to being patient? But that is totally Korra’s personality, direct and headstrong all the way.
- Mako: “He’s baiting you.” Attacks Amon and both jump + fire walk towards him. This isn’t really a plot hole, but I suspect this sudden reversal is due to the squeezing of the plot a bit. Of course saving Tenzin and his family in that situation would be inevitable. How they got there in the first place is beyond me.
- EXPOSITIONEXPOSITIONEXPOSITION: All of Amon’s backstory and motivations are all explained by Tarrlok rather than being fleshed out by the actual character. Tarrlok describes Amon revelling in his bending powers earlier, but now he thinks bending is the source of all evil? Maybe I wouldn’t be so confused is Amon/Noatok could get more time developing himself instead of through exposition. Because of this, I really find Amon’s juiciest bits of the finale to be when his mask is off. That’s when it’s been really interesting. Oh well.
- Lack of addressing class division: although Amon’s plans are ruined, all those equalists do have a point: most of those in power (politicians, police, and mafia) are primarily benders. What is really lacking is a scene of Korra bringing balance to the city, whether it be a speech or what have you, to help heal the relationship. There needs to be reconciliation to fully finish that story arc. The fact that it’s not there is a deep flaw.
- How does the hobo have a working telegraph and a means of connecting to the reinforcement fleet?
The finale to The Legend of Korra is satisfactory enough, but upon probing deeper, both a surprising amount of subtly and plot hiccups certainly make the final two episodes far from perfect. Though the season wraps up completely leaving little tension left, there is plenty of world building and character development left to explore.
Stuff to look forward to! (or at least what I want to see explored more.)
- Korra’s interactions with the spirit world: after finally clearing her spiritual block, here’s hoping for much more development both of her spiritual side (avatar state) and the spirit world itself.
- Mastering airbending is pretty important too.
- More of the dynamic between bending and technology.
- I’m not really demanding this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more historical background of all the characters.
- Reconciliation and the rebuilding of Republic City with the equalists.