With the first season of Legend of Korra finished, I thought I’d write a quick review on the series so far. After an initial brainstorm, I quickly came to the conclusion that this might not be the best series for me to review. I’m sure the internet’s full of people ready to review it, and most of the things I really want to talk about are all considered spoilers. So instead of that, I’m going for a thoughts post, since I feel a review’s more fitting to convince others of watching it, and these thoughts post generally aim towards an audience that has seen it already. That said, there’s going to be spoilers in this post, so let me break out the trusty Spoiler Warning.
I’m not even sure why I’m divided. This is the first time I’m dived about something I have generally positive feelings towards. But here I am, feeling conflicted about whether or not to shower this show with praise.
Don’t get me wrong here, Legend of Korra was a fantastic show. In more than one way it outshined The Last Airbender, which is incredibly high praise. The original show is one of my favorite TV series, and I always refer to it as the example of how to do adventure writing justice in episodic terms. In almost every way, Legend of Korra pushes the boundaries a bit further, while at the same time, not really pushing anything at all. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s just start with a quick summary of things before going into what I liked and disliked about it.
Avatar: The Legend of Korra takes place about 100 years after the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Aang, the protagonist and previous Avatar has passed on, and we now follow the next in line in the Avatar Cycle, a Water-bender named Korra. As part of her training, she moves to the newly established Republic City, which was originally founded by Zuko and Aang as a place for people from all nations to come together in peace after the big war with the Fire Nation. Korra moves in with Tenzin, Aang’s son, who is an airbender. Unlike Aang, Korra has already mastered all the elements except for air, and hasn’t tapped into her Avatar State powers yet.
Almost immediately after arriving at the Republic City, it’s clear to Korra how different it is from the rest of the world. For one, there’s strict law enforcement to make sure that things don’t fall appart with all the different kinds of bending. Not only that, but the non-benders who have started living together in this big city feel opressed in the face of all this raw power in that hands of half the population. A charismatic leader rises up to back the popular opinion that Benders must go. Causing a gigantic rift between those with bending powers and those who don’t.
Korra originally doesn’t focus on the rising problems, joining up in a sports team that uses bending, hoping that will bring people together enough to alleviate the stresses that are rising throughout the city. At the same time, it’s showing to be a positive outlet for her bending training in an environment that doesn’t give too many space for practice.
Instead the Pro Bending sports end up getting used as a political tool by Amon to not only show people what is inherently wrong with bending according to him, but also to show his powers to the public. The Pro Bending tournament over, a full-out war between Benders and non-Benders starts, escalating with the help of the political leader Tarrlok, whose actions consistently play into Amon’s plans. Investigating it further, Tarlok turns out to not only be a blood bender, but also Amon’s brother. Amon, posing as a non-bender, turns out to be a waterbender, using blood bending as a tool to seal people’s bending away.
After the final face-off with Amon, Korra loses her bending powers, with the exception of air. Almost immediately after she finally makes her connection to the Avatar State, and thus regains all her bending powers again.
Somewhere in between this there were romance subplots all over the place.
Honestly, I liked the final episode. I liked it a lot. It tied things up nicely. Smoothly. With a neat little bow around it, gift-wrapped with love.
And there-in lies the problem. This is a two-season show, and the ending just ends things a little too neatly for it. There’s not that much left to question or discuss after the ending this season gave us. Nothing about it left me begging for more, left me hoping for a conclusion, or even made me wonder where do we go from here. The season’s problems are resolved.
As far as endings go, that’s absolutely not a bad thing. As far as halfway points go, which this technically is, that’s a very bad thing. I don’t have to watch the next season to find out how wit all pans out. It already panned out. Compared to The Last Airbender, which expertly fed you just enough answers and question to keep you going, Korra gives us a neat cut-away point where you can really just stop watching it. It’s too neat, too smooth, too clean. I was hoping for Korra to have to regain her other bending powers over the course of the next season, it would impose a great trouble for her to overcome. In fact, of everything that happened in the entire season, that was the biggest obstacle they gave her… and it was resolved in the span of 10 minutes with what felt like a massive deus ex machina.
With all the build-up from the second-half of the season, it just felt too easy. Which is just a shame. No real sacrifices have been made by anyone. Everything worked out just fine. In a show that felt more mature than The Last Airbender in almost every way, it feels weird for there to be less in terms of sacrifices made.
Everything building up to that end though… Incredible. Absolutely incredible. From the political conflicts, to how it all played out in the face of the public, to the relationships between the characters, all of it was fantastically played out. I’m a big fan of the older characters, and the more mature themes, and I’m glad the writers could work on some more developed characters.
I’m a bit let down by the fact that they did go the easy route with Amon. Already early on, when it was shown Amon had the ability to take bneding away, I expected it to come down to blood bending. Originally, I expected it to be Tarrlok to be responsible for it. I didn’t even know Tarrlok was a blood bender at that point, but it just felt too obvious. As a second possibility, I put down never-before-seen-brother-Steve to be it. Not a possiblity I liked entertaining, the worst outcome to a mystery in a piece of fiction is an explanation that doesn’t fit the known scope.
Then it did turn out to be never-before-seen-brother Steve… Or rather, Naotak.
Imagine watching an episode of Scooby-Doo, where they finally catch the bad guy and rip off his mask, revealing some random guy who they don’t even recognize.
It doesn’t make for a good resolution to a mystery. Maybe if they worked up to a brother earlier on in the show, it would’ve had come out a lot less cheap, but with the way it worked out, I’m not too happy.
The new twists and turns that blood bending have taken in execution though, it made my blood boil. In a good way. When it first made its appearance in The Last Airbender, it was a creepy thing that made me wonder if they’d do more with it. When it came back in Legend of Korra, it was downright scary. A perfect tool for a villain to gain control. Now when the villain has an air of mystery, and a natural aura of being in control to him, you have an excellent grade A bad guy.
It helped that he was naturally charismatic, and to a large extent, right. His anger at benders felt justified, especially with all the examples the show gave us of people with bending powers being in more control than those without. It turning out to be a petty revenge plot made him a lot weaker in my mind. I’m just not too fond of the direction they took him in.
I can’t really comment on anything else, the series not being finished yet. There’s too much that can still get fleshed out further, and the show is not over yet.
Honestly, I’m hoping for book 2 to start pushing the envelope some more. That said, Legend of Korra was an amazing show with a unfullfilling bad guy and lackluster ending. It could have been more, and especially the much more fleshed out early episodes made it seems like it was going to be more. Let’s hope the rest of the series will provide the elements this ending missed.