Please Tell Me This is All Just a Bad Dream: Further Disappointment with “Korra”
I really thought my disgust with the way The Legend of Korra ended would just disappear, or at the very least, I would be able to move on from it. Or that, hopefully, a re-watch would be the ultimate right of all wrongs. After all, there are much more serious issues in the world to get riled up over than the ending of an American animated children’s program, right?
Logically, and in theory, yes. But reality has proven that highly anticipated works that fail can often pack a much deeper emotional punch—albeit a negative one—than the previous works they sprung from. Why else would people still be pissed off about Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace thirteen years later? Why else would most people be savaging Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the “prequel” to his own classic Alien? Why are sequels so hated in the first place?
But I digress. The fact of the matter is that Korra was not a satisfying experience for numeral reasons (reasons so numerous that my own essay on the matter—the longest on this blog—was barely even the tip of the iceberg). One of the problems was that creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko attempted to tell a complete story in twelve episodes that unfortunately could not told in twelve episodes. At least, not in the sense that every single loose end in the story could plausibly be wrapped up by the end of those twelve episodes. I’m sure they had the ending thought out way in advance just like they did with Avatar: the Last Airbender, which means they were pretty much writing themselves into a corner: the route of the actual story seemed to be going in a much different direction than the one they had in mind. (The first seven episodes and some of the eighth are proof of that.) In trying to keep to their original plan, the end result was a big mess in which some characters received better treatment than they deserved (Korra and Mako), some characters were cruelly treated with almost Kubrickian indifference (Asami), and some were just flat-out shoved away or turned into nothing more than plot devices (Bolin, Tenzin and his family, and to a lesser degree, Lin Bei Fong).
I can’t know what was going through DiMartino and Konietzko’s head as they crafted this series, and I want to make it clear that I’m not blaming them for trying to tell a story in twelve episodes. I’m not even blaming them for Nickelodeon’s decision to order fourteen more episodes when the production of Book One was halfway done (that was clearly beyond their control). No, I’m blaming them for wrapping up their story with a nice, neat happy ending when nothing that came before warranted one. An open-ended finale probably wouldn’t have been as cathartic, but it certainly would have been more appropriate, not to mention more challenging and just as fruitful for the imagination.
The sad part is that Nickelodeon has ordered twenty-six more episodes of Korra, so by the time the series is finally finished, there will have been fifty-two episodes total. Again, this decision was clearly beyond DiMartino and Konietzko’s control, and I suppose for the more forgiving fans, the prospect of more episodes of Korra is a good one. Unfortunately, this giant order of new episodes makes the self-contained mess of Book One look that much worse.
Back during the production of Avatar, DiMartino and Konietzko had the full arch in mine for that series—from Aang’s awakening in the iceberg to his defeat of the Firelord—but initially, Nickelodeon only ordered thirteen episodes. That meant if the studio choose not to continue the series as DiMartino and Konietzko planned, then the last episode of Avatar would have been “The Blue Spirit.” But luckily for us and them, that never happened, and they got to see their story all the way to the end.
I this bring up to say that DiMartino and Konietzko probably should have had a game plan just in case the studio wanted more episodes of Korra than they originally paid for. The lesson they should have taken from their Avatar experience is that the television production machine is completely unpredictable: if they have the power to shut down an incomplete story, then why wouldn’t they have the power to expand a completed one? Konietzko himself worked on a show that was cancelled before its story could be properly concluded. It was called Invader Zim.
Maybe they’ll find some way to explain away their own Deus ex Machina in Book Two, or maybe they won’t. I can’t say I’m ecstatic about Book Two or any of the other books for that matter (despite how jaw-droppingly gorgeous some of that concept art is), but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. To drastically paraphrase Mr. Plinkett, “Well Book One sucked, but maybe Book Two will be better. Hopes are high that Korra can be saved, and maybe we’ll all just look back on Book One as being ‘that really bad one’.”
All screenshots taken by me.