Because fans should be critical, too

I’m Feeling Better Now, So Let’s Actually Talk About Book Three

First of all, I want to apologize for my last post. It was not written under the best of circumstances. The past week of work was extremely stressful thanks to college move-in week. I’d also been having an existential crisis, particularly regarding my last year of school and what I was going to do once it was over. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but I just had to get hit with the heavy stuff during the weekend. If anything, that should tell you that my depressive state of mind at the time had more to do with my conclusions on Book Three of The Legend of Korra than the show itself did.

But I wanted to be timely about it. I had to write something about Book Three and its finale while it was still fresh in people’s minds. If that meant binging on the last eight episodes I hadn’t seen yet before another long, long shift at work, so be it. I’d rather be a day behind than a week.

Given the circumstances, though, I should have waited a week, or at least a few days. I was in no proper position to write about anything, let alone a series whose quality fluctuates more drastically than my mood. But write I did, and the results weren’t just embarrassing, but downright unprofessional. Whatever point I was trying to make was definitely obscured by my cloudy mental state. I sincerely apologize, and will work hard not to have it happen again.

Now that I’m a little more clear-headed, let’s talk about Book Three.

For a lot of people, this season was a triumphant return to form for creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Some of you have even said it matches Avatar: the Last Airbender in terms of quality. Some still have bold enough to say it surpasses it! Some have been disappointed, too, saying that it was just another lackluster season. Pretty much everyone agrees, though, that it’s better than Book Two (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much: they could have re-run Book One slowed down and backwards and it would’ve been better than Book Two).

I’m a bit ambivalent on this one, even though there’s actually a lot to like. The storyline and main villain were much more intriguing than last time. While Zaheer could have been more memorable (he’s played by Henry Rollins, for Christ’ sake!), he’s still a formidable opponent: a devout Airbending student convinced of his own intellectual and moral superiority, and believing that true freedom was total chaos. I liked returning to Ba Sing Se, and then seeing it destroyed by the orderless populace. I liked Bolin’s issues with Metalbending, and how it turned out he was actually just a Lavabender all along. I liked the increasing friendliness between Korra and Asami, especially now that they’re no longer after the same man (or any man, for that matter, which is something else I highly approve of). I liked the tension and resolve between Lin Bei Fong and her sister Suiyin. From time to time, especially near the end, the expert mixing of traditional animation and CG animation made for some thrilling visuals.

All these positives, and Book Three was still something of a disappointment. There were a lot of improvements since the first two seasons, but they never fixed what I consider the single most glaring flaw of the entire enterprise: Korra.

After three seasons, I’ve yet to be convinced that Korra is worthy of my sympathy, let alone worthy of being considered a living breathing character with the capacity for independent thought and feelings. I felt this way about Aang, too, so I’m starting to suspect that I just don’t like the way DiMartino and Konietzko handle their title characters. For every moment in which either Aang or Korra displays genuine humanity, there are about five more where their characters seem unfocused and dictated by the needs of the plot. Perhaps the problem is that their personalities are rarely challenged by the obstacles and situations presented by the narrative (as they should be in any worthy fiction). Just how often has Korra’s abrasive and questionable behavior been rewarded rather than punished?

In Book Two, Korra threatens the life of a judge. Sure, it was to find out that the court case against her father was rigged in Unalaq’s favor. Honestly, the problem is not what Korra did; it’s that she gets away with it without any lasting consequences (except progressing the plot, of course). This girl committed a felony in broad daylight, and they really except us to believe that that judge didn’t immediately tell the police, who then put Korra on the Water Tribe’s most wanted list, and made her appear to be a criminal in the eyes her own people? Because that would have been cool and it would have shown the most likely consequences of threatening the life of a government official. (Come on, DiMartino and Konietzko, if you want this anti-government streak of yours to have any positive effects on children, you might as well do it well.) But no, this unsavory act goes unnoticed as such. I guess sometimes heroes have to play dirty to win. (A fair enough moral for children, but again, you might as well do it well!)

To make things worse, the rest of the characters have really lost their luster after two seasons, surely a consequence of keeping them forever bound to their original, defined shtick from Book One. Tenzin gets more neurotic every season, Bolin gets more annoying, Mako gets even more boring, and the writers haven’t given Maria Bamford (the voice of Pema) anything funny to say since Book One. Why insist on casting such talented folks and not utilize what makes them so talented? (This goes back to my problem with the casting of Henry Rollins.)

At least Book Three boasts a very interesting plot, which has been more than enough to compensate for the lack of character development. As commenter JMR noted, though, this may be part of the problem. DiMartino and Konietzko have steadily made their plotlines very intellectualized and complicated each season. The overabundance of plot over the course of a thirteen-episode season surely suffocated the amount of character moments and development they used to have in the twenty-episode season of Avatar. Interestingly enough, of all the overarching plotlines in the Avatar universe, the one for Avatar is the simplest: stop the Firelord from destroying the world. Not very complex—and borderline cliché—but, as it turned out, the perfect springboard on which to develop interesting characters, explore Eastern teachings, present a few complicated moral dilemmas, and create a show for kids that was, for once, different and substantial.

Intellectually, DiMartino and Konietzko may have grown beyond Avatar, but artistically and emotionally, they haven’t, and this definitely had an effect on Korra. Their willingness to tackle tougher and more complex morality tales is admirable, but their reach barely but surely exceeds their grasp. Their ambition to explore the dark sides of humanity is suppressed by their (or the Nickelodeon Studio’s) need to cast all ambiguities away with a happy ending. It’s the same problem that many say often plagues Steven Spielberg’s more mature works (most notably in Schindler’s List).

Book Three is different, though. By the end, Korra has been in a wheelchair for two weeks with no sign of true recovery. She’s also probably in a depressive state because, as some viewers have theorized, the importance and significance of the Avatar is coming to an end. I sincerely hope this is true, because it builds on character possibilities that presented themselves in the finale of Book One (before those possibilities were shattered by the cheapest, narrative-destroying resolution possible): when the one thing you thought defined you is taken away from you, how do you go on living a meaningful life? This was the question facing Korra when Amon took away her Bending (except Airbending, naturally), and this was the question the narrative refused to answer, instead providing a flimsy Deus ex Machina, and justifying it with the notion that Korra had reached “rock bottom” and thus deserved her powers back. I’ve already elaborated on my problem with this, so I shall end this train of thought now.

But now at the end of Book Three, the problem re-emerges, the only difference being the details: if the world no longer needs an Avatar, and that’s the ideal and identity that Korra has defined herself by, what good will her existence be anymore? No Deus ex Machina to push away the question this time: instead, the last shot shows Korra with a single tear running down her face. (Perhaps this is the same shot and the same tear that Book One should have ended on.) Now I’m eager to see if the final season actually addresses this question by actually challenging Korra to find her own solution to this question rather than have the narrative give her yet another easy escape. Will Book Four be the season where Korra finally grows up? If the Avatar is rendered obsolete, will she find a reason to keep moving on? Or will DiMartino and Konietzko shoehorn another reason to restore her to her original, obnoxiously bland self?

I’m willing to find out. Whichever way it goes, it’ll finally bring a close to this discussion of whether Korra is overall a good show or not. As for now, I can say that Book Three is better than Book Two, but not Book One. Yes, Book Three is more satisfying overall, but nothing has ever matched the thrill and anticipation of watching Book One unfold (before the very end, of course). There’s not a single episode can even match the visceral excitement of an episode like “An the Winner Is…”

Wait, what am I saying? Yes there is! It’s called “Long Live the Queen.” My next post will be completely devoted to that episode!

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13 responses

  1. rosemon

    http://www.nerdist.com/pepisode/the-jv-club-124-boys-of-summer-mike-dimartino-and-bryan-konietzko/

    This touches upon not Korra so much as what sort of fantasy influenced Bryke in their formative years before they became writers/artists.

    August 29, 2014 at 8:14 pm

  2. ItalianBaptist

    Definitely glad to read that you’re feeling better 🙂

    I think you may be onto something with the identity crisis thing. It was touched upon in Book 1 and 2 actually that Korra is someone beyond simply the Avatar, and her life, even apart from that designation, is worth living. Come to think of it, that goes back to the whole “Love is irrational but worth it” with Azula and her mother. She’s a self-admitted monster and her mother still cares for her, because she as a human being (made in God’s image) has an intrinsic dignity that transcends one’s moments of triumph and sin. But then the question is, where could and would they go from here? What does her journey of “potential repentance” (Azula) or “enlightenment” (Korra) look like?

    Considering that we are a society that so often defines us by our accomplishments and titles, the question of “When the one thing you thought defined you is taken away from you, how do you go on living a meaningful life?” is a powerful one to ask, especially to the young people watching this show.

    August 29, 2014 at 10:44 pm

  3. Clander

    I’ll at least agree to the death of one thing you wrote in the first post. The legend of Korra, book 3 really seemed to be needlessly dark in a way that didn’t serve the plot or the characters. It was making the show dark for darkness sake. Although I’m not sure I’ll ever understand your love for the “long live the queen” episode. I suppose offing the earth queen was interesting enough even if it does prove my suspicion that Mike and Bryan are far too aware of their own fanbase. Though to be honest it isn’t hardly a suspicion by this point since there were a myriad of problems in Avatar as a result of this as well.

    August 29, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    • I do still believe the last few episodes were needlessly dark, even if I’m now able to better appreciate the intention behind it. I’d say this is another example of their reach exceeding their grasp (especially without an Aaron Ehasz to provide the necessary balance).

      I’m not sure I get what you mean when you say that “Mike and Bryan are far too aware of their own fanbase.” Do you mean that they’ll shape the narrative to pander to their fandom’s most basic reactions to their own work? For example, they made the Earth Queen horrible so that her death would be more acceptable? Or the fact that she was killed via Airbending suffocation (which many fans have wanted to see since Airbending was introduced)? Please elaborate on that thought, I’m eager to know where you’re coming from.

      As for “Long Live the Queen,” I’ll get more into that episode next time, but to be brief: I love it because it’s the one episode that consistently entertained me and kept me guessing the entire time what was going to happen next. The death of the Earth Queen was merely the icing on the cake.

      August 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

      • Clander

        Yes your assumption is correct.

        I think the pandering has gotten especially bad in Korra considering shit like Zhoa showing up in the spirit world. But it’s honestly always been there from the start of Korra. Everything happening in that world felt like an ‘in-joke’ to the fans. Except maybe without the joke. They would constantly bring back things in Korra that we saw in Avatar. Bloodbending, energybending, chi-blocking, etc alone in season 1. It just felt like the creators inadvertently turned Korra into a sign pointing to Avatar. That’s why I was excited to see something like lava bending. It’s new, it’s interesting, and it isn’t a reference. But then they don’t even bother to elaborate as to how an earthbender can create and manipulate lava. I thought that guy was a firebender for like 5 episodes. And it’s apparently so rare that only one person can do it until some nobody (bolin) needed to be able to learn it in the most convenient way possible.

        Ugh sorry I’m ranting now. But basically yes. Mike and Bryan are far too aware of their fanbase in that they will go to extreme lengths to make them happy even if it isn’t for their own good. It’s not that creating a vacuum of air is necessarily a bad idea, it’s just that you know Mike and Bryan were thinking of making the fans go nuts when they did it.

        August 30, 2014 at 1:28 am

  4. tox

    “thanks to college move-in week”

    Everything about this single sentence sums up my irritation with your blog (unfortunately, your blog seems to be the single episodic review of A:TLA, so here I am, although I think I’ll be gone shortly). First of all, I think it speaks for itself that you published a lower-quality post ‘tainted’ by your external issues. I don’t blame you for making it in the height of your emotions, but anyone who speaks with the amount of self-importance should just be a little bit more cautious before publishing anything. But secondly, you’re, like, 21. You should act more like it. Everything here reeks of such self-seriousness, as if you’re actually trying to convince someone (the audience?) you’re a serious critic based on this blog, instead of a student applying formal high school-level character analysis to a mature kid’s cartoon .

    And while you have some insights to share, and I appreciate them (hence why I’m on this blog), the tone of your posts is much too humorless, rigid, and self-serious for your amateurish analysis (and I mean that as nicely as possible).*

    You’re addressing the show on an emotional level, instead of also tackling its thematic ideas as well… which is cool, but you should at least address the fact that the show has some interesting things to say about the human condition (politics… well not so much). Furthermore, even regarding character analyses, you’re not great (though you have your moments).

    The thing with emotional responses is if you isolate them from your thinking side, then even if you (correctly) criticize the music for cuing the audience on how to feel, you’re going to have a parochial response based on a gut reaction. I don’t know why, but for some reason you actually think P’Li exists as a character, when frankly she’s an obvious tool to humanize Zaheer; hell, the only bits of actual characterization we have of her are her devotion to Zaheer in prison and Zaheer’s rescuing of her from a warlord. I don’t even remember her interacting with Ghazan, who was infinitely more characterized despite zero backstory. But hey, on an emotional level, P’Li and Zaheer’s relationship worked for you, and that is totally fine! But if your entire self-serious/self-important analysis hinges on this fact, the tone of your post should acknowledge the arbitrariness of your emotions.

    There’s another issue with your style of critique. In completely shunning the ‘intellectual’ (fuck that sounds pretentious) side, you miss out on important bits of characterization. For example, I can tell you love the Korra crying on a wheelchair setup for Season 4—but you fail to properly acknowledge how Season 3 (and 2) humanized Korra as to set up that vulnerable side of her. They accomplish this by dismantling her understanding of what it means to be the Avatar: bending (Season 1), spiritual connection to Raava/past lives (Season 2), and being an active agent in keeping balance (Season 3). This is all in the text, by the way—Korra hallucinating makes this incredibly clear. So she’s clearly been humanized; that’s sort of the point of her journey so far. But because emotional responses are fickle, you are influenced by her immature moments like attacking the judge (which is fair). And because you are irritated with them never addressing that, you are blind to how they’ve humanized her in other ways. If you focused more on the interesting intellectual statements (how about how each of the 3 villains represents a corrupted aspect of Aang as a character, and what that means for Korra in finding her own way as the Avatar?), you might find you enjoy characters you previous wrote off.

    And I should be clear here: I really respect what you’ve done on this site. It is always easier to criticize an existing thing than building something new, so I understand what I am doing (amateurish meta-criticism) pales in comparison to what you’re doing (amateurish criticism). You are, of course, free to address whatever scope of the text you wish to tackle, and if that’s merely tackling your emotional response, more power to you. It’s more the general self-importance and seriousness from a 21-22 year old that I find a little bit problematic (enough to write 700 words about, anyways).

    *I state this with no amount of irony.

    September 22, 2014 at 3:04 am

    • Mr. Tox, you wouldn’t happen to be a Communications major, too, would you?

      To the extent that I agree with your critiques, those are the areas I will work to improve upon (hopefully by the time Book Four finally arrives). I wouldn’t say that I’m entirely humorless (I wouldn’t say I’m funny, either), but I’ll try to loosen up a bit. I’ve got the entire rest of my life to be old and serious. I also wouldn’t say I completely shun the intellectual sides of Avatar and Korra (perhaps a lot of it just flies over my head), but I can work to find a more comfortable balance between the intellectual and the emotional. Perhaps then I’ll be able to reach the next level of amateurish criticism until, finally, I turn pro!

      I suppose the key word is “balance,” which is what the shows are all about. It’s something the shows don’t always have in terms of quality, but neither do I, apparently. I’ll just have to work that much harder without taking it so seriously*.

      In my defense, though, I do lean more towards the emotional side because I believe that one’s emotional response to any work of art is the first and the most important. That doesn’t mean that the work nor your response to it requires no amount of thought–that’s where the balance comes in–but that the intellectual is ultimately at the service of the visceral and emotional. Intellect alone won’t make for intriguing storytelling. Then again, even good storytelling can be pretty vacuous (e.g. “And the Winner Is…” is my favorite, and probably the least substantial, episode of Korra). At best, there is always a solid emoto-logical flow in which craft and technique seamlessly match expression and meaning to produce a great emotional story that says something true about the human condition. Avatar has achieved this quite a few times, which is why I love the show, even if more than half its episodes don’t satisfy me so much. Not that they don’t also have something to offer intellectually, which should be more actively addressed, regardless of how unconvincing the storytelling is (I remember Roger Ebert gave Fight Club a less-than-glowing review, even as he acknowledged the satirical intention of director David Fincher).

      Again, I can’t say they’ll be any real signs of improvement by the time Book Four comes around, but the wheels are turning. Thanks again for taking the time to give me an honest and articulate critique of my writing.

      P.S. Thinking back to my reaction to P’Li, I think what got me about that moment was not that it was effective so much as it caught me off-guard. We all knew she was going to die the moment we saw she was a Combustion Lady. They would have been better off not humanizing her at all. The fact that they even tried is probably what got to me, and which subsequently pissed me off. (Re-watching the scene, it really doesn’t work on it’s own. The dialogue is painfully obvious. It might as well have been a musical number. That at least would have been entertaining.)

      *Did we just uncover the secret of living?

      September 23, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      • tox

        Ha, I’m not sure whether to be flattered or not, but let’s just say my major is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as Communications.

        I actually completely agree that a work’s ability to create an emotional impact is a really good measure of how well it’s succeeded as a story. That’s one of the reasons Avatar was so successful, and why Korra is less so. Also because of better writing. And I totally agree that “the intellectual is ultimately at the service of the visceral and emotional” for many works. But I think the intellectual part should always be there in a discussion; otherwise, you may fall into something like what I call ‘Romeo and Juliet’ or ‘Catcher in the Rye’ syndrome, where you dislike seminal works of fiction because you don’t sympathize with the main characters, when that is the point in the first place. A change in perspective would amplify this hypothetical person’s enjoyment of the work, but it takes an intellectual acknowledgment to understand this on subsequent reads (or watches) of that work and really ‘get’ it. Not that TLOK is anywhere on the level of those two in terms of storytelling, but the idea is still there.

        On a very basic plot-read level, yeah Korra’s character is still brash and quick-tempered throughout Season 3. And it’s fair to criticize her character because it doesn’t feel like she’s grown since threatening a judge (she has, by the way). But seriously, re-watch Season 3 and listen to how Korra talks about not being protected by Beifong, her duty to bring balance to the world, etc. Even the bit about standardizing Pai Sho relates to her agency; so to watch the season completely remove her agency at the same time (she does very little against the Red Lotus all season) is humanizing her in a way that maybe isn’t as obvious as the characterization in ‘Zuko Alone.’ And to see a finale where she is saved (yet again) by the spirit of community that now apparently is usurping her role… well it’s no surprise she’s broken. It’s all there, and I feel like a review should mention that.

        But perhaps more importantly, you’ll find that if you start looking at these things, your opinion might change a little bit as well. I guess that’s my big issue here (after the bit about the tone of some posts). If you were talking about the different ideas the show tackles with Korra’s arc(s), and how it’s all well and good but you still don’t relate with her as a character, then I would be OK with your blog. But at times it seems you aren’t identifying what is her core conflict (defining being the Avatar, the only thing she wanted to be, in a changing world) which is expressed through ideas than direct dialogue, and that makes me wonder if you’d like the show better if you simply framed it differently*. That makes your appraisal of her as a character and as a show as a reviewer hard to take.

        But yes, ultimately, it’s all about balance! I think we just disagree a bit on what constitutes a balanced review.

        *I have an entire spiel about how Aang’s arc in ‘Sozin’s Comet’ only worked for me after I understood what exactly his primary conflict was; now it’s my favorite bit, moreso than Zuko vs. Azula!

        September 23, 2014 at 11:59 pm

      • I would very much like to hear your take on what Aang’s primary conflict was! Why don’t you post it in reply to the last review of “Sozin’s Comet?” Or just post it in replay to this comment.

        September 27, 2014 at 4:16 am

  5. tox

    Sure. It’s not a groundbreaking analysis, mind you.

    A read of Aang’s conflict as versus Ozai means that the climax is when he hits the Avatar State, and then you get a relatively lame conclusion marked by a deus ex machina where the main character doesn’t have to sacrifice their morals for the resolution (as Yangchen suggested he should). Instead consider Aang’s entire conflict as figuring out how to merge his understood identity as an airbending monk with the reality of also being the Avatar (and the responsibility that entails). The Avatar State is often an external symbol of that responsibility, and it controls him in every one of its appearances, including in Sozin’s Comet. (This, of course, mirrors Zuko’s arc about accepting his two halves, as emphasized by the camerawork.)

    If that’s the case, then the climax is when the Avatar State is about to kill Ozai (‘FIRE LORD OZAI, YOU AND YOUR FOREFATHERS….’), and Aang says he won’t end it like that and spares Ozai. That moment, where he is going to take vengeance on Ozai and ultimately stops, is analogous to Katara’s character arc resolving when she refuses to kill her mother’s murderer. It’s a powerful resolution, which suggests the Avatar’s duty is to bring balance to the world through the powers granted to the Avatar, as guided by their morals. A more general theme would be that you should never sacrifice your ideals, for you can always find a proper solution if you look hard enough. Aang then goes beyond the established canon and takes away Ozai’s bending (falling action) and later uses the Avatar State to quell the flames (denouement).

    This reading fixes a few issues about Aang vs. Ozai.

    1) If you see it as Aang vs. Ozai, the battle is badly paced, as Aang just starts demolishing Ozai halfway in, with the turning point being a rock jabbing Aang (a lame DEM).
    2) This restores the tension in the second half of the fight; Aang doesn’t have a chance of losing when he’s in the Avatar State, but losing the battle is never the point. Losing himself is.
    3) The big DEM: With this framing, the deus ex machina of energybending is more earned, thematically resonant, and a satisfying resolution to Aang’s character arc. The complaint at the start of this post (about Aang not sacrificing) doesn’t actually fit the character arc at all.

    I love Aang’s story in ‘Sozin’s Comet’ the most because every other character barring Azula has already had their arcs wrapped up, and Aang rejecting the Avatar State’s vengeance of ‘FIRE LORD OZAI…’ is the most powerful moment from a protagonist in the finale. I also adore Aang going into the Avatar State to raise the water and stop the fire, a beautifully understated scene of the Avatar State being used for peace after previously being a force of destruction. I’m also a little bit biased, since pretty much every scene where Aang goes into the Avatar State or turns into Roku is one of my personal favorites.

    September 27, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    • Nautilus11

      I’ve seen that reading/excuse before, and I think it still overlooks the primary weakness of the whole situation:

      Aang is never forced to embrace other possibilities.

      Basically, as soon as energy-bending is introduced, the entire possibility of Aang losing himself is gone, because of two things:

      1) He now has a ready-made way out. Once he takes away Ozai’s bending, Ozai ceases to be a threat by the show’s logic. It’s not like, say, Batman not killing the Joker (a cliche situation, but bear with me), because Batman has no ready-made way to stop the Joker from committing heinous crimes again. Aang does.

      2) Aang never, even once, is tempted to kill during his contemplations of what to do with Ozai. The mere thought terrifies him. This effectively destroys any tension, because the audience has been hammered with the fact that Aang is allergic to killing, therefore the possibility that he might “lose” himself is pretty much a non-factor. The struggle is external, in that Aang must “tame” the Avatar State’s inherent “kill, kill, kill” mentality, and he already succeeded in doing so and putting the Avatar State under his control during the training with the Guru in Book 2.

      Energy-bending still wrecks any possible tension on that front, and the only other two sources of tension (Aang being tempted by killing, and needing to tame the Avatar State) are either non-existent or already resolved.

      So, I am not convinced by your reasoning.

      September 29, 2014 at 6:57 am

      • tox

        “Aang never, even once, is tempted to kill during his contemplations of what to do with Ozai. The mere thought terrifies him”

        I’m not sure you understood the crux of my argument then.

        Aang never wanted to kill Ozai, but the Avatar State did. That’s the primary tension of the finale, and even Marshall agrees on this point: once Aang went into the Avatar State, even Ozai was fucking scared of this demigod bent on his destruction. The Avatar State smashed columns together to try to squish Ozai, shot pebble bullets at him which would probably be lethal, and almost destroyed him with the combined four elements at the climax.

        I agree with you we knew Aang wouldn’t kill Ozai. But the Avatar State? That was a completely different story. If you don’t think there was a chance that the Avatar State would kill Ozai, well that’s like complaining about any other media with a happy ending that a successful resolution will come for the hero, because that’s what happens in movies. That’s not a criticism of the show, which very clearly showed the Avatar State trying to kill Ozai on multiple occasions, but your read on media as a whole. So I don’t really buy your argument on #2.

        As for #1, I don’t understand your point. It’s a resolution; of course Ozai won’t be a threat thereafter! That’s sort of the point. There is no narrative reason for him to continue being a threat. For better or for worse, Avatar has always been a very optimistic, humanist story. The show’s primary theme was “identity” which is standard in a coming of age story; making Aang make a Zaheer-like decision (“I must sacrifice my humanity for the sake of the world”) runs counter to this. Energybending is a brilliant solution because it fits the lore really well, and it’s a completely thematically resonant decision.

        Last point:

        “the only other two sources of tension”

        It seems you’re under the belief that energybending is the climax of the show. That was literally the whole point of my original post: I used to agree with your philosophy, until I recalibrated my understanding of the climax to be in line with Aang’s character arc, instead of the battle with Ozai. So Aang “having to tame the Avatar State” is literally not an issue by the time energybending happens because it’s been resolved, and “being tempted to kill” fundamentally misreads his conflict (it wasn’t his personality but the Avatar State that was going to kill him, and the resolution of that is when he stops the A.S. from killing Ozai; only then is he a realized Avatar, as evidenced by him controlling the state for the first time to actively quell those flames that the battle caused).

        Let’s call a spade a spade and just say that you don’t like the show’s core, optimistic message: That you should never sacrifice your ideals, for there’s always another way. That’s what it comes down to. The writing is great in the way they construct that arc in the finale, but if you disagree with the message and believe the Avatar should have to do as Yangchen said and give up their spiritual growth for the sake of the world, then the finale will leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth.

        October 2, 2014 at 12:40 am

  6. tox

    Sorry for the double post, but I seemed to have skipped over a bit on your #2. Apologies, you might find it worthwhile just to ignore my previous post, at least where I’m talking about #2. You are correct that the conflict is “external” (though I prefer to think of that external conflict as an externalization of an inner conflict); however, I am not convinced that Aang truly mastered the Avatar State, despite the show telling us he had in ‘The Guru’ and later in ‘The Crossroads of Destiny.’ There are two very obvious signs in Sozin’s Comet that indicate this:

    1) He doesn’t act like himself in the Avatar State. With three seasons of Korra to use as comparison, we can tell he’s closer to Season 3 finale Korra (“Korra Unchained”) than, say, Wan, who was completely in control of himself when he merged with Raava.

    2) He explicitly rejects his Avatar State. If he already controlled the Avatar State, then why would he have something to reject?

    You do bring up a good point though: If you believe Aang’s arc about mastering the Avatar State to have been concluded by Season 2’s finale, then yes you will have an issue with what I’m saying. Because I don’t see the Avatar State as its own independent arc Aang has to deal with, but rather an externalization of Aang’s struggle with being the Avatar, it works for me. But I can also see where you’re coming from since Season 2 seemingly wraps up that arc—that’s probably why it took that conscious re-framing of the finale instead of working without me having to think. I’d chalk that up to some sloppy writing.

    October 2, 2014 at 11:10 pm

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