Because fans should be critical, too

Thoughts on the Series Finale of “Korra”

There are two specific moments in the Book Four finale that resonated with me in contrary, but peculiar ways.

The first moment occurs at the end, and it involves everything with Korra and Asami. Now, let’s say you’re an unsuspecting viewer with no prior knowledge of The Legend of Korra, and you just happen to catch these last few minutes of the series. You’d be excused for thinking this was the culmination of a relationship between two women who’d been through Hell and back together, and now wanted to take some time away with to relax and enjoy each other’s company. On it’s own, it’s a touching moment. (And I agree with JMR that the implications of a lesbian relationship in a kid’s show is pretty damn cool.)

Unfortunately, as seasoned viewers of Korra know, this moment is supposed to be the pay-off to four seasons worth of material. But where was the set-up? Where in the rest of the story did the writers plant the expectation in the audience’s head that these two should be together like this? Perhaps it counts as a hint when Korra and Asami wrote each other letters during the three-year gap between Book Three and Book Four. In one episode, Korra specifically states she only felt comfortable writing to Asami. But even that development comes out of nowhere (though it does get addressed in another episode, which helps). As much as I’d love for this ending between Korra and Asami to work, from a narrative standpoint, it doesn’t. It feels forced and unnatural. I can’t go, “Aw, isn’t that sweet?” because my brain is making me go, “Where the fuck did that come from?”

Contrast this with the second moment, which occurs right after Korra has saved Kuvira from her own death ray gun, opened a new spirit portal, and transported them both to the Spirit World. Upon entry, Korra is holding an unconscious Kuvira in her arms (in a manner uncharacteristically maternal for Korra, which adds to the effect). Here’s the kicker: Kuvira wakes up, realizes she’s in the Avatar’s arms, releases a genuinely terrified whimper and jumps out of Korra’s arms.

Initially, I expected Kuvira to stay weak and vulnerable in Korra’s arms as they went into the usual spiel of “You saved my life! Why?” That expectation was usurped by Kuvira simply because she’s not the kind of person to allow herself to be weak and vulnerable, especially not in the presence of her greatest enemy, let alone in her arms. (Listen to that whimper Zelda Williams does once Kuvira starts pulling away from Korra. It sounds frightened, but also embarrassed. Since when in the Hell is Kuvira ever embarrassed?)

This little window into Kuvira’s psyche reveals more about her than even the following sob story about her childhood as an orphan (that said, it does make her repulsion at being in such a child-like state in Mama Korra’s arms that much more intriguing). Like the best and most effective bits of character development, our understanding of the character comes from not what she says, but from our expectations being subverted/affirmed by her emotional reality. In this brief little moment, Kuvira has no choice but to be herself, even if it’s completely irrational. In hindsight, what else would she have done?

These two relatively brief moments are the only ones that really stood out to me in the entire two-part finale. Had you checked my pulse throughout the rest of the finale, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was dead. That’s how bored I was. Not that there weren’t nice little touches here and there—the fight between Kuvira and Korra in the head of the Giant Mecha Suit was brilliantly accomplished, and I personally loved everything having to do with Varrick and Zhu Li, but they really deserve their own show—but for the most part, it played out so blandly. Moments that should have been tense and exhilarating don’t have the impact they should. Moments that should be emotional lack characters and motivations strong enough to warrant such investment (particularly bad when it comes to the fate of Hiroshi Sato, who the writers reconnected with his daughter only so he could take part in the final boss battle). Any scene involving the Giant Mecha Suit comes across as silly and non-threatening (watching that thing try to swat away its airborne attackers falls somewhere between being really funny and really stupid). And on top of everything, the level of destruction in these episodes damn near made me sick. This could just be a personal thing, but after enduring Transformers, The Avengers, Star Trek Into Darkness, Godzilla, and especially Man of Steel (one of the absolute worst movie-going experiences of my life), I’m tired of all this reckless property and collateral damage. They should have spent less time destroying Republic City and more time making sure we actually cared about the folks caught in the chaos.

Much like the rest of the series, the finale contains one wasted opportunity after another. As much as I despise the Giant Mecha Suit, it did provide a brilliant conceit: because Kuvira is Metalbending to the Suit, she can feel everything that happens to it. That explains how she could tell Hiroshi was cutting into her leg with the Hummingbird ship (because she certainly couldn’t look down to see it). The idea that Kuvira was personally enduring the damage brought upon the Giant Mecha Suit would have made for some interesting drama, especially in the scene where she rips her right arm off when the gun no longer works. None of this really comes into play, though, probably because they didn’t have time (or the budget, for that matter) to fully realize the potential of all their ideas. What a pity.

Still, what works does work well. Despite the typically stilted dialogue, I rathed liked Korra’s final scene with Tenzin, even though it reminded me that Tenzin was one of the worst casualities of Korra‘s messy, unfocused execution. And it was nice to see Kuvira, if not redeemed, at least surrender on her own terms. And seeing the Bei Fong sisters in action is always fun.

Overall, though, this was the most disappointing finale of the entire series, which is odd to think about. Book One’s finale infuriated me. Book Two’s finale baffled me. Book Three’s finale physically made me sick. And now this finale made me feel almost nothing. Unless I’ve just grown numb after four seasons, I simply don’t understand how this could happen. How could a series with so much going for it from the start devolve into such a mess? How is this a worthy follow-up to Avatar: the Last Airbender? I honestly wonder if creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko just stopped caring at some point, and just wanted to get the whole thing over with. What will their next project be? Will they try to separate themselves from the Avatar universe as much as possible? Or will they be stuck having to make those Avatar comics for the rest of their lives?

Whatever the case, Korra is finally done, and all I’m left with is the nagging regret of someone whose wasted a good part of their life devoted to a relationship that was never really there to begin with. (Now I’m just being dramatic, and I apologize.)

The good news, though, is that now I’m that much more excited to re-watch Avatar!

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31 responses

  1. Brian

    “Whatever the case, Korra is finally done, and all I’m left with is the nagging regret of someone whose wasted a good part of their life devoted to a relationship that was never really there to begin with.”

    Perhaps it sounds dramatic, but that as a whole sums up my entire thoughts on this finale. It’s difficult to look back on everything that came before it. It just feels depressing how this is what Avatar and the The Legend Of Korra built up to.

    December 20, 2014 at 4:04 pm

  2. Clander

    Looking at the Korra-Asami relationship kind of makes me wish we weren’t so harsh about Korra and Mako. Even though I hated that romance from the beginning, I still think it has more merit than Korra Asami. I mean maybe before Korra truly changed in significant ways it was still hard to take seriously but would actually be interested to see them attempt a relationship again after they have both grown so much. The ending scene with them had more chemistry than with Asami. Even when Korra and Asami had that scene together it really just seemed like a friendship. For instance when they hugged it just felt so platonic. Even then their platonic friendship felt forced and hollow so I don’t know how I could have been invested in a romantic relationship between the two. But I still think the biggest problem is that, at least to me, it almost felt kind of like a “fuck you” to the audience. Any times the creators try to develop a relationship, certain fans take it upon themselves to bring characters together that the writers didn’t intend. In the beginning Aang was designed to be with Katara. But some people thought Katara would be better with Zuko. Then Korra starts and they have Korra destined to be in a relationship with Mako as a Katara-Zuko dynamic. However it backfired and fans didn’t like it so they ended the relationship. So to me this just feels like they are saying “we’re not even going to try to be serious about romantic relationships because no one would be satisfied”

    December 20, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    • tox

      “I mean maybe before Korra truly changed in significant ways it was still hard to take seriously but would actually be interested to see them attempt a relationship again after they have both grown so much.”

      Bingo. Mako even acknowledged he was a jerk in Season 1. Their relationship sucked in Season 2 because Korra was toxic, not because of Mako (who was quite reasonable, actually). Season 4 Mako and Korra probably would have worked out if audiences weren’t tired of the pairing.

      ‘So to me this just feels like they are saying “we’re not even going to try to be serious about romantic relationships because no one would be satisfied”’

      It’s a matter of them of being very involved with what the Avatar community thinks (especially tumblr). This isn’t really a good or a bad thing inherently, but in the case of Bryke, it leads to them pandering too much. DiMartino said he would stop relationship stuff in Seasons 3 & 4 because no one liked it in the first two seasons (this was in an interview I read). Then you see Season 4 ends with a relationship because the fanbase likes it. And so people who don’t ship for arbitrary reasons are a little flabbergasted by the ending (especially since it was THE ending: it should have ended on a trip with the four of the gang. The Korrasami part could have occurred before).

      December 20, 2014 at 8:27 pm

  3. daciio

    Congratulations Bryke and company for wasting Asami’s potential as a memorable character, for creating a friendship between her and Korra that came out of nowhere, and for ending the show with a romantic relationship that had no build-up.

    Oh well, at least I thought the finale was enjoyable overall, even if there were things that made no sense at all (like Wu singing to the badgermoles). The action scenes were sweet!

    Am I the only who feels bothered by the fact that people constantly thank Korra for things she didn’t actually do? In Book 3, Tenzin tells her the Air Nation was back thanks to her… but the truth is, she had no idea new airbenders would appear when she opened the spirit portals. Heck, she was tricked into opening the southern portal, and then FORCED to open the northern one (and at some point she even tried to close them again). In any case, Tenzin should be thanking Unalaq.

    Something similar happened in the finale. Korra had no idea her actions would lead to the creation of a new spirit portal. It wasn’t her intention, it just… happened, like an “accident”, and it makes her actions and efforts less memorable/impressive, at least for me.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your future reviews, Marshall. I’m really glad I found your blog before the premiere of Book 4. Your entries are always insightful and interesting, and reading them and commenting here helps me to become better at expressing myself in English (’cause it’s not my first language, but I guess it was obvious)

    December 20, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    • I think Wu singing to the Badger moles was a reference to the nomads from The Cave Of Two Lovers.

      December 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm

      • daciio

        Oh, I forgot badgermoles love music. My bad. But still, their appearance in this episode was totally random. We’d never seen them before and we didn’t even know Wu liked to sing to them.

        December 20, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    • Altair's Accord

      In Book 3, Tenzin tells her the Air Nation was back thanks to her… but the truth is, she had no idea new airbenders would appear when she opened the spirit portals.

      The funniest thing is, the airbenders weren’t even brought back because of the spirit portals being open, since it’s made explicitly clear by Zaheer in Book 3 (and Tenzin too, though I’ll have to rewatch to be sure), that him getting airbending powers has everything to do with the Harmonic Convergence, which would have come about regardless of whether Korra kept the portals open or not.

      December 20, 2014 at 11:03 pm

      • daciio

        Actually, Harmonic Convergence can’t occur if the spirit portals aren’t open. This was explained in episode 11, when Jinora visited Wan Shi Tong’s library.

        December 20, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      • Exactly!

        December 21, 2014 at 1:47 am

      • Altair's Accord

        @daciio

        First of all, you’re referring to episode 10, since that’s when Jinora visited Wan Shi Tong. Second of all, yes it can. Vaatu cannot escape if the spirit portals are not open, but the Harmonic Convergence will still happen as usual, because it has nothing to do with the portals, but is simply all the planets aligning. It’s right there in the dialogue. Here, I’ll write it down for your convenience, and bold the appropriate lines:

        Jinora’s Monologue: “The Tree of Time. That’s where Avatar Wan imprisoned Vaatu. The elders believed that as long as the portals are closed during the Harmonic Convergence, Vaatu will remain imprisoned and the battle between good and evil will not be fought again. But, if both portals are opened, spirit energy is amplified greatly. During the Harmonic Convergence, this energy will be great enough to allow Vaatu to break free from his bonds, and the material world will again risk being consumed by darkness.”

        Note the mention of Harmonic Convergence. It is explicitly referred to as a separate event that will occur every ten thousand years regardless of whether or not the portals are open. “During the Harmonic Convergence”. Not “The Harmonic Convergence is an event that occurs exclusively during an alignment of the planets, provided both spirit portals are open at the time”.

        December 21, 2014 at 10:15 am

  4. drew

    Nickelodeon is probably not going to invest in serious animation like Korra for a long, long time. What a shame.

    December 20, 2014 at 11:24 pm

  5. daciio

    @Altair’s: Damn, my memory sure is failing me. Yup, you’re right. Sorry about that.

    December 21, 2014 at 1:03 pm

  6. JMR

    In the end, Season 4 was one that got off to a very strong start, faltered and dragged in the middle, and then had a… rather mixed conclusion. Honestly, if they had managed to control their inner anime fanboys and left out the giant mech suit, I’d have enjoyed the finale quite thoroughly.

    I guess what I find interesting is that, despite the show’s insistence that Korra and Kuvira aren’t so different, I’d actually say that my favorite thing about this season was Korra’s character development, and my least favorite (mech suit aside) was Kuvira.

    I think the best way to explain why I was never particularly interested in Kuvira is to contrast her with Zaheer. One of the things I quite liked about Zaheer was that he had a fairly coherent ideology that was based in real life anarchism, but had a unique, Avatar world flair. So rather than just being about chaos and fuck the system Zaheer’s beliefs are founded on his own comprehensive understanding of Air Nomad culture, complete with frequent quoting of his favorite guru, all twisted to the extreme. Because he’s the founder of this ideology, it really gives you a sense of why his little band is so devoted to him, as something like the father of their faith.

    Kuvira, on the other hand, seems to have simply been handed a checklist of attributes of “Pop History Fascism” and told to follow it to the letter.

    – Do you have a cult of personality surrounding an unquestionable leader with a snazzy moniker? Check.
    – Do you have concentration camps where you can send dissidents and undesirables? Check.
    – Do you have an aggressive, irredentist foreign policy? Check.
    – Did you rise to power by exploiting the fear and vulnerability of the populace brought on by years of uncertainty? Check.
    – Do you soldiers wear headgear clearly designed off of the stahlhelm? Check.

    The “re-education camps” really get the worst of it. Their importance to the plot was minor, and the show certainly had no thematic point to advance through them. They really do seem to exist purely because, well, we’ve got a checkbox to tick so get on it.

    Beyond that, though, there’s little to her beyond being a fairly standard “Chess master” villain. You know the type, always cool, calm, collected, and one step ahead of the heroes. She pulls it off well, but there’s nothing particularly surprising or inventive.

    It honestly kind of makes me feel like Kuvira isn’t a character in her own right so much as she’s an accessory to Korra’s character development. She exists to give us a slightly humanized (and at the last minute, at that) scumbag to show off Korra’s new compassionate side. I dunno, maybe that’s just a symptom of my lack of investment in the character.

    As for Korra, I’ve never been one of the Korra haters, so really all I can say is that I was glad to finally see her development come full circle. She’s been the victim of some bad writing in the past (amnesia plot) but it’s nice to see it all come together in the end.

    December 21, 2014 at 8:54 pm

  7. Grindal

    Marshall, can you clarify what you meant this finale being the most “disappointing”? Do you mean the downright worst or just the one that let you down the most? As I commented elsewhere I found the finale rather enjoyable for the most part, and the most satisfying out of all of them (largely because it was very close to being as good as it could be from the previous set-up of Episode 11).

    Your comments that the finale made you “feel” very little and the tendency of commenters on this site to be more critical because as JMR rightly stated that on other sights they’d just get their heads bitten off whether there is a deeper issue with the dissatisfaction you and others have found with Korra. I wonder whether people were always wanting the Korra series to represent a further maturation of ATLA, which as we’ve seen it clearly wasn’t. Instead we got a show with far more artistic flair, often trying to take on more material than it could handle and wider but more simple cast of characters. For anyone wanting to see the maturation of ATLA, there was never going to be any longstanding satisfaction, any overall vindication of investing in this series that does indeed owe its life to its predecessor. Yet for me, in appreciating and understanding the willingness of Bryke to experiment and their unyielding ambition and hard work has allowed me to have a fun time with Korra for the most part (first half of Book 2 aside).

    I’m not trying to insult any of the people here by saying this, but maybe Korra as a series just isn’t for everyone. And in particular it isn’t really for the people who wanted it to be something else based on what Bryke had proven they could do before with ATLA. Korra to me stands as enjoyable if not a bit bumpy ride, but I think only because I stopped thinking about what I wanted the show to be and instead just let it take me where it wanted. Looking back it allowed me to be much more forgiving of characters and plots so long as the ideas were there and the execution and presentation was decent enough (part of the reason that like Tox I have been with Korra since post-Beginnings).

    Anyway, I hope I haven’t confused anyone who’s read this far. Does anyone agree with the gist of what I’m saying? Or do you just think I’m talking out of my ass? Let me know and let’s keep the discussion going

    December 22, 2014 at 6:47 am

    • Altair's Accord

      I’m not trying to insult any of the people here by saying this, but maybe Korra as a series just isn’t for everyone.

      It isn’t, but the problem, for me at least, is that even in what it tries to do, it does poorly.

      Book 4’s ending, for me at least, was weird in that it didn’t feel…final, y’know? I mean, this was supposed to be it. The ending. The grand finale. The culmination of all the books’ attempted deconstruction and reconstruction of Korra’s character, and the Avatar concept in general.

      Instead we get a lame-ass giant robot fight, a third spirit portal being created for seemingly no reason, and the entire deconstruction/reconstruction of the Avatar basically boils down to “Korra is Superman.”, which isn’t really an answer to the question.

      Kuvira: “Her power is beyond anything I could do.”

      In a way, this makes it feel like the show hasn’t shown any progress at all. Korra starts out as someone whose claim to fame is being the Avatar version of all-powerful savior Superman, and the narrative seemingly tries to question if that’s all the Avatar is and needs to be in a rapidly forward-moving world. And now, the final episode, the final villain, all we get is a “Yep. That’s all the Avatar is and should be.”

      Maybe that’s what some people were expecting, but I’m personally disappointed, because it is a very fascinating question, and the answer being that Korra and the existence of the Avatar isn’t yet irrelevant because nobody is yet good enough to challenge that kind of God-hood IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

      Anyway, got a bit off-topic there. Basically, this was supposed to be the epic exit of the show. Instead it feels like yet another season in the long line of Legend of Korra seasons, with virtually nothing to distinguish it from the endings to any of the other seasons, except that we got a “The End.” declaration at the end.

      December 22, 2014 at 9:05 am

      • Grindal

        “Book 4’s ending, for me at least, was weird in that it didn’t feel…final, y’know? I mean, this was supposed to be it. The ending. The grand finale. The culmination of all the books’ attempted deconstruction and reconstruction of Korra’s character, and the Avatar concept in general.”

        To me whilst this point is reasonably valid, it further demonstrates the desire of people for Korra to be something similar to ATLA. I know there is a desire for it to be the epic ‘grand finale’, the culmination of all these characters’ journeys. But instead I see it as just the well executed end to a rocky season, which happens to be the end of Korra as well. I never really felt the need for there to be some wholesome conclusion as each Korra season was their own thing (for better or worse).

        I think the best comparison I can give is in relation to the finale of Star Trek: TNG. To not go into too much detail, all the finale did was give us one last hurrah for the Enterprise and the characters. There was no big reveal, no epic plot (at least comparably to the stuff they had done throughout the series), no culmination of all things in the Star Trek universe. We were just presented with two solid episodes that also happened to be the final two, leaving us with a more than satisfying conclusion to the show.

        I see the Book 4 finale in the same way, as two episodes which serve as a reasonable end with some really solid moment here and there. Naturally, this is going to be disappointing to anyone who desired the ATLA style ending because it is not a culmination, it is just an ending.

        So yes I can see why you feel as if there is “virtually nothing to distinguish it from the endings to any of the other seasons,” but to me that’s what Korra has been all along. I guess I’m okay with that sort of stuff which is why this finale in the end leaves me satisfied.

        December 23, 2014 at 3:20 am

    • JMR

      I think its really undeniable that the show isn’t going to be for everyone. I’ve personally spoken to more than one person (not on this site) who had dismissed Korra the moment it was announced that it wouldn’t simply be a direct continuation of A:TLA. People will have all sorts of different reasons for their opinions.

      However, I would say that the general sentiment I see from critics like myself is more along the lines of “LoK is a show with lots of good ideas that sometimes struggles to bring those ideas to the screen in a coherent and satisfying way”. This can be extremely frustrating, especially when you get really invested in those ideas only to see that ultimately the writers bit off more than they could chew (this is especially true with the show’s political themes).

      I’d also add that LoK has had a lot of bad ideas as well (love triangle, amnesia plot, giant mech suit, etc) and doesn’t seem capable of properly filtering them out, especially where Bryke’s own interests are concerned (for example, the love triangle existed because they “love cheesy teen romance”, not because it actually made sense as a part of the show).

      Ultimately, I think the divide will be between those who are willing to forgive the show it’s execution difficulties because they like it’s ideas enough and those who aren’t willing to forgive it, whatever they may think about it’s ideas.

      December 22, 2014 at 11:54 am

      • Grindal

        Pretty much agree with what you say here. But to extend on Korra not being for everyone though, through my time on this site I believe there has been a trend where the people who championed the character writing and grand narrative aspect of ATLA are the ones who tend to be more critical towards Korra. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – the criticisms do hold ground.

        It does come down to your point about forgiveness though I believe. I can remember during the show’s darkest moments in mid-Book 2 I was still telling myself that somewhere down the line there will be a turnaround and I’ll see things I want to see, whether it be awesome choreography, strong character interactions or so on. But if others and you feel there was just too much letdown in the first place to be that forgiving than I totally understand.

        December 23, 2014 at 3:36 am

      • Your comments that the finale made you “feel” very little and the tendency of commenters on this site to be more critical because as JMR rightly stated that on other sights they’d just get their heads bitten off whether there is a deeper issue with the dissatisfaction you and others have found with Korra. I wonder whether people were always wanting the Korra series to represent a further maturation of ATLA, which as we’ve seen it clearly wasn’t. Instead we got a show with far more artistic flair, often trying to take on more material than it could handle and wider but more simple cast of characters. For anyone wanting to see the maturation of ATLA, there was never going to be any longstanding satisfaction, any overall vindication of investing in this series that does indeed owe its life to its predecessor. Yet for me, in appreciating and understanding the willingness of Bryke to experiment and their unyielding ambition and hard work has allowed me to have a fun time with Korra for the most part (first half of Book 2 aside).

        I’d like to elaborate on this train of thought here, because I think you’ve hit upon something interesting.

        Lately, I’ve been wondering whether my discontent with much of Korra since the dreadful ending of Book One has to do with a specific kind of nostalgia. The “what-could-have-been” line of thinking that, on the face on it, isn’t terribly helpful when it comes to criticism. I can see where this has tainted a lot of my writing, elaborating on what they could have done as opposed to what’s actually there in front of me (in just how many of my posts has the phrase “wasted opportunity” been present?).

        My writing shortcomings aside, let’s not forget that these high expectations (and subsequent disappointments) didn’t just come out of nowhere: they were expectations based not just on the success of Avatar, but on the precedent established by creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko themselves. They promised a darker, more mature show, and thus we anticipated a darker, more mature show. For a grand stretch of Book One, they seemed to make due on their promise. Then the ending happened, and the whole thing unraveled, and it’s been downhill since.

        If Book One remains the best season, I’d like to think it’s not because I’m nostalgia for its potentiality, but because it’s extremely well-made, and the plot was never so complicated that the characters and their scenario didn’t receive enough breathing room to develop in interesting ways (whereas in the subsequent seasons, there’s too much plot for such developments). As JMR pointed out, the good ideas had to share room with the bad ideas, and the ending was horrendous, but there was enough pleasure to be gained from those good ideas to make it worthwhile (especially compared to the following seasons).

        Getting back to your original question, perhaps “disappointing” was a poor word choice. Perhaps “unengaging” is better? Or “ambivalent?”

        Perhaps this truly is the best finale we could have hoped for given the circumstances, but as Tox put it, the set-up to the finale wasn’t very strong to begin with, making for a rather uninspiring pay-off.

        December 23, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    • Altair's Accord

      I never really felt the need for there to be some wholesome conclusion as each Korra season was their own thing (for better or worse).

      I think the best comparison I can give is in relation to the finale of Star Trek: TNG. To not go into too much detail, all the finale did was give us one last hurrah for the Enterprise and the characters.

      Sorry for the late reply, but anyway.

      I disagree that each Korra season was their own thing. Different villains and conflicts, sure. But the show is still primarily about Korra’s deconstruction and reconstruction. With something like Star Trek, there’s no overarching plot or theme tying the whole shebang together. It’s just a bunch of merry space explorers adventuring in space for the most part. Korra is not like that. It’s not just a bunch of adventures happening to Korra, there’s an overarching point to the whole thing.

      January 18, 2015 at 10:49 pm

  8. JMR

    @Grindal

    At least personally, I don’t know if it necessarily has to do with being let down so much as it is with the belief that properly communicating your ideas is just as important as having the ideas to begin with.

    So let’s take the first season. According to the show, the idea with the first season was meant to be that Amon, while having noble ideals, took them to an unconscionable extreme. After his defeat, real, lasting, and moral change was achieved through the institution of a democratic system that “gave everyone a voice”. Sounds great, right?

    Again, the idea here is fine. However, the show struggles to realize it in actual practice. Over time, the “Noble Extremist” aspect of Amon and his followers fades into the background, with Amon becoming more and more defined by the extremist than the noble, and The Equalists themselves becoming little more than Saturday Morning Cartoon fodder for the heroes to chew through on their way to Amon. Amon’s defeat is swift and violent, and the Equalists as an organization completely crumble to dust with his outing as a bender, allowing the show to ignore the difficult questions they had raised about society in the Avatar world (I’ve always been of the impression that what Season 1 needed was a more moderate counterpart to the Equalists. A group that is serious and concerned about the issues non-benders face, but that realize that bending is a major part of a bender’s life, as well as that bending has a lot of practical utility in their world. They could be the ones pushing for democratic reform, rather than the destruction of all bending).

    As for the transition of Republic City to a democratic system in response, well, it wasn’t much of a transition was it? We only learn of it in the next season’s first “previously on” segment, and there we only get a few seconds of “Oh, and we completely reorganized the government of Republic City, so yeah”. Rather than serving as the “Voice of the People”, President Raiko quickly descends into an obstructive bureaucrat who simply serves to frustrate Korra with his refusal to cooperate with her harebrained schemes. And all that is even assuming that the democratic system implemented is perfectly fair. After all, democracy is no guarantee against oppression or discrimination. We get very few details on the matter, so it’s likely best to simply take them at their word that it is, but it’s always been a nagging question for me.

    So looking at all that, you can see how that idea might get lost and confused. There were plenty of people denying that the Equalists had a valid complaint to begin with, claiming it was all lies on Amon’s part reinforced by “jealousy” of the super cool benders. Bryke were forced to address the issue on their blogs and at Q&A sessions and in the recap episode. But the thing is, I shouldn’t have to read Bryan Konietzko’s blog to understand his ideas. I shouldn’t have to dig up a YouTube video of him (rather condescendingly) responding to a question about it at a book signing. I shouldn’t have to rely on a recap episode three seasons down the road. The show should be their canvas for conveying these ideas and these intentions, and conveying them when they’re relevant rather than long down the road, what it comes across more as post facto rationalizing.

    December 23, 2014 at 11:31 am

    • I have nothing to add to this superb response, but regarding your problem with the disappearing reply button: I’m looking into it, and I’m not so sure there’s something I can do about it. I’d suggest typing up/editing your responses first in a word document, and then copying and pasting it here to avoid the issue altogether. That’s the only remedy I can think of at the moment.

      December 23, 2014 at 3:01 pm

      • Hey marshall, would you say your opinion on book 1s finale has changed a tiny bit in regards to Korra and her relationship with Mako? I mean I know the problems you’ve stated are still present but do you think it’s as big a detrimental to the series as a whole? ( you have mentioned your new liking for Korra near the end afterall.

        December 23, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    • Grindal

      Agree with you here JMR, superb response! It’s hard not to feel a bit let down when thinking of the few small corrections that could be made to Book 1 which would make that season alone pretty much solid from start to finish. The thing is though despite these shortcomings which no doubt exist, to me it doesn’t detract from what sticks throughout the series.

      To what extent others are willing to be forgiven though is entirely up to them, and largely based upon their expectations of what Korra should and could be. For myself, I accepted from somewhere around midway Book 2 that Korra was never going to reach the heights of ATLA. From then on Korra was satisfying enough so long as it had a relatively interesting and creative plot despite flaws and inconsistencies, characters that didn’t offend me and expertly choreographed action backed up by fantastic animation and music.

      The most relevant example I can give of how this made Korra a flawed but enjoyable show for me is the controversial Book 2 finale. The criticisms of it are obvious. The villain is as one dimensional as it can be, there is next to no tension for the exact reason that the fate of the world is at stake and there were two seasons left, and most importantly the build-up to it in the first half of Book 2 was downright shocking and sometimes offensive. That along with Giant Blue Korra vs Unavatuu and Deus ex Jinora, it’s not hard to see why this finale lost so many people. But despite all this, I truly believe there is much to enjoy throughout the finale, largely for the expectations I had set myself in the paragraph above.

      The idea of Harmonic Convergence probably the most creative thing to come out of the Avatar universe. Ravaa and Vatuu as all-powerful spirits that decide the fate of the world through a fight every 10,000 years fits entirely within the world they created. I also love the way the spirit world around the portals are shaped like the Yin and Yang, with the Tree of Time in the centre, and how the portals coming together as the planets align. It’s all very creative stuff.

      The characters are actually respectable. After the debacle of the first half of Book 2, seeing Korra make responsible decisions was therapeutic. I remember her interactions with Tenzin being especially well presented too.

      The finale is a visual masterpiece. There is such an abundant mix of colours throughtout, my favourite being when Korra rejoins with Ravaa. These frames are downright beautiful and never again truly matched throughout the rest of the series.

      The bending choreography is superb, and more than backed up by the Studio Mir’s animation and Zukerman’s score. ATLA is praised for its themes, characters, story, but also the action as well. All the bending battles throughout the finale were arguably the best the show had offered thus far. And I remember Marshall briefly commenting on how Zukerman’s score was over the top throughout or something like that. I’d say it was borderline overwhelming, but is that really a bad thing? In a good way the score along with the visuals made the finale an experience for the senses, if not the conclusion so much the logical or well-written conclusion to the season’s plot.

      And here’s the most important thing to note. None of the positive things I listed above are easy to pull off. I doubt any other American animation could come close to producing such a thing as Korra, and could only be matched by some Japanese anime.

      Marshall and JMR (and any others bothering to read this far), if you want try and watch the Book 2 finale with such things in mind. I fully acknowledge all the problems with it as a piece of storytelling, but at the same time I can’t help but think that what I’m watching is a unique visceral experience that is enjoyable if treated as such. Anyway, a simple response about reaction to Korra as series is based off how willing people are to be forgiving has turned into an essay about why I think the Book 2 finale is a worthwhile thing to watch, an accomplishment.

      To reiterate JMR I fully agree with everything you said about the ideas within in Korra. And Marshall, I can’t wait for you to re-watch ATLA so we can discuss that show in a similar manner to how this community has been expressing their opinions on Korra.

      December 27, 2014 at 8:27 am

    • tox

      “I’ve always been of the impression that what Season 1 needed was a more moderate counterpart to the Equalists.”

      Brilliant. I didn’t even consider this possibility, but if they cut out the love triangle shenanigans and used that time to develop this motive, Season 1 could have been a masterpiece—and I don’t use that lightly.

      January 13, 2015 at 5:45 am

  9. PepsiOne

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve never came across censorship on the internet until recently. I posted a comment about Korra and Asami, and THAT comment has yet to be approved. It turns out if it’s not a positive comment, it remains in “Pending” status.

    You are so right about character development. There was no set-up for them. This was my take on it.

    First Korra goes to the Southern Tribe for… wait for it… wait for it…

    THREE YEARS…

    without a visit from anyone. Just letters mostly from Asami. And then she returns and all is forgiven.

    Then to top it off, the end dialogue is about Asami grieving over the loss of her father. But that somehow turns into a conversation about going on “vacation”… to the Spirit world no less. But the vacation is not to see her father. It literally is a vacation for the two of them with this “newly formed portal” that’s conveniently located in Republic City.

    In season 3 they showed that Iroh crossed over into the Afterlife when HE died and Korra met him the spirit world. Why would it not be plausible for Asami to meet her father when he died? It’s possible Hiroshi crossed over as well.

    And then there’s Kuvira and Bataar Jr. They somehow fell in love, but that ended when she shot the death ray at him. And for some reason Bataar didn’t see it coming. I thought that was funny though.

    The entire series has been a rush job and in all honesty, probably should have ended with season 1 as a mini-series. If you’re not going to commit to a show (at least budget-wise), you should let it end.

    December 24, 2014 at 2:23 am

  10. rosemon

    I wouldn’t pat Bryke on the back too much for bringing in the Korra Asami pairing in last minute since they’re only doing it for a last ditch effort at positive buzz for their writing after the first season ended on a whimper. I think this page sums the problem up pretty well:
    http://coolman229.tumblr.com/post/106047972377/i-remember-that-time-when-bryke-said-he-wasnt

    December 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm

  11. “Unfortunately, as seasoned viewers of Korra know, this moment is supposed to be the pay-off to four seasons worth of material. But where was the set-up? Where in the rest of the story did the writers plant the expectation in the audience’s head that these two should be together like this? Perhaps it counts as a hint when Korra and Asami wrote each other letters during the three-year gap between Book Three and Book Four. In one episode, Korra specifically states she only felt comfortable writing to Asami. But even that development comes out of nowhere (though it does get addressed in another episode, which helps). As much as I’d love for this ending between Korra and Asami to work, from a narrative standpoint, it doesn’t. It feels forced and unnatural. I can’t go, “Aw, isn’t that sweet?” because my brain is making me go, “Where the fuck did that come from?””

    I think most of this, to me anyways comes down to the fact that Asami and Korra becoming closer friends from season 3 onwards always felt EXTREMELY forced to me.

    For instance why does Asami suddenly go out of her way to bond with Korra more than Mako? Asami barely acknowledges Mako Book 3 onwards. Why doesn’t Korra get this treatment from her? Korra was at just as much fault as Mako was (at least in book 1 she was). For Asami not to see that, and think that she was at fault for kissing a single Mako was forced to me. In Book 2 she didn’t owe Korra anything.

    Also why is Asami so intent on bending over backwards for a girl who stole her man at the end of Book 1? She has a company to run, Her having to run the company only comes up as an excuse for her not interacting when it’s inconvenient for the plot.

    Not to mention do you expect me to believe that Asami had no friends before she met Mako, Bolin, and Korra? Why does she hang out with them book 3 onwards? You can make that excuse with the original Team Avatar with them traveling together, with Asami her character had no friends or bonds with anyone (aside from her father) before then because?

    Her options for human interactions/companionship/friendship/romances were never limited. So why does she feel compelled to bond heavily with a girl who stole her boyfriend to begin with?

    Were never really given any reasons WHY she’s had no bonds/friendships with other people in her company, her self defense classes, or other rich people in republic city (or anybody in republic city for that matter) before meeting up with the Krew.

    That’s one of the big things that’s always bothered me about Korra & Asami’s friendship from Book 3 onwards. I have a hard time buying that she not only had little to no friendships before her debut, but that her options for friendships/bonds were so limited that willingly bonding and traveling (not to mention neglecting her company) with a girl that stole her boyfriend was her best option is so contrived and unconvincing to me.

    Of course this show’s problems with characters seemingly stem from Mike and Bryan not even bothering to think about these characters on a psychological level. These characters just seemingly do something because the plot/writing/narrative says so while only having vague traces of character, not because these characters ever seem to dictate where the plot should go.

    January 8, 2015 at 4:19 pm

  12. Sollo

    This finale had flaws, like the Korrasami thing, which came litterally out of nowhere and wasted the chance for Korra to fully realize her potentiale of becoming the ultimate destroyer of female characters clichés, teaching us a precious lesson: not every female character needs to be in a relationship. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
    About the rest, I think it was executed quite well, with a good final developement of Korra (which was the half of the season) and Mako, who’s finally become a true character, after his beginnings as a stereotypical brooding orphan teenager.
    This whole season was all about its themes, which have been litterally overwhelming over anything else. For this reasons, I must disagree with you about the massive destruction: this is one of the most rare cases where total distruction is all but meaningless and pointless; let’s remember that some of the most important themes of the season were: weapons of mass destruction and the dangers of forced modernization.

    February 16, 2015 at 6:47 am

    • Sollo

      And by the way, I really think that most people have totally underestimated Korra for some kind of over-excessive nostalgia. I mean, I love Avatar too, but I have the strong feeling that many people expected Korra to be more like Avatar, while it clearly was completely different. I mean, even the mood was nothing alike: Korra has never had the grand, epic atmosphere of Avatar, because it had different goals and aims. Korra didn’t focus on characters as much as Avatar, because it was more focused on themes and world buildup. If no one had ever told us that Korra was a sequel to Avatar, I don’t think anyone would have noticed it at all (except for bending and everything of course, but I’m sure you’ll see what I’m trying to say).
      To be honest, Avatar’s finale is really plain, with the exception of Aang not killing Ozai, which was good (since I still despise the turtle-lion thing). The final fight barely was a real fight at all: Ozai beats Aang up without problem, than Aang beats Ozai up without problem. Then there is the final scene with team Avatar, which is heartmoving and I love it.
      Korra’s finale was much more diverse and it was overall well-executed. Korra’s finale was a miracle, given the fact that Nick cut a whole episode in the middle of production; I mean, you know how many things can happen in a single episode? Just watch episode 9! Of course it’s a pity, but Korra still confirmed as a quite unique series in the animation world and, maybe, the most revolutionary in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, Avatar was really revolutionary in kids’ shows, but Korra isn’t a kids’ show at all and it will probably have influence in the whole western animation, since it proved that animation doesn’t need to be japanese to be “adult”.
      Sorry for any grammar mistake, I’m not english native.

      February 16, 2015 at 7:06 am

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