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!