By: Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko
The Story: It may come as a shock to you that Amon is not a family man.
The Review: I’m a regular reader of Wired, the ostensible boutique magazine for geeks, and I find it, just like whatever that’s “boutique” anything, is a little prone to making broad, definitive judgment calls with no support. Take Scott Thrill’s take on The Legend of Korra, in his eyes the “Smartest Cartoon on TV.” Now, I didn’t quite do a spit-take on reading that headline, but I must say, with no offense to Thrill, that I respectfully disagree.
The last couple episodes have been solid enough to make me eager for the season finale, but halfway through, right around the point where Tarrlok spills the beans on every revelation you ever needed, I found myself turned cold. Be forewarned, this next chunk of review will contain quite a few spoilers, so shut your eyes and move on if you’re not into that kind of thing.
First off, this whole Amon-is-Tarrlok’s-brother thing plays on one of the oldest clichés in fiction: the secret, evil sibling. Maybe we can chalk all this to bad timing, considering the similar nonsense going on over in Batman (and even, arguably, the big reveal about Red Arrow in Young Justice’s first season finale), but it just seems like a cheap twist to saddle on the audience. At least in Batman and YJ, you had some hints throughout the year leading up to the discovery, so it doesn’t feel entirely out of context. Here, learning of Amon’s blood ties to Tarrlok does nothing to enhance the preceding story, and nothing in the preceding story supports it. It’s just a giant peach pit perched in the middle of a chocolate cake: unexpected, inexplicable, and random.
Even more problematically, this new information actually makes Amon—I’m sorry, Noatak—even more one-dimensional in his motivations, if not completely without motivation at all. You never quite understand the jump from his frustrations with his father to deciding to rid the world of benders entirely. His own bending abilities, kept hidden, characterize him as a hypocrite at best and a shameless liar at worst. And ultimately, he is the same kind of happy sadist that his father used to be, taking pride and joy in torturing others for apparently no reason.
The worst thing about all this is not as obvious, and it involves the same problem I’ve pointed out time and again on this show: revealing Amon as a bender completely derails the cause and grievances of non-benders. They have a minor role in the finale’s climax and ultimately, they are only means to an end, not an active participating force in themselves. Hiroshi and Asami duke it out between themselves only; neither confronts a significant bender. And if you want more evidence, look no further than the Lieutenant, whom DiMartino-Konietzko never deign to give even a name, rather yet a backstory, a featured moment, or even the rudiments of a personality. For all his frequent appearances, he serves merely as a distraction for our cast.
Yet probably the thing which upsets me the most in this episode is Korra’s continued and complete lack of perspective. She has always placed far too much weight in her powers, and having them removed would’ve been a great challenge for her, an opportunity to deconstruct her and find out what she’s made of without the bending. Instead, the removal only makes way for her miraculously able to airbend, an ability she retains to the very end. So you have to look down on her when she bemoans no longer being able to bend the other three elements—at least, until she undeservedly gets all that power back a day or so later.
I sound harsh here, I know, and perhaps I am. This is just a cartoon after all. But I also feel that the creators and producers of this show do not see it as just a cartoon; they want it to be more than that. But if your intention is to deliver a sophisticated, mature story, then it’s crucial that the execution be equally sophisticated and mature, neither of which can be found here. It has all the gloss and beats of a smart cartoon, but very little of the substance.
Conclusion: Some Avatars are greater than others, apparently, and Korra has always suffered by comparison to her predecessor. To call her story a “Legend” seems a horrible misnomer; it is more like an interesting but forgettable blip in history, the War of 1812 in the Avatar world.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – The giant Amon mask placed over Aang’s statue just goes over-the-top, doesn’t it?
– Poor, pretty Asami—you are too cool to just be forgotten on the sidelines while your boyfriend runs off to declare his love for another girl without even breaking up with you first.