By: Tim Hedrick, Joshua Hamilton, Michael Dante DiMartino (story)
The Story: Suddenly, being an airbender is a whole lot less special.
The Review: So for all those who thought that maybe I Dropped this series, my sincerest apologies. I hate to turn bar prep into my personal scapegoat for all my failings, but you have to admit, it’s a good one. Indeed, it wasn’t until commenters Daniel and Del Keyes mentioned it—thanks, pals!—that I remembered there was such a thing as Legend of Korra. Seriously, my reaction was something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah…”
I picked a real bad season to forget about the premiere, too, since the show came right out the gate with three episodes, and seems set to follow a two-episode-a-week schedule from now on. So just like my bar prep, I have a lot of catching up to do. To get started, let’s do as the show does and get the return of the spirits out of the way first. It’s exactly as disruptive as you’d expect, with vining habitats randomly popping up across Republic City, but since the show can’t exactly revive the spirit-human conflict without becoming repetitious, there’s not much anyone can do about the situation except deal with it, albeit sullenly.
The writers take the wiser course of pursuing a far more interesting consequence of Harmonic Convergence: the manifestation of airbending in people all over the world. It’s a potent plotline for a lot of reasons. The social uncertainty alone is ripe with possibilities, since the full-grown are afflicted along with the very young. Moreover, the implications of a whole population of benders appearing practically overnight allows the show to engage in a storyline with real political stakes. In the new airbenders, Tenzin sees the revival of his entire culture, while Hou-Ting, queen of the Earth Kingdom, sees yet another means to secure her dictatorial rule.
The airbenders also get Team Avatar to leave Republic City, which has become a stifling, somewhat drab setting as of late, and explore the world, revisiting old haunts like the Earth Kingdom and brand new ones, like Zaofu, a city of metalbenders founded by one of Toph’s daughters. Globetrotting was one of the best parts of The Last Airbender, giving that show its epic quality and allowing its beautifully refined animation to revel in wondrous landscapes, much as Korra does here.
Finally, seeking out airbenders gives Korra a chance to show how much she’s grown since her impetuous early days on the show. She hasn’t lost that temper, as her anger with Queen Hou-Ting demonstrates, but she seems to have enough perspective to not take out her personal irritations so indiscriminately or immediately. This mission is essentially one of diplomacy, which not only puts Korra’s virtues on display—her good heart and trusting nature—but pushes her to show some tactical savviness as well. To my delight, Korra is no longer the most irksome character on the show.*
That doesn’t mean that she’s become its most interesting, however. Her personal growth may very well have peaked with her spiritual experiences in Book Two, but there’s plenty of room for the others to develop. Mako and Bolin’s encounter with their paternal relatives in the Earth Kingdom is truly touching in a way Legend of Korra hasn’t been for a long time, if ever, and Bolin hitting it off with a sensible, non-sociopathic girl means we just might have one decently functional romance on the show.**
But with the introduction of Suyin Beifong, daughter of Toph and Lin’s half-sister, we may have the season’s biggest human drama. There’s something genuine about Lin’s grating resentment of Suyin’s success and Suyin’s bewildered response to Lin’s antipathy. It calls attention to aspects of Lin’s life we’ve taken for granted—her failed romance with Tenzin, her lack of family or close relationships until Korra arrived—and reveals an intriguing back-history*** in the process. Again, that’s something Last Airbender frequently did very well, so it’s encouraging to see Legend of Korra pick that up.
On the other hand, Korra still struggles to find dimensional antagonists. Amon was a hypocritical joke, Unalaq an egomaniacal jerk, and now Zaheer seems primed to be one of those single-minded villains who want nothing more or less than the death of their heroic archnemesis. I’m sure the showrunners will reveal some decent rationale for his desire to kill Korra, though the question is whether he wants her dead specifically or the avatar line in general. The former has promise; the latter’s been done.
Conclusion: In almost all respects a vast improvement over the forgettable first season and the nearly disastrous second. There’s hope that Legend of Korra will finish its run strong and do the Avatar legacy proud.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * That distinction belongs to Varrick, who shows up in Zaofu, having avoided criminal charges for kidnapping Republic City’s president and as unquenchably cocky as ever.
** Well, except for maybe Jinora and Kai, the thieving street urchin turned airbender Team Avatar picks up. Young as Jinora is, even she goes all fluttery over the idea of fixing a bad boy.
*** I can’t decide what I find most interesting, the fact that Toph had two kids by different fathers, that neither Lin nor Suyin knew who their fathers were, or that Toph is potentially still alive. It will be a terrific moment if she, Katara, and the remarkably spry Zuko appear on screen together.
– Bolin is basically in charge of all comedy except for Bumi, Ikki, and Meelo. His finest moment so far is pointing out the upside of living in the outer rings of the Earth Kingdom: “You can go to the bathroom anywhere you want.” So yeah, there’s that.