By: Joshua Hamilton (story)

The Story: Three years later, and there have been big changes for Team Avatar’s haircuts.

The Review: Considering how the Powers That Be royally cornholed this show by failing to advertise it and taking half its season off the air, it’s almost a pleasant surprise to find that we suddenly have a fourth season at all, albeit unexpectedly and completely off the air. I can’t even begin to understand the logic behind these moves, so I won’t even try. All I know is that this definitely puts the pressure on my review output, with so many shows going on at once.

I think, however, Korra deserves long-term examination. I might not have said so a year ago, but the show has found its center and stuck to it since the last season, perhaps driven by desperation to take risks that eventually paid off. The writers immediately take another one at the start of this season by jumping us three years after Korra’s narrow defeat of Zaheer. There’s an instant interest level with such a jump; if nothing else, you’re curious as to how everything turns out as it does.

Even better, the writers place our characters in truly unexpected positions: Mako as bodyguard to heir-apparent of the Earth Kingdom, Bolin as an officer in Kuvira’s peacekeeping force, Kai and Opal as senior members of the do-gooder Air Nomads, and Korra as a short-haired loser of her former self in underground fight clubs.* Unexpected, but not terribly surprising. Given what you know about the characters, it’s not hard to see how they end up as they do.

That Korra is still wrestling with the trauma she experienced three years earlier shows her inability to let things go. We’ve seen her hold onto grudges and first impressions to the point of annoyance, and she’s always taken herself too seriously. Korra never had much of her predecessor’s spirituality or optimism; it’s natural that she isn’t taking her troubles very philosophically. It’s the combination of all these things that’s left her addicted to pain, even if self-inflicted.

To be honest, however, I tend to be more interested in the progress of the other characters rather than the stasis of our protagonist. Mako has had some pretty rough gigs in past seasons: the wishy-washy third of a love triangle, rookie cop overlooked by his incompetent seniors, and as-needed back-up. While harried straight man for Prince Wu’s spoiled, paranoid antics isn’t much of a step up, at least it allows him to have a consistently interesting storyline, especially since it places him dead-center of a political bubble waiting to burst.

Having enjoyed the chaos and self-government that usually follows a coup, the Earth Kingdom is only just starting to stabilize again, though not under the clearly despised banner of the crown prince. What a coincidence that his protesters are simultaneously supporters of Kuvira, an incidental figure who showed up at the last minute of the third season finale yet who has now seized control of the kingdom’s disparate states with what can only be called mafia tactics. Funny thing about these bandits she promises to repel; they’re no ragtag bunch, but fairly numerous, organized, well-equipped and informed folk. Makes you think Kuvira may be directing them herself, especially when they somehow manage to track Kai and Opal flying around to get supplies for a beleaguered village. Unfortunately, this would also make Kuvira a bit too obvious as the season’s big villain. Her condescending, ruthless attitude is already a red flag, but her lack of anything like humor is the biggest piece of evidence of all.**

Which is why Bolin working with Kuvira looks to be the most interesting plotline of all. Bolin’s insecurity and longing for recognition has always made him susceptible to flattery, so you can easily imagine how he got buttered into being Kuvira’s loyal officer. In his position, he ranks higher and commands more importance than his brother, for once, but his morals are obviously compromised. Rather than lend aid to the village, even at Opal’s pleading, he obeys Kuvira’s order to let the villagers suffer it out until they give in to her supervisory contract. Quite a contrast for the old, happy-go-lucky, kindhearted Bolin, as Opal disappointedly observes.

Conclusion: With nothing left to lose, the show’s taking even greater chances than before, nearly all of which pay off handsomely.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * The only exception is Asami, who predictably enough has managed to restore her company to profitability.

** Although, damn—she has the most beautiful metalbending I’ve ever seen. It is literally perfect.