Television

Published on September 26th, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee

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Korra: Book 3 Recap And Book 4 Prelude

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If you’ve been keeping up with Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino’s The Legend of Korra, you might be aware that despite Book 3’s recent conclusion, Book 4 is due to come out on October 3rd. For those of you not in the know, I’m afraid this doesn’t give you a lot of time to catch up with what you’ve missed, but I would urge you to try anyway because the likely final series in the Avatar franchise will be something to pay close attention to. It’s hard to say what to expect from the conclusion, or what the Avatar’s position might be at the end of it, but that’s all more reason to watch. After three seasons of both expanding and challenging their own mythologies, I doubt the creators are going to sit back and take it easy up until the end. Whatever is coming, we can be sure to expect huge challenges for Korra and to our own expectations.

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Throughout the three seasons, we have seen Korra up against enemies no less terrifying or powerful in their own ways than Fire Lord Ozai and still these threats are complimented by the kind of startling character development, world-building and emotional spirit we have come to expect. I have heard criticism of Korra for not having an overarching narrative threat that builds with each season as Avatar did and this leads some to believe that Korra is inferior. I don’t agree. Korra does have an overarching narrative, only it is one of identity rather than one of menace. As the seasons of Avatar concluded with Aang’s mastery over the three elements, Water, Earth and Fire, the seasons of Korra conclude with some kind of mastery over herself.

In Book 1: Air, Korra confronts losing her bending and thus an intrinsic factor of her identity. In Book 2: Spirits, Korra confronts losing her past lives and is forced to rely wholly on her own internal spirit. In Book 3: Change, Korra is very nearly the last Avatar and confronts her mortality as well as her role in life as the Avatar. By the end of Book 3, Korra is physically and emotionally weakened; she can’t walk and she is clearly suffering from her experience with what some have termed P.T.S.D. It is heart-breaking to see our brave, strong heroine in this state, especially in light of all she has achieved in resurrecting the Air Nation as Jinora is anointed as a new airbending master.

At the start of Book 3, dealing with the consequences of leaving the spirit portal open, Korra is ejected from Republic City by President Raiko for being unable to clear the city of an influx of spirits. However, another consequence of her decision is that certain individuals have acquired airbending, including Bumi. Team Avatar then sets out with the mission of rebuilding the Air Nation, training new airbenders at the Northern Air Temple, and butting heads with the Earth Queen along the way when she forcibly conscripts airbenders into her army. Meanwhile, escaped criminal and new airbender, Zaheer, desires to rid the world of ultimately corrupt world leaders and end the Avatar cycle permanently.

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Korra has given us some particularly spectacular moments this season worth mentioning. Last season I loved the family dynamics and Jinora’s arch especially, to the point where it felt like she was a secondary lead character. This season, although at times overshadowed by the new airbender, Kai, Jinora proves she is still the hero here, leading the airbenders in their final triumph at seasons end. This season also cemented forever my love of Asami, the brilliant engineer and loyal friend. Korra and Asami’s adventures together and Asami’s support of Korra at the end was so honest and important, it is the only thing I couldn’t possibly do without next series. Apart from maybe more Jinora.

Next, compared to the haunting presence of Amon and the wound-up madness of Unalaq, the villains of this season were surprisingly human, calm and rational. Although Zaheer is less menacing as a result of his straight-laced attitude, the threat he poses is arguably more real because it is grounded in political understanding. His links to the Red Lotus and the chaos he is able to incite is testimony to his lasting influence. However, without his counterparts, we might find him dry. Ming Hua and Ghazan have more engaging personalities and bending styles, as does the underused but ruthless P’li, and all three deserved more attention. All in all, the time spent getting to know these characters was too short but that should be our only regret.

Lastly, I want to mention the Metal Clan and the revelation that Lin Bei Fong has a sister in Suyin. It’s great to see so many different family models in Korra, from Toph’s parenting style to the Metal Clan matriarch’s self-identification as “dancer, leader, mother, wife, collector of rare meteorites”. Also, not just family models but the affects they have on us, the complexities of the relationships involved and the love and hurt families invoke. In terms of character development, Lin’s reconciliation with her sister was one of the strongest narrative arcs this season. And with the turmoil now ongoing in the Earth Kingdom, the Metal Clan should have more of a role to play next season. In particular, the striking and enigmatic captain of the guard, Kuvira, without me mentioning any spoilers.

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Now, despite these ongoing plot points, it’s hard to predict where next season will take things. Again, unlike Avatar, we have no distinct end goal lined up. But that’s part of what makes The Legend of Korra so compelling. The creators aren’t holding our hands this time around. Korra’s story as a coming of age tale deals a great deal more with disillusionment and self-struggle than its predecessor and this is reflected in its format but also coincidentally in its delivery.

Unexpectedly, Korra was removed from Nickelodeon mid-season three. Many reasons have been given for this, from viewer ratings to restriction ratings. It’s true that poor management and publicity meant that many people were unaware that Korra season three was on air. On top of that, Korra was only aired in America and in the so-called “Friday death slot”. It seems that the network wasn’t giving the show much of a chance despite Korra’s critical successes. On top of that, when the series abruptly disappeared, viewers had to turn to the internet to even learn that Korra would continue to be aired online. Yet, again, this meant only to viewers in America. The more adult themes present in the series have been given as a reason for this.

However, although I’ve outlined a rather impossible situation for some above, I would still urge you to watch this final season if and when you can. Look to places like Amazon Prime or Google Play, or purchase the DVDs. Korra is worthy of our attention and it is illustrative of our changing situation that such well-crafted shows as this are so badly mishandled by their networks and yet soldier on. I list Community as one other example; a popular show with a loyal fan base that fought hard to remain on air, achieving only half the number of episodes in the fourth and fifth seasons than they managed in the first three. Yet, Community will live on thanks to Yahoo Screen and this is a great thing (regardless of how you feel about Yahoo)!

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The Legend of Korra is one of the most beautiful, evocative, challenging, emotional and resonant television shows, let alone animations, out at the moment. I would argue that it is in no way wholly inferior to its predecessor; some episodes may be weaker, but there are also some that I think rival or surpass many episodes of Avatar, such as the Book 3 conclusion Venom of the Red Lotus. The art of Korra from the concept design to the animation production values is way above par and with Jeremy Zuckerman’s score carried across, the world of Avatar is continuously evoked through the poignant tension and relief of the music. Something else that Korra achieves is the strength of its supporting cast from Lin Bei Fong to Jinora and beyond. It is just a shame that even with the fourth season, we will never have enough episodes to fully explore these already dynamic and fleshed out characters.

So, although Korra is not always what we would have expected, or as easily accessible as we would like (and I mean this in both senses of the word), it deserves our attention. I urge you to get involved with this series. I have no idea what to tell you to expect from the final season and although I could tell you what I’d hope for (Fire Nation, Jinora, original Team Avatar), there is no justifiable need for these things when I know that whatever I get will be perfectly formulated to the story the creators set out to tell. And whatever Book 4: Balance will bring, it will be amazing.

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Lauren McPhee

Lauren McPhee

Writer. Reader of comics. Martial artist. From Republic City.
Lauren McPhee

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