Published on October 6th, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee


The Legend of Korra – After All Those Years review

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Korra 4.1c

So, I knew not to have any fixed expectations for the final season of The Legend of Korra, which turned out to be right because any expectations I might have had were dashed by this first episode. Starting three years after the final season left off, we have to assume a lot has changed. This episode gives us a few clues as to what is going on but the events of the past three years largely remain a mystery.

The episode, tilted After All These Years, starts with the usual newsreel recap by Shiro Shinobi giving us a brief updates on things in Republic City. It’s unsettlingly cheery and optimistic if you remember the extremely painful and all too recent end to last season, with Korra wheelchair bound with defeated dark shadows under her eyes. The first we see of her in the new season is a statue honouring her in the new Avatar Korra Park. Her immortalisation in stone is jarring, not only because it harks back to her optimistic introduction but also because other statues in the city honour those whose time has passed.

Korra is then noticeably absent from the start of the episode. Before crowds, Asami and President Raiko are celebrating the opening of a new train station and train line linking Republic City to Ba Sing Se. Meanwhile, Mako is bodyguard to the Earth Queen’s great nephew, soon to be King of the Earth Kingdom. The introduction of a new character is striking, and Prince Wu is impossible to ignore as he tries to sweet-talk Asami into going on a date with him. Despite his insensitivity to his great aunt’s death by suffocation, the family connection is evident in his self-absorption and sense of importance. It doesn’t look good for the Earth Kingdom that their next leader treats his role more as a vanity project than a responsibility. Nor that President Raiko is backing him.

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What’s interesting to note, from this introductory sequence, is the different clothing and hair styles which then continue throughout the episode. In a show that has jumped forward three years, these seemingly small conceptual changes are actually quite telling, from the airbenders’ new uniforms, to Asami’s matured business-woman style and Mako’s slick, professional look. Future Industries is still at the height of technological development and Mako is on the up-and-up in his detective’s career. Then, as well as Korra, Bolin is also absent. As Mako and Asami talk excitedly about Korra and Bolin’s return, the sense of separation that carries throughout the episode has already begun.

What follows lays out a foundation for the political themes that roll over from last season. Parts of the Earth Kingdom are still being threatened by bandits while the Air Nomads do their best, with limited numbers, to protect and feed affected villagers. Here we see Kai and Opal up close in their super-hero like uniforms, which open out and allow them to glide. Meanwhile, Kuvira is ruthlessly uniting the Earth Kingdom states, providing security in return for compliance, along with Bolin. With four separate entities marching independently towards peace – President Raiko of Republic City, Prince Wu of the Earth Kingdom, Kuvira’s army of unity and the Air Nomads – the sense of Team Avatar’s separation is enhanced by the strain of conflict between the different groups.

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It’s unsurprising then that Korra doesn’t even appear until the final minutes of the episode. We all knew there had to be consequences as a result of her fight with Zaheer, but they are beyond what many would expect. With so little insight, we will have to wait until next week for a closer look into Korra’s state of mind and how she has been coping these past three years. With all the changes that we have seen in this episode, there is more than enough to get up-to-date fans engrossed in the story, but the strength of this episode lies with the secrets it keeps, and the mysteries lurking in the passage of time since Book Three ended.

Beyond the intrigue of the story, however, there are a few other points of note. The Avatar team continues to outdo themselves in terms of production. The art is impeccable, as is the animation, most impressively seen in a scene where Kuvira single-handedly battles bandits with a new style of bending, using metal bands shot from her uniform and magnetism. The scene represents one of the most unique and well done examples of bending we’ve seen on the show. Lastly, the tone: an unsettling mix of optimism and separation as we move between the divided groups of characters, anticipating reconciliation.

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With the start of Book Four, its single episode release marks the beginning of a season that should run episode by episode until the end. After last season, it comes as a relief from uncertainty, but unlike the double episode releases of last time, we may be facing only one episode of The Legend of Korra per week. These twenty-so minutes don’t offer much in a series as deep and complex as this one, but not a single moment of the first episode was wasted and I look forward to the steady stream of ongoing story up until the end. After All These Years is an amazing start to Book Four, full of political intrigue and emotional resonance. But how long until Team Avatar is back together again? And what exactly is keeping them divided?

Lauren McPhee
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