To say that The Legend of Korra had a rocky life is perhaps a bit of an understatement. Originally commissioned as a standalone miniseries, Nickelodeon decided to order two and then three more seasons. Long breaks between seasons weren't on the docket, so Book 2 was rushed out, half of it shoddily animated by a different studio from Book 1, with episodes often being completed just before they aired on TV. Then Book 3 was plopped on the schedule with zero promotion and wasn't available online (legally) only to be yanked off TV as it entered its home stretch and made available only online, something that was supposedly planned all along. Book 4 premiered not long after Book 3 wrapped up, but only only online. Then, as it entered its home stretch, Nickelodeon decided to put it back on TV because who knows what they're drinking over there. Book 4 was also the victim of budget cuts that would've forced the shows' creators to either layoff employees or do a clip show episode. They chose to do the clip show.
I recount all of this madness to remind all of us that Korra likely shouldn't have been as good as it was given everything that the show's teams had to experience, but that it likely could've been better at times as well had the show not been under such intense production pressure. Aesthetically, it's a small wonder that Books 3 and 4 looked as good as they given how painful Book 2 often looked, and that kind of a rebound is to be commended. Structurally, Book 1 ended up feeling like a stand alone novel while Books 2, 3, and 4 comprised their own trilogy. It may be why Book 1 remains my favorite of all the seasons.
But Book 4 is my second favorite, and in it's no small due to this final pair of episodes. Yes, there were other good episodes in Book 4—"Korra Alone" should immediately spring to mind for all of us—but there's clearly an "All right, let's do this." attitude running through both "Day of the Colossus" and "The Last Stand," a sort of no-holds barred, pulling no punches action extravaganza that reminded me of the action sequences I enjoyed a great deal in Book 1 but that the show never really found again until around the end of Book 3 and especially here, in the series finale.
We thankfully avoided the Giant Blue Spirit Korra versus Platinum Mecha battle that I fretted a little bit last week, and instead we treated to a two-part battle against the mecha that ran the gamut from intricate plans with paints and wires to "LET'S SEE IF DROPPING HALF A BUILDING ON IT THE THING WILL STOP IT." There was an inordinate amount of destruction, and I really hope that Wu's group of citizens were the only ones left in Republic City, otherwise we're looking at Man of Steel-level causalities here considering all the buildings that were demolished in the battle.
Ultimately, it was nice seeing everyone work together as a team. Meelo's idea about the paint-filled balloons? Terrific, and so very Meelo. All the new airbenders got to show off their training as they tried to knock over the mecha with gusts of wind after Bolin tried to unsteady it with lavabending. Varrick and Zhu Li took down some mecha suits and EMP. Siblings got to team up inside the mecha with Lin and Su taking out the cannon arm and Mako and Bolin working together to try and destroy the engine before the show half-heartedly teased a noble sacrifice from Mako. The show even paid off that brief subplot of Asami and her father reconciling as he helped bring the hummingbird suits up to snuff and then sacrificed himself for the sake of the mission.
We also got, thankfully, a proper battle between Korra and Kuvira. I loved the decision to stage it in a contained space to set it apart from their duel in the field at Zaofu. With Korra no longer weighed down by the poisons and her own self-doubt, she was entering the Avatar state as needed, though I don't think she ever actually used it against Kuvira. Their fight in the mecha's control room demonstrated the degree to which Kuvira was able to hold her own against Korra, thinking tactically with moves like using the liquid metal controls or the metal plate to throw off a potential knock out blast of airbending. Korra may have had the raw power, but Kuvira strategy, and so it was nice to see all that collide.
So, yes, there was plenty of action, but there was also lots of good non-action stuff in the finale, too. Varrick and Zhu Li got engaged and then got married, and it was fantastic, and I say this as someone who has hated the show for making me like Varrick after all his amoral nonsense in Book 2 and how poorly he treated Zhu Li, but, hey, if she always imagined their engagement would involve squaring off against a giant robot, then who am I to stand in the way of true love? While I think more time with Hiroshi might've helped his death really land, my attachment to Asami sort of made up for that particular gap.
Even Wu was granted an opportunity to redeem his foppish ways by using badger moles to get people out of the city with singing. It was silly, yes, but it still sort of fit Wu's personality. I don't think that Wu had much of an arc to get to the point where he was smart enough to think up this evacuation plan and then decide to dissolve the monarchy of the Earth Kingdom, but this pair of episodes certainly made him look more mature and less like a clown.
So much of this season was about Korra coming to grips with herself, however, that this is where I was looking for a big payoff. I don't think I fully got it, but I'm still generally happy where things ended up for Korra's sense of self. I do not believe that Korra really learned anything from all the major opponents she squared off against over the course of the series—something that Toph had suggested during their time in the swamp—at least not in a way that she fully acknowledged.
We've discussed Korra's fight first, maybe ask questions later approach to problem-solving, and through her own trials, she finally realized that what was missing was that she needed to ask questions first and understand who she was fighting, that sense of compassion. Arguably, what drove all of Korra's Big Bads was a sense of compassion, albeit to an extreme, misguided place, and Korra was never really very interested in understanding that until after the fact, if at all. Seeing Kuvira as her mirrored self in the spirit portal finally drove home the idea that if only she had truly understood Kuvira—whose psychological motivations come a smidgen too late here, but at least it explained her very extreme reaction to Baatar Jr.'s desire to give up the fight—a lot of this might've been avoided.
Korra actually sitting down to talk with Kuvira in the spirit world was a huge step for her. It was different from sitting down to talk to Zaheer in Book 3 in the spirit world as Zaheer was interested only in lecturing and stalling for time. Here, it was about relating to Kuvira, not coming down to her level but meeting her at it and acknowledging Kuvira as a person with an emotional inner-world and trying to find the similarities between the two of them. I had never much thought of Kuvira as a mirror of Korra since my concept of Kuvira largely hinged on how she melded different aspects of her villainous predecessors, but the conceit worked. While I still think that Korra's journey to this point hasn't been the smoothest from a writing and plotting standpoint across the entire series, Book 4 is easily the soundest installment in this regard, and I'm very grateful for it.
So. Was there anything else we needed to talk about from the finale before some closing thoughts...?
I've long declared my general disinterest in 'shipping as a primary way to engage a show. Yes, I have couples I like and am invested in, and I will whine and moan when I feel like a show hasn't done anything to really make me see why two people should be together. This had long been my stance regarding the Korra-Mako-Asami triangle since I never really got why either of them were interested in Mako aside from the fact that he's the only single dude around who wasn't Bolin. And while I've also maintained through this season that I have not only loved Korra and Asami's friendship, I never really considered the idea them being a couple, let the show doing this, and really let alone having it be the final character moment of the finale.
I can understand resistance to the idea that Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko are declaring that Korra and Asami are starting a relationship together, but I just don't think the episode really supports that resistance and it is, in fact, declaring Korra and Asami as a couple. Consider the fact that Mako's conversation with Korra is "I want you to know that I'll follow you into battle no matter how crazy things get. I've got your back, and I always will." He's not declaring his love for Korra, or even Asami. It's actually the clearest Mako's ever been about his feelings ever by saying what he wants to be is the Robin to Korra's Batman.
Then there's Asami and Korra talking by themselves, neither ready to go back to the celebration. That entire conversation is leading up to a kiss and/or confession of feelings between the two of them we would never ever get on a kid-targeted animated series. (Adventure Time has a similar lack of explicitness—and general confusion—regarding Princess Bubblegum and Marceline.) The most we can get is the hand holding and the meaningful stare as the spirit portal's light swirl around them. If you replace Asami with a male character, not only is there not any ambiguity about the intention of the scene, but there's not any need for ambiguity either, since a kiss would've gotten through standards and practices in that context. So I was giddy about this, not only as someone who really loved the relationship between these two and found myself thinking, "Yes. I like this development" but that the show chose to (almost) end itself with that image. It's a bold, progressive closing note that I hope other shows that target a child and teen demographic take note of.
The Legend of Korra was the very first show I wrote about for TV.com, a wrap-up post that Jen suggested when she and I first discussed me joining the site. As a result, the show has a degree of freelancer sentiment attached to it for me, and due to that, it will always be a little bit special to me.
It doesn't mean I'm blind to its faults, as I'm sure my frustrations with Book 2 proved. Korra could be a maddening show sometimes, especially as it seemed like Korra herself never really grew all that much until Book 4. The show's attempts at romance were never very convincing—THOUGH NOW WE KNOW WHY—and its Big Bads were arguably unevenly executed. Some folks didn't care for the technological advancements, and some just didn't care for Korra as a character.
The show's unsteady development of Korra aside, I liked Korra. She was cocky and impulsive and repeatedly fell victim to her own insecurities and faults. Like Aang, she often didn't know what to do and would run from the issue before finding what she needed to pull her together to get the job done. She wasn't perfect, and that was the point. She had to grow up and struggle to living the shadow of the only Avatar people could remember whereas most people in Aang's day likely couldn't even remember Avatar Roku and thus couldn't compare the two. She represented the weight and burdens of a generational transition that, frankly, no one had (or could) prepare her for. And those were the challenges she faced, and that's what Korra was about. It was a coming of age story for a character in a world that itself was coming of age. Both Korra and the world around her were trying to figure themselves out, creating all the conflicts across the series.
I don't know what Korra's "legacy" will be, and I won't try to predict it. What I do know is that I will miss it, and this universe.
LEAVES ON THE WIND
– Since we got to see a lot more of it, I really loved the design of the giant mecha, and how it was pretty seamlessly integrated into the look of the show.
– My one very big gripe about Book 4? Not nearly enough Tenzin. Korra and Tenzin's relationship has really been settled at the end of Book 2, and the series never found more of them to really do, and I am forever sad about that. Apart from Asami and Korra, Tenzin and Korra was my favorite relationship on the show.
– Tahno of the Wolfbats as a trombone player!! He showed up last week in a quick scene during the evacuation order, but now he's playing the trombone. I'm glad his hair is all better.
– Varrick was raised on a farm and taken by circus people. OKAY THEN.
– "I'm just so happy you're here now. I don't think I could've handled losing you and my father in the same day." Seriously. They're a couple, folks.
What did you think of the series finale of The Legend of Korra? What about the show as a whole?