I heard a lot of grumbling about the first season finale of Avatar: The Legend of Korra before I’d watched it. In fact, I’d seen Facebook posts with links pointing to online journals going into rapt detail about where the final two episodes had failed. Thusly, it was with considerable trepidation that I watched that same season finale.
Oh, and I suppose I should warn you all about spoilers at this point.
Anyway, as I watched the final two episodes I was enjoying myself immensely. General Iroh was a fun new character (I found myself creating my own personal meme “My name is General Iroh and I can fly!”) and while I was hoping Amon would end up having some sort of ties to the spirit world of the series his origin was actually quite fulfilling. So as the twelfth episode rounded out with Korra leaving in deep depression over having lost her identity as the Avatar I found myself asking why there was such an outcry against this finale?
And then… well… I saw it.
So… let’s look at it a bit and give it a shake.
The big complaint I’ve heard is the fact that so few episodes were devoted to Korra’s airbending and the fact that we didn’t see a gradual growth in training like we did with Aang. In all fairness my friends, we were never going to get it. Ever. That was established from the outset of the show. From the first scene actually. In the very first few seconds of Korra’s appearance on the show we already see a talented bender in three disciplines. Whatever training Korra received prior to her journey to Republic City was only to refine an existing talent, not develop it to its true strength.
Also, I don’t think the creators wanted to duplicate the slow growth story method from the original series for fear of accusations of treating the same ground conceptually. I get that and I understand it. It’s a big fear with a lot of creators of content that they might be forced to rely on similar writing conventions and be unable to experiment with new ones.
So because of that, we were getting hints in plot that Korra’s inability to airbend was not due to a lack of training but more that something internally was blocking it on a fundamental psychological level. So let’s look at the girl’s psyche.
I’ve maintained that Korra is possibly a lot more complex a character then one might assume. On the outset we have an image of a strong, confident female with a warm and compassionate core. A brilliant character by all rights. Still, we have someone who is the avatar and successor to possibly one of the greatest avatars of all time: Aang. Aang was our hero who mastered all bending styles at a young age and miraculously turned the end of the damn world into a golden age. You would think someone would have a bit of a complex of trying to live up to that image.
But Korra never really did. Why?
I think the answer to that is pride. Specifically pride in being the Avatar.
I think that rather than suffer from trying to live up to the image of Aang, Korra was incredibly proud to be the new Avatar and after learning the truth of it at such a young age she built her whole identity, at least within her own mind, around being the Avatar.
It’s been mentioned in the former seasons that Avatars are generally not informed of what they are before turning sixteen. I think someone like Korra is that very reason. While we saw Korra as an incredibly enjoyable person I believe Korra only saw her worth in being the Avatar. Lord knows that’s probably how most people judged her, despite if she wanted them to or not. I’d have loved to see a few scenes in the show support this, such as having her try and learn different talents as a child, only to have people force her to focus on mastering her bending. But they didn’t so I can only theorize.
Granted, a lot in the show supports my theory. The only time we ever see Korra truly afraid is when she is afraid of Amon (oh Amon, I could write a whole journal entry about you). Prior to her meeting Amon she’s cocky, proud and brave. Whenever Amon is not around her first, last and only impulse is to bend the problem with brute force until it goes away. Amon, however, makes her afraid and she feels the need to flee from him, rather than face this unknown horror.
I’m going to talk a little bit about Amon because it reinforces my point. I always felt that Amon, despite being the villain of the piece, never really was that evil. The worst he did was strip people of their bending which, if you argue both sides of it, isn’t that bad, comparatively to murder, theft and the like. But the show, shown through Korra’s perspective, treats it like a true thing to fear. Hence why Korra fears him for without her bending, what is she? She’s seen people who’ve lost their bending in some ways also lose their purpose in life (though I would argue that in reality it was more a spiritual loss) for Korra that is magnified. That’s what I think anyway.
There is one more point I want to make before we get to the season finale: that is the point of the fact that Korra doesn’t start really gaining access to her spiritual side until she starts loosing. There’s something crucial there that the show doesn’t highlight enough. I think prior to those instances, Korra, deep down in her emotional core, really didn’t think she needed airbending.
Until she started losing.
She could only airbend once her other bending was taken away and even then, only when the person she cared most about, Mako, was threatened. I wonder if that’s a theme, that Avatars will always have trouble with the element of their predecessor. Look at Aang and the time he burned Katara and the need to go and find the dragons to learn firebending. And he had to learn a way of firebending through peace rather than aggression which was the standard. Probably that’s why Korra had to find her own aggressive way in airbending. The problem is, not a lot of this was set up well enough for everyone to get it on the first pass and it would have worked had the end of the season fumbled the ball on it.
I think the final scene where Aang and Korra meet needed to have Korra, for the first time, really beg for help while at the same time confronting the issue that if she isn’t the Avatar then she doesn’t see herself as anything. We could have had Aang address that and have a great dialogue between the two where Aang makes her realize her value as a person beyond being the Avatar. That would have been damn great ground to break for the show. Then it wouldn’t have mattered when he restored her abilities, she’d have gained something more valuable and better earned: her own self-insight.
But, I think we got the chopped version that we did because of time constraints. The whole season felt rushed and while the team managed to cut a fairly efficient plot out of it something was going to break and regretfully it was a clutch moment.
Hence why I think we got what we got; a single sentence from Aang that does little to justify the massive importance of the event, leaving us with a sense of longing for something much grander. Regretfully that shall only exist in our imaginations. Let us hope that the second season is able to compensate from this.
So too does this work exist.