The Legend Is At An End
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Legend of Korra is at its finale. Those are words I’ve been dreading to write for quite a while, ever since it was announced that the series would end with a fourth book. But I’d rather the creators end the story at an organic and germane place rather than drag it on past its shelf life (not that the creators of this show could truly let us down). The two-part finale functions in some ways like one, with a cliffhanger ending at the ending of the first installment leading right into the second one. As perhaps is fitting for this series, the finale largely takes place in Republic City and concentrates on the show’s original characters, which is probably as it should be. Kuvira’s colossus is at Republic City and it is wreaking havoc, the civilian death toll thankfully averted because of the evacuation efforts that have been going on for over a week. There’s plenty of action throughout the two-part finale but if there’s one thing that the creators of the Avatar universe know how to do well (and they can do quite a bit), it’s focusing on characters above all else. There’s a plethora of quiet moments throughout the hour, the final shots ending in expected but moving moments of poignancy. The Legend of Korra goes out with quite a few literal bangs and the revelation that few series have handled its finales as well as this one.
The action sequences throughout this hour are simply superb, with some of the key honors going to Kuvira’s Colossus demolishing Republic City. In one tremendous sequence, a vast swarm of Republic City’s skyline is thoroughly demolished as if it were merely an extra layer on a cake and Kuvira was cleanly cutting it off. Cleverly Kuvira had the outside of the mech costed with platinum, which is so strong that even Suyin and Lin couldn’t metal bend it. And with the destruction of the factory, there’s little hope that any weaponry could potentially stop her, that belief only buoyed by Kuvira’s own exaggerated sense of self-worth. Asami, the genius that she is, kept prototypes of the winged mechas in her office. If the prototypes work, then there was a chance that the mech could be stopped. The prototypes do work after a few glitches, ending however in a key note of tragedy. When Hiroshi was brought back this season, it was obvious that the series had more up its sleeves with his character. He got his redemption moment as he sacrificed himself to destroy Kuvira’s colossus, ejecting Asami from the mech right before the explosion occurs. The expression of sheer grief on Asami’s expression is wrenching, beautifully captured by the camera as she floats through the air, shock echoing across her visage.
Throughout this season we’ve been treated to a parallel structure between Korra and Kuvira, putting the primary protagonist and antagonist against one another not necessarily to show how different they are, but how alike. It’s an immensely tricky thing to pull off, primarily because it is much, much easier to show how two people are unlike one another than otherwise. But what separates the two is balance. Book four’s title means a lot more than simply the balance between the spirit world and the one in which the four nations and the United Republic live. It means a balance that each character must keep within their own lives. For Kuvira, that ideally meant a balance between power and responsibility. But she forgot that balance when after each and every single victory her bravado of righteousness grew and grew and grew. Hubris is a dangerous pathway to espouse and it most certainly will lead to obstacles. The quicker you realize that reality, the better off you will be. By the time Kuvira had realized that her life had no balance, it was far too late. She had lost everything.
There’s a lovely moment when Suyin tells Bataar, Jr. that people are complicated, a fairly significant statement that for some reason still manages to defy some people’s expectations. No one, whether falling in the largely pejorative labels of “good” or “bad” truly fulfills those labels or any labels at all. Korra, as much as anyone else, firmly believed that evil or pious were two pathways that must be followed. Yet every adversary that she has come across, from Amon to Unalaq to the Red Lotus and even Kuvira, has defied those expectations. With Kuvira, as Korra slowly realizes, her conquest came from a desire to prevent the Earth Kingdom from sliding into further chaos. Kuvira herself was an orphan, abandoned and left alone before Suyin took her in. To Kuvira, Suyin had abandoned the Earth Kingdom thusly and that’s why she took up the mantle to do what she did. She couldn’t bear to see another emptiness so vast. That Korra comes to the realization that her adversaries were complicated was a fairly significant one, especially considering her age. It was difficult not to hear Toph’s words echoing when Korra says “I needed to understand what true suffering was so I could become more compassionate.” The old Korra would have destroyed Kuvira come high hell or water, the Korra who understands that people are complicated saved Kuvira from certain death.
Each character got their shining moment in this episode, buoyed by the reality that so many of our characters were fighting against Kuvira’s threat as a unified front. The Beifong sisters kick some ass inside Kuvira’s mech, reaffirming just how awesome these two are, especially when they work together. Bolin lava bending was simply great, doing it right in the face of the Colossus. Oh Bolin, how far you have come. Mako gets his best moment of the season, where he gets ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of destroying the mech from inside. It’s an incredible moment made all the more thrilling by Mako giving one of the most powerful displays of lightening bending ever. He nearly dies but is saved by Bolin at the last minute. The airbenders’ attacks were beautifully choreographed, their teamwork simply outstanding. Even Wu grows up, using his badger moles to take out some Earth Empire mechs and deciding to abdicate the throne for democracy and to pursue his singing career. But perhaps the character work that was executed the best was the relationship between Varrick and Zhu Li. As if the creators of the show were listening to the Internet, Varrick proposed to Zhu Li with the most romantic line ever: “Zhu Li Moon, will you do the thing for the rest of our lives?” She said yes. Their wedding was suitably wonderful and the cherry of the top was Varrick being kissed in swoon form by Zhu Li and not typically the other way around. It was a beautiful ceremony, a burst of goodwill earned by the show that has put us through so many emotional trials.
Feminism for some ridiculous reason has become a word of austere contention. It is beyond my understand of why that is so, because it simply means that men and women ought to be treated equally (what a bemusing thought, I know). Even more perplexing is the relative lack of strong female characters on screen. Sure, we have come a far way and certainly there are some fantastic and strong female characters today. But there is a rare series like The Legend of Korra that has a plethora of strong female characters who have their own various strengths or weaknesses. The writers of Korra seem to have understood something that is rarely understood by many pop culture phenomenons of the modern age: women are human beings. There’s no character in Korra that confines themselves to a specific archetype: they’re complex beings, with desires and struggles of their very own. Even at the final shot they retain that streak of not conforming to typical storytelling expectations: when Korra and Asami hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes as they enter the Spirit World for a vacation as Asami put it, the number of possibilities are endless. Perhaps they’ll become lovers, or perhaps they’ll become lovers and then friends again. They might end up old together and Korra will become the cranky one. It doesn’t matter how their trajectories end up in the future. What matters is that the creators of the show were bold enough to end the series on a note of a same-sex relationship so out in the open.
Let’s take a moment and recognize what is simply one of the best series of all time, animated or otherwise. The storytelling in The Legend of Korra stumbled on occasion, most notably in the first half of Book 2 with a random Civil War but largely the narrative streaks were some of the most tightly wound in any series I’ve ever seen. Each little beat was connected to a beat somewhere else, an intricate web of beautiful constructs that combined to make one of the most powerful stories of the modern age. I don’t mean that as a hyperbole, truly. This universe has been so meticulously put together that at every critical juncture you feel the love and care the creators imbued into the story. I’m not sure why Nickelodeon treated it so poorly and perhaps we will never know why such intricate world building was thrown under the proverbial bus. Perhaps the network truly did not recognize the genius that it had on its hands and that alone is puzzling. Perhaps it didn’t care. I’m not sure which is worse. But if the network who had the show wasn’t able to recognize the brilliance that it had, the audience was able to do so and grasp on tightly. The finale was the show’s perfection encapsulated. It satisfied us just enough with so many answers while leaving plenty of questions in its wake. I’m quite sad to say farewell to The Legend of Korra, but I’m equally fond of the memories it left me with. Good-bye, Korra. What a treat it has been knowing you.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Pema and Wu are a pretty great PR team
+Kuvira’s army destroying the train tracks was a devilishly smart move
+“I raised Milo.”
+The air benders with paint balloons
+Huge shootout to Jeremy Zuckerman and the music team for such a phenomenal score
+Wu: “Can you step off the bench please? It’s a little crowded up here.”
Conductor: “Sure. I’m only the conductor. No one needs me on the bench.”
+Varrick: “Zhu li, I’ve been thinking.”
Zhu Li: “You’re always thinking, sir.”
+“I took her for granted.”
+Varrick: “Zhu Li! Do the thing!”
Zhu Li: “I’m afraid there are no more things to do.”
+Freezing water trick
+Great design within the mechs
+Kuvira vs. Korra was just some brilliant choreography
+Varrick: “Now let’s go attach these barely functioning rust buckets to a giant killer smashing machine.”
Zhu Li: “It’s exactly how I always pictured our engagement.”
+“This isn’t the time to prove how awesome you are. I already know how awesome you are. You’re awesome.”
+Slow motion was great this week
+Mecha suit blown in half
+A new spirit portal opens in the middle of Republic City
+Kuvira understanding the depth of Korra’s power in the Spirit World: “Her power is beyond anything I could hope to achieve.”
+“You wanted to create a place where you and your people would never feel vulnerable.”
+The spirits returned
+Kuvira in prison
“We gather here to celebrate the wondrous, at times inexplicable bond between Varrick and the Lady Zhu Li…”
+Pabu has the vows, which I must note are completely and perfectly ridiculous
+“You may now… do the thing.”
+Another nice Prince Wu touch: “Sometimes a good evacuation is its own reward.”
+The fireworks were a nice touch
+That final scene was beautiful
Titles: Day of the Colossus/The Last Stand
Written By: Tim Hedrick/Michael Dante Dimartino
Directed By: Ian Graham/Melchior Zwyer
Animated By: Studio Mir
Image Courtesy: The Otaku Kid