Four years after saying goodbye to the much-beloved world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, fans were transported back to the world in The Legend of Korra. The Avatar-verse was much-changed in this sequel series, but the Avatar spirit remained, making for a satisfactory, if somewhat unpolished, first season. Spoilers ahead!
Korra did a lot of things right in its first season. Korra herself kicked butt but wasn’t above taking her lumps — of which she took many this season. A strong-willed hot-head, she was a polar opposite of Aang; she struggled for the entire season to connect to her spiritual side of bending and become an Avatar worth following in her predecessors’ footsteps.
Besides a new Avatar, Korra introduced some descendants of the original Team Avatar: Tenzin, Aang and Katara’s son, was Korra’s airbending teacher; Lin Bei-Fong, Toph’s daughter, was the tough-as-nails head of the police; and General Iroh, Zuko’s grandson, appeared as a military commander willing to fight at Korra’s side. We also got a brief glimpse of Bumi, Tenzin’s brother, who was also a military leader. Along with some flashbacks, there was plenty of fodder to keep fans of the original series salivating.
Korra also continued its predecessor’s strong world-building. The majority of the action takes place in Republic City, which was founded by Aang and Zuko as a place where citizens of all four nations could live together in peace. The city evolved rapidly and became a metropolis on the brink of a 1920s-inspired Industrial Revolution.
The city also hosted Pro-bending. A lot of time obviously went into creating the sport and its distinct rules, making it a joy to watch in action. And Pro-bending was not just a spectacle; it was also a vehicle for Korra to form Team Avatar 2.0 and for masked baddie Amon to take center stage with his anti-bending movement.
Korra also excelled with a grittier feel. The older characters allowed for more mature subject matter. Where the first series was mostly black and white — Aang must defeat the evil Fire Lord — Korra was bathed in gray. Korra wasn’t completely right in what she said or did, and Amon wasn’t completely wrong in his assertions of inequality between benders and non-benders.
Korra was originally imagined as a twelve-episode miniseries. Even when it was picked up for a second season of fourteen episodes, creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were determined to tell a self-contained story. As a result, the season had pacing issues that can be attributed to that need to wrap up a concise story in a short space of episodes.
The speed of events in Korra, at times, hindered character and plot development. By the end of the season, we were left with a lot of questions, particularly about Amon, Tarrlok, and their special bloodbending abilities, and how Korra managed to airbend despite Amon taking away her bending. The story moves so quickly that the characters (and audience) didn’t get the proper time to react.
There was a lot of potential in the Equalist storyline, but the ill-fated love triangle took away screentime that could have been better spent on character and story development, particularly the awful “Spirit of Competition.” Take out that episode, develop the Equalists and their plots a bit more, and maybe we don’t have to cram so much into the final two episodes of the season.
The love triangle went a long way in preventing Team Avatar 2.0 from living up to the originals. Mako was introduced as a love interest, but his behavior toward Asami as he realized his feelings for Korra made him less than sympathetic — rather, he strung Asami along. Hopefully we’ll see more of Mako’s upside in book 2; otherwise, Korra/Mako will have nothing on Aang/Katara (or even Zuko/Mai).
Asami, for her part, was strong, independent, and she kicked butt. She abandoned her father when he targeted her friends for being benders. She made a good addition to the team, but she might have fared better without a romantic attachment — or maybe she should have run over Bolin rather than Mako.
Bolin was clearly meant to be Sokka 2.0, capable yet comedic. However, the love triangle stranded him in the friend zone as Korra crushed on Mako. He was relegated to the background over the course of the season, which was unfortunate as he has a lot of potential.
The Deus Ex Machina
With the show’s pacing problems, the season finale ended up rushed. With little time left after her showdown with Amon to wrap things up nicely for the originally planned twelve-episode run, Korra found something of a deus ex machina resolution to her problems, leaving things tied up with a bow.
Looking over a cliff with tears running down her cheeks, Korra finally tapped into her spiritual side and regained her bending as well as the ability to restore others’ bending. But this was an ability that she hadn’t made an effort to master. Korra sat down in the snow, had the previous Avatars appear to her, and suddenly entered the Avatar State. This was dissatisfying, as there was little explanation of how, as Aang’s spirit put it, being at her lowest could open Korra up to the Avatar State and energybending.
But that being said, in the context of a single miniseries, the ending works — or is at least more palatable. There is still a lot of room to explore in the second season. And a somewhat sour taste from the finale should not take away from all the excellent things the show did during its first season.
The Legend of Korra had high standards to live up to, as Avatar: The Last Airbender remains both a fan favorite and critical darling years after its finale. The scripts probably could have used another pass through or two, but all in all, the first season of Korra is a worthy addition to the Avatar-verse.