Avatar: the Impossible Followup – A look at The Legend of Korra Seaon 4

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We have come to the end of this journey. A look at a series that I have more to say on an upcoming editorial, but seasonally has reached its end. I don’t have a whole lot of preamble. After season three ended I didn’t keep track of season four cause I wanted to wait and watch it when it was over, and I heard no one talk about it except for one specific element I’ll get to (it’s Korrasami, duh), but other than that it seemed to have been forgotten.

Forgotten just like the shows pacing. Instead of only a few months or weeks, the series jumps three years – about the length of the shows run – into the future to see how the world changed since Zaheer’s attack on the Earth Kingdom, and crippling of Korra. In that time the Earth Kingdom has been brought back together under Kuvira, a minor character we only caught a glimpse of near the end of season three helping care for the wounded men after their failed attempt to stop Zaheer’s Red Lotus and save the airbenders. In the meantime she worked to restore order with the help of Varrick, one of Su’s kids we did not see last season, and Bolin. Meanwhile the Air Nation is doing their best to keep the peace with their limited numbers, a new Earth King is about to be crowned, and Korra has gone missing. Everything goes wrong when Kuvira takes total control and Korra is shown to be majorly off her game. She must work to restore balance to herself before Kuvira can force balance onto the Earth Kingdom.

This is a strange season. Not strictly in terms of content, but there is some of that we’ll get to, but instead in terms of energy and passion. Last season felt like the series they always wanted to make. This season feels like they have to deal with consequences, but don’t have the passion to do that. Like the team got all their ideas out and now have to follow through, stuck in the rut they made.

This might stem from their idea for a villain this season. In order to make sure they get all the elements down they made the final villain an earth bender who seeks to unite the Earth Kingdom under her rule in a not to subtle nod to classic fascist and totalitarian imagery. Unfortunately for the team it is going backward and copying some of what the Fire Nation was in the previous series, a bland evil-faceless empire and its not as good because it is not nearly as developed. It starts in a strong place. When a state is overrun by bandits and Kuvira shows up offering help in exchange for control of the town that all works. It shows why people might flock to her, but doesn’t show the aftermath of that choice. They talk of re-education camps and forced labor but only the remnants of that are shown.

The real problem might be Kuvira herself. She is plenty terrifying as a villain. Menacing and clearly capable, even if they have to weaken Korra for most of the season to make this plot work, she is definitely a force to be reckoned with. But the failure is in showing how she grew so powerful or what led to being a full dictator. The finale tries to give her some sympathy of being scared and pushing a nationalistic idealology to feel safe. As true as that may be not enough of it is in the show. It doesn’t tap into how clearly ruthless she is either. She nearly annihilated her fiancée in order to keep her power. I’m shocked there was never a point she said she would kill Korra and scour the Earth Empire in search of the next Avatar in order to control them. But that might have been to far, and they wanted her sympathetic.

If Kuvira was all control then Prince Wu, rightful Earth Kingdom heir, is her opposite the season is paralleling. To be totally contrary, Wu is a cowardly wimp who would rather have fun than rule. Focused fully on womanizing and partying over the crown, or rather only wants the crown for that. However it is seen over the season that he clearly does have a way with the public. He can make people follow him through sheer charism and exuberant energy. He also would never give up his people just for a chance at freedom. That makes it all the stranger when he steps down to allow a democracy to come in. Which, despite how poorly monarchies were used in the history of the show, could clearly not be an issue if the right leader is in charge. The best example being the Fire Lord, Zuko’s daughter whose name we get but I forgot. She is still in charge and they don’t seem to have any issues (actually it’s odd how the series was so focused on every place but the Fire Nation. I’m aware they did a whole show about it, but it would be interesting to see how life has changed since the Hundred Year War-and I’m saving that for the editorial).

For returning characters, Toph finally makes her appearance and she is about as perfect a return as you can get. She is wise and helpful without being around purely for fan service or exposition. She plays well with the theme of unity and forgiveness, and still sounds like herself in the writing even if no one else has been. Also it is fun to watch her call out people who would think Katara should have joined and helped in the Civil War… as a fighter. She defiantly should have been someone advisor at least but that’s not here or there.

When it comes to the main cast it is a mixed bag. Mako, poor Mako, gets nothing to do this season. He’s bodyguard to Prince Wu, and just sort of around. In fact, I bet if he was cut from the season it would have made no difference. Except for how he plays into the relationship with Asami and Bolin. Asami, similarly doesn’t get a lot to do, but is more important overall than Mako in terms of plot and theme. When it comes to plot she is around to make amends with her father, who has been in prison since his working with Amon, and working with Verick to help build defenses for Republic City when Kuvira plans to invade. In both instances she must work with men who have betrayed her in order to prove her strength of will. For Verick it makes sense. He’s always been a complete cheeseball looking for a thrill, but her father. While I see the logic in giving him a chance to prove he is better than the revenge that overtook him, it being introduced so late into the series and season feels off. A build where he learns to respect benders like Korra and why his daughter turned to them over him would help build his case. He does get to die a noble enough death whether he deserved it or not. Asami, sweet Asami, is also part of a romance I will get to later.

Following her is Bolin, my hunky marshmallow. After his journey last season he started working with Kuvira to bring peace and help people. All of that is in character for him. He’s a stand up guy who wants a nice life and do the right thing, while being dim enough not to ask follow up questions. This changes when he finds out the truth of what she is doing, and how crazy she can get and teams up with Verick to escape and help save Republic City. He too is shown to be a very empathetic leader, and is an interesting parallel to Prince Wu in those terms. Well meaning, but not that bright people who honestly want to help are shown to be the best leaders. Well them and the Avatar.

Korra’s arc feels like the only one truly thought out, and gave the writers an out by making her underpowered for most of the fights she gets into. Following last season, Korra was physically crippled by the mercury-like poison coursing through her body. Turns out it was more than just physical. She was haunted by the events that led her to that moment, and the trauma of near death. On top of that her friends of New Team Avatar all were able to move up and do great things in their life. They saw it as just keeping her informed, but to her it made her feel like she was just standing still as everyone passed her by, making her feel useless and unnecessary. That is strong groundwork laid in one of this series better episodes, Korra Alone. It is also handled well after that. She trains with Toph who gets her to help see she needs help and was literally holding onto the past by still holding pieces of the metal in her body. Then, forcing Korra to remove it on her own and teach her how to see using sprite vines is all wonderful growth that tracks. Where it fails in her needing to see Zaheer, the person who traumatized her and almost killed her. Though I have never been nearly killed by someone, I can imagine forcing to confront them is a painful experience, let alone going to them for help. I do not follow message boards (God I’m old… Discord Servers or Subredits), but I gather there was some backlash to that decision. The team played it well by not redeeming him but rather had it be a tenuous alliance at best, but it still felt rather tone deaf to force Korra to go to her abuser, make her relive the moment the abuser tried to kill her, and give that same person the speech that she had to go through that. And for what?

One of Korra’s best moments is near the end of the season when she is able to reason with Kuvira after her plan goes breast-plate up. She realizes that Kuvira was just a scared girl using her power, just like Korra was. Only she grew from that. She then relays that to Tenzin near the finale when she says that nearly dying and going through that trauma made her more compassionate to even the most haneous of people. That all works in the abstracts. However I would posit it was not, in fact, the poison, and crippling trauma that drove this. It was her finally going out, seeing the world, and working to become her own woman with no baggage. This came with consequences she had to deal with. That would make her using those skills to finally talk Kuvira down all more impactful. Unfortunately the team did not see it that way… or the character but with it being one of the final exchanges it’s impossible to know and doesn’t matter. But her saying she had to go through that that trauma in order to be as compassionate doesn’t track anyway. It was shown last season that she was able to empathize with the new airbenders, except the basement dweller (so maybe they had a point), so it doesn’t seem like she needed that lesson.

Maybe part of the reason it feels off is how they use the time to advance her and Asami’s relationship, which again, is coming.

Another piece that feels off and contributes to this whole wonky tone is the lack of action this season. Sure there are fights and chases and a city siege, but it feels all so tame. This has always been, or wanted to be, a more talkie show. It wants to have big ideas, themes, and characters. It has a less then stellar track record at achieving that, but that was always its goal. The previous seasons had this too, but when it was action time it was always strong, dynamic, and punchy. This season it feels all so drab. The best example is the final fight with Kuvira. In theory it should be great. A giant mech attacks the city and they must stop it as a group. It builds the theme of teamwork to stop a common goal, and is totally original. The issue is that the mech is a lunky CG, and the plans they come up with don’t match the epic scale. It all feels too easy, even if having one direct force works better than branching ones like Avatar’s finale had. It just all feels so subdued, which is fine. Trying to constantly top yourself each season can lead to problems. But the ending doesn’t feel as satisfying because of it.

To really throw a curve ball, this season has a clip show, something the rest of the show could avoid. It could be argued Avatar had a clip show episode in the Fire Island play, but that was a creative retelling of the series. This is a bland recap with additional banter thrown on top for comedic effect. It slows the seasons overall good pacing to a screeching halt to not advance much story other than small character moments. These moments don’t feel important enough to be substantial or important enough to build an episode around and filled in with show clips.

All of this has really been staving off the inevitable conversation about Korrasami. Korrasami, the romantic pairing of Korra and Asami the show leaves us with, is underwhelming. I fully support them as a couple, and actually want to read the comics about them to see if they get development because, as it stands now, it doesn’t work. It’s arguable how much the team tried to get them together or were allowed with getting away with by Nickelodeon, but the source goes deeper than that. Korra and Asami have no chemistry. I don’t want to blame anyone, but it feels like it’s Asami’s problem because she is such a nothing character. She is in the first season to be a strict romantic rival and provide support for New Team Avatar, but once that concludes she seems to just be around with no point. The show failed her. She’s a women in STE(A)M after all. She should be the one coming up with plans and strategy. She’s both a nerd and an empath. There is just so much potential never touched by the writers. I don’t know how much was planned based from the start of the season to the final scene, but if they wanted her and Korra to get together then more of the arc should have been around that instead of… or maybe both, around her rekindling some feelings for her father and caring for Korra in a new light.

There are some subtle attempts to pair them in our mind. The fact Korra can really only write to Asami after her crippling. The use unreasonable arguments to help build that Korra and Asami act as couple similar Korra and Mako, and the fact, and this is from the creators, they mirrored the shots of the wedding scene with them to show a romantic interest. Also this:

As frustrating as it is that they got such little growth as a couple it bothers me more that Nickelodeon tries to push Korra as LGBT (and all the wonderful letters after) representation even as they did not let them go into a full relationship, and removed Korra from their channel, but then want to act like they had representations all along. That truly maddens me. It would be like saying Spongebob is asexual… oh wait no!

As the series draws to a close Korra and Tenzin remark on how much Korra changed the world. It should feel epic. Governments are changing, the spirits and humans are flowing, there is no evil spirits. All massive stuff, yet, it feels so small. It doesn’t feel like anything changes from the first episode despite so much happening. Compared to Avatar, which felt suitably epic all the way to the end. It’s the same feeling some people get after watch The Last Jedi. So much happened yet it feels like filler. I think the reason is because as much as stuff happened there was no journey. There was never a clear endpoint. I don’t get why Korra ended with season four and not with whatever is going on in the comics. It reached and end, but hardly a conclusion.

Though this is the end of The Legend of Korra but that’s not the end of Avatar: The Impossible Followup (but this is defiantly a break from it. I need to watch some other stuff). If you study the credits as I do, then eagle-eyes viewers know many members: Lauren Montgomery, Joaquim Dos Santos, Joshua Hamilton, Tim Hedrick and more go on to create Voltron: The Legendary Defender. Meanwhile Aaron Ehaz, the story editor and lead writer for Avatar along with other co-writers have gone on to make Dragon Prince. Both series try and fail to live up to the path Avatar made, because, truly, it is impossible to follow up.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: https://ebay.com/usr/connorfahy1013 say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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