Sunday, June 24, 2012

Avatar: The Legend of Korra – 11-12 (Season Finale)

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“Skeletons in the Closet/Endgame”


In the finale of Book 1, Korra gave us in microcosm everything that was good and bad about the entire season.  It was exhilarating, beautiful, powerful, exasperating and ultimately disappointing.  If you take the glass half-full approach this was practically Romanee-Conti ‘37 – the finale was full of some of the best moments of the entire season.  But I can’t help but feel that everything was ultimately undercut by the same flaws that showed themselves at the last possible moment.

To start with the good – and there was plenty of it – Bryke showed a real ability to go dark this season, and did so all the more in this finale.  Korra is no pacifist like Aang, but to see the Avatar actually take the lives of opponents in battle is a pretty shocking thing.  Shock and awe was pretty much the theme of the day in that entire grand battle sequence that more or less opened the episode.  It was one of the best “Avatar” scenes ever – the biplanes appearing from behind the buildings, the aerial combat, Iroh’s daring feats of “fireflying”, and the brutality of what was happening (despite the occasional parachute for the censors).  It was breathtaking and magnificent stuff.

The entire premise for this season was quite excellent, in fact – complex and nuanced, genuinely interesting.  But the devil was in the details, and the execution was rarely the equal of the setup.  Setting aside the issue of characterization generally – I thought the characters themselves and the voice cast both were a step down from the original series – there was a tendency for the plot to take shortcuts out of convenience, and the take the easy way out.  As nuanced as the writing was on the macro level, it was subtle as a sledgehammer on the micro level.  The idea that Tarrlok and Amon were brothers was a good conceit, but having a suddenly repentant Tarrlok conveniently relate the entire story to Korra was lazy exposition.

Lazy or not, I did enjoy the bleak and depressing story of Tarrlok and Naugatuk, doomed sons of Yakone.  It explains the events of S1 in an oversimplified but satisfactory way, and there’s a certain poetry in Naugatuk becoming an anti-bending crusader as an act of rebellion against his father.  Yakone, who has no bending, reveres it and tries to force his sons to become world-class bloodbenders – and Amon, a world-class bender, hates bending so much he wants to wipe it from the world (apart, presumably, from his own).  What this scenario didn’t explain to my satisfaction is just why Tarrlok ended up the way he did, but that’s something we’re never going to find out now.

The plot for the final episode broke down on pretty predictable lines.  Korra and Mako teamed up (get a room, already) to take on Amon, while the others went off on their own quest, to destroy the airfield where Asami-san’s airplanes were preparing to wipe out Iroh’s reinforcements (Iroh might want to consider whether sailing into the harbor of a city he’s invading without checking for mines is a good idea).  With Amon revealed as a superbender exposing that to his followers does seem like a good idea, though I suppose Amon gets credit for having the foresight to paint scars on his face, just in case.  The final battle was solid, with the most interesting part being Korra’s mysterious retention of her airbending.  Given that it’s not her native discipline it’s curious that it should be the one Amon was unable to take away – I wonder if we’ll ever get a back story on that.

With the ending itself, Korra does what it’s been doing all season – teasing us with greatness before delivering a head-slapper.  I was amazed at the Fate/Zero moment which brought Naugatuk and Tarrlok’s story to an end – amazed, if nothing else, that it made it onto Nick at 11 AM on a Saturday morning.  And it left us with a tantalizing scenario – Republic City saved, but Korra questing to re-discover her bending.  That would have made an interesting jumping-off point for Book 2, but Korra does what it’s been doing all season – copping out.  I absolutely hated the last scenes – Aang appearing and giving Korra her bending back, and Korra restoring everyone else’s.  What a waste of all the build-up and subtlety – a reset button, and all is well.  We even got a Korra-Mako moment to put the cherry on top.

Once again it all comes back to the two Achilles’ heels of this series – rushed pacing and obvious, easy resolutions.  And the problems in characterization can largely be put down to those causes, too.  For all it’s flaws, the original Avatar was really able to take its time telling a story and developing its characters, and that was sorely missed with Korra.   With every episode dedicated to major plot developments and the romance in turbo mode, there was little substance to anything on the character side.  I’ll be honest – I find both Korra and Mako (Asami too) to be pretty boring as characters.  Their romance holds no interest for me because they hold no interest for me.  And the more interesting side characters weren’t given enough development to really become three-dimensional – the potential was always there for Bolin and Tenzin and Lin and even Pema, but it was never realized.  Ironically the only Book 1 character whose potential was realized was Amon – he was a gripping presence who commanded every scene he was in, and his story ended up being by far the most interesting and complex.

That of course leaves us in an interesting and worrying position going into Book 2 (theoretically sometime in 2013).  The most interesting storyline and the most interesting character in S1 are both over and done with.  What is Book 2 going to consist of, I wonder?  I hope the romance angle is set aside – I’d much rather endure Korra and Mako being lovey-dovey than a season full of angsting about their fragile love.  All the problems of S1 have been happily glossed over – Amon is dead, everyone’s bending is back, and Korra and reached out to the Spirit World.  What I’d like to see is a follow-up that acknowledges that while Amon was an extremist, to dismiss everything he stood for is folly.  He became what he did rebelling against the tyranny of his father, and he drew so many followers because there were a great deal of non-benders who agreed with him that they were getting the short end of the stick.  Amon’s terrorist approach exposed some very legitimate fault lines in the new world Aang and Zuko created – full credit to Bryke for making that happen – but I hope they aren’t simply plastered over and forgotten now that he’s gone.

My final thoughts are this: Korra was a very good show, but for my particular tastes not the equal of the first series.  In three long seasons Avatar had many ups and downs, but on balance it offered much more compelling characters and a world that felt richer because we were given time to really explore it.  Korra was beautifully animated with an excellent premise, but in the end the experience was shallower because we were never given time to fully bond with it.  I think it boils down to your priorities as a viewer – I could easily see many people preferring Korra and they wouldn’t be wrong to do so.  For me, I prefer the more personal experience of the original series.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing what Bryke come up with for their encore.

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19 comments:

  1. As you said, pacing was one of the major weaknesses of Korra. It desperately needed a full 20-22 episode season to flesh out the characters and plot, and I feel many of the weak aspects of the season can be attributed to this.

    Amon was a great villain, and the whole political intrigue revolving around Republic City is one of the strengths of Korra. Considering there was only 12 episodes, I wish they didn't focus of the romance at all.

    That said, the aerial bombing of the United Fleet reminded me strongly of Pearl Harbour.

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  2. I enjoyed everything except for how Makorra and Amon were handled. If it were just Makorra, I would've been annoyed but fine overall. Amon's backstory and sudden derailment was just too much to forgive.

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  3. To be honest it was Iroh that made the finale for me. Not only did his introduction show Zuko legacy but he also displayed that he is a kickass character in his own right it just a matter of an hour throughout the whole finale. The moment between him and the statue was my favorite. Overall I want more of him in the 2nd season ^_^. In the end it was the side characters that were more interesting than the main cast (tenzin,lin, pema,homeless guy etc)

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  4. BLEH! I "barfed" when the confession and make-out between Korra and Mako happened. I was talking to my T.V saying "No, don't kiss, don't kiss!" If the producers resisted that maybe I would of liked the last episode better.

    tbh, when Korra had her bending powers back, I was sad and gravely disappointed. I thought the next season would be interesting if Korra had to relive "Aang's" life again starting as an airbender and learning all the elements. I thought that would be cool and ironic; however, Korra being able to see Aang was awesome, and it had me cheering because dude, its Aang!

    I have to say, the death of Tarrlock and Amon was amazing. I did not expect that, (I just thought Tarrlock was going to shock Amon and drown him) so I was pleased. In the end, Tarrlock ended their sad story. Which makes me resent Tarrlock and Amon's father even more because that despicable, fool ruined two very young boy's lives.

    I agree, I hope the animators won't leave out the equalist movement behind us because that plot drove me to this series. The side characters proved to be better than the actual main characters! I hated Korra. She was WAY too typical for a head strong, power type, and I hated Mako. That guy was a douche to not even bother picking a damn woman! Ling was my hero, and Tenzin was awesome. I loved his kids too (ahhh Meelo that scene with Tenzin "yeah, you're a bad teacher, dad." GOD cracks me up all the time).

    I loved the villain, Amon and the animation, music and fighting scenes were great. Especially the blood-bending scenes between Tarrlock, Amon and their father. Those scenes scared the crap out of me. I couldn't help but yelp on several parts (ex: Yakone blood-bending Aang) and one scene when Amon (could of) got rid of his lieutenant. Truly a darker tone and setting with this avatar compared to the Aang saga; truly captivating. Unfortunately, the main characters didn't work for me... that's what bothered me. I liked the Legend of Korra, but I didn't love it.

    I'm hoping in the next season to see the past between Tenzin, Pema and Ling.

    Thank you SO much for blogging this GE.

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    1. You're very welcome!

      I thought the next season would be interesting if Korra had to relive "Aang's" life again starting as an airbender and learning all the elements. I thought that would be cool and ironic;

      That pretty much describes my exact line of thinking. Needless to say what actually happened was quite a letdown.

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    2. We have seen Aang already learn all the elements why do it again that would be boring, especially when she was already skilled with them.

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  5. I was complaining - when our villain/anti-hero, Amon, "died" - that Korra has never been in the Avatar state. Then they slap me in the face with a deus ex machina! ARGGHHHH

    This is a horrible ending episode. The only thing compelling me to watch the next season is HOPE that things will get interesting. We now have Korra, and I'm still waiting for the "Legend" part.


    What the first series showed us was the spiritual journey of Aang - more like an action-adventure story. What this show has shown us is how Korra "dreams" of her Avatar connection (and coming to her albeit easily) and her struggle to deal with the Avatar status. I might have expected the wrong things. The highlight of this show, it seems, - and as many have pointed out - was really more of the world that was left behind by Aang and the products of his decisions.

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  6. Agreed, everything to this series is so contrived and mechanical. It is unbelievable how noticeably linear and predictable everything is outright displayed. So they split into groups of two, while iroh is the wild card (supposedly), the sequences are so formulaic and underdeveloped due to time constraints. Understandably every show is, aang vs final boss, zuko/katara, and the masters at ba sing se, is formulaic in itself, but the timing, substance, and the execution we saw was undoubtedly filling of an orgasmic final episode.

    One thing would paint a better light for me. They should have just ended it somber and ambiguous. The ending for amon and korra retaining only airbending was brilliant and no one foresaw (be honest). The arrival of aang or a close headshot of korra in the avatar state would have sufficed onward to book 2. (no complaints)

    Subsequently, the series could have benefited with more people (regardless if they had any personality or even talked). They definitely could have included more background characters in the fight to enhance the scale and believability that an insignificant number of good guys (excluding korra, iroh and maybe tenzin) did enough to defeat the bad guy’s armada. Bringing in the ghosts of probenders’ past would have been more interesting, which if only we were introduced to more earlier. If the United forces failed, a militia of probenders rally to provide support. Despite the dreaded sport, it would have brought probending to a closure or at least bothered being worth remembered.

    In concluding the episode could have made and left a powerful mark on the series end (and as a whole), like the reviewer said, if not for happily ever after. Not unlike they couldn’t change something afterwards, but the franchise really does its best with somber/ melancholic endings for examples the end of book 2, episodes the blue spirit, zuko alone, the puppetmaster, suffice to say.

    Sadly the series reiterates how consistently flawed it offers week after week.

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  7. Ah, mostly sums up my thoughts for the finale, though I do think that I liked Korra's premise and plot a bit more. It just needed more time to adequately set everything up, perhaps provide more hints on Tarrlok and Amon's connection beforehand, and a lot of the time lost was squandered on that shallow love triangle.

    Kind of wished that Korra was just given the ability to relearn the elements rather than Aang just...handing them over to her. I guess Amon's bending was something like the opposite of waterbending healing, whereas Katara could heal others and open their chi channels if they had been blocked, Amon could somehow seal them up. But hey, if I think too hard about it I'll start wondering just why it was so permanent in the first place agh. And given it was put as her connection to the other elements was "severed", I'm guessing that somehow connecting to her spiritual side and being able to access the Avatar State was able to reconnect her or something. Arrgh, that was really too much to fit into the last ten or so minutes. I'm wondering if maybe it would have been better to take Korra's bending away before the finale so we could have seen more on how she would have coped with it and such.

    But in the end I keep coming back to the same reason for these frustrations: time constraints. Ah, whatever, can't really ask for too much, especially since this was meant to be standalone originally.

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  8. Ahh it's sad, but they we're only told that they would get a season 2 after they had completely finished creating and producing season 1 and could no longer make changes(hence the terribad pacing and ending plot conveniences). Here's hoping that season 2 will help us to truly connect with the characters since they don't have to spend time on character introductions and world introducing.

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    1. Pretty Much this, Im pretty sure Bryke and Mike know exactly what they are doing, but with nick being a douchebag company, they had to make do. They probably didn't want the show to end on a cliffhanger given the circumstances. Also I felt that they were trying too hard. . .as in trying to hard to address the shipping and shippers instead of ignoring them, which is why there was a forced relationship which made me cringe every time I saw time spent on it(I ended up skipping parts of the episode due to that) really, I feel if nick actually gave them more than one season from the start most of those flaws would have not been there. there was no reason for nick to try to test out if Avatar would be a popular show unless nick was trying to squeeze more money out of Mike and Bryke. . .or the nick execs are just total retards.

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    2. I really think Bryke knew very well they'd get a second season - as I said earlier, this is one of the biggest moneymakers in Nick history.

      Perhaps the problem was that, unlike A:TLA, Korra had only Bryke as writers - the small army of scripters with the old show was missing. Maybe having another perspective - and someone to say "That sounds kinda dumb to me, Bryan" - would have been a good thing.

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  9. Check out the review on the AV Club: http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/tvshow/the-legend-of-korra,340/

    There are some pretty interesting ideas to contextualise those last scenes with Aang. The reviewer suggests that what was going on was a contemplation of suicide (with the tear) now that Korra can't rely on her title of Avatar, and that by dying she could give the world their next fully-capable Avatar rather that one who can only airbend.

    When she steps back she accepts the idea of a life apart from being the Avatar which releases her spiritual block (consistent with her nightmares throughout the season). That's what lets Aang appear.

    Whether you like it or not, if true it makes that end a hell of a lot more palatable (makeout session not withstanding) and it's believable from the writers because it follows on from an actual depiction of a murder-suicide!

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    1. That is interesting, tenshi - thanks. I can't honestly say I agree with their interpretation, though.

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  10. I agree. The ending was a total let down. I got ALL EXCITED when Korra lost her bending and discovered her air bending and it would have been such a good premise for the 2nd book. I would have loved to see the four teenagers journey the lands in quest of restoring Korra's powers. But no. Bummer.

    The whole romance plot could have been nice, if it hadn't been so rushed. I enjoyed quite a few things about it nonetheless, I loved Korra's confession, I loved sad Asami and I would have loved to see all that play out more slowly, if Asami and Mako would have been dating a little longer, the whole thing could have been much more dramatic and intriguing. But yeah, I'm glad that it's over with now... but I imagine there'll still be more drama in the next season. I mean, Asami can't be exactly happy when she gets the news about Korra and Mako being a couple now, Mako never did officially break up with her after all.. ? I dunno, I think they handled the romance very poorly this time.

    They should've added another ten episodes and moved things a littler slower, but even if rushed, I still really loved Korra.

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  11. You are right the writing was lazy and the characters didn't get fleshed out enough but I think it is just because the producers at Nick told them to throw this show together out of nowhere. (It was supposed to be a web-series) With only 12 episodes available to them there wasn't much they could do and I think they did a great job with the time they had. Also they didn't even know they were going to get a season 2 when they originally made this, that is why the wrapped everything up.

    It was pretty obvious that Aang was going to be able to give her bending back. She hadn't connected with the spirit world since she got her bending taken away and Aang is the one that is known for taking bending away.

    Overall this season of Korra was still amazing, action packed, filled with laughs, troubling moments, sad and dark moments you wouldn't think you could get from a Nick show.

    I have to say it was better than any anime I've seen that has come out in recent years, at least Asami wasn't in a skimpy outfit jumping on Mako shoving her F cup boobs in his face for half the show am I right?

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    1. I've said this many times already, but I truly believe the idea that there wouldn't be a second season was always ludicrous and I'm confident Bryke knew it. Avatar is a cash-printing machine for Nick and they were always going to be happy to have more.

      Can I prove it? Nope. But I sure think it makes sense.

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    2. The truth you are missing is that Nick is not rational about it's cartoons.The management runs on a cult of personality and a fair amount of it hates animation.

      Nick doing something reasonable can never be counted on.

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    3. Ya upper management can make weird decisions. For example, the company I work for sells some apparel to a large discount retailer. A VP once walked by the buyer responsible for the commodity and decided in his "expert" opinion that the buyer should include this particular product (which was made from expensive materials). While we were happy to sell that product to them, both we and the buyer knew that no way in hell this product would sell at a discount retailer. Simply because nobody buys up-scale apparel items at a discount retailer and this item would be priced much higher than the usual stuff at the retailer. Sure enough, the product didn't sell and they had to markdown the item like crazy to clear out the inventory.

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