True to what the creators of The Legend of Korra said, the finale wrapped up the season; at least, the narrative arc closed, though I think we’re still in the middle of the character arcs. “Skeletons In the Closet” laid bare Amon’s secrets, and “The Endgame” gives the characters a chance to do something about those secrets. I don’t think we’re done seeing the repercussions of the first season either, for that matter—the inequalities in Republic City haven’t disappeared, and I am curious to see what people intend to do to fix the grievances laid out in “The Revelation.” As before, this is the season finale and the mysteries of the last dozen episodes are out in the open, so the standard spoiler boilerplate applies.
It starts with Asami, Bolin and General Iroh going in to take down the airstrip that the Equalists are using to keep the United Forces at bay—having the earthbender tear up the airstrips is the kind of proactive thinking I value in this show, much like when Tenzin asked Lin to stay behind to protect his family in “Turning the Tides”—a plan immediately cut by them getting zapped by a Tesla fence. Hiroshi Sato, you have wireless electrical fences? Bolin’s right; where does he find the time to keep inventing new evil machines?
Meanwhile, Korra and Mako head to confront Amon, knowing that he is Noatak, the bloodbending brother of Tarrlock at least, according to Tarrlok. There is a great moment of doubt when he takes off the mask and has a vicious scar across his face. Still, Noatak could have been burned by a firebender at some point in his life, and of course Amon would deny being a bender, but you can see the war of doubt and certainty on Korra’s face. No time for second gussing, Korra—Amon has Tenzin and his family captive, and is about to succeed where the Fire Nation failed and destroy the art of airbending once and for all. It seems that swarms of biplanes trump a herd of sky bison
Polar bear dogs, at least, trump prison cells and, for that matter, mecha. After Sato shows up to gloat in front of General Iroh and his daughter—Bolin is right again, you are a terrible father, Mister Sato—Naga and Pabu bust them out of the slammer, and then things get awesome. Ever since we saw those mecha-tanks in “The Aftermath” I’ve been waiting for this moment, for the glorious wonder of Mechasami! Screw your ‘ship, I ‘ship Asami and combat robots! I like her “just like a Future Industries forklift” line a lot—like her similar line about the police scanners in her father’s car in “When Extremes Meet,” it is a nice minimalist explanation for how she can pilot the mecha, without getting too bogged down in specifics. When Asami finally confronts her father—in the heat of a mecha battle—I was pleased to see that, against expectations there is no temptation and no redemption. There is, instead, a reckoning.
In “ And the Winner Is” we got Spider-Lin, which was followed by WolverLin, and now we can add Iroh Man to the list, as a red & gold General Iroh spits jets of flame from his hands and takes flight, Azula-style. Hiroshi Sato has intercepted his message to the rest of the fleet and is sending his fighter planes to make a sneak attack on them—and General Iroh can’t let that happen. What follows is a rousing dogfight involving firebending, bombs, stalled motors, and more than one leap of faith and culminates into a biplane crashing into the iconic Aang statue, destroying the Amon mask on its face, with Iroh saying “thanks for looking out for me, Aang.” It is pretty fist-pumping and heart-string tweaking.
How dark is that image: Tenzin and his kids tied to stakes, on the cusp of disaster. Of course Korra has to intervene. Finally we get Korra versus Amon, in real, physical terms. Bet you regret not debending her back in “The Voice in the Night” when you had the chance, huh Amon? Or well maybe you don’t regret that, since while Korra is able to rescue the airbenders, she and Mako seem to be reeling and on the run from Amon, slasher movie style.
Amon has defeated Korra and taken away her bending; it looks like game over. The Lieutenant—who was shooting some dubious looks at Amon even when Korra initially accused him—enters while Amon is in the midst of bloodbending Mako and a now de-bended Korra. There is real pathos in his look of betrayal, as the Lieutenant is tossed aside—literally—by Amon. I don’t know if the nameless Lieutenant lived or died, but if he lived, maybe he can be the moderate voice of the Equalists in the upcoming second series.
Luckily, Mako is able to struggle free of Amon’s bloodbending with the power of lurve. Huey Lewis and the News was right! Korra, on the run from Amon, just as he is about to take Mako’s firebending away discovers she can airbend. It seems predictable, but it is a testament to the skill of the show that the tension is preserved. Clearly not prepared to handle her airbending—you’ll note that Tenzin’s airbending was the one thing that knocked him off balance, previously—Amon is knocked out the window and into the drink. Splash! The scar on his face washes away—if the scar was fake, why even wear a mask in the first place?—and Amon is revealed as a waterbender, as Noatak.
Amon escapes and we get what is surprisingly one of the most touching parts of the whole season. Amon—Noatak—goes back to Air Temple Island to see his brother Tarrlok. Both of them are survivors of the brutal Yakone we saw last episode and in “Out of the Past,” and now they start acting like brothers again. They’ve been—somehow—given a second chance, despite all their wicked acts. They head off on a small ship—as Lonely Island would say, “Amon a Boat”*— heading off into the sunset. Noatak is beaming, but a single tear spills down his cheek as Tarrlok says “it will be just like the good old days” and uses a taser glove to ignite the ship’s fuel tank. Is this what kid’s shows are like? Bittersweet nihilism culminating in a bleak murder-suicide and a mushroom cloud?
Things shift back to the Southern Water Tribe for the first time since the very beginning of the series. All of the cast from Republic City are there along with Korra’s parents as Katara—the greatest healer in the world—tries to undo Amon’s unbending of Korra. She fails, as you know she must and Korra is heartbroken. Mako says he loves Korra, and she rejects him and runs away to break down in tears on the edge of an iceberg. There, in the nadir of despair, when things are at their worst she has her spiritual awakening. We see legs clad in orange, but they aren’t Tenzin’s they are Aang’s.
Aang heals her, touching his hands to her chakra points in front of all her past incarnations. I want to know the stories of those Avatars! Kyoshi, you’re my favorite! Now that Kuruk isn’t in the front row, does he have more time to pursue his ghostly hobbies? Who is that tall Fire Nation Avatar woman or that Fire Nation Avatar with the hat? Who are those weird bearded Air and Earth Avatars? Never mind that: this is Avatar Korra’s story, and she rises into the air in the Avatar State demonstrating her mastery of the four elements. She tells Mako that she loves him too and restores Lin’s ability to bend.
Is that deus ex machina? No, that is deus ex anthropos, and that is sort of the point of the Avatar! She is the hand of divine intervention in the world of the Four Nations, the bridge between this world & the spirit world. No, this finale isn’t “Sozin’s Comet” level, but it certainly is the equal of “The Siege of the North.” You remember, the first season finale where the Avatar went into the Avatar State, turned into a blue Miyazaki Godzilla made of water and smashed the Fire Nation fleet? Another nice example of deus ex anthropos. I talked about how The Legend of Korra is the inversion of Avatar: the Last Airbender & in many ways this finale is the opposite of “The Crossroads of Destiny”—faced with spiritual awakening or disaster, this time the Avatar chooses satori.
Is this the end of the romantic triangle set up in “The Spirit of Competition”? Not by a long shot, I’d imagine. True, we don’t see a nice ribbon wrapped up around it, but I think that the vast gulf between “I care about you” and “I love you” shows that things have radically changed. People complain that we don’t see Mako and Asami break-up, but when did we see Mako and Asami get together? We don’t see either. It is back to being a matter of the medium, of long form versus short form. The Legend of Korra is paced in a much more cinematic style than the much more episodic Avatar: the Last Airbender, which means there is more fuzz at the margins. That is a feature, not a flaw. The story of Mako and Korra’s relationship isn’t over; I agree, I’m not satisfied with it either. They need a Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers “get our acts together” storyline. Things need to be fixed which is why I’m glad that there is a whole ‘nother season coming.
*There is literally no way Mordicai Knode could have resisted making an “Amon a boat” pun. You couldn’t, if you were in his shoes either, because it is funny as heck. He’s pretty sure “deus ex anthropos” is bad Latin or bad Greek or both, but he doesn’t mind. Besides bad puns and being bad at dead languages, he also likes Twitter and Tumblr.