I’m incredibly impressed with this season of The Legend of Korra. No more shaky footing, no more “well, lets see how it plays out,” none of that, no doubt, no wait-and-see, just constant high-quality action. If you have friends who drifted away from the show, or if you are that friend? Grab them (or yourself) by the scruff of the neck and drag them back. I admit, I’m a little worried about Nickelodeon’s commitment; this “let’s air two episodes at a time” doesn’t strike me as a good sign. The show is firing on all cylinders, but I’m worried it will be too late for some of the fans… so trust me, Book Three: Change is pure perfection. “Old Wounds” and “Original Airbenders” really continue the tradition at the heart of what made Avatar: The Last Airbender so great: focusing on character conflict and growth.
The last two episodes were about “family” generally, but these two drill down to focusing on siblings. “Old Wounds” is spun around the axis of Toph’s daughters, Lin and Su Yin; “Original Airbenders” is centered on Aang and Katara’s sons, Tenzin and Bumi. It is a pair of character portraits that showcase the similarities and differences between the two; they may both be the strict and straight-laced type on the surface, but those exteriors arise from entirely different places and motives.
We see, in a nutshell, why Lin and Tenzin wouldn’t work; their baggage looks similar, but they just don’t match. Both are trying to live up to what they think their parents would have wanted, but Lin is doing it in isolation while Tenzin is creating his own conflicts. Or well, they were; thanks to the miracles of flashback acupuncture and long distance radio, they’re working on it. (On a personal note, I’ve been struggling with insomnia since I had shoulder surgery, and watching Lin suffer when she left acupuncture “halfway” really hit me with it’s portrayal of dissociative suffering.)
Those are by no means the only relationships on display. Bolin gets richly deserved screen time— I assume I will get Asami next, right?— and it illustrates something I’m really enjoying about this season: the commitment to the idea of change. Bolin is afraid of failing to metalbend, but he gets over it. Bolin has a history of being involved with emotionally unavailable women, now he actually tries being in a healthy, communicative relationship. Still, it is the part with Korra giving Tenzin good advice that really gets me. Oh my gosh, Korra, you learned to be wise! Tenzin taught you to be wise and now you are giving him good advice—this really matters to me. Their relationship was the core of the first season of the show, ever since “A Voice in the Night.” Watching it develop and deepen is viscerally pleasing.
Sometimes I think Tenzin might be my favorite character, but then I remember Jinora. She’s up there with Azula for me, now. Oh Jinora, lashing out with her completely reasonable teenage rebellion. That’s what really sold “Original Airbenders” for me; it hearkened back to Avatar: The Last Airbender’s episodic nature, in which sometimes you meet villains and then you just deal with the bad guys. No over-wrought “oh no, and Jinora is gone and everyone hates Kai!” manufactured melodrama. The dramatic instincts of this season are really on point; they hurdle pitfalls and push the narrative in interesting directions. Will Su Yin and the Metal Clan have a heel turn? At this point I’m honestly not sure, and that is exciting!
Speaking of Jinora, we see Zaheer deep in meditation, before finally announcing that he knows where the Avatar is. You know what that means: that guy can astral project. And you know what that means, maybe, if we’re lucky? That he’ll have a fight with Jinora in the spirit world. Which I would dearly like to see, because I imagine it going something like this: “You think I’m afraid of you, Zaheer? Just because you are a dangerous criminal? Zaheer, that’s back in the physical world. We are on my turf, where I’ve struggled with the spirits of darkness and memory, where I’ve walked among heroes and gods. You should be running.” Otherwise, the villains motives or agenda are still opaque. They want to assassinate the president (actually I think the term they use is “take out,” there could still be ambiguity), but that’s such a “big idea” that it hardly reveals anything about their intentions.
We also see Ghazan doing more lavabending. I just like keeping track of the evolving science of bending…like for instance, metalbending. Korra picks it up in a snap. That was interesting to me; I almost thought that the show might go with “well, the Avatar can bend all the elements, but only members of the four nations can master the esoteric disciplines.“ Oh, wait, but we see Aang lightningbend, don’t we? Well, that answers that. I wonder if there really are four elements, or if that is just the paradigm— in the truest sense of the word, for you philosophy nerds, both Kuhn’s paradigm and Lakatos’ “research program”— being used by the people of the world? I mentioned in the comments last week that if there we get a show about the next Avatar cycle I half-expect them to switch to a Wu Xing five elements system, especially as metalbending becomes more prominent with the rise of industry.
Did someone say industry? Varrick’s magnet suit was wonderful. There are a lot of other little jokes that really tickled me. Pabu being venomous. Bolin’s rant about ”future mustaches.“ Having the former Air Acolyte turned Air Nomad be named Otaku is a fun piece of word play, and so is the Konietzko smoothie. Excuse me, sorry, I mean kale-nuts-co. The guy with the shaved head going Neo on the net? I clapped with glee. There is a cameo by “young old Toph,” adult Toph; that and Su Yin’s use of the present tense make me think she’s alive and Lin is going to go find her, and then we’ll see…old old Toph. The American Ninja Gladiator obstacle course, the little fur of the bison rustler’s cape; these episodes are dense with detail, and they don’t need to wave their arms around to call your attention to it. That’s just plain old good storytelling.