For someone who happens to have a show named after her, Korra sure doesn’t get much screen time in the premiere of the new season of The Legend of Korra! Doesn’t bother me none, personally; I’ve always like the without-the-Doctor Doctor Who episodes, myself. Still, can I tell you something? I’m well ready for this depressing plot line to come to an end already. Really, I hope the whole recovery story arc runs on an accelerated track. I’ve had enough emo Korra in this series; I’m ready for no-holds-barred, cage-match, all-or-nothing Korra to come back.
I think Korra’s ready, too. She’s brawl-bending, putting her in the underdog role that Bolin and Mako were in as pro-benders in season one, and they’re the authority figures with government ties; how the tables have turned. We’ve had three years of lapsed time, so I think it is possible. Plus…perfect opportunity for Korra to be taken under Toph’s wing as a mentor, just sayin’.
I hope they don’t Godwin Kuvira. Avatar: the Last Airbender had a tendency to show the three dimensions of their villains, and thus the character portraits we remember of them are humanizing. Azula at the beach, Azula having a mental breakdown—not at her best, not at her worst, but as her more characterized. Old enemies could be turned to new allies, but even if they stayed enemies, or stayed neutral, their essential self is what we remember. The exception is Ozai, because the monstrousness of his deeds and ideology outweigh any meager time he had on screen.
I sort of feel like The Legend of Korra’s villains have been the opposite of both those examples. We got the characterization upfront and the villainy later, when it came to Tarrlok and Unalaq, in the form of betrayal. Again with Zaheer we got noble rhetoric and only dubious antagonism—violently overthrowing an unjust empire is as ambiguous as it gets—before he went full heel turn. Amon is another exception, but frankly Amon’s actions outweigh Amon’s backstory and exposition at least seven-fold, for me.
What I want for Kuvira is something better. I want the Avatar: the Last Airbender treatment. With her prodigious talents and taste for politics, she could easily be this season’s “Azula,” but I want them to tweak it: make Kuvira a necessary evil. If you read my recent review of The Emerald Spire, the first Pathfinder megadungeon, you’ll know my favorite alignment is Lawful Evil. It has conflict built into it! Perfect storytelling engine. Really I want her to be badass anti-hero. I want her to have her own agenda—order in the Earth Kingdom—and to oppose any more queens and puppet princes. I want her to have her own ideas about how far is too far and I want her to not give a damn what the Avatar thinks as an authority figure…but to care about Korra’s counsel as a spiritual leader. I want her to be her own faction; Lady Eboshi or Princess Kushana.
Sometimes enemy, sometimes ally, always her own person. I don’t want her to end up as a plain old “bad guy.” I want her cast as someone making hard choices. Does she only care about your province for the ore? Yes! Because she’s trying to run a country in the middle of a period of anarchy. She’s governing, yes she only cares about the trade route, the strategic ground, the precious resource. Those are things government needs to address. Does she employee bandits to act as the “bad cop” so she can roll in and solve the problem? Probably! I just want the story to give her depth and backstory and motivation. But yes, of course she’s going to decide that Republic City has to be “reclaimed” to re-unite the entire Earth Kingdom, that’s the obvious direction for the story to take; I just hope it has a less obvious conclusion.
I’m really happy with the conceit of turning the Air Nomads into world traveling problem-solvers in the Avatar’s absence. It gives them a reason to resume being nomadic, which is a clever flourish, but their low numbers and inexperience means it stretches them thin. As with Lawful Evil antagonists, a noble underdog plot like this can generate its own stories. Collaborate with the quasi-legitimate warlord, or be destroyed without their help. Attempt a hail Mary longshot to go it alone, and either failure or success will spawn new ideas… and cool fight scenes like the bison back brawl with the Point Break ending.
I do have one complaint though! Meelo’s “Meelo the Boy versus Meelo the Man” vignette was cute but something—someone—felt like they were missing. Do Opal or Kai start with a “J” and end in “-inora”? No? Then shut up and have Jinora do something more than smile when she hears Korra is coming back! Which of course, is something that holds true about Korra in this episode as well…
Before I go, let’s talk for a minute about how everyone looks. Which is to say, to recall the days of Iroh II, congratulations on your faces, everybody. and the costume design? The way the patagial wings on the Air Nation uniforms fold up like Star Trek movie uniforms fold over? The evolution of Lin Beifong’s weaponized metalbender armor taken to the extreme of a high speed ammo feed, Mako’s green collar…every little detail is just so. The fact that everything has changed so much is a testament to the characters original designs; change the outfits, the hair, and we still know who Korra and crew at a glance. Those changes tell a story in and of themselves; three years have gone by and Team Avatar has, excuse the pun, changed.
I’m guessing next episode is Korra’s flashback episode, complete with rehabilitation and a Battlestar Galactica grooming montage; fingers crossed that it ends on an up note! Hopefully Korra isn’t in the Earth Kingdom aimlessly, but is in fact entering the world of underground bending as part of her own, personal agenda to seek out Toph as a master?