The overall thrust of these final two installments of Book 3 confirms for me that the writers really wanted to produce a lighter, less overtly political season of The Legend of Korra. It was heavy on the WHIZ-BANG-POW aspects, low on the concerns for global change—maybe the collapse of Ba Sing Se will be a central part of Book 4?—and essentially amounted to, "If we kill the hero, there'll be no one to stand in our way!" villainy, complete with a poorly conceived deathtrap. (Did Zaheer really think that some chains were going to hold an Avatar who was in the Avatar State? What a dolt.) With Book 3, Korra went whole-hog in becoming a fun Saturday morning cartoon romp.
My invocation of Saturday-morning cartoons shouldn't be taken dismissively, as I enjoyed the finale a great deal. Certainly, it was better than Book 2's underwhelming and oddly dull conclusion, and it wasn't devoid of Korra's overarching interest in how its title character fits into the world—this time as the protector of an artificial (and corrupt) world order—but that "bigger-picture" outlook remained quiet for much of the finale before roaring to life in the closing minutes.
So Book 3 was fun, fun in a way that Korra's never really been before. Tonal clashes, such as the one we saw in Book 2 when the show's humor ran up against Unalaq's seriousness, never really surfaced. Sure, sometimes the more comedic elements undercut dramatic moments, like the cut to Pabu and Naga playing with Mako's scarf in the finale, but given that Zaheer's goals remained a mystery to us until Episode 9, it was almost as if the show was telling us, "Yes, Zaheer's a bad dude, but don't stress out about it. Everything will end up (mostly) okay, so just enjoy the ride."
And it turned out to be a pretty good ride. These two episodes were probably the best-looking and most exciting installments Korra's done since Book 1—aside from "Beginnings" Parts 1 and 2 from Book 2, of course. Korra chasing a flying Zaheer through a canyon was a particular standout, as it served up a long take that must've likewise taken a while to animate, and the time and care put into it showed. Korra, like Last Airbender before it, continues to find new ways to depict violent acts while staying within Nickelodeon's Standards & Practices guidelines—you know, like having P'Li BLOW OFF HER OWN HEAD after Su metalbended a piece of armor around it, with the shot cutting away quickly enough that we all knew what happened but didn't actually see it happen. It was also pretty nice how lavabending turned out to be interesting to watch once Bolin discovered he could do it as well. Previously, it had just been an easy way for Zaheer and the gang to get away, harass, and trap everyone else, and so it allowed Ghazan to come off as a little over-powered. Bolin provided a nice and much-needed check to that.
Bolin actually proved to be the stealth star of Book 3, as much of the character assassination that'd been leveled against him in Book 2 was undone. Last season, Bolin was made out to be really dumb and pretty cowardly, as opposed to being a competent but insecure goofball, which is what he was in Book 1 and returned to being in Book 3. His humor was always on point, and he benefited from the season's "Change" subtitle more than most, finding a new confidence in his relationship with Opal and in his lavabending ability. It was very nice to see the character back in form, and also being developed a bit in the process.
Let's talk a bit more about change as I wrap this up. Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino recently appeared on the Nerdist podcast and one of the things they discussed was that Korra wants to be the Avatar, in contrast to Aang, who had trouble accepting the role. And so, each season, they've created antagonists who threaten that identity. Amon took away bending, one of the key components of being the Avatar. Unalaq and Vaatu tried to eliminate Raava and the light. Zaheer wanted the Avatar gone entirely, as the Avatar protects order, and order is in direct opposition to the Red Lotus's political and philosophical goals. Each antagonist threatened Korra's place in the world, a world that increasingly isn't totally interested in the Avatar as a world presence.
So each season so far has really been about the potential for drastic change, ending with either no change (Book 1) or major change that doesn't like a huge concern (Book 2). Book 3 ended with Korra in a wheelchair, and everyone talking about how she needs time to heal. President Raiko was even wondering how she could possibly be the Avatar from a wheelchair, which is probably a question that Korra herself is asking. It's a situation not unlike the one Korra found herself in at the end of Book 1, before the show quickly hand-waved away the question of how the Avatar can be the Avatar without bending (how the Avatar can be the Avatar without access to the past lives seems like less of a concern).
I'm intrigued by the resulting story options, even as I suspect some folks will see these circumstances as further justification for their position that Korra's just a whiny, self-pitying brat. Tenzin has declared the airbenders to be de-facto Avatars while she recovers in the "wandering the world and solving problems" sort of way, something Korra herself has struggled to achieve in ways that don't involve her beating people up. It's all too easy for Korra to fall into the trap of thinking she's been replaced and thus has no value as the Avatar, something that, as I said above, the show has been grappling with since its inception.
I want to see this issue addressed. I want it to be the driving force behind Korra becoming the Avatar she wants herself to be, to help her step out of her perception of Aang's shadow as well as her own insecurities. Book 4 will be the last for Korra and The Legend of Korra. It's time for both her and the show to do this.
– How in the world did Jinora know that the Red Lotus poison was metal? Perhaps I missed it, but I don't think anyone said as much, at any point. Just like in the Book 2 finale, Jinora was the vessel for the show writing itself out of a weird corner with very little in the way of explanation. But, hey, she's an airbending master now! I'm excited about that.
– Su's not a Red Lotus member...OR IS SHE JUST BIDING HER TIME, WAITING TO FILL THE POWER VACUUM LEFT BEHIND BY ZAHEER?! I'm going to cling to this theory until the bitter end.
– So the answer to, "Why doesn't Mako just lightningbend?" appears to be, "He only lightningbends near really large pools of water while balancing between stalagmites, or when he's generating electricity for Republic City."
– A very minor thing, but it may've been my favorite thing about these pair of episodes, and it was the height difference between P'Li and Zaheer and how Zaheer needed to crane his head up a touch to kiss her. Details like that matter a lot.
– It's worth listening to that Nerdist podcast, unless you're one of those folks who routinely espouses the opinion that Korra is a crummy Avatar/character compared to Aang, as Konietzko and DiMartino aren't all that interested in your perspective. Of note, however, is the fact that the rushed released of Book 3 had nothing to do with the pirated episodes and everything to do with Nickelodeon only having a narrow window in which to air the show; it was either squeeze it in this summer or else hold it until sometime in 2015, which basically just makes Nickelodeon sound sort of awful at planning things. As for the network's decision to shift the show to online-only status, it seems that Konietzko and DiMartinob either can't or simply won't discuss the reasons why.
What did you think of the finale and Book 3 as a whole?
AIRED ON 12/19/2014
Season 3 : Episode 13