Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Ending of The Legend of Korra (and some Korrasami love)

So The Legend of Korra ended after four seasons. And what a way to go out! I might as well start off with the ending:
Yes, it made a lot of people very happy. Me included! But let us hold off on talking about the best couple of all time for a bit and talk a bit more generally about the show, where it started, and where it ended.

To be honest, I had extremely mixed feelings about the first three seasons of Korra. I loved most of the characters, I found the style amazing, and I found the story ideas and conflicts more interesting than those of, say, The Last Airbender. However, season after season I was disappointed, because I didn't think the show did all these amazing characters and ideas justice. The politics and philosophies of the struggles the characters were involved in were often glossed over and not brought to any kind of satisfying conclusion (not even in terms of "this will be difficult and we'll keep working on it"), and characters consistently seemed to fail to learn from what obviously was intended to be learning opportunities. The former made the characters and conflict a bit shallow and the progression of the world unsatisfying, while the latter made some of the characters who were supposed to be wise seem downright stupid.

Some of this is just a matter of expectation - is it possible to make a Nickelodeon show which has a heavy dose of domestic politics and difficult questions how we approach issues in society? I hoped it would be, but it seems that they weren't quite willing to take that step. The Last Airbender's overarching narrative was about the fight against a megalomaniac nationalist tyrant and focused on a band of travellers going from place to place, and that makes writing for it much simpler than when you stay in the same place and have the villains be motivated by domestic politics and being the ones "fighting the power". This becomes particularly clear when you get to the fourth season and the villain is... a megalomaniac nationalist tyrant. The core conflict is a bit more black and white (though Avatar has thankfully never completely dehumanized their villains (not counting the faceless goons)) and in that setting, the characters become a lot better at handling the conflict and by virtue of that become more likeable. It's just so much easier to be a pure good guy when you're fighting an evil bad guy with a doomsday weapon.

In addition to that, season 4 of Korra was the season where Korra actually learned her lessons, and the fact that she does makes the previous seasons better - it's much more enjoyable watching someone who has difficulty learning but who you know will get there in the end than watching someone who will never learn. She is also surrounded by people who by virtue of the more simplistic nature of the conflict look a lot better than they had in previous seasons. Tenzin and Lin, for instance, often came off as rather stupid in the first three seasons. It would have been OK if they had had life philosophies that didn't quite work with who Korra was as a person or how Republic City was progressing, but often they instead just seemed bone-headed. The earlier seasons also sort of wasted appearances by people like Iroh, who (as I recall) said all the right things, but then had Korra not internalizing those lessons at all. Which would have been fine (learning is difficult), but I, at least, needed to see some awareness that lessons had not been learned.

I think a large part of what I like with the final season is the fact that the writers acknowledged a lot of the problems I'd had leading up to it. They did talk about the effect of past events, they did talk about how Korra in the earlier seasons hadn't quite "won", as much as she had just beaten the bad guy, and how learning who to be as the Avatar had been very difficult for her. Add to that a simpler but more satisfying conflict, far fewer instances of me wondering what the hell the characters were thinking, and a more satisfying return character appearance with Toph, season four was great, and made the previous seasons greater in the process.

Am I forgetting something else that was important?
Oh right. That!
This is one of those situations where I've almost spent the entire run of the show talking to friends about how Korra and Asami would be awesome together. Their response has usually been "we don't watch the show, we don't know what you're talking about" but as usual, that hasn't stopped me. Asami starting out was a good character, she's cool and smart, and in some ways everything that Korra is not. She was the perfect romantic foil in her relationship with Mako, but instead of writing her as a villain, the writers thankfully wrote her as a good and reliable friend. The story was not "dastardly femme fatale stealing Korra's man" but rather "love can be difficult and friendship is precious". As the series progressed, so did Korra and Asami's friendship and their care and love for each other was obvious. That it then developed to romance felt good. Right. And well in line with where they are as characters. Mako had some great moments in the clip show, where he talked about how his relationships were the right thing when they happened but that their time had passed. This relationship feels like the right thing for Korra and Asami now, and I think they will both be good for each other.

I also think it's a relationship interesting for the world of Avatar. Asami is the epitome of a driven woman in an industrializing world, navigating a technology that's always changing and the political and social life of the world. Korra's talents talents mostly lie elsewhere and as the Avatar she represents the spiritual balance of the world. It's a relationship that makes sense for the world at that point in time - industrialization and progress will happen, and Korra and Asami together will be a force to make sure that it happens in a way that's environmentally sound and keeps the balance of the world. If there would ever be more The Legend of Korra I would like a season that would be a positive mirror image to Princess Mononoke where they deal with the environmental challenges of an expanding population and technological development.

On the whole, The Legend of Korra ended on such a great, positive note that I now feel good about the entire series. So often TV shows end in a way that feels like it came out of nowhere or that it feels like the writers ran out of interesting things to say well before the ending, but this show did it right.

No comments: