On That Legend of Korra Ending Scene & The Desire For Explicit Representation
Let's discuss FURTHER!
Yesterday, Legend of Korra more or less solidified what many LoK fans have been saying for a long time — that Korra and Asami work. After spending the last two season building the friendship between these two women and making them thick as thieves, showrunners Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino chose to end the show around these two characters walking, hand in god-dang hand, together into the next chapter of their lives. Their next great adventure.
Which caused a good portion of the fandom to scream, “YES CANON BISEXUAL WOMEN OF COLOR YES!”
I’ll be honest, I have a major bias with this reveal because I’ve been rooting for these two characters to get together against seemingly all odds since practically the moment they met. I grimace at love triangles, but I adore the “two girls set up as romantic rivals for a guy’s attention decide that fighting over men is dumb and forge a relationship” trope. Bonds between women, whether sisterly or romantic, are so rarely heralded in media and I want them so bad! I want to see women supporting each other and loving each other, even when society tells them that they should hate each other (there is a reason why I want very, very badly to see a comic where Barbara Gordon and Koriand’r team up and become friends and you know, possibly date each other in spite of them both having romantic ties to Dick Grayson). It doesn’t hurt that Asami seems enamored with Korra from first introduction and they have a great dynamic.
Throughout the last couple seasons in particular, the two girls have not only forgiven each other for the messiness with Mako, but also bonded on a deep level, to the point where Asami was the one reaching out and offering comfort to Korra after her trauma and the only person Korra felt comfortable writing to about her struggles during the three years she was healing.
But despite knowing that “Korrasami” should happen:
But can we all agree that Korra/Asami should be canon in season 4? Because clearly that’s what should happen.
— Katie Schenkel (@JustPlainTweets) August 23, 2014
… I also doubted that it would happen :
Skip ahead to late Thursday/early Friday, I got onto Tumblr at around 12:40 AM or so not even thinking about the possibility of spoilers and immediately seeing several gif sets of the last scene with the words “canon,” “bisexual” and “canon bisexuality” plastered all over them. With that kind of information in my brain, of course there was no way I was going to wait until after work the next day to watch the finale.
So I watched it. And I loved it. Honestly, even putting aside the last scene, this was such an exciting finale and nearly everyone got a moment of their own to shine. There was a great Mako and Bolin brother moment (two brother characters not even hesitating in saying they love each other and pulling each other into a hug — awesome) and Mako once again solidifying his friendship with Korra, showing that exes can still care about each other deeply even when the relationship ends. There was also Su and Lin fighting the mecha suit together, Asami’s father finding redemption in his sacrifice for his daughter and Varrick and Zhu Li fufilling their destiny as the Tony and Pepper of the Avatar universe. And let’s not forget how Korra has grown, how she choose the path of compassion and empathy and how that helped her both save Kuvira’s life and end the war. Truly, this is one of the best series finales I’ve ever watched.
Then we get to the Asami and Korra talk at the wedding, which leads to them leaving hand in hand into the spirit world. I understand why some fans prefer the idea of them having a platonic relationship since forms of non-romantic love is important yet often downplayed in stories, but man, when you break down what the writers and animators did, I can’t see how you can say it’s platonic. I could go over Korra only writing to Asami over those years away or their development as a kick-butt duo throughout season three. I could go over Asami’s general interest in Korra from the very start or the fact that at the wedding, she said after losing her father, “I don’t think I could have handled losing you.” I could bring up how Korra was clearly blushing when Asami complimented her hair or Mako noticing something odd between them in the next scene. I could even point out that their final talk happens with a mountain range of bisexuality in the background (just try and tell me that wasn’t intentional). But just consider this: that final scene of the show is a direct parallel to the final scene in Avatar: The Last Airbender. You know, that scene where Aang and Katara finally get together. Both shows have a last shot of their couple holding hands, looking into each other eyes with purpose before the camera zooms up and over into the sky and “The End” written in Chinese. Those are stark visuals and the creators wouldn’t recreate that moment unless they were trying to say something with it. The only difference is that Aang and Katara kiss.
And here’s the biggest frustration with the finished result. Because while it’s clear to me that it’s not platonic, I wanted there to be no ambiguity. I wanted the writers and animators to have been able to include just one more detail to that moment to sell home that “This isn’t a fluke. This isn’t coincidence.” Of course to parallel A:TLA’s finale I’d want them to kiss in the last shot, but even a kiss on the cheek when they spoke at the wedding would have helped. Even an “I love you” from one to the other as they stepped into the portal (which the network could in good faith interpret as a platonic sort of love if they wanted to feign ignorance. Or, I don’t know, tell themselves the girls are cousins). Even just a little bit more to take away the naysayers. I feel like maybe we’re even missing a scene somewhere around the time of the clip show, something where Korra and Asami relay their feelings to each other but put it aside because they need to stop this dictator before anything else. Because everything is set up perfectly except for confirming each other’s feelings.
Yes, I interpret the intent of the last scene to be romantic and I respect the fans shouting to the heavens that it’s “100% canon” to describe that ending moment, but at the same time I don’t want LGBT+ fans settling on anything less than explicit because dang it, queer relationships deserve proper representation. This shouldn’t be the closest we get to explicit confirmation.
Now, I absolutely do not see this as Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino queer baiting their audience in the last few seconds of the show. I know that the network was setting other restrictions on them (hence the clip show) and that children’s animation is notorious for restricting LGBT+ representation. I mean, Kaldur’ahm was intended to be queer in Young Justice. Gravity Falls recently featured a lesbian couple in a scene that got to storyboards before they were forced to change one of them into a man. And then there’s the Adventure Time cast and writers saying Marcelline and Princess Bubblegum are flat-out canon but that they’re not allowed to actually show it on the show itself. There’s no doubt in my mind that something similar happened here.
So I’m not mad at Bryke or any of the other writers for not giving us more at the end. What I am is frustrated at a system (both in American television and abroad) that still sees LGBT+ characters as inappropriate for children. I’m pissed off that in 2014, animation made for kids and teens is telling them that only straight people exist, only straight people are normal. There are animation creators out there that want to write queer representation, that want to show kids and teens that being on the queer spectrum is normal, but because of the system they can only hint at it, whisper it and wink. I’m not sure if Bryke could have gotten away with just a little more to get them to that “100% canon,” but I wish we could have gotten it anyway.
Talking to other fans about the moment with Korra and Asami at the end I’ve heard a lot of, “Well, we’re not there yet,” and “Implicit is the best we’re going to get.” But I don’t want to settle. That’s right, I’m one of those greedy bisexuals you keep hearing about. Maybe it’s okay if this is the best representation we’ve gotten to this point (Roth Cornet at IGN called it a “hugely significant moment of television”), but my Christmas wish is for this to be the “this is the new bare minimum” stepping stone instead of the “this is as close as we can get” wall.
That all being said, I have an idea. I know Bryan and Mike have said that they’re stepping away from doing Avatar universe shows, but since A:TLA had a comic, could Legend of Korra get a comic as well? Perhaps one that tells the continuing adventures of two young women who are now traveling through the Spirit World? And if, say, that comic also had those two girls calling each other their girlfriends and occasionally having them steal a kiss on panel … I certainly wouldn’t mind it.
Katie Schenkel (@JustPlainTweets) is a copywriter by day, pop culture writer by night. Her loves include cartoons, superheroes, feminism, and any combination of the three. Her reviews can be found at CliqueClack and her own website Just Plain Something, where she hosts the JPS podcast and her webseries Driving Home the Movie. She’s also a frequent The Mary Sue commenter as JustPlainSomething.