The Legend of Korra Season Finale Recap
So much tearbending.
I’ve been sitting here wracking my brain trying to come up with a good word to describe this season’s finale. “Bittersweet” seems too cliché. Pretty much everything I found seemed too cliché. Then I ran across the Malay word sayang.
The word sayang is a complex word, with multiple meanings depending on how you say it or who you say it to. Literal translations say it means both dear and pity. Depending on how it’s said, it can mean something as lovingly intimate as “my darling.” It can also be used to say something as scathing as “what a waste.” It is a single word used to express sorrow, pity, love, and affection. Sayang seems like the perfect way to describe the Legend of Korra’s enthralling, and heartbreaking season finale. Also: Ya’ll know Forbes is picking on Nick for fumbling the show this season, right?
Team Avatar are well on their way to the Northern Air Temple, and everyone seems to have some kind of plan. The only problem is that none of them will work, and the only option left is for Korra to hand herself over. The mood is grim, only lightened (rather awkwardly) by Bolin’s bird call scheme, and later on a small cut away to Naga and Pabu being cute. I get why these were put here, because you need something to lighten the moo; but, in action, these scenes come across painfully forced and frankly felt out of place. SuYin splits everyone up into two teams, one as Korra’s back-up and the other for retrieving the airbenders.
In the Northern Airtemple, Zaheer’s meditating on Guru Lahima’s poem when P’li shows up and the two lovebirds bond before battle. This scene teases us with a bit of back story. Apparently, Zaheer saved a young P’li from becoming a “warlord’s killing machine.” Zaheer promises her that after today there will be “No more prisons. No more running.” It’s a line that is spoken with such a genuine gravitas that it comes across foreboding. Again, I’m reminded that we so rarely see villains like this in media. P’li and Zaheer are authentically tender to one another in this scene and how often do you get to see that in a villain and his cohorts?
Mutual respect from a leader to his followers is rare in a villain. Zaheer could absolutely be a great guy…if only his methods weren’t so vicious and violent. He’s the embodiment of what an airbender should be, but his interpretations are all kinds wrong. You see this sort of conviction all the time from people of our own world. Zaheer is a stoic reminder that no matter how idealistic the message, there will always be someone capable of finding madness in the brightest places.
Korra turns herself over to Zaheer, trading her glider for a pair of platinum chains. As she’s being lead away we find out that the airbenders being collected were actually a clever trick of Ming Wa’s waterbending (AND TENZIN IS ALIVE!!! YAY!!!).
The trick exposed that Korra is NOT going to hand herself over without a fight. It’s good that they have Korra in chains at this point, because otherwise I don’t think it would have been a fair fight for Zaheer or P’li. Even with her hands and feet bound Korra proves a fairly formidable opponent for Zaheer. He almost gets away with it until Korra’s dad shows up, and then we get the best father/daughter fighting team up EVER. Korra and Tonraq are a ridiculously good team, taking shots and giving each other room at the right moments to take down their opponent.
Lin and SuYin aren’t far away, but they and their metalbending buddies are pinned down by P’li. Throughout this scene it’s easy to see Lin and Su are absolutely masters of their forms. The Beifong sisters are as good a team as Korra and Tonraq, but P’li’s combustion abilities hold off the metalbenders almost too easily. With no where else to go, Lin makes a stupid move (and a very sweet gesture) and plays as a distraction keeping P’li occupied so Su can “take her out.” And holy CRAP SuYin does it masterfully, in a move that made pretty much every viewer gasp.
Just like that P’li is gone, and Zaheer is surrounded. P’li’s
fridging death provides just the motivation Zaheer needs to toss Tonraq over a cliff, hold the Beifongs off and pin Korra down. His prize thrown over his shoulder, but his escape vehicle drifting aimlessly in the sky Zaheer seemingly has no where to go. He recites Guru Lahima’s poem and falls right over the cliff edge AND THEN HE FREAKIN FLIES.
So…how does he fly? It’s all about P’li’s death. Zaheer’s love for her tied him to his earthly plain, much like Aang was kept from the Avatar State because he couldn’t let Katara go. P’Li was Zaheer’s earthly desire and once she was gone, Zaheer had nothing holding him down (oh, the thinly veiled misogyny in this plot point…).
Meanwhile, the rest of Team Avatar are dealing with their own problems. If airbenders weren’t at the temple so where the heck are they? Oh, and then there’s Ming Wa and Ghazan to contend with. After a brief altercation, Ghazan sets to work destroying the temple. Asami, Tenzin, and the bending brothers go from playing a literal game of The Floor Is Lava to Everything Is Lava! The molten rock is destroying everything around them as Tenzin guides them to a (sing with me now) SECRET TUNNEL, SECRET TUNNEL, THROUGH THE MOUNTAIN! Bolin does everything he can to protect them from the lava flow, but it’s just not working. He bends a short cut through the mountain to escape, but the other side is straight drop down. Faced with certain death by gravity or certain death by molten rock, Bolin rushes the oncoming lava flow and BENDS IT BACK! BOLIN IS A LAVA BENDER YOU GUYS!!!
By the time they’re picked up by Kai and flying to saftey. the northern air temple looks like an over flowing volcano. Team Avatar regroups and a new character, Kuvira (voiced by Zelda Williams, yeah THAT Zelda Williams) is introduced. My guess is this lady is coming back next season, or I hope she will at least! Anyway, everyone is trying to figure out where the Red Lotus would be hiding Korra and the airbenders. Despite all their efforts to shut Kai down, the adults eventually have to listen to him because he knows where the airbenders are. The episode comes to a close as Korra, chained in mid air, finds out she’s about to get poisoned.
Amid the glowing stones of Korra’s cave prison, Zaheer delivers his Villainous Monologue (a light sprinkling of Evil Gloating mixed with a healthy helping of the New Era Speech). We’ve known that his contempt for world leaders includes the Avatar, but we’ve never really known why, or what the Red Lotus wants with Korra; but Zaheer finally answers all questions. In order to bring the world into an era of true freedom, Korra has to die in the avatar state, breaking the line of rebirth, and destroying the Avatar forever. Korra will be the last Avatar. Once the poison ( is it just me or does that look like liquid mercury?) is administered, Korra’s body will go into the Avatar State in an effort to keep herself alive, and that’s when the Red Lotus will deliver the final blow.
This sequence is both one of the more thought provoking and hard to watch periods of the season. Especially when it comes to the poison induced hallucinations Korra’s subconscious subjects her to. Vaatu, Unalaq, and Amon show up in these hallucinations telling her that Zaheer is right, the world really doesn’t need an Avatar anymore. Korra struggles to keep herself out of the Avatar State, but she can only hold it back for so long.
When she finally does go all glowy, her rage and abilities quickly make a mess of the Red Lotus’ plans. Her chains break in an effortless yank, and both Ghazan and Ming Wa are out of this fight with a single swipe. Really, this entire section makes one kind of wonder if these guys REALLY thought this through? This is the AVATAR STATE we’re talking about! “Oh, it’ll be easy. See these chains are platinum. Can’t break em, right? So we force her into the Avatar State and then kill the Avatar for good. Easy peasy!”
Of course all of this could have been a lot easier if they’d succeeded in capturing Korra as a child. Consider the fact that Zaheer and company almost did this to a five-year-old way back when and suddenly we’re all the more thankful Sokka saved Baby!Korra. It almost seems like despite everything the Red Lotus has done, they didn’t bother to take Korra’s age into account. The original plan was to murder a child Avatar, but a full grown Avatar is something much different. It proves to be a huge oversight. The only way Zaheer manages to escape the fury of Korra’s Avatar State is because he flies away.
Throughout this battle Zaheer is barely hanging on, dancing just out of reach. He’s toying with Korra, trying to wear her out, but there’s too many close calls to say he’s doing much more than playing defense. Fans have been talking about the similarities of this battle to that between Aang and Ozai’s in the AtLA finale, and with good reason. Korra is unleashed rage, mirroring Ozai in a way. Almost every move Zaheer makes is defensive up until he wears Korra out.
What I love about this finale is that everyone gets to a be a hero! When the airbenders are stuck locked away, Jinora manages to help wrangle their escape. They almost get caught when the cavalry arrives. Asami’s take down of the Red Lotus guard is particularly badass (Dear Bryke: More badass Asami, please and thank you)!
Mako also gets his time in the spotlight as he squares off with Ming Wa. Taking a leaf from Asami’s pikachu impression, he takes out Ming Wa with a lightening bolt to the water arms.
Bolin gets his time in the ring with Ghazan and to see his lava bending in full force is something to behold. Ghazan isn’t going to give up so easily, and he’d rather die in a lava pit than go back to prison. So, Ghazan promptly makes a lava pit and dies in it. You can’t say he wasn’t a man of his word.
Outside the cave, while the adults are marveling at Zaheer’s bending, Jinora’s focusing on ways to help Korra. Pulling all the new airbenders together, Jinora leads them in creating a FREAKING TORNADO that sucks Korra and Zaheer into their circle.
These action sequences are hands down the best action on TV that I have ever seen. The single camera shot following Korra and Zaheer as they fight is seriously impressive. Mako and Bolin shine against Ming Wa and Ghazan. Jinora’s gathering of the other airbenders and working as one to save the Avatar is powerful and inspring (talk about a strong female role model).
This is why animation works so well for the action genre. You just can’t do this kind of action with a TV budget using real actors. Everything would come off as super cheesy (do I have to remind ya’ll of Heroes?). There isn’t a moment where you’re not worried for these characters, because the peril feels chillingly real. There’s not a moment where you’re not rooting for these characters, because you genuinely want them to win. The best part? Animation like this doesn’t date itself. In 20 years this episode will look as beautiful as it did the day you watched it, if not better, because good animation is timeless.
Once on the ground Zaheer is quickly apprehended but Korra doesn’t look like she’s going to last. When Jinora explains (some what randomly) that the poison is metal based, SuYin bends it from the Avatar. Korra is tired and beaten, but she’s alive.
This scene is quite reminiscent of The Crossroads of Destiny the finale from The Last Airbender‘s Book 2. In fact the whole episode leaves off on a note that feels quite similar with Jinora/Katara saving the avatar, Ba Sing Se in ruins, and the avatar recovering from a near death experience. There’s a dark ominous cloud that seems to hover over our heroes in both The Legend of Korra and The Last Airbender.
The ominous cloud only get’s thicker as the finale comes to a close. We find Korra in a wheelchair and still recovering. Everyone around her is doing their best to cheer Korra up as they head to Jinora’s airbending ceremony. That ominous cloud I was talking about? With Tenzin’s promise for the Air Nation to become
Jedi’s protectors of Harmony, and Jinora’s reveal we’re given a light that blasts through that ominous cloud.
However, with Korra’s tear shed, that light is snuffed out by the cloud once more. Many people believe this is only Korra’s pride for Jinora’s accomplishment, but I’m not buying it. It didn’t feel like a tear of pride, it felt foreboding.
Through talking with a friend of mine, I realized why that tear bothered me so much. My friend described it as a moment of understanding for Korra: Jinora is more of an Avatar figure than Korra is. The venom-induced hallucinations of villains past were convincing her that the world doesn’t need the Avatar anymore. This is the point where Korra could be realizing those hallucinations were right.
As fans we’re sad to see the season come to a close, especially when we leave Korra she is in such a raw and frankly vulnerable state. However, we do have a ray of hope in Jinora. Her ascension to master airbender, the first of her own generation, is incredibly moving and powerful. You definitely feel a surge of pride, affection and love surrounding Jinora as the wind chimes ring around the temple room. There’s a new generation coming into the game, and my prediction is that Jinora will be a powerful player.
Throughout social media there’s a certain air of pity for the state Korra is left in. Personally, her current physical limitations are not what I’m concerned about, so much as the deep melancholy that surrounds her. “She doesn’t look so good,” is how President Raiko puts it, but to me it’s not about how she looks so much as how she seems to feel entirely out of place. That’s not the Korra I saw fighting Zaheer; that’s not the Korra who took down Vaatu; and that’s not the Korra who exposed Amon. In those last few moments of the episode her entire sense of self, her Korra-ness, feels entirely unbalanced. What could this mean for the future of our Avatar?
Will Tenzin’s plan work out as well in reality as it seems in theory? What new challenges will Jinora face as the second airbending master in the world (WHAT IF SHE LEARNS TO FLY)? Will Korra get to go on a life changing field trip with Zuko? Where the heck is Toph? Will Korra fully recover ? What does the next book bring for Team Avatar? Discuss your theories and thoughts in the comments!
By day, Carrie is the co-creator, artist, and production coordinator for the webcomic Kamikaze . By night she’s a writer, budding comic nerd, and passionate feminist. Feel free to follow her on Twitter.
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