Why I didn’t like the Legend of Korra

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Let me be clear, I really really wanted to like the Legend of Korra. I remember people telling me how much they hated it, and how I shouldn’t even give it a chance. Being stubborn as I am, I decided to give it a chance anyway.

I’m of the opinion that I can let certain flaws slide if a work redeems itself in the end. I can forgive a great deal if a show manages to be a work of substance. I can forgive a lot if it’s something that leaves a meaningful impact on popular culture and leaves me forever changed.

With Legend of Korra there was a lot to forgive. While it’s predecessor appealed to all ages and genders, Legend of Korra very much pandered to the female demographic and the story suffered for it. Korra is very unlikable in the first two seasons, and you find yourself wondering when you’ll start to like her as a character.

Imagine an angsty spoiled brat that has no issues being a bully when it suits her, and then give that girl super powers and you have the main protagonist. In fact she doesn’t become palatable until she’s taken down a few pegs in the third and fourth seasons.

Admittedly I’d come to like her in the fourth season, it was the kind of character development Anakin Skywalker should have had in the Star Wars prequels. I was really rooting for the finale, hoping that it would make up for all the flaws in the previous seasons.

The show had a ton of problems early on. There were problems with pacing, characterization, writing realistic romantic relationships,  and then they’d throw in an unhealthy dose of deus ex machina every time they got backed into a corner.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when all the issues concerning their sloppy writing would come to a head in the finale. I wanted so bad for them to redeem themselves in the final act because there definitely were things to be liked about it.

The world building was phenomenal and the settings were very much a nod to the aesthetics of the victorian era, art nouveau, and art deco. In fact the world was so vibrant and wonderful that I considered trying to talk some people into running a tabletop game of that universe with me. There was a great deal of political and social commentary that I was surprised they were allowed to air it at all.

So there I was loving the fact that in many ways it was a rebel of a show, but in others it was predictable, cookie cutter, and safe. Coming to this conclusion I decided that I wouldn’t decide how I felt about the content as a whole until I watched the final season in it’s entirety.

Having watching the final season, I can say with certainty that the only consistent thing within it is the disappointment. The show’s ambition is far too great in comparison to what the writers can actually deliver and the only redeemable thing about the show is it’s fluid animation.

That being said I’ll delve into one of many problems with the finale. Early on in season one, it was clear that the show was good at creating interesting characters, unfortunately we already saw those characters in the last air bender.

In Aang’s team avatar you had the Avatar(Aang), the mature one (Kitara), the dopey comic relief (Sokka), and poor little rich girl (Toph).

In Korra’s team avatar you have the Avatar (Korra), the mature one (Mako), the dopey comic relief (Bolin), and poor little rich girl (Asami).

Is anyone else seeing this pattern? I mean it’s like they think we wouldn’t notice that they used the same template. The only one who was different in team avatar was Korra. The biggest problem with this presents itself when they tried to go the route of the last air bender. They create a romance placing Korra with the most mature character, which at the time was Mako.

However by second season the relationship was over, mostly because Korra was still very much a reckless hotheaded selfish brat. Cut to fourth season and it’s almost like the writers didn’t learn their lesson. While Korra is forced to mature somewhat, they decided to place her with her polar opposite by the end of the season, and with almost no lead up.

There is much controversy surrounding this romance, and I feel that if there is a reason to critcize it, it has almost nothing to do with the fact that it is a relationship with two women. It has everything to do with the fact that it was very much a political statement, and very poorly written.

It isn’t the first time that the Avatar franchise has written romance poorly. The last airbender suffered from many of the same problems. Kitara realistically had no reason to date and then marry Aang. Their kiss in the finale of the Last Airbender felt forced because it was. Kitara was very much a mature motherly kind of character, and Aang was ultimately childish and carefree. No one in their right mind would force such a couple together.

The relationship between Korra and Asami suffers from similar problems. Korra is in many ways , stubborn and with an inate desire to travel and be free. Asami is contemplative, mature, and introverted. She’s very much the type to spend hours alone working, tinkering with her inventions and running her company. It makes no sense to place a workaholic homebody who’s lost both of her parents, with a free spirit who has to leave all the time and is likely to die young.

It’s a tragedy waiting to happen, and the story ends with them leaving together as if it promises good things. When in reality it promises to end in tears. But then the writers weren’t considering that they were developing characters who had moved in completely different directions by the finale. They were thinking that a same sex relationship would make for a subversive ending to the show.

It very much speaks to the lack of foresight of the staff, when you realize that the decision to have a same sex relationship was decided in the middle of the show. I don’t know if they realized that when you are covering sensitive topics like this in a kids program, it takes a long time to develop such a relationship to do it justice.

This simply didn’t happen. The formula that they use to bring people together in Avatar, was tossed aside for writing so subtle, that by the end, many adults had no idea that this friendship was anything more than that. What I mean by that is, there is a formula to the romance in the avatar franchise.

All of that was missing final season, leaving us with a lackluster romance with no development. The only thing more disappointing than the romance, was the ultimate message. From season one onwards was the promise of a journey from chaos to balance. However, by the end it’s painfully obvious, that not only is the balance temporary, but that the message doesn’t cover that.

Somewhere in the contrived solution for the finale is a message about forgiveness, suffering, and inner peace, but that is never fully explored or made clear to the audience. The obvious truth is that Korra will be fighting endlessly as alluded to in Season 2, as she is the embodiment of good, and keeping the world in check. There will always be an evil force to throw things out of balance.

Villain after villain is defeated, each mirroring problems in our own society. The send off in the final episode can never be anything more than a tease. It can never be more than a beautiful unsustainable lie, even by the rules of it’s own universe.

Korra will always be in a constant state of defeating a foe, and watching a new one emerge. She can only then rinse and repeat. Yet the end is a cop out, promising a bright future where the rules no longer apply.

As you watch Korra and Asami journey off into the spirit world for a much needed respite, it can only ever be bittersweet. Because the only place that their relationship, and the theme of the show can truly work, is in the spirit world where no one has to acknowledge that the plot resolution is anything but.

I probably should not have been surprised that many media publications called this series everything, but an over ambitious failure. It is a tragedy that the writers could not bring their heads from the clouds long enough to give the story it’s much needed focus. Had they removed the token romances and focused on the message that they obviously wanted to get across, it might have been a timeless classic that held up on it’s own merits.

Instead it will be remembered and revered for it’s token same sex romance, and it’s willingness to pander to the social justice minded political left. I would have respected the creators more if they had respected the characters that they spent so much time building, and were not so willing to flush it down the drain to make a political statement.

Unfortunately, the media is too busy celebrating the politicization of human sexuality being on full display in children’s programming, to care about the obvious flaws. All is suddenly forgiven for them, because they brought in a same sex relationship between non-white characters.

My advice is to avoid this series like the plague and to pretend that only the first series existed. There can be only disappointment and pain in viewing this over ambitious, panderous, monstrosity. Because all you will be left with are thoughts on the show it could have been.

 

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  • Derek Clinton

    This is a very in-depth and accurate article. However, the only thing I disagree with is that Kataang was forced. Throughout all three seasons of ATLA there was a very evident buildup of their relationship from friends to semi-couple. While Aang was initially much less mature than Katara, he grew more mature throughout their journey and vice-versa she grew more lighthearted. They developed a level of trust that only they shared, and there was deep level of respect between them (which is something most if not all ships in LOK are shown to lack). Their feelings for one another grew each season, and when the world was finally saved they were free to pursue a relationship.
    In contrast, as you noted there was no real buildup to Korrasami. After the finale Bryke had to go online and confirm the relationship was canon (which shows it wasn’t well planned out). They tried to cover for this ambiguity by saying if you didn’t notice the hints you were looking at the last two season through “hetero lenses.” I rewatched season 3 and 4 to take notes off all their personal moments, and most of the “hints” (them going for a car ride, Asami comforting her after she was crippled, Korra writing her a single letter, etc.) could just be viewed as friendly interactions. Also, while the world had been saved at the end of ATLA, in LOK while the antagonist had been beaten much of Republic City lay in ruins and the Earth Kingdom was in disarray (because of Kuvira’s fall from power and Wu’s decision to create independent states in the future). Despite this, Korra decides to take a break from her Avatar duties and go on a vacation.