The Legend Of Korra: Book Of Change – 12/13 Review
And so the third season of Legend Of Korra ends. I’m still feeling surprised by how good this season has been. I mean, it’s not like this is the first series that took its time to become good. There are plenty of those out there. But despite that it’s still always a surprise (albeit a pleasant one) when you watch this series that shows no signs of being good or improving for that matter but then all of a sudden… it actually IS good. Look, as a media-savvy person it’s easy to see the potential in certain plot-hooks, characters and whatnot which leads to certain expectations and that then leads to disappointment when the series doesn’t deliver (by either making those expectations come true or actually surprising me). So, the series is bad. There’s no way around, you gotta admit to yourself that this series you had high hopes for is kinda bad. You keep watching and all of a sudden the series gets good, REALLY good. Well, the question then becomes: What do you think of the series as a whole? I mean, I like this third season – but would I recommend the SERIES to anyone? After all, mathematically two thirds of this series are still not that great. Well, personally I think I actually would NOT recommend the series. This third season is great and all that but… the previous two seasons definitely aren’t the sort of thing I would recommend. In the end, the third season just has really bad timing. The sort of quality it has brought to the table really has come far too late.
Studio Mir truly is the hero of these two episodes. Without them, these two episodes really wouldn’t have worked. For its finale Legend of Korra goes for a rather combat-heavy plot but not to its detriment. I’ve already talked about how the villain is usually revealed to be a petty bad guy and how the setup for each finale is based on some sort of challenge for the bending-based capabilities of Team Avatar. This finale does follow the trend of the previous two seasons here but much like the rest of this season this time around the execution is far better than before.
Despair has always been LoK’s favorite atmosphere for its finales. Korra has always found herself in pretty dire circumstances where she’s pretty much the underdog and was seemingly unable to make her Avatar-status count. But for the first time LoK actually commits to this the whole way through. In the first season, the non-benders-vs-benders-conflict was somewhat lessened by the main-bad-guy being revealed to be a fraud and in the second season the spirits got reintroduced to the human world (which hasn’t been much of a problem for most of the world from the way this season has portrayed it) and the thing these two season-finales have lacked were consequences. Don’t get me wrong, each season had offered some changes to the setting and some character-developments but the former were too grand to affect the characters and the latter were too bland to be really impactful.
Now with the third season the series actually does things right by concentrating on its characters first and THEN think about the worldbuilding. The previous two seasons have done it the other way around and since both those seasons hadn’t really committed to the ambiguous ideas at its core the consequences seemed incidental and the characterizations resulting out of these were trivial. Those seasons didn’t really do much with its characters. The drama was soapy (in the second season insufferably so) and they performed roles within the plot without being self-aware enough to actually change for the better once they had been confronted with their weaknesses. In this third season, though, the episodes rightly focused on the characters. The setting, the bending and the villains were just the background for those characters to express themselves, interact and change. And that’s how the show has found itself finally after two rather mediocre seasons.
The last two episodes of this season actually delivered a really good finale for how worrisome the setup had been. And it was kinda confusing to see this rather good finale because these two episodes made Team Zaheer seemed FAR more compelling than they had been in any of the previous episodes. The way they were portrayed in these last two episodes it really felt like a missed opportunity that none of the previous episodes actually delved into their backgrounds. These actually could’ve been compelling villains for once.
Although the plan of the Red Lotus isn’t very compelling overall (dataportdoll rightly predicted the whole thing last week), it’s interesting how the plot of this finale presents this simple straightforward plan and then the villains lose control of the whole situation. And it’s not because of some trick Korra has up her sleeve (well, not literally up her sleeve of course but you know what I mean…), it’s also not because of some ally coming to her help, it really happens because Team Zaheer underestimates the Avatar. Also, it’s not one of those situations where the villains had a low opinion of the hero to begin with. In the first Avatar-series the Avatar had a more symbolic role. The Avatar was only unique insofar as he could learn to bend all four elements. But the second season of LoK has done a great deal in establishing the Avatar as THE force of good in the Avatar-setting and so this finale has done right in showing off this otherworldy power. More than showing the Avatar to be more powerful than most benders, the Avatar is basically the Superman of that world. Well, as long as the Avatar is in the Avatar-state, I guess.
And the finale also finds good ways to bring the character-arcs of the most meaningful side-characters to a close here. Bolin, the whole Lin-Suyin-thing and the air-bender-nation: The finale finds moments for all of those arcs. There are even moments for characters like Kai whose redemption is being acknowledged by Mako and the whole Bolin/Opal-romance is a done deal from the looks of it. All this stuff also shows what a great decision it has been for this season to focus more on the characters. Because of that the finale is crammed with all these little (or big) moments where you see pay-off from all those character-developments portrayed earlier in the season.
But for the most part both episodes of the finale are dominated by fight-scenes and thanks to Studio Mir they are a sight to behold. But more than just nailing the animations for all the bending-fighting the finale has some really nice set-pieces for these battles. When Korra fought with Zaheer at the end the scenery was kinda reminiscent of the final battle between Aang and the Firelord, I feel like. Did that fight happen in the same region? Well, not that it really matters. The fighting-scenes are more about spectacle than complexity and depth. It would’ve been easy to just portray this whole thing as a stale Mexican stand-off. But the finale really nails the spectacle-aspect that is needed here and with that those rather lengthy sequences become far more entertaining than they have any right to be.
Ultimately, though, the thing that really cements this season as the best one so far is the epilogue. The consequences portrayed there for one don’t differentiate clearly between character-consequences and setting-consequences, it all intertwines thanks to the character-heavy plotting of the season. Also, I would say it’s the first time LoK actually had an impactful epilogue. What is shown there goes beyond developing characters.
Now, one has to keep in mind that when season three got announced the creators of the series immediately promised a season four as well so I assume that one has to sort-of look at this season three as one half of an overall story. But this epilogue of the third season should ideally not only work as an epilogue but also as a cliffhanger. Well, of course the traditional cliffhanger demands a far more immediate pay-off than what the end of a season could deliver but I think this season rightly uses the kind of cliffhanger Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers uses. On one hand the day is saved but there’s enough darkness present in the story to overshadow the good. And since this season actually did do enough to sell its characters as sympathetic the darkness present in the epilogue actually does come as a bit of a gut-punch. And with that this ending delivers an excellent setup for the next season. It’s only a pity it has needed three seasons for this series to reach this quality.
Episodes-Rating: 12th Episode – 8.5/10 13th Episode – 9.0/10
- I really would like to reiterate this: Zaheer has received more characterization and character-development in these two episodes than in the eleven episode prior to this… I know, the previous two villains weren’t that great and those two actually DID get some background-characterization but I really don’t think that not paying attention to the villains necessarily improved their portrayal. Sure, Zaheer was overall not a bad villain with his team of villains but instead of being annoying the bad guys this time around were just underdeveloped. And I mean underdeveloped in spite of the potential to be deep characters.
- So… I guess, Mako is now single. I actually had thought that at the end of the second season Korra had broken up with Mako and Mako had got back together with Asami. Seems like I was wrong because now Asami and Korra are BFFs, it seems, with Mako being only a “good friend”.
- Speaking of Asami… She really had the worst character-arc of the entire season. Her little moment of glory in episode 10 didn’t seem very compelling to me and so overall she’s still a VERY under-developed character. Well, at least one can hope that she will have a more prominent role in the fourth season, now that she has become Korra’s BFF.
- Maybe the fourth season will talk about this but the eventual fate of the Air-Nation is such a poignant, tragic fate. Here are the most peace-loving, introspective benders of the world who were mostly killed in the first Avatar-series. And now finally there’s some hope for the Air-Nation to be reborn – and what does happen? They’re sort-of forced to become a neutral police-force for the world. Instead of just continuing the traditions of the previous Air-Nation, they become something very different.
- Also poignant in that regard: Zaheer has become one of the best airbenders in human history by letting go of all worldy connections. And yet the Air-Nation now vows to become embroiled in all these mundane matter as a police-force.
- Here’s a podcast-episode with the writers of Legend Of Korra.