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Korra poses beside the giant statue of Aang

'The Legend of Korra' is somewhere between a sequel to and a spin off from 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. It's set in the same world as Avatar, but 70 years later, and it features an entirely new cast of characters. There are, however, several links with the events of 'Avatar' - you learn a lot about how the events at the end of the third and final series affected the world, and you even get glimpses into the lives of beloved Avatar characters through flashbacks. You might remember how much we enjoyed Avatar from last year's posts; to find out our thoughts on 'The Legend of Korra', dive in.

Jodie: Shall I be the terrible one and start us off with the obvious question - how do you think 'The Legend of Korra' compares to 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'? I want that question to encompass a few things: Do you think this program is distinct from 'Avatar' or similar? How did you feel about the program's approach to various political aspects compared to the approach of 'Avatar'? And did you love this program as much as 'Avatar'?

That's a heap of questions so shall we take them one by one? First (ha, see this is the pushy lady you get when you let me start the doc) did you think 'Korra' was its own, creative entity and did you see any similarities between 'Korra' and 'Avatar'?

Ana: I'll start by acknowledging that having read Gene Luen Yang's The Promise trilogy will affect my answer to these questions. The comics allowed me to see how the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender became the world of The Legend of Korra, and as a result the transition felt more natural to me than it might have otherwise.

I think Korra probably does stand on its own as a series, but to be honest my emotional investment in the world where it's set was a huge part of my experience with it. I teared up when we saw an elderly Katara in the first episode; I agonised when they teased the fans with a brief reference to Ursa's fate; I lived for the moments when we got brief glimpses of the original characters' lives after the end of Avatar. I have no idea what it's like to experience this series if you haven't watched Avatar, but for me personally the two were difficult to divorce. Too many feels, you know? :P

As for similarities, I see thematic ones in, for example, how both Aang and Korra struggle with the role of the Avatar and with the split between their public duties and their private desires. But more than that, I think the differences between the two series are interesting because they make you wonder how you go from the political questions posed by Avatar to the questions posed by Legend of Korra. The comics, as I said above, provide some context, but as you watch Legend of Korra you get more and more questions and possible answers, and you can see how the social tensions the series deal with are the result of all the changes that came after the end of Avatar. There's lots more to say about the political approaches of the two series, but before we move on to that I'd love to hear your answers to these initial questions.

Jodie: I thought Korra was very distinct from ‘Avatar’; the world, the plot and the politics all helped to set this new program apart from its predecessor, but I haven’t read the comics so the world of ‘Korra’ probably felt more obviously different to me than to you. I missed out a huge swathe of time in between the last series of ‘Avatar’ and the beginning of ‘Korra’ that's covered by the comics and it took me a little while to situate myself in the new world of 'Korra' and Republic City.

I loved how different I found ‘Korra’ because what I really didn’t want was for this program to be a replication of ‘Avatar’, with bonus female Avatar. Nor did I want Korra to be exactly like Aang, but a ‘hurray aren’t we all so progressive’ female character. I feel like that would have been seriously problematic, because I think if Korra had the same personality as Aang it would have narratively encouraged viewers to ‘see’ Aang’s male character the whole time they were looking at Korra. Like, viewers could have looked through her and maybe felt that her body only existed to house Aang the male character that fans had formed such a connection with over three series. Probably my only worry before I saw this program, aside from whether it would generally be any good, was that the creators might try to shape Korra’s character to accommodate some guessed at perception of the returning fanbase's wishes.

So, I was delighted when it turned out that Korra's journey and personality was so separate from Aangs’: her story doesn’t revolve around mastering all the elements; she relishes fighting; the Big Bad she confronts is totally different from the Fire Lord and her great struggle is to master the spiritual side of Avatar life, which Aang was always very connected to. Not only did some of these characteristics buck against traditional ideas about women, they also set her squarely apart from Aang and established her as a separate person. She’s a reincarnation of the Avatar and as such part of her is Aang (and all the other Avatars that went before her) yes, but she’s an individual first. She’s Korra: the girl connected to Aang through the spirit world, not Korra: the female façade covering the “real Aang” inside. Part of what I loved about 'Welcome to Republic City' is that when Korra interacts with Katara, she shows she understands Korra’s separateness from Aang and recognises her need to define herself as Korra. She doesn’t try to connect with Aang through Korra, although it must be so hard for her not to almost accidentally force Korra into a shape other than her own. Imagine if the reincarnation of your partner and best friend stood in front of you! I’m not sure I could be so wonderfully, necessarily objective and kind, which means I have even more love for Katara after this episode.

Saying that, although I like that the program worked to separate itself from ‘Avatar’ and stand on its own feet, like you I’m not immune to the feels brought on by references to the past. Hearing Zuko's voice coming out of the young General Iroh's mouth :O . I was also delighted when I saw small Aang-like facial expressions passing over Korra’s face. Just occasionally she sticks out her lip, or rolls her eyes in a way which reflected gestures I associated with Aang. Even though I wanted them to be different people, I still liked to see a connection being made between the two characters, as long as it didn’t happen all the time or impinge on Korra developing as an individual.

Ana: You know, it hadn't even occurred to me that they might do that re: making Korra nothing but a vessel for the "real" Aang inside - eek, that would have been super creepy. I'm so so glad they didn't go down that road! She's definitely her own person, and it was a real joy to get to know her as the series progressed.

Jodie: Bonus leading question: Do you think it a bit odd that ‘Korra’ doesn’t explain how the basics of the ‘Avatar’ world works considering that it’s kind of set up as a show for new fans (a new generation of children who are watching on Nickelodeon - a channel specifically for kids and teens). I assume that a lot of the kids watching have never seen the original 'Avatar' and I was struck by the difference between the way the original show (which was also written for kids, but gained a huge adult following) explained exactly what an Avatar is and some other basics of the world and the way 'Korra' never really does. I do wonder if it’s really mostly for the old fan base of ‘Avatar’, which is probably largely made up of adults now and not really for new kids?

Ana: I wonder whether there was a marketing-motivated reason: perhaps they thought that doing little more than hinting at this exciting backstory where all these really cool things had taken place would make eager new viewers, young and old alike, seek out Avatar on DVD? It's interesting that watching Korra doesn't completely spoil Avatar for anyone new to this world, even though it's technically a sequel - it inevitably gives some things away, but I imagine it also leaves viewers excited to find out for themselves what happened before. And as much as Korra stands on its own, I guess it does build on what came before, so the creators probably felt confident referring people to the story told in the previous series and in the comics -- whereas with Avatar there was nothing to refer people to. With Korra, it's a bit like they're saying, "you don't REALLY need to know all of this to enjoy the show, but if you happen to fall in love with this world, please go back and explore these other stories".

My turn to ask a leading question :P Back when the series first aired, there were a lot of discussions online about how the series tackles political issues like opression and privilege through the Equalist movement, with a lot of attention paid to Korra's "you're just opressing yourselves" line. I have All The Thoughts on this, but I thought I'd ask you for yours first. Go! :P

Jodie: The way the program approached the inequality between benders and non-benders really disappointed me. In her review of the first series, Abigail Nussbaum says 'Simply put, Amon claims that benders are oppressing non-benders, and the show never bothers to tell us whether this is true--doesn't, in fact, seem to think that the answer is very important.' which, yeah, sounds about right to me.

At first I thought we were going to see a lesson storyline: Korra would start off clueless and privileged then learn more about her world as she interacts with different people, leading her to have a more complex view of the bending/non-bending relationship even as she tackles the threat of Amon. The line about non-benders oppressing themselves, just seemed so obviously filched from conversations in our world and was thrown out of Korra's mouth as such a quick fire talking-before-thinking line, that I felt confident the series would return to address it and have genuine conversations about privilege. But perhaps that's my own background shading how I saw the line? Or perhaps that's what it was intended to be, but the program creators ended up from dropped that particular line of investigation. Who knows - either way, the program never managed to examine whether claims of systematic inequality are valid in a way which fully satisfied me.

The program does contain a couple of interesting threads about inequality. It reminds us of the economic inequality that exists among benders. And it acknowledges that non-benders have been terrorised by bending criminals. Still, it shies away from asking harder questions about how the bending characters that we're encouraged to empathise with may keep a lawful but unequal system in place. And it quickly aligns anyone who is unhappy about this system with Amon and the Equalists. I feel like the program sets up a straw man situation which equates a fight for equal opportunities solely with terrorism as no one outside of that violent protest group explicitly questions the world's system (this is furthered by the choice to use the word 'equal' in the name of a group headed up by a psychopathic terrorist). So, the world of 'Korra' ends up containing a simplistic political world where the possibility of non-violent political disagreement just doesn't exist. It uses that lack of complexity as a convenient way to opt out of examining the concerns of the regular non-bending citizen subtly indicating the view that if a group contains violent protesters then the concerns of that whole group can be written off. Hm, where have we seen that before?

At the same time, I am clinging on to the idea that maybe, just maybe this strand of the program is the series spanning journey of 'Korra' and I just have to be patient if I want to see this aspect of the program develop. There's so much potential to be worked up from the first series: Korra hears that person in the crowd tell her 'You're our Avatar too.' - how does that affect her; Tenzin feels that the city is out of balance and balance relates to equality; Pema hopes for a non-bending child like herself and then there's the wonderful, wonderful non-bending Asami. I would love for them to do something more with all this material and now that the individualised big bad is dead and exposed as a bender, perhaps they have space to go back and look at the genuine concerns of the ordinary non-bender, uncoupled from the idea that non-bending reaction is violent.

Ana: Your last paragraph pretty much sums up how I feel. My main issue with season one of Korra was how rushed it was, and that had particularly unfortunate consequences when it comes to the political themes. But I really haven't given up hope that they'll return to these ideas and develop them further, and if that doesn't happen I'm going to be seriously upset. I have a history of reading things maybe more generously than they merit and then being disappointed, but apparently I never learn :P

I have no doubt that my background influenced how I read it, but to me Korra's "you're oppressing yourselves!" line was impossible to take seriously - it's too much like something out of a Bingo card, you know? I mean, I know Bingo cards exist because there's no shortage of people out there in the real world who says the things in them with an absolute straight face, but but but! Surely the writers know better? This, by the way, is a description of my inner monologue as I watched, not an assertion I'm actually making -- and in any case, the writers' intent is not the most interesting thing to consider about that line. It's just that because Korra is portrayed as a character who doesn't have definite answers for the big questions she's struggling with, and who's definitely not above being wrong. So at the time, I read the line as an expression of a certain kind of insulated privilege Korra embodied, and I thought it was really interesting and refreshing that the series was going to make us sympathise with its protagonist and show us that she was capable of that. She was the heroine, but she was basically embarrassing herself when she said that. Stories that show viewers that being ignorant and defensive and dismissive of other people's concerns because of your privilege is not something that other people do, or something that makes you an irredeemably terrible person (provided you're willing to learn), are exciting and important, and I think we don't have nearly enough of them.

However, the series came to an end before they could do much with any of that, which is why I'm also clinging to that "you're our Avatar too" line. Come on, season two! Surely you'll address the fact that the non-benders had completely legitimate concerns? That non-violent protest is possible (which I totally agree the series didn't really acknowledge)? That sometimes people become radicalised for very good reasons, and that all that anger isn't a force for evil but one for positive and necessary social change? I mean, why did people follow Amon? There was something to his message that resonated with them -- why was that the case? These are all such exciting, relevant themes, and like you said there's so much potential there. Please don't let me down, season two! In sum, I, too, wanted more complexity and detail; but I still feel that I need to watch the second season to make up my mind for good about whether or not the treatment of these themes was disappointing.

There's something else that really interested me about all these discussions, though: The Legend of Korra toed the line between portrayal and endorsement in ways that are very interesting to me, and it raised a bunch of questions I keep coming back to in my media consumption. To be clear, I don't have any answers for them, but I find them endlessly fascinating and I think Korra is such a great case study. For example, to someone like me, the oppression line was very easy to read as an obvious spoof - so much so that I could see that moment as didactic (and I'm not using this term negatively). But to someone with no knowledge of social justice, Korra's reaction could be read as righteous just as easily. The same could be said of other moments -- for example, we can read the series as discouraging sympathy with the non-benders, but at the same time, I, an ordinary viewer, found them plenty sympathetic. And if I did, couldn't the same be true of plenty of other viewers? Or should Korra have been more obvious for the sake of the less politically savvy viewers? How could it have done that without becoming off-puttingly preachy? Were some of the things perceived as inadequacies simply instances of subtlety? Is the fact that some of these things are left open to interpretation an artistic flaw or part of what it was trying to achieve? Were they really left open to interpretation, or am I only asking questions because of my own background and concerns?

Like I said, I don't have any clear answers, but I've enjoyed mulling over all of this. Something else worth taking into account is the fact that perhaps my political sympathies and my selective media consumption have insulated me from real world examples of what we could call the "mainstream" view in the series: rebellions are bad and the Equalists suck. Back when I wrote about slut-shaming in Barry Lyga's story "The Truth About Dino Girl" (or, more recently, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries), we talked a little bit about how "this story speaks for itself" is an easier argument to buy when it comes to issues there's some social consensus about, and slut-shaming was NOT one of them. Like, you can't really go "Oh, but the story implies that this is bad", when in reality the great majority of the world doesn't think twice about slut-shaming teen girls at the drop of a hat. The absolute same could be said about how common the knowledge that marginalised groups don't in fact "oppress themselves" is; but because of the circles where I move, and also because I'm a privileged person myself, I have kind of lost sight of that - which puts me in a position to read Korra more generously than I ever could read the Lyga story; or at least in a position that makes me better able to acknowledge both readings. I'd love to hear your thoughts on any or all of these questions.

Jodie: Ask all the difficult questions why don't you? :P

'for example, we can read the series as discouraging sympathy with the non-benders, but at the same time, I, an ordinary viewer, found them plenty sympathetic.' What you say here reminds me a lot of a comment discussion we had about finding female villains sympathetic, where you helped me understand more about the way Regina is portrayed in 'Once Upon a Time'. I think the gist was something like this: we all bring our own background to a text which affects how we view situations and characters. I, for example, will sympathise with a female villain up until the point where she kills a puppy. In the case of 'Korra' we are both coming from a place where we feel/know that non-magical characters in a magical world which disenfranchises them are to be sympathised with. However, say we didn't feel that way but we had to write an essay for points and trophies, something like 'Are non-benders sympathetic?' (skillful academic titling there Jodie). Does the text provide us with any specific evidence that we could use to construct a dispassionate argument about how the text encourages us to view non-benders sympathetically?

I think right now there are some things which could subtly suggest to all viewers that hey maybe non-benders have a point, and there's a lot of narrative suggestion that Equalists are not to be listened to. At the same time, we don't have to write an academic essay in any kind of vacuum state (yay, oof I was having flashbacks). This is a personal blog and we can allow some of our background into our analysis, specifically the fact that we have watched all of 'Avatar' and we have seen the team behind those series treat issues of social justice sensitively1. I also have such a hard time believing that you could go from making 'Avatar' to being totally unaware of the problems in the political storyline of 'Korra', but I do acknowledge that could happen because creators have personal political blinkers. I also think it's fine to allow the fact that we understand the way serial TV often works (storylines dropped until later seasons, resolutions deferred until next season, collaborative control etc) to affect our judgement, at least until next season.

The entire canon isn't over until it's over. There are a lot of unknowns right now and everything could change when series two is released. At the same time I think it's cool to judge the first series on its own (imagine if you had to defer judgement until the end of a series, trilogy or forbid a never ending soap opera type program, because something might happen). And it's ok to quibble with the completed canon of series one, without having to allow for it maybe being subtler than we can see, even if we think something might happen later to change our opinions. And I think it's fine to re-evaluate your opinion of series one in terms of the final canon results, to keep a disappointed opinion about series one and just love series two if it turns out well, or to keep that hopeful spark alive and love series one because of what it promises. All the options are there for the taking.

Perhaps it would be helpful to think about how you'd feel if this ended up being the only series of 'Korra' (NOOOO), a standalone and how those feelings differ/play into how you feel about 'Korra' with the prospect of a future? One of the great (or *argharg so frustrating*) things about serial media is that we can have both developing and fixed ideas based on canon at the same time. Like you I don't have all the answers, but it is interesting to think about questions like these.

Ana: I'll start by answering your question: if this had been the only season (*knocks on wood*), I'd have been disappointed that the political themes got a shallow treatment, I'd have been excited about how much potential for discussion about privilege and oppression there was in the series nonetheless, and I'd have been left with mixed feelings about who the series did and didn't encourage viewers to sympathise with, because I actually think it might be possible to find textual support for both readings.

But yes, I absolutely agree that any of those responses is totally fine; as is, I don't know, simultaneously responding to the series in seemingly contradictory ways. Nothing wrong with being of two minds (she tells herself). Also, I love that you brought up our discussion about Regina in Once Upon a Time because that's a great example of a time where I couldn't get over the textual clues that encouraged me NOT to sympathise with a character, even though my natural inclination was to read her positively and I could see how the series didn't completely close the door on more generous interpretations of her storyline. But something about how the narrative handled Regina crossed my own personal line in ways that were enough to put me off the show, whereas I know you and Clare felt differently. To me, the important thing about these discussions is to acknowledge that smart people, and also people who share the same values and care about the same things, can very easily disagree, as Ana Mardoll so well says. My favourite fannish discussions are the ones that acknowledge that, and hopefully we do a decent job ourselves of getting that idea across here at LB. The more time I spend observing my reactions to different stories and how I make sense of them, the more I realise that there really is no clear cut answer or definite formula to predict these things. I don't know why I'm more forgiving of some stories and demand that others take sides more explicitly, but these days I'm also more comfortable with only being able to figure it out on a case by case basis.

Jodie: Yes I agree, although sometimes I think it would be so much simpler if there were one rule :P Never mind, the discussion of art would be so much duller is there were and humanity would be so much less interesting if we were quite so predictable.

Working out our reactions to media is never as easy as it seems when we're squeeing over the prospect of a project: OMG female Avatar, female Avatar, female Avatar! We are going to love this so hard - an actual conversation we may have had. So, let's turn to the last question I asked at the start of this conversation - did you love the first series of 'Korra' as much as 'Avatar', or at least as much as you expected to?

Ana: I didn't love Korra as much as Avatar as a whole, but the difference kind of disappears if I compare it with just the first twelve episodes of Avatar. As for expectations, I guess the fact that I waited a few months to watch the series had an impact. By that time, I'd seen some mixed reactions, so I wasn't disappointed like I might have been if I'd watch it immediately after those excited conversations we had. I expected to really like Korra and I absolutely did, but I came to it with the knowledge that there were some aspects that invited scrutiny and that some fans had felt there were pacing problems, so I wasn't surprised to feel similarly.

Jodie: Like you I knew other viewers had problems with the pacing. Although I wasn’t prepared for the speed with which things were resolved at the end, I wasn’t totally thrown out by the fast speed of things like Korra’s developing feelings for Mako. Preparation is everything, apparently : )

Ana:I'd like to return the question to you - and also, because we haven't done this yet, to invite you to talk a bit about a favourite character. I have a feeling you might have words to share about Asami? :P

Jodie: Well, I cried after, what, five episodes of ‘Avatar’? I mean, I didn’t cry at ‘Marley and Me’ when the dog dies, hell I didn’t cry at ‘Toy Story 3' which probably means I am fundamentally broken. It was always going to be tough for ‘Korra’ to take the exact same kind of place in my heart as ‘Avatar’, but nevertheless I did enjoy it a lot. It’s got an infectious, fun vibe running through it what with pro-bending tournaments and Bo Lin’s funny attempts to earn money with animal stunts. And its plotting appeals to the inquisitive kid side of me. What’s down that secret tunnel? Are there secrets behind the mask? I want to knooooow. I also think it managed to encourage me to be deeply interested in several of the characters, so interested I was worried about their fates.

As for my favourite character, Asami is so cool (lady racer) and such a nice person. She’s intrepid and moral, even when that means stepping away from those she loves. And I really enjoyed seeing her take up the glove with no qualms despite the fact that it’s an Equalist weapon, because she wanted to be able to protect herself. Yes, use your resources Asami. The teen bender characters, good people though they are, may not always be people she can rely on because they have some pretty deep, over-riding personal relationships with each other. And fashion moment – her style is so cool:

Asami wearing a two tone red jacket with an open neck and wide lapels, she has goggles on top of her head and he long dark hair is loose

Very glamorous aviatrix.

I’m excited to see how she’ll develop in the next series, especially as I feel like she gets such an unfair shake in this program. In terms of plot she’s partly brought in to be the romantic barrier between Mako and Korra, which will eventually be swept away by their powerful love. I do not believe in using people as romantic barriers - if one character gets in between two others then poly relationships should solve everything *pouts*. She gets off better than a lot of female characters forced into that role (90% of the “wrong girls” in rom-coms) because she’s not made into a harridan, a secretly evil lady, a screamingly awful person, or anti-other women. Hurray? But she’s still always going to get mown down by true love, even though the program does its best to show that Mako does genuinely care about her and Korra.

Ana: "If one character gets in between two others then poly relationships should solve everything *pouts*" I know, right? Whyyyy is this so hard, storytellers? But I actually liked the way the romantic triangle was handled better than 99% of romantic triangles I can think of (which admittedly isn't that hard). Like you said, Asami is never villainized, no one pretends that her getting involved with Mako despite Korra's feelings makes her a bad person, and the narrative doesn't feel the need to dismiss her connection with Mako as "fake" to prop up his "real" love for Korra - not so far, anyway. Like you, I prefer it if characters aren't used as romantic barriers, but if they're going to go there I like to see a story that acknowledges that people's feelings are complicated, that sometimes they're mismatched or they change, and that none of this makes any of the parties involved a monster.

Jodie: And partly because of the way Asami is treated by the narrative, I also have a huge soft spot for Lin Beifong. When Korra tells Pema she is in love with someone who is seeing someone else, Pema tells her about a comparable situation between herself and Tenzin. Viewers learn that Lin is the woman Tenzin broke up with to date Pema and it subtly reminds viewers that Asami will have a life after Mako; women don’t cease to be characters with stories if they lose a man they love. Also love that Lin’s feelings about that break up are more complicated than ‘I am woman and I don’t need no man’. While as a single lady in a culture which is just desperate for me to meet my prince, any prince I enjoy the fierce, single ladies are better on their own sentiment, but I really appreciated seeing a woman who had come through a break up, is alone and may have regrets, but is also living a fulfilling life. All the single ladies, y’know?

Lin Beifong in her grey police uniform, she has a stern expression on her face

And Lin is generally boss. She’s Toph’s daughter after all, how could she not be?

Yay, so we have reached what I think is the best part of these co-review posts. I get to ask you about your favourite character. Get elaborate here Ana :D

Ana: YES :D I think I was predisposed to love Lin because she's Toph's daughter, but even if not she'd have easily won me over. Like you, I like that there was complexity to her feelings about her past and present. She enjoys the life she has, but that doesn't mean that her life couldn't have taken an entirely different shape that would also have made her happy, because... there's no one true path to fulfillment. Other than that, I really loved Korra herself for all the reasons we've already discussed. She's smart and kind and impulsive and often completely wrong, but her heart is in the right place and you want to follow her on her journey and watch her learn and grow.

I feel that I also have to say something about the animal characters - sadly, I don't think Naga and Pabu lived up to Appa and Momo, although I may or may not have squealed with delight when we see Pabu having fun going down the waterslide at Asami's house :D

Pabu soaked and making a sad face


Bo Lin holding up Pabu while he waves his paw


I wanted to ask you one last question before we wrap up: what did you think of the ending? Obviously huge spoilers will follow here - I thought that Korra's magical recovery of her bending powers was a huge and extremely disappointing deus ex-machina. I guess it didn't help that for a second there I was impressed that they were going to take the story there: would season two give us a non-bender as the Avatar? Would Korra develop a new outlook as she lost her bending privileges and experienced the grievances Amon's followers had felt first-hand? Would the rest of the series follow her as she dealt and eventually came to terms with all of this? So many exciting storytelling possibilities, and such an interesting and daring direction to take! Alas, it was not to be, and to be honest I'm still a bit bitter about that :P

Jodie: That ending was so unsatisfying.

I love your ideas about where the program could have gone with a non-bending Korra. I agree there would be so many interesting story avenues to explore if an Avatar lost their powers for a long period of time. And we maybe could have seen Korra look at how to be powerful without supernatural powers?

At the same time removing Korra’s bending would fall into a gendered trope of disempowering heroines. Sure, Korra could come to find different forms of power in series two, but at the end of series one she would be in the typical knocked down position of many a heroine badly treated by her media. For me to feel comfortable with the creators ending the first series of ‘Korra’ with its female Avatar disempowered and desolate, in the terms of the program’s world, I’d have to really trust them to develop Korra’s story meaningfully and to give Korra the opportunity to take on some different kind of power later. Right now the trust that the previous ‘Avatar’ project built up by being consistently decent is helping me to wait and see just how the program handles the complaints of non-benders in series two. But if I were asked to suspend any other judgement until series two I think I'd find it difficult. It's a lot to ask for a viewer to hang out and see how everything turns out in the next series before forming any opinions on the strength of previous, satisfying projects and personally I would have felt that leaving Korra on a forlorn cliffhanger was step too far.

Saying that, the ending where Korra's powers are restored is dramatically rushed and does take the easy way out – contrary me apparently wouldn’t have liked the ending of this series whichever way they’d written it! I’d actually say it may have been a mistake to use Korra losing her powers as a finale in this first series, because there’s just no way to win there. You take her powers away permanently, or at least unless late on in series two, there's a good chance you’re going to lose some of your audience (if we assume there are a bunch of people watching ‘Korra’ hoping to see a female character guaranteed a supernaturally powerful role). You bring her powers back straight after she’s lost them and it’s a dramatic error which messes up the pace of your show and its emotional impact. If the loss of her powers had come at the end of the second series I think there would have been a lot more scope for the interesting developments you describe above to take place in the series three without endangering fan support. Trust might then have carried the audience (ok, ok, me, I'm talking about meagain) through any concerns about 'Korra' turning into yet another piece of visual media that totally disempowers its heroine. If the program gave me powerful bending Korra for series one and series two, then took her powers in series three I'd be more inclined to hang around and wait to see exactly how they treated Korra after taking away her bending.

The quick resolution of this plotline and just the general odd, too fast pacing of the program makes me wonder if there were internal concerns that the program might not get a second series. Series one is a complete product; it contains resolutions which make this series feel like a neatly tied up standalone story. The romance is sealed with a kiss, the villain is dead and everyone gets their powers back. There’s no, 'so what really did happen to Zuko’s mother' moment, y’know? And considering that these resolutions feel forced and way too fast I wonder what was going on behind the scenes. I find it really difficult to image the team behind ‘Avatar’ just so badly not getting how a drama should be paced... Were there issues that forced the way they paced this series? Speculation abounds!

Ana: You know, I hadn't considered that tradition of disempowerment at all, but that's such a great point. I guess the way I envisioned it in my head, losing her bending abilities would not so much put Korra in a position of weakness as open the door to a deep questioning of the link between bending and power in her world. Of course, this would require a radical revision of power structures in the world of Avatar, which is both exactly what I want and something that I understand is impossible to accomplish quickly.

Having said that, while you can change the rules of the game when it comes to the social power associated with bending, things are a lot trickier when it comes to how her supernatural powers enable her to be so competent physically when it comes to sports or fighting. And I definitely wouldn't want to see that taken away from a female heroine either. So yeah, they did place themselves in a situation where it's impossible to win, and I suspect you might be spot on about there being non-storytelling issues influencing how this season was paced and how rushed the ending was.

Only time will tell what season two holds in store for us. Whenever it comes out, I look forward to discussing it with you :D

Korra, Asami, Bo Lin and Mako walk across a zebra crossing in a shot that references the cover of the 'Abbey Road' album by The Beatles

Asami, Korra, Bo Lin and Mako stand in a circle and all put one hand in

Katara and Korra hug as she leaves with Naga


1 Renay has some interesting thoughts about bringing knowledge of a creator into a discussion of their work in her post 'The real question is "how the hell do we get the pixie dust off our clothes?".

Related posts:

Other reviews and interesting posts:

About the ending

Date: 2013-04-17 09:01 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hey! First thank you for this awesome post who really helped me rethink a lot of my feelings about Korra :).
On the subject of the ending, it feel definitely rushed but i don't know if you heard the theory that this is a moment where Korra comtemplate taking her own life? She's on the cliff, we have a shot of a tear falling down in the sea (so she lean toward the sea), a little waiting and.. she sit down. (the really under the radar gestion of this event can be explain by the network where Korra is broadcast maybe) And in that case she regain her power when she decide that she can live without it (so.. yeah that still a deus ex machina, but but a better one? :p). I like that because it tie all the instance where Korra was affraid of being inadequate without power, of being only of use if she is the Avatar (the dream at the mid season notably), and she decide "Hey i can be kickass even without any power!".

Sorry for the english, it's not my first language!

Re: About the ending

Date: 2013-04-21 05:13 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Please don't apologise for your English - it's not my first language either and I make mistakes constantly. But we can understand each other, so it's all good :D

I hadn't considered that reading at all and really appreciate you bringing it to my attention. I do like the thought of Korra seeing her own value even without her powers and deciding she'll be okay before she regains them.

Date: 2013-04-18 12:39 am (UTC)
jinian: (racebending)
From: [personal profile] jinian
Huh, that is an excellent point about the tradition of disempowerment. What I wanted was definitely "Korra enters S2 with no bending" but I didn't want her disempowered: I wanted her to talk to Pema and get some perspective, maybe even gain back the ability to restore others' bending before her own, travel around (because I really missed the quest aspect of Avatar), and slowly regain what was always easy for her before. I can really see how leaving her without bending would've looked like a weakened heroine no matter how they played it, though.

Date: 2013-04-29 09:42 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
I just finished watching Kiki's Delivery Service and I think they did a really great job of taking away a female character's power without making it at all about gender so these kind of storylines can be done successfully. And the kind of story you're describing would have been so interesting to watch. I think it's the context of the series that makes it an especially difficult kind of story to set up.

Date: 2013-04-18 01:24 am (UTC)
chaila: by me (korra)
From: [personal profile] chaila
This was a good read! Somehow in the time since it aired, my brain has begun to associate Korra with "disappointment"--mainly b/c my expectations were so very high--but when I really remember my response right after watching (i.e. I had to go read my own post, heh), it was pretty much this? Some serious disappointment, many things I liked, lots of hope that they can fix some of the disappointing stuff with season 2. This made me want to go look up the air date for season 2 (not set yet, boo), so that's a good sign, b/c I haven't been too interested in revisiting season 1 since it aired.

Re: disempowering Korra, this kind of makes me wish for the interesting storylines they could have done with Korra without most of her bending, despite my personal extreme touchiness over fiction's need to disempower heroines. They kind of painted themselves into a spot with that, for me, where I was going to have Concerns no matter what they did with it, and I probably didn't have enough trust to be optimistic during the long gap between seasons about how they would handle it. But actually, I wouldn't have been as wary of it as I was if it hadn't also happened to Lin, and thus to two of the three most major female characters, and not to (in my fuzzy memory) any of the main dudes? Though of course, it was all resolved so quickly that this is sort of moot!

Aw thanks for the link to my vid! :D

Date: 2013-04-29 09:47 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Yes, the fact that Lin loses her bending too absolutely plays into why I was so 'do not want' about Korra losing her powers for a long time. I think Tenzin loses his powers too, if I remember rightly, but it seems natural to me to be focused on how many of the main female characters are losing their powers considering narrative traditions. Also Tenzin was just not that interesting to me (I mean he was fine and fun but I didn't make any special connection with his character) so I wasn't that invested in him losing his powers - personal thing obviously.

Date: 2013-04-18 02:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com
Series—y'all are so British. :)

I really do wonder how the first series would have turned out if they'd known that a second series was a given. I think the behind-the-scenes idea was that The Legend of Korra was originally meant to be a miniseries to cap Avatar: The Last Airbender—the missing "Air" season to the original series' three seasons, as the element Korra is heading off to learn is the one that Aang started off with. But it became popular enough to warrant season two, so I think there was a lot of scrambling plot-wise, which led to that ending. I frown.

(Although I totally screamed when Kyoshi showed up, terrifying Samuel L. Catson, the cat I was housesitting at the time. I love Kyoshi.)

Date: 2013-04-18 02:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com

Date: 2013-04-29 09:51 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Oh that's interesting about it being set up to replace the Air book. I didn't know that but it makes a lot of sense and does seem to explain the pacing issues. If weird pacing issues are a trade off for second series I will probably take them because I am greedy and just want more. You know what I would really love? A pro-bending graphic guide in the manner of 'A History of Dragons' where a bender breaking into the pro-scene takes us through the whole sport with illustrations.

Date: 2013-04-29 09:52 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
That's me above.

Date: 2013-04-29 06:20 am (UTC)
myfriendamy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] myfriendamy
You guys seem to like it better than my other friends did and I love that you are generous in your reading of it, tbh. :) I still don't think I'll watch it, well maybe if I hear awesome things about the second season.

Date: 2013-04-29 09:53 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
It's short - you could watch it when you need like a weekend comfort marathon *cheerful peer pressure*.


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