The Legend of Korra’s Fourth Season Starts Strong   Leave a comment

Legend of Korra Kuvira

The fourth and final series of The Legend Of Korra, Book 4: Balance, is off to a good start.  Premiering earlier tonight (or yesterday evening since it’s after midnight and the rest of the world disagrees with my opinion that the day should start with dawn), the beginning of the end of the series takes place three years after the events in Book 3: Change. Spoilers will be unavoidable (case in point: Korra didn’t die way back in season 1, 2, or 3, so don’t be shocked when I mention her.)  I’m gonna begin with some spoilers right off the bat, so if you still want to go watch the first three seasons (or maybe even Avatar: The Last Airbender’s three seasons before that) then you have to stop yourself from scrolling down before you get to the end of the image of Spoiler.

Spoiler

There are four things that the show assumes you know at the get go, so I’ll mention those (a list of things to know that Nickelodeon itself provided in a short clip).  First of all, at the end of Season 2, Korra opened (and chose not to close) two gates between the mortal realm and spirit world, meaning that spirits and humans can more freely interact with each other.  Second, the Earth Kingdom is in a shambles; in Season 3 it was already a powder keg of oppression and desperation, and the death of the Earth Queen made it the start of a what seemed like a full scale revolution at first, but then just turned into a sort of massive excuse for looting.  Third, the Air Nation is rebuilding; we don’t have a Last Airbender anymore, as the connection to the spirit world seems to be awakening latent air-bending abilities in random people (though that reason was never quite confirmed definitively).  Fourth and finally, Korra went above and beyond when she defended the world in Season 3, and the fight left her drained and weakened, possibly physically but definitely mentally.

Having said all that, this episode puts all the characters you’d expect onto the table, with the writers clearly positioning a lot of them like chess pieces.  Korra has been away while she recuperates, but the Air Nation’s few members have taken to wearing flight-suits and travelling the world like superheroes, using their air bending to fight for balance and such while Korra is out of commission.  The suits reminded me of flying squirrels, but not so much that it really distracted me from everything else.  Asami’s business dealings have led to Future Industries creating a train station that can connect Republic City with the Earth Kingdom, an event that has new Prince Wu in town to meet with the President.  Mako, it turns out, has been assigned to Prince Wu as a bodyguard, and is eagerly awaiting the Prince’s official coronation to Earth King so that he can get back to being a brooding detective.  Speaking of trains, Mako’s brother Bolin has a job riding the rails with Kuvira, a would-be uniter of all the different states within the Earth Kingdom.

Let’s pause for a moment: if you don’t remember Kuvira, it’s fine.  She’s the person in the picture I used at the top of the article, and a likely candidate for the season’s antagonist unless the writers are trying to pull a fast one.  She was in the Third Season, introduced as a member of the Metal Clan.  They gave her just enough lines so that many viewers would be able to pick up on her, but not enough of a presence for her to get picked up on by a more casual viewing.  In the three years since those episodes, she’s risen from the position of metal bending guard to full-on military leader.  The first real conflict of the episode (apart from establishing problems, such as air benders Kai and Opal having to fight off bandits as they raid a starving community and Mako’s issues surrounding Prince Wu’s foibles) comes from Kuvira’s attempt to unify the Earth Kingdom.  She meets with the leader of the community that Kai and Opal saved earlier, promising to lend aid, protection, and provisions.  The community leader says that he knows that Kuvira’s protection is, effectively, her way of conquering regions.  He refuses, and she leaves town, letting it be known that she’ll be at the borders for a day in case their minds change.

This gives us some of our first real character conflict.  Bolin and Opal started a relationship back in Season 3, but their jobs put them at odds with each other.  Bolin is trying to support a force for protective stability, but Opal is trying to protect the region as the people wanted it to be while they had their freedom.

I won’t go into the details of the rest of this plot, except to say that it lets us see some really nice aeroplane action (I’m a sucker for Diesel Punk, even more than I am for Steam Punk.)  This plot lets us see Kuvira for what she is: she’s a conqueror, but she conquers with politics and economics.  She only uses her weaponry for defense, and to protect those under her rule.  I don’t know if this was an intentional choice on the part of the writers, but Bolin and Opal are both playing to elemental type.  Bolin is an Earth Bender, and rocks tend to represent stability and structure, while Opal is an Air Bender (and as Tenzin said way back in Book 1, air is the element of freedom.)  Whether or not Bolin and Opal are meant to be at odds for this particular reason, the basic conflict of this bandit-plagued region is a question of whether or not people should surrender freedom for safety (or to put the opposite spin on it, surrender dangerous chaos for stability.)  Just as Season 3 was rife with constant questions about, and examples of, change in the world, I’m expecting Season 4 to be filled with background discussions about Balance.  What, exactly, is the ideal balance between safety and freedom?  This is a question that our society has been asking itself over and over for decades (some would say centuries), and The Legend of Korra is gearing up to tackle that issue head on.

But enough of my middle-school English class breakdown of the motifs of the episode, let’s get back to the plot.  Mako continues to deal with Prince Wu throughout the episode, and even saves the Prince from being attacked outside a building by angry protesters armed with… strawberry pies.  It seemed out of place to me, personally.  Were the writers originally going to put guns there, only to be told no?  Or were the protesters legitimately just attacking the Prince’s clothing since the guy seems to be a total neat freak?  I’d almost assume the latter.  The moment seemed out of place, but I still enjoyed it.  Later, Mako reveals to the chief that he’s looking forward to becoming a Detective again, but it’s revealed that he did his job so well that Prince Wu doesn’t know how he’ll live without him, and the President himself is transferring Mako to the Earth Kingdom.

Meanwhile, a ship arrives from the South Pole, and everyone’s excited to see Korra again!  Korra’s dad disembarks and greets Tenzin cheerfully, but they quickly share notes and realize that they both thought that Korra was with the other one.  We finally get to see Korra, incognito, fighting in an Earth Bending tournament and not doing very well.  She’s obviously still trying to recover, and when asked about being the Avatar by the sharp-eyed fight organizer, she denies it and walks away.

Ultimately, Season 4 is off to a strong start.  I don’t know if it’ll be up to the high standard that Season 3 set, but so far it’s doing everything properly.  If you still haven’t seen the episode yet, then… well, you probably shouldn’t have read all my thoughts on it.  Go on, you can watch it on the website for now.  After you’ve seen it, then I think you’ll agree with me that, if we liken this season to a chess game, we’re seeing the writers masterfully begin the positioning of the pieces.  I’m eagerly awaiting next week’s episode to see what their next few moves are.

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