EPISODE REVIEW: The Legend of Korra: “A Breath of Fresh Air,” “Changes,” and “The Earth Queen” (Season 3, Episodes 1-3)

Kevin Long
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I’m probably not going to be reviewing this series because, honestly, I just kind of don’t like reviewing TV shows anymore. I don’t know why. Just the same, SOMEBODY should be reviewing this. It’s the best cartoon on TV, and at this point the Avatar franchise has provided five years of great entertainment. Four of them very solid, the fifth kinda’ ‘eh’ and very uneven, but still not bad. Still way better than the fifth season of Babylon 5 or the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica.  The new season snuck up on me without realizing it was coming, and they premiered with a marathon tonight. So, rather than leave my old home in the lurch, I’ll give you this one for free and hope you can find someone to review the show for the remaining 10 episodes.

A quick recap: 170 years ago, Avatar Aang ran away from home, and ended up pulling a Captain America inside an iceberg for a century. Later that same year, his entire nation were genocidaly exterminated by the Fire Nation. The Fire Nation then went to war against the Water and Earth nations, basically gradually wearing both down. One hundred years later, a brother and sister discover and revive Aang. Aang is The Last Airbender. He and his new friends travel the world having various adventures, building up a team to overthrow the Fire Nation and save the world, while pursued by the desperate Prince Zuko, and eventually by his flat-out-insane older sister.  Spoilers: They win.

 

“The Legend of Korra” begins seventy years later. Aang has been dead for 16 years, and Korra is the new Avatar. In the first season of the new show, she travels to Republic City – the first city integrating Fire, water, and earthbenders AND normal humans into one society – and quickly gets embroiled in a plot by “The Equalists,” an organization that seeks to bring about the triumph of the common man by removing – permanently – all bending from the world. There’s expressionist artwork everywhere, and it’s not really hard to figure out the “Hello, I’m a communist” aspects of the story, but it is exceptionally well done, the characters are likeable, the bad guys are pretty bad, the animation is awesome, and basically it’s just great. Rather than try to recapture the Aang years, they went in a completely different direction, and it totally worked.

 

Season 2 was a bit of a muddle. The plot….is….uhm….hard to describe. It kind of lacks focus, and the animation was good, but stylistically inconsistent. The story (Among other things) involved how the Avatar Cycle was established in the first place, the war between light and dark, and Korra’s uncles’ attempt to apotheosize by merging with pure evil, thereby taking over the world and…uhm…I don’t know, really. Buying it a coke and teaching it to sing in perfect harmony…of terror! Whatever it is is bad, but a little nebulous. In the end, Korra wins, but at great price: the memories of all her previous lives are lost forever, and the walls between the Spirit World and the Human World are forever broken.

 

Season 3 picks up two weeks later. Republic City has been partially colonized by a creepy supernatural forest and any number of spirit beings from the spirit world. This is annoying the crap out of the people of Republic city, and neither Korra nor the mayor are particularly popular, despite the fact that Korra just saved the world.  Now, Aang had three kids, and only one of them – Tenzin – could airbend. All of Tenzin’s kids could do it, though. Early on in the episode, Boomi – Tenzin’s comedy-relief brother – falls off a cliff after an experiment in knitting gone horribly wrong (Don’t ask) and manages to save his life by airbending to break his fall.

 

Yup! He’s a bender now! Turns out that since Korra broke the border between the spirit and real worlds, a lot of people with latent bending abilities are turning up all over the world!  Overjoyed at the rebirth of this nation, we get a genuine lump-in-the-throat scene of Tenzin sitting on a hill, talking to the Statue-of-Libertyesque monument of his dad, overjoyed because their people are coming back.

 

Korra is pretty much evicted from Republic City by public outcry, so Asame – the president of Future Industries – lets them use her airship – a sort of impossibly elegant steampunk version of the SHIELD helecarrier – to make the long trip to Ba Sing Se. There, they hope to enlist the aid of the Earth Queen to help them find more airbenders and train them.

 

En route they have absolutely no luck recruiting people. Partially this is due to Tenzin’s lack of people skills, and Korra’s anger management problems. Mostly, however, it’s because these people identify themselves as Earth Nationers, and don’t want to abandon their lives to go be monks at some dumb air temple. Bolin, however, decides to turn the whole thing into a traveling sideshow act, and they recruit on new bender – an earth kid named “Kai” who’s actually a thief. Kai and Tenzin’s daughter pretty much immediately develop crushes on each other.

 

While Team Avatar is having no real luck recruiting people, the greatest criminal of all time has suddenly gotten airbending powers. He escapes from prison, and then liberates two of his old teammates: an earthbender and a waterbender. They then decide to go and rescue a firebender in a secret prison near the north pole.

 

Word of this reaches Lord Zucco – age 86 – and he heads up to try to prevent it. In probably the funniest scene in all three episodes, Zucco and Korra’s cousin compare notes on how they both tried to kill the Avatar at one point or another. “Don’t feel bad. It happens.”

 

Upon reaching Ba Sing Se, Kai immediately reverts to form and starts robbing people blind. Mako and Bolin try to catch him, but end up getting stuck in the bad part of town, with no money or passports, and can’t get back into the inner city. “Well, the bad news is we’re stuck here. The good news is you can go to the bathroom wherever you want.”  After spending the night sleeping in an alleyway, the brothers are reunited with the bulk of their long-lost family – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmother – by the unlikeliest of coincidences. It’s pretty heartwarming.

 

The Earth Queen refuses to help Korra – she’s got issues – unless Korra retrieves her latest tax shipment. Korra and Asame agree, and end up in a fight with bikers with some deliberate Road Warrior imagery. They win and take the money back, but one of the bikers screams that The Avatar is on the wrong side of this fight, and Korra is pretty sure he’s right. There’s class war brewing in Ba Sing Se.

 

They take the money back, and the Earth Queen announces that the Dai Li (The secret police) have checked the whole city, and not found a single Airbender. Korra refuses to accept this, and heads off to find them herself.

 

Meanwhile, Kai gets arrested by the Dai Li and thrown in a cell with a whole bunch of other kidnapped airbenders, and told they are the first airbending regiment of the earth kingdom army. No one seems too happy about this, but as we’ve seen, the Earth Kingdom is good with brainwashing.

 

So basically we have three plots here: The attempt to rebuild the air nation, the emerging legion of doom, and the French revolution brewing in the Earth Kingdom. All of these are pretty straightforward, and interesting, compared to last year where it was kind of hard to tell what the goal was for significant periods of time. Also, it’s really nice to get out of Republic City for a change. I doubt we’ll see it again until the season finale.

 

The relationships between the characters are, as always, pretty great. Boomi seems less of a fifth wheel here. Tenzin has always been a very complex, very noble character, and a very good man who, unfortunately, has a massive inferiority complex (He LITERALLY grew up in the shadow of his father – there’s a 100 foot tall statue of the guy in town!) and a stick up his ass. The Mako/Korra/Asame dynamic is played for laughs, with Mako as the butt. First he had the hots for Asame, then dumped her for Korra, then dumped Korra for Asame, then dumped her for…sleeping under his desk, basically. It was a bad move all around. He’s very awkward around both the girls. For their part, they’re completely over him, and get along fine with each other.

 

I should mention that I’m totally in love with Asame. She is so freakin’ hot!

 

So there you go. We’re off to a much better start than last year, and I genuinely enjoyed it.

 

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Kevin Long is…ah, hell, you know, right? http://www.kevin-long.com

 

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