Seemingly out of nowhere—the trailer for Book 3 only premiered a few weeks ago—Avatar: The Legend of Korra came back to Nickelodeon on Friday night. And although in the past I’ve been more of a fan of the idea of LoK than I was a fan of the actual series, I couldn’t be happier with the season so far.
So first, let’s recap: In a post-harmonic convergence world, humanity is having a lot of difficulty adjusting to living side-by-side with spirits. Obviously, they blame Korra for this; if she hadn’t left the portals to the spirit world open at the end of last season, the spirits would not have been able to travel freely between the worlds or set up giant vine habitats in the middle of busy city streets. Needless to say, her approval rating is lower than dirt, and she’s having trouble convincing people to see her as anything but trouble.
To add another iron to the fire, harmonic convergence has had another unexpected side effect: people around the world are discovering that they’ve developed airbending powers. Although it’s exciting in theory that the number of airbenders has increased significantly and is no longer just Tenzin’s family and Korra, most people displaying the ability are either terrified of their nascent powers or totally uninterested. After an attempt to calm a terrified new airbender draws yet more unpleasant public attention for Korra, the president of Republic City essentially kicks her out of town. That’s all right though; she was going anyway—on a voyage around the world. Tenzin, Korra, and the gang head out on one of Asami’s airships to try to gather up all the new airbenders and teach them about their powers and the legacy of the Air Nomads.
The attempt is far less successful than they’d expected, and I’m honestly not sure what they expected. Their pitch to all the airbenders they encounter is basically: “hey, I see you have airbending skills! Would you like to leave your established life behind, travel to the Northern Air Temple, and begin an ascetic vegetarian life as an Air Nomad? It’s your duty!” The only taker is an Earth Kingdom kid named Kai. Kai’s a shameless and remorseless pickpocket, but he’s also an orphan, and Bolin pounces on the chance to have a little brother of his own.
After being mostly unsuccessful, the gang travel to Ba Sing Se to meet with the Earth Queen and maybe recruit some Ba Sing Se airbenders. Korra goes to negotiate with her, but she’s a demanding and clearly irrational despot and insists Korra help her collect some taxes from her citizens before she’ll introduce her to any airbenders. Korra accepts, but hesitantly; it seems she’s finally developing some sense of unease when it comes to getting involved in political scheming. She and Asami go pick up the money, and after a kickass battle with a Mad Max-esque band of thugs, delivers it to the queen—but upon receiving it, the queen denies the existence of any new airbenders in the city. Not sketchy at all. Korra storms out of the throne room, pissed at having been manipulated.
Meanwhile, the gang immediately lost Kai in the city, and when Mako and Bolin went after him, they ended up on a one-way train to the outer Ring of the city—essentially, the slums. It could be worse, though: after getting into a scuffle with a fruit vendor, they discover the extended family they never knew they had: a grandmother and a whole bevy of cousins from their dad’s side live in the outer Ring. They take in the two brothers and, after much excited reunioning, reveal an unpleasant surprise: there are new airbenders in the city, but they’re being black-bagged and imprisoned by the Dai Li. True to this, Kai is shortly apprehended and tossed in a crowded cell by the secret police, who welcome him to the Earth Queen’s army—“first airbending regiment”.
Although the overarching plot of this season is “find and teach new airbenders”, that obviously can’t happen without some other major conflicts. Throughout the three episodes, we see a series of prison breaks from some terrifyingly remote and secure prisons: first, a man who’s just developed airbending escapes, and then frees an earthbending comrade. Then they free their waterbending companion—the armless waterbender we saw in the trailer. She is only the third of four, though, and alludes to the final member of their band, a firebender. They head to break her out as well, but after this many escapes, old guy Lord Zuko is on the case. He rides a motherfreakin’ dragon to the Water Tribe prison where the final prisoner is being held. I think this woman is going to end up being the Sparky Sparky Boom Girl we saw in the trailer, but I can’t help but wish that it’ll turn out to be old lady Azula. Either way, we only see her creepy grin before the episode ends. According to Zuko, any one of these criminals would be a threat on their own, and combined they’d be unimaginably dangerous. I’m curious to see, once they’ve all broken out (as I expect they will) what their intentions are and who they go after first.
These episodes were a basically perfect start to the season. They’ve set up plenty of complex conflict, and the writing was a satisfying blend of humor, plot, and touching character moments. A personal favorite part of mine was listening to Lord Zuko and Eska bonding over the fact that they’d both once sent assassins after their respective Avatars. We also got a comparatively enormous amount of girl-girl bonding between Korra and Asami, which I am so here for. Above and beyond the fact that I ship them like Fedex, it was super refreshing to see them no longer at odds over Mako (and, in fact, bonding over the fact that they were both idiots about him). It was also fun to see Mako in the metaphorical doghouse, clearly repentant but beyond awkward around both of them. And I know I sort of said it once already, but I’mma say it again: I am so happy that Korra is starting to catch on to when she’s being politically manipulated, and thinking critically about the situations she ends up in. She still tries to use force when talking doesn’t work out the way she wants, but she’s slowly starting to get the gist of the whole “speak softly and carry a big stick” thing.
There was plenty of setup for future conflict in this episode, and I look forward to seeing where the characters and the story go from here. After years of wishing for Legend of Korra to live up to The Last Airbender series, I feel like the show has finally delivered something I am one hundred percent engaged by, and the next episode can’t come soon enough.