Spoilers after the jump.
So, Korra has, after much deliberation, decided to turn herself over to the Red Lotus in exchange for the airbenders. While Bolin, Asami, and Mako head to the Air Temple to pick up the captive benders, the rest of the crew lies in wait around Korra and Zaheer’s meeting spot in case something goes awry. Predictably, something does: after Korra is cuffed and in Zaheer’s custody, it’s revealed that the airbenders at the temple were just dummies; the real people are being held elsewhere. Korra strikes back, fighting admirably well for someone whose hands and feet are cuffed together, and her backup enters the fray. Su and Lin “take out” (see, I can use euphemism too, Nick) P’li the combustion bender in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it really violent attack, and between Korra and Tonraq it seems like they’re getting the upper hand on Zaheer. Unfortunately, though, Zaheer is specialer than everyone and, thanks to his studies of a long-dead airbending master, has learned how to fly.
Yeah, let that sink in.
He flies away with Korra to his hideout. Meanwhile, the other teens and Tenzin rush to escape the devastated Air Temple, with Gazan the lavabender close on their heels. After melting pretty much the whole building, Gazan leaves them to die, but Bolin unlocks the ability to lavabend at the last minute and is able to save them all from a very painful death. Kai shows up on his baby sky bison like Harry Potter on a hippogriff to speed them away to safety, and the gang regroups.
Then the show finally, finally, reveals Zaheer’s hand: he wants to induce the Avatar state in Korra and kill her while she’s under, so that the Avatar cycle is destroyed forever. He uses some weird topical poison that looks kind of like liquid mercury to force her into the Avatar state, but she’s stronger than he expected in her trance: she breaks her chains with sheer force and bends pretty much everything around her in self-defense. She and Zaheer take their epic bending battle to the skies while Mako and Bolin face off against Gazan and the waterbender Ming-Hua; meanwhile, Asami, Kai, and the Bei Fongs bust the captive airbenders out of prison. Bolin and Mako eventually “take out” their opponents, too, but Korra’s in dire straits: she is struggling to fight the poison and Zaheer at the same time, and she loses the upper hand. Aas Zaheer begins to bend the breath out of her, the other airbenders, led by Jinora, combine their powers to create a giant tornado that sucks both of them back to earth.
Zaheer is captured and Korra is saved when Su is able to bend the metal-based mercury-like poison out of her system, but she’s not immediately better. Her body has been broken by the intense fighting, and the loss of her full mobility has left her depressed, exhausted, and a shadow of her usual feisty self. She is, however, welcomed back to Republic City as a hero, and the episode ends on a bittersweet but ultimately positive note, with Jinora receiving her bending master tattoos and the airbenders dedicating themselves to maintaining balance for all nations in while Korra recuperates.
So, like, damn. Korra‘s season finales have a history of kicking it in the ass, but I think this one takes the cake. For one thing, it didn’t wrap up every single plot thread in a neat little bow like the first season did, nor did it partially depend on the deus ex machinae arrival of new characters and abilities like last season’s. The plot moved along steadily, there were few extraneous scenes, the characters’ developments were believable and interesting, and they left plenty of space for the plot to go next season.
The show has gotten more and more violent this time around and the finale was no exception. While all of Zaheer’s gang died pretty brutally (Gazan immolated in his own lava, and Ming-Hua electrocuted by Mako’s lightning-bending), it was P’li’s death that left me in openmouthed shock. While Lin drew her attention, Su metalbended a piece of armor around P’li’s head—just as she was about to, as the kids used to say, fire her lazors. The combustion shot reflected off the metal and she basically blew her own head off. Like, holy shit. The final battle between Korra and Zaheer was also very physically violent, with much smashing of bodies into rocks and each other.
I’ve talked a lot in previous reviews about the lack of consequences to people’s actions, and I was relieved in this episode that there finally seemed to be some follow-through. The biggest consequence, of course, was that Korra faced real and serious physical injuries following her big boss fight. Often characters get tossed around in a way that would leave them dead from the blunt force trauma alone, and then they get right back up and keep fighting. Korra’s grave injuries show that the writers were actually concerned about giving the show a little bit of veracity, and also with using that realistic level of injury to give the Avatar universe another level of disability representation.
My one big beef with Korra being in the wheelchair has nothing to do with Korra being in the wheelchair—rather, it’s with President Raiko. As Korra left his company to go to Jinora’s ceremony, he made an offhand remark along the lines of “who’s going to protect us while Korra’s in that chair?” In a series that has been historically very positive in its portrayal of people with disabilities, this rang really harshly for me. (My brother and I both yelled out, “Korra fucking will” when he said that—losing some of her physical mobility doesn’t automatically make her less of a badass). And while I doubt Korra will remain in the wheelchair forever, (although that would be awesome for representation) I hope that her mental and physical rehabilitation next season are also portrayed as a realistic process and aren’t magically healed by some bending deus ex machina.
I did find it sort of silly that Zaheer could suddenly fly, even if it was excused by the fact that he’s apparently the only person who’s ever studied this old airbending guru’s works enough to achieve it. I felt the same way about Voldemort suddenly gaining the ability to fly in Deathly Hallows: what? why? is this really a thing that’s happening? At least it’s something that I suppose a person with air manipulation powers could arguably do. It just seemed like an almost comical powerup.
For next season, as I’ve said, I hope they deal with Korra’s new disabilities in a respectful way that makes sense for her character. I also hope that the side characters get a little more screentime/development time than they did in this Book. Pretty much everyone got one or two great character moments, but I’d like more than that. For example, while I think it’s absolutely important for Korra to have a close female friend in Asami, I would really like for her to be more than just Korra’s friend. (I mean that in a “her character should have more to do than just support Korra” way, not a “they should date” way, but I wouldn’t complain about the latter either.) They also kind of ham-handedly introduced another female warrior at the end of the first episode—one of Su’s metalbenders, name of Kuvira—and given that they went to the trouble of giving us her name and a peek of her character I assume she’ll come into play next season somehow.
However, given that this season was leaps and bounds better than the previous two, I can only imagine how awesome Book 4 is going to be. Hopefully it’ll come sooner rather than later—I know I can’t wait.