First of all, I apologize for not doing weekly reviews of the Korra episodes like I did last season. I wasn’t expecting Book 4 to drop as soon as it did, and, well, my brickspace job is in retail. The holiday season has been reliably brutal. Rest assured that I missed writing them as much as you all (hopefully) missed reading them.
That said, let’s get down to it. Book 4 has been a wild ride for all involved and while I am sad that it’s over, I could not be happier about how it ended. Yes, I’m going to talk about them doing the thing. Just give me a second.
Oh, and so many spoilers below the cut. Be forewarned.
Starting at the beginning, which seems like a very long time ago, let me say that I loved that they did a timeskip. It was the only reasonable way that they could show Korra recovering even a little bit from the physical and mental devastation her body endured at the end of last season, and it put us in a very interesting place for character development. Korra was dealing with brutal PTSD and depression, having cut herself off from all her friends and family except for Asami. She couldn’t bend at full strength because she was still suffering from the remnants of Zaheer’s poison, and with the airbenders taking on the role of peacekeepers, she was relatively without purpose as the Avatar. It wasn’t until the third episode that she finally reunited with her friends, and even then it was a while before everyone was back on good terms with each other.
There were certainly some weak spots in the season. Nick’s budget cuts forced them to do a clip episode mid-season, and I’m also beginning to think that Varrick was only in the third season so that he’d have an excuse to also be in the fourth, because he was instrumental in Book 4 but pretty much useless in Book 3. Another issue that Ink and I discussed at length in our weekly post-episode Facebook exchanges was that, from a standpoint of power levels, there was just no reasonable way that three Beifong ladies (including Toph, who invented metalbending) and a lavabender could not have defeated Kuvira in “Operation Beifong”. Furthermore, Kuvira’s colossus was so out of left field that I don’t blame fans for accusing the show of jumping the shark with it. Like, one day we’re traveling by train and now suddenly we’re fighting a jaeger with an atomic bomb metaphor strapped to its arm? It made for pretty confusing worldbuilding all told.
My final complaint is that where the ensemble cast seemed over-represented last time around, it seemed like they barely got any use this season. The show has a really excellent batch of supporting characters, and I wish they’d been used more effectively. The airbenders around whom the last season revolved were basically pushed to the side this season, and Opal and Bolin’s relationship was only ever mentioned to show the tension between them while he was working for Kuvira. There were some gems, though, like the Beifong family reunion, and the character development that Prince Wu managed over the course of the season.
Despite those weaknesses, the two-part finale was all I could have hoped for and more. Kuvira, at the fascist end of the bad guy scale, was an interesting villain to follow up the anarchist Zaheer, and the parallels between atomic power/weaponry and the spirit vines/vine weapons made for some pretty serious food for thought for a show that’s ostensibly rated Y7. Kuvira’s defeat came in true Avatar fashion, alongside the conclusion of Korra’s entire arc of growth. Her use of the Avatar power to protect Kuvira from her own out-of-control weapon, rather than to subdue her, perfectly proved to me that Korra has finally come into her role as the Avatar. She’s always been a brawler from the start, but this move was made to protect and encourage a peaceful end to their fight, despite everything that Kuvira had done to her and hers. It’s this, and not any sort of physical defeat, that finally pushes Kuvira to realize the extent of her folly and give up. After that, it was just a matter of wrapping up the interpersonal relationships between Team Avatar in a satisfactory way, and Varrick and Zhu Li’s wedding provided the perfect framing device for that.
Okay, deep breaths. I’ve gotten us to the part I’ve been giddy about for nearly a week now. The serious plot part of the review is over and I can say Korrasami is canon motherfuckers I’ve been praying for it for literal years and I never thought I’d get it and here it fucking is hand in hand on my television screen. They did the thing.
While some viewers felt that the ending was open-ended and could be interpreted as either romantic or friendly, the creators spoke out on Monday night confirming that Korra and Asami were very much in love and the haters could go be sad biphobes elsewhere:
We approached the network and while they were supportive there was a limit to how far we could go with it, as just about every article I read accurately deduced. It was originally written in the script over a year ago that Korra and Asami held hands as they walked into the spirit portal. We went back and forth on it in the storyboards, but later in the retake process I staged a revision where they turned towards each other, clasping both hands in a reverential manner, in a direct reference to Varrick and Zhu Li’s nuptial pose from a few minutes prior. We asked Jeremy Zuckerman to make the music tender and romantic, and he fulfilled the assignment with a sublime score. I think the entire last two-minute sequence with Korra and Asami turned out beautiful, and again, it is a resolution of which I am very proud. I love how their relationship arc took its time, through kindness and caring. If it seems out of the blue to you, I think a second viewing of the last two seasons would show that perhaps you were looking at it only through a hetero lens.
Was it a slam-dunk victory for queer representation? I think it falls short of that, but hopefully it is a somewhat significant inching forward.
I can’t begin to say how important this is for queer representation. This is the groundbreaking first, explicit, and intentional expression of romantic love between two people of the same gender on children’s television. And not only that, but they chose to frame it between two bisexual women of color. (And don’t step to me with your monosexist talk of lesbians, folks; Bryan Konietzko specifically said ‘bisexual’ in his post.) If you need me to explain to you how fantastic that is, then you’re probably reading the wrong blog. Suffice it to say that I have been riding a Patronus-moment high since Friday night, and it shows no signs of diminishing.
As Bryan said, it’s not a slam-dunk victory. The relationship only revealed itself in the final seconds of the show, for one thing, and they couldn’t show things like the girls kissing in the same way they could a boy and a girl. All the romantic framing in the world won’t stop some people from interpreting them as just good friends. But this is a huge step forward, and it leaves less room for other shows to say “oh, well, we can’t do that on kids’ TV”. Hell, maybe in the next year Adventure Time will finally commit to making Bubbline really in-show canon.
In a perfect world, someone would give Bryan and Mike a fuckton of money to do Legend of Korra: Sisterhood in the vein of FMA: Brotherhood and its ilk so we could go back and tighten up the shaky mess that was Book 1 and give the moral messages of the earlier seasons more solid and logical arcs. If only the first two seasons had been as tightly written and complex as Books 3 and 4, I could easily say that Legend of Korra was my favorite show on TV. My small complaints about this and earlier seasons aside, though, I’m deeply satisfied with the way the series ended. It was emotionally gratifying, the plot hit all the right notes in regards to character and action, the story turned on the relationships between powerful women, and I wouldn’t change canon queer ladies of color for the world.