The finale of The Legend of Korra presents a world in which magic fights technology, and loses. The show so far has done a great job of combining modernity with mysticism instead of directly setting them up as a contrast. Benders and non-benders compete, but both of them help make the cars and electrical plants that run the city. The war has so far not been an ecological one, although it would have been easy to make descendants of Aang preach about saving the animals. However, nature vs technology comes into play in a few key battles.
General Iroh II says that Amon is “outsmarting” the benders by hiding behind a mask and letting tanks do his work, and it’s true: Korra, “running out of patience”, is doing more smashing than thinking. The pure disparity of a lone hero attempting to face land mines and missile-launching biplanes by herself and without armor makes the first major battle very exciting. Later, though, we see plenty of members of Team Avatar driving robots and cars. Republic City would be happy to use the technology that Hiroshi Sato created. Spirituality is not directly connected to the environment, although exactly what it is connected to becomes a bit blurred by the end.
Just to be clear, this is going to be a spoiler-free review until the cut at the end. There are some burning questions that can be answered without giving much away. Amon’s and Tarlokk’s backstories were predicted by some fans a few weeks ago, but the actual horror of seeing bloodbending in action means that no matter what you’ve heard, the episode still has the chance to shock. The Clone Wars has been said to deal with “adult” scenarios of death and politics, but the death of grunts (or slaves with about as much character development) aren’t nearly as affecting as the bloodbending scenes we see in this episode. The music helps make the finale become at turns tragic and uplifting.
The finale goes quick but covers all the major bases: Asami’s relationship with her father, the fate of the airbenders and Lin Beifong, and, of course, Korra’s confrontation with Amon. She’s accompanied by Mako, the requisite almost-love-interest, and they take turns saving one another.
Naga is the real hero of the day, and her big scenes are where I most clearly thought the creators might be continuing the idea that nature will defeat machinery. Naga seemed pretty indestructible against the Korra-universe version of tanks. It’s a lesson that seems futile in a society undergoing an industrial revolution like our own, though. Nature is not going to win. However, we’ve already established that nature and machinery can work together.
Interpersonal relationships were the other big theme of the finale. There are a couple interesting discussions of the nature of love in these episodes: Asami tells her father that “You don’t feel love any more. You’re too full of hatred [which you think is love]”, referencing her dead mother. It’s a nice insight that immediately paints Hiroshi Sato as an almost sympathetic character, confused by grief until he doesn’t know wrong from right any more. Almost.
When Korra is confronted with a declaration of love of her own, she refuses on the grounds of having too many other things to think about. She says “I can’t.” There’s too much going on. Love must be set aside, like it was, temporarily, for Aang. Tenzin says it “needs time”, but he really means that she will only later be able to deal with her larger problems. Depending on your reading of the ending this could be depression, pragmatism, or a sign that the moment just wasn’t right.
The final sentiment of the episode is “When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.” At first this struck me as a very simple and clear way of expressing that it’s okay to fail sometimes. However, as the ending went on, I felt that it was a bit of a hollow sentiment for people who...aren’t the Avatar. The ending went by very quickly, and while it is widely known that the creators weren’t sure whether they would have another season to play with, I would have liked the wrap-to to be a little less neat. It reminded me very much of the ending of Avatar: The Last Airbender. The first season of Korra was very well-done and deserves a re-watch with the revelations of the finale in mind. The ending, though, felt like a fairy tale instead of the story of an industrial revolution.
Head below the big bold warning for a few notes on spoilers.
In the long wait until next season, Nickelodeon will be re-airing the episodes along with creator commentary. They also have a Legend of Korra game available on their website.
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I’m not happy with the Korra/Mako outcome being portrayed as so positive, leaving as it does both Asami and Bolin feeling betrayed. Either Mako has been hiding his feelings for most of the season, or he’s always been impressed by Korra, and although I do think there’s a thin line between effectual love and hero-worship, his actions toward Asami don’t make me feel especially positive toward him. Korra wants him, but I’m not sure this relationship is going to last. This season was wrapped up pretty neatly, but I feel like that relationship is one of the issues that will be explored in the next.
I really liked the reveal of Korra’s airbending, where the only type of bending she never used before is the one that still works. it makes sense that a body naturally primed for bending would take whatever means it had left.
I really wanted Amon to stay scarred: that could have been from something besides firebenders. But scars in this style of animation do tend to look like paint anyway. (I’m looking at you, Zuko.)