Well, I'm writing this blog to express my opinions on the Legend of Korra Finale. I'm going to start this off by saying that I came into this series with some high expectations. Especially once I heard about the type of plot that Bryke was writing. The first ten episodes of Korra was great. It had some flaws, but I couldn't see them until the finale aired. Now, in my opinion, the finale was not good. It was really not what I was expecting, and it is unfortunate that the last episodes are what sticks in a person's mind the most. I warn all of you that this article is long length, but if you finish it, I would love to see your opinions on it. I don't care if the comments disagree with the article, or not.
Now, my knowledge of historical revolutions other than the American one amounts to a few basic facts, and this isn’t the place for long treatises on history anyway. I believe, though, that I can make some general statements about how revolutions happen with the disclaimer that they don’t apply to everyone involved and that each existed in a unique cultural situation that should not be glossed over and ignored in favor of making facts fit theories.
In general, people like to play it safe. They like stability and routine and they are risk-adverse. Even when things are bad, they’ll prefer the tribulations they know over frightening uncertainty. Fear of the unknown prevents many from seeking radical change.
Revolutions are often power struggles between the have-a-lots and the have-a-lot-mores. The ideas and philosophies that lead to overthrowing the government and successfully establishing a new one are the province of the educated--in other words, the wealthy. Furthermore, it takes the money of wealthy backers to provide the force necessary to succeed. However, for a group of dissenting intellectuals to turn into a movement big enough to actually threaten the current government, they have to entice average people to join them. Those people have to be scared enough, angry enough, and hurting enough to feel that anything is better than what they have. Even death.
This is as true of terrorist groups as it is of successful revolutions. Often the difference between terrorists and revolutionaries is whether they win or not, which is a matter of how much support they have, how far their people are willing to go, and how powerful their weapons are. I’d argue that the first two are just as, if not more, important than the last one.
However, most people do not just walk past a guy shouting in the park and think, hey, violent upheaval sounds fun, let’s risk our lives, families and jobs to stir some shit up. A few might, but most people who would show up at a rally like the one in the episode “The Revelation” are there because they are desperate and are looking for hope. A charismatic and powerful leader like Amon would have to provide that hope. His words would have to speak to their experiences; his promises and actions would have to make them believe that working with him would change things for the better.
Thus if someone wants to tell a story about a violent revolution being quashed, if they want to paint the existing government as the good guys and say that the protagonist and friends are heroes for maintaining the status quo, they have to explain to me why the current government is worth saving.
And no, “because the heroes of the previous series set it up” is not a good enough reason.
What we know: The United Republic of Nations is ruled by a council of five people, one from each nation with each Water Tribe having their own seat. But how do they get chosen? Are they voted in or are they selected by the nation they represent? There’s absolutely zero information about why those five got those seats.
The demographics of the council don’t match the demographics of the URN. Even with intermarrying among people of different nations, most of them still claim Fire Nation heritage, Earth Kingdom heritage, or both. It’s unclear how many citizens have Water Tribe heritage but there is no way in seventy years there’s more of them then there are of the other two. Certainly not enough to warrant double the representation on the council. Lastly, the Air Nomads, of which there are four in the beginning of the show (five if you count Pema) have one-fifth of the representation. Yes, there are a group of Acolytes who have adopted the culture, but that’s not a guarantee they chose Tenzin to represent their interests or that they still don’t have sympathies with the culture(s) they are descended from.
So we have a five-person band that can make laws, enforce those laws not only through the police force, which they have almost complete control over, but also through their own actions (Tarrok’s task force), and judge those who are in violation with no checks on their power. It’s a totalitarian oligarchy, not all that different from the monarchies of the EK, FN, and NWT. That would be fine, though, if it seemed that they had vested interest in the well-being of the citizens of the URN - community connections, shared culture and beliefs, something - but they don’t even have that. As we saw in Tarrlok’s case, being a native-born citizen of the URN is not even a requirement of being a councilperson. Last but no least, it’s way too easy for one person to push the council into doing what they wants, thus giving them near-total power.
There is no indication that this is a government worth keeping. There are, however, plenty of indications that this government fails its citizens: rampant crime, poverty, education only available to the wealthy - otherwise those street kids would be in school, and the only time the police force acts is when disturbances become too visible to ignore. No one helped the Phonograph store owner until Korra made such destruction that the cops had to step in.
The Equalists answer to this is that it’s all the fault of benders. I think that’s an unfair oversimplification. It’s not clear that the whole council is comprised of benders; only three are shown bending - Tarrlok, Tenzin, and the FN councilwoman. The previous council had two non-benders: Sokka and the Air Acolyte that preceded Tenzin. Both benders and non-benders suffer under the current system: Mako, Bolin, Skoochy, Gommu and his underground commune.
However, the non-benders in LoK are not the skilled fighters of AtLA. They don’t have weapons or martial arts. Benders have paths available to them that non-benders don’t for escaping the streets - joining a gang, pro-bending, and jobs that are either custom made for benders or in which benders are vastly preferred. Even if they don’t do any of these things, they still have a leg up because the untrained bender has the clear advantage over the untrained non-bender. There are rich non-benders, but there’s no indication they have a lot of power and influence aside from getting good tables at restaurants. Finally, it’s two benders, Aang and Zuko, who created this power structure in the first place. So blaming benders and thinking that things would be better if non-benders were in charge is a logical viewpoint, even if it doesn’t reflect the whole truth.
It wouldn’t take much to tweak this story into one where the Equalists are the good guys, with someone like the Lieutenant as the hero. Most Savior narratives are stories where a member of the oppressed group rises up to free their people from injustice. Since this is a story where a member of the privileged group is the hero, then the narrative either has to convince me that there is no injustice and that these are brutal vicious people seeking power (which is blatantly not the case), or it has to become a story about how the privileged person learns some humility, becomes an ally and works with the would-be revolutionaries to find a non-violent means of bringing about justice.
Korra should have fulfilled her duty as Avatar by reaching out and connecting with the angry non-benders, but she didn't. No body in the series did. I understand that Korra was raised in a compound, closed off from the rest of the world, and she only ever focused on bending. I'm very angry at the way she handled the anti bending revolution, but I understand why. She was never in this situation before so she just went along with the status quo. What she should have did was work with the non benders to reform the government so that there are checks on power, so that the ruling body actually represents the people’s interests, and so that non-benders aren’t at the mercy of benders. I still find this story problematic, it smacks too much of a fantasy version of the White Savior trope, which insidiously reinforces privilege by emphasizing the viewpoint of the privileged over the oppressed. But that might be the best story we can get in a world with magic kung fu and a deity in human form. It is certainly way, way better than the stuff we were given.
Magic isn’t good or evil. It’s a tool that is put to either good or evil purposes. Fantasy stories about people with magic are not about the magic itself, the magic is simply a stand in for “a great deal of power”. Thus writers can tell stories about the right and wrong uses of power without getting too personal and hitting people’s sensitive spots, because magic isn’t real.
LoK was not about that. LoK was about how powerful people are powerful because they deserved to be by right of birth. It was Azula’s argument about the divine right to rule stretched over twelve episodes. (I think that is what the series was about because none of the main characters try to reason with non benders. None of the main characters admit that there is a problem. Basically they just think non benders are confused.)
If LoK stood alone, I’d be offended by this, but I wouldn’t call the integrity of the narrative into question over it. Some people believe this to be true and write their story accordingly. I think it’s wrong and disgusting, but at least it’s honest.(I hope the creators are not thinking like this.)
But LoK is part of a franchise. AtLA made the explicit point that lives were more important than the magic. Even a tyrant’s life. Was the lion-turtle a deus ex machina? (I don't know). Was Energybending a cop out? (Probably because it was never mentioned before). Introducing last minute secret techniques to get out of a difficult moral dilemma is poor story-telling. But the story’s message and moral center remained consistent. In the second installment, the comics, Zuko made a point to tell his father that good and evil are not determined by individuals but are values that exist outside of people’s desires and feelings:
Ozai: You are the Fire Lord. What you choose, by definition, is right.
Zuko: No! Right and wrong are bigger than me, or you, or even the Avatar!
It's one of the few good scenes in an otherwise okay story. Zuko proceeds to go to war anyway, but that's shown as being the wrong choice and of course, he'll be on the side of right again when he, Aang and King Kuei work together to find a peaceful compromise - the establishment of the URN. Whether or not readers agree with this, it continues the same message and morality found in AtLA.
LoK, on the other hand, says that magic, in and of itself, is good. Never mind how people use it, never mind who they hurt, if they have bending it is because they were born worthy to possess it. To lose it is as bad or worse than death.
That is similar to arguments made here in this community, at least the part about how taking away bending is like scarring your soul or whatever. I don’t agree, but I don’t object to it, either. It’s all fantasy stuff anyway.(I'm neutral on that topic. I admit, I understand why benders fear getting their bending taken away.) What I object to is that LoK blatantly contradicts AtLA’s ending. Preserving magic became more important than people’s lives. People must have died in the battle between the United Forces and the Equalists, but the narrative ignored them in favor of Lin giving up her magic(Bending) so that the extra special magic of the airbenders could be preserved.
Do I have to say how awful that is?
Take Ozai's statement from the comics mentioned above and substitute "Avatar" for "Fire Lord." That's the morality of LoK in a nutshell.
I feel lied to.
The problems with LoK's writing have been talked about extensively elsewhere: no character development, a rushed pace, too much focus on romance and sports and not enough on the main plot, no sense of urgency (ironic, given the previous two points) until suddenly the Equalists had airplanes and bombs and everyone was running to save their lives—wait, scratch that, they were trying to save their magic powers (Bending) since the Equalists didn’t actually kill anyone until the finale. Add to that everything I’ve discussed about how badly the serious subject of the social and political issues that lead to a revolt was handled and and the idea that people are powerful because they deserve to be.(The creators made the main characters ignore the problems and just made them fight with force. No reasoning or nothing. Tenzin was honestly the only character who wanted to do stuff the right way.)
I feel like there’s something more going on, though. This is pure speculation, but I believe that they are so enamored with Aang - and Zuko to a lesser extent - that they could not bear to taint his legacy. His decisions had to be unquestionably right. So instead of a deconstruction that challenges the preconceived notions of both the characters and the audience, they took something they had already established as bad in the original series, bloodbending, and supercharged it. (Like it wasn’t already broken enough.)
Here’s the problem with that: it’s all make-believe woogedy woo. I don’t care if you call it energybending or bloodbending or chi-blocking. I don’t care which chakras one is touching and how. If it has the same effect, it's the same thing. There is no difference. Not qualitatively, not morally.
So either taking someone’s bending away is the same as or worse than killing them, or it isn’t.(Answer the question Bryke.)
When Aang uses the technique, he does it in situations where not doing it would have worse consequences, when the person in question is unstoppable and the only other option would be to kill him. If energybending just depowers a person and doesn’t otherwise hurt their flesh or spirit, then it’s no worse than forbidding a convicted felon to carry a gun.
If it’s indeed harming their spirit, then is that still better than taking their life?(No, benders are just attached to their magic and taking it away from them will scar their life forever. It changes who they are.)
AtLA says yes. LoK says (I don't know because the creators ignored all the questions.)
We could have had a story that asked these questions and gave us definite answers. Instead we got a story that ignored them and undid everything the first one was supposed to be about. That seems to go way past bad writing.
One thing is for sure; I will never let my expectations of a sequel get that high again.
I don’t think it’s a mistake that Tarrlok and Noatak have become so popular. Their story had the most emotional resonance of anyone's in LoK. I hate that a non-bender revolt was treated by the story as a bunch of sheeple following a trickster who is really a super-powered bender all along. The whole movement was pointless, and it was always bound for failure because of one person. Amon being a bender gave Korra and her friends a free pass on this problem.
That just reinforces the idea that benders are the only important people and non-benders are just pawns for them to push around or ignore. But putting that aside, the way their father’s frustrated hopes played out in them had the seeds of a truly great story. It also reinforced themes present in AtLA about destiny and legacies. It was the true successor to AtLA. (even though I think it is what messed up the whole Anti Bending revolution.)
If LoK was a story about these two brothers engaged in a power play for Republic City with Korra dragged into the middle, avoiding the bender/non-bender issue entirely because they obviously can’t handle something like that, it would have been a satisfactory and entertaining show. It would not have been great - you have to take risks to be great - but it would have been good and it would not have been offensive. I could have kept buying into the idea that non-benders were just as capable as benders. That’s what AtLA told me was true, but not The Legend of Korra. The non benders were a joke. If Amon would have turned out to be a non bender, then the creators would have made it look like non benders can be equal, but they didn't. That just just means that Amon's second in command would now be the strongest non bender living, but he was treated like a joke. ( Watching people land one hit K.O's on the Lieutenant is not funny. Someone can probably debate that his minions fight better than him.)
The wasted potential is heartbreaking.
The only other character arc I found moving was Asami’s.
It’s not a good arc though. She never questions the status quo, never once wonders if maybe the Equalists have a point. It rings hollow that she doesn’t sympathize with them because many of them lost a loved one to bender violence in the same way she did. This comes back to people in this show being intrinsically good or intrinsically evil and thus their actions are automatically good or evil regardless of intent, circumstance, or consequence.
However, Asami was willing to turn her back on her father, her money, her comfort and security, everything she knew, to do what she thought was right. Even if I think what she believed in was bison feces forced on her by a horrible story, even though she was just another pillar supporting a messed up status quo, and even though she continued to support two people who treated her like absolute crap, I respect that she didn’t take the easy way out. She had the most to lose and very little to gain, she didn’t have any reason to believe Korra could beat Amon, and she had no reason to believe she could get her life back even if Korra did win. She joined the Avatar's group anyway.
That counts for something in my book.
So, The Legend of Korra was good, but not great at all. The first ten episodes were great, but their flaws become visible in episode 11 and 12. That's just my opinion.
I congratulate any one who actually finished this long bsst article. I greatly appreciate it.