Legend of Korra: Book Three comes to a fitting end and sets up for Book Four, but how will Korra recover?
Legend of Korra: Book Three came to a close this past week with the episodes “Enter the Void” and “Venom of the Red Lotus”, and the season ended with an action-packed and emotionally devastating finale.
The two-part season finale gave viewers plenty of beautiful combat sequences and character development. Admittedly, Zaheer’s big, secret plan for why he wanted Korra was seriously underwhelming, but it served as an appropriate plot device to bring Korra and her friends to a new place by the end of the episodes. That place is exciting for some, especially fans of the returning Air Nation, but Korra is in a frightening state at the end. These episodes connected back to the first season in a way that might point to how Korra will be challenged in Book Four.
The finale also continued the trend in Book Three of using elements of Avatar: The Last Airbender in a definitively Legend of Korra environment. Concepts and visuals from ATLA are revisited and roles are reversed between characters as Korra finally faces Zaheer and the Red Lotus. This entire season, Korra has been restrained in some way, unable to confront the season’s antagonist to her full potential. Now, we finally get to see that showdown and it is almost on the level of the fight between Aang and Fire Lord Ozai at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Like the Book Three finale to ATLA, the art and music in these episodes, particularly “Venom of the Red Lotus”, are some of the best of the series. In fact, series co-creator Bryan Konietzko discussed the art of the finale in two posts on his personal tumblr. In one, he points out how muscular Korra looks in the episode, commenting, “THAT is how she is supposed to look in every shot.” He also discusses the art and sound teams in that post and another.
Legend of Korra: Book Three was named “Change”, a distinctly different naming convention from all previous seasons of Avatar and Legend of Korra. Where all previous books were named after the elements the Avatar could bend, “Water”, “Earth”, “Fire”, “Air”, and “Spirits”, there is no “changebending” happening in this season. Still, things have changed. The Earth Kingdom will likely never be the same, the Air Nation is back after nearly being wiped out twice, and, most significantly, Korra is completely, radically different in the last minutes of the final episode. This change might be what brings us to the end of Book Four, and likely the end of the world of Avatar.
Legend of Korra: Book Three is available to view at Nickelodeon’s website. Book One is available to watch streaming for free for Amazon Prime members, and Book Two is available for purchase through Amazon. Book Four is confirmed by the showrunners, but we aren’t sure in what form the fourth season will be released.
Spoilers through the end of Legend of Korra: Book Three follow.
Episode 12: “Enter the Void”
After taking over the Northern Air Temple and capturing all of the airbenders, Zaheer has demanded that Korra turn herself over, but he has yet to share what he intends to do with her. While sisters Lin and Suyin debate how to outplay Zaheer and the Red Lotus, Korra decides to submit to Zaheer’s wishes, concerned that there is no other way to save the airbenders. Team Avatar splits into two groups: Mako, Bolin, and Asami head to the Northern Air Temple to retrieve the airbenders while Korra gives herself up to Zaheer, while her father Tonraq, Lin, Suyin, and Suyin’s metalbending forces back her up.
Before Korra arrives, Zaheer shares a tender moment with P’Li (who is crazy taller than him and, as always, looks amazing). We learn that Zaheer rescued the combustionbender from a warlord, and the couple exchanges loving words and a kiss. At the same time, Korra hugs her friends before she parts and her father shares how proud of her he is in a fairly ominous goodbye.
Throughout the season, Zaheer has referenced a particular airbendeder named Guru Laghima, whose locket he stole from Air Temple Island. The location Zaheer chooses to meet with Korra is Laghima’s Peak, named after the ancient airbender, and it is here that everything blows up.
Korra allows herself to be put in chains by P’Li after Mako informs her over the radio that he, Bolin, and Asami are with the airbenders and a badly beaten Tenzin. Once Korra is restrained, Mako notices that the “airbenders” behind Tenzin are decoys created by armless waterbender Ming-Hua. Three fights begin at once: Korra, in chains, and Tonraq focus on Zaheer while the metalbenders, led by Lin and Suyin, deal with P’Li, and back at the nearby Northern Air Temple, Ming-Hua and lavabender Ghazan attempt to take out Asami, Mako, Bolin, and Tenzin.
The fight is brief in the Northern Air Temple. After the two sides exchange a few blows, Ghazan turns almost the entire room to lava, trapping Korra’s friends. After using Bolin’s earthbending to push through walls and taking secret paths through the temple, the group soon realizes they cannot escape the oncoming lava. Jumping in front of everyone, Bolin goes for broke and stops the lava himself. Maybe he can’t bend metal, but Bolin is one of the rare lavabenders! Kai, the one airbender to escape the Red Lotus, retrieves the team and they leave to rejoin the rest of the group, but the Northern Air Temple is completely destroyed.
On Laghima’s Peak, Korra proves capable of holding her own against Zaheer even when restrained, but it is still not quite enough. Tonraq pops in and cuts loose Zaheer’s airship and does his best to assist Korra in the fight, but is soon blasted off the cliff by Zaheer. Korra calls out to him and watches her father presumably fall to his death.
P’Li proves too powerful for all the metalbenders, her ability to cause explosions almost instantaneously is more than anyone can handle. Eventually, Suyin and Lin are pinned down and Lin jumps out to distract P’Li so her sister can escape. As P’Li powers up a blast to kill Lin, Suyin metalbends her own armor around P’Li’s head. There is no blast, no sound of explosion. Zaheer turns back to see the spot where his lover once stood, only a pillar of smoke remaining. The antagonists this season have been fairly likable most of the time, and after the scene between P’Li and Zaheer earlier, P’Li’s death hits a lot harder than I would have expected. Zaheer quickly knocks out Korra and steps to the edge of the cliff, but with his airship floating away, and there is no escape.
Lin and Suyin corner Zaheer, demanding he release the Avatar, but instead he repeats a quote from Guru Laghima heard earlier in the episode, “Let go your earthly tether. Enter the void. Empty and become wind.” Zaheer falls from the peak and takes flight. No flying bison, no airbending staff. Zaheer can straight up fly, Superman-style. Later, Ghazan and Ming-Hua walk in on Zaheer floating as he meditates, and they inquire about his new ability. Zaheer replies that he was not sure he could, that only Laghima had unlocked be ability before, and that it only became possible once he freed himself from worldly desires. It is no coincidence that Ming-Hua then ask what happened to P’Li.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang was never able to access his seventh chakra, because to do so he would have to sever himself from all earthly desire, the last of which being his love for Katara. Now, in the wake of P’Li’s death, Zaheer has done what Aang could never achieve and has become untethered to this world. He’s lost his love, but as we see in the fight of the next episode, it would appear that he has become the most powerful airbender we’ve seen yet.
Back at the base of Laghima Peak, everyone reunites. Tonraq thanks metalbender Kuvira for rescuing him. While she has relatively few lines in this episode, Kuvira, voiced by the daughter of the late Robin Williams, Zelda, received a special focus in those moments, with the camera zooming in on her face and meaningful music playing. The character had appeared for a few moments in a previous episode, and it would appear that the show is setting up for her to be a significant character in Book Four.
Kai reveals to the group that he knows where Zaheer has taken Korra, and Tenzin’s sky bison Oogi returns. The group departs to save Korra, who awakens in chains in a cave. She screams at Zaheer, accusing him of killing her father, while Zaheer reveals that he also lost someone he loved, but at least Korra’s pain will soon be over.
Episode 13: “Venom of the Red Lotus”
“When I get out of here, none of you will survive!”
Korra’s proclamation at the beginning for the Book Three finale serves as an example of just how different she truly is from the previous Avatar, Aang. This season, Korra has proven more calm, patient, and considerate than throughout the earlier arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved Korra throughout the series, but seeing her grow wiser and not giving into her impulsiveness has been rewarding. What’s more, this entire season has revisited elements of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but in this episode, a lot of that is turned on its head. Even with the airbenders returning, it appears that the most powerful of them is Zaheer, the season’s primary antagonist. And Korra has lost the calm demeanor she has built, even breathing fire at the Red Lotus while chained up, a moment very reminiscent of Azula at the end of ATLA.
Also during this season, Zaheer has hidden what he intends to do with the Avatar, but the reveal isn’t quite as earthshattering as it was built up to be. He wants to kill Korra, using a special poison to force her into the Avatar State (for those unaware, basically Super Saiyan Avatar). Dying in the Avatar State would end the line of Avatars — no more reincarnating. Red Lotus metalbenders force the poison into Korra through her exposed arms and legs, and it looks painful. Zaheer quotes Shakespeare (even though there is no Shakespeare in this world), and states that by ending the Avatar line, a new world will begin without nations or borders. A world of “true freedom”.
While in the chains, Korra resists falling into the Avatar State, and the show gives way to some seriously anime-style shots. Soon, the poison forces Korra to hallucinate, seeing the Red Lotus members turn into past antagonists Amon, Unalaq, and Vaatu, who all remind Korra that the world needs no Avatar and declare she is powerless to resist.
Team Avatar shows up, led by Kai, and proceeds into the caves to rescue the captured airbenders and Korra. After reuniting with the airbenders, Lin orders everyone to evacuate the tunnels while Mako, Bolin, and Tonraq go to help Korra.
No longer able to resist, Korra enters the Avatar State fully and easily deflects the attacks from Ghazan and Ming-Hua. She breaks free from her restraints and pursues Zaheer, a length of chain wrapped around one arm. Tonraq follows while Mako and Bolin face off with Ming-Hua and Ghazan one last time. Bolin is able to lavabend against Ghazan now, but it is Mako who dispatches his foe first, shocking Ming-Hua by using lightning on the water she is standing it. Of course, we have to ask why he didn’t do that many episodes ago, but before we can think on that for too long he jumps in to help Bolin. Ghazan, refusing to be imprisoned again, brings down the entire cave, presumably killing himself and burying Ming-Hua, but Mako and Bolin escape.
Outside the cave, Zaheer and Korra engage in a battle incredibly similar to that between Fire Lord Ozai and Aang at the end of Avatar. The environment is similar, and even the moves they perform reflect those of the battle from decades earlier. Only now, Korra propels herself with fire blasts similar to Ozai (think Iron Man), and Zaheer is the bald airbending master. Flying about the rock pillars, it’s difficult to not recall DBZ fight scenes as well.
Still, the poison overwhelms Korra and she falls. Zaheer takes advantage of her weakened state and attempts to suffocate her as he did the Earth Queen, airbending the air from her lungs. On the ground, Jinora has led the other airbenders to create an enormous vortex, which pulls at Zaheer and Korra. As they are sucked in, Zaheer attempts to fly away, but Korra uses the chain from earlier to grab at his leg and slam him back to the ground, before she herself falls to the poison.
Zaheer is immediately trapped in a stone prison, compliments of Lin and Suyin’s earthbending, yet he still mocks everyone, stating that Korra will still succumb to the poison. Jinora announces that the poison is metal-based, and Suyin bends it out of the unconscious Avatar. Zaheer tries to cry out that the revolution is still going to happen, but Bolin shoves a sock in his mouth.
Two weeks later, everyone has gathered at Air Temple Island for a special celebration. Asami helps Korra prepare her hair and outfit, but Korra barely reacts. Due to the battle and the poison, Korra is in a wheelchair and appears severely unwell and depressed. Asami reminds her that it will take time to recover and that she is there for her, for anything. Outside, Korra sees her parents and her mentors, Tenzin, Lin, and Zuko (yes, I’m counting him), as well as President Raiko. Only the company of Tenzin’s children, Ikki and Meelo, brings a smile to her face. After she leaves, Raiko and Zuko discuss how badly the world needs the Avatar right now and Tenzin contemplates their concerns.
In the temple, Tenzin ask a hooded Jinora to step forward and he delivers a speech promising to return the Air Nation to its nomadic roots and to protect the world while Korra recovers. The airbenders then anoint Jinora as a new airbending master. She removes her hood and cloak to reveal her tattoos, reserved for masters, and she looks exactly like Aang. The moment is beautiful and is hugely uplifting after everything our heroes have been through, which is why it is so heartbreaking when the camera cuts to Korra. She is nearly expressionless, save for her frown, and she has bags under her eyes. Even in an incredibly important and positive moment, Korra can’t keep herself from crying, and it is obvious these are not tears of joy.
It’s a powerful moment to close the season on. Our once energetic, impulsive, proud hero is in a wheelchair, obviously depressed, and possibly completely broken. There are plenty of conversations going on between fans about why Korra is in this state, but it would seem the physical toll of the poison and the fight itself has worn her down just as much as the emotional toll of her many conflicts.
Korra has spent nearly her entire life training to live as the Avatar and fulfilling that role over the past eighteen months. But also in that time she has encountered foes who constantly question her ability or the need for an Avatar. Seeing Amon, Unalaq, and Vaatu under the effects of the poison surely had a serious impact on her emotional state as well. Perhaps, after all of this, Korra has started to question her entire identity and her place in the world. She is also the first Avatar, besides the actual first Avatar, to not have the ability to turn to the past Avatars for consultation. She is truly alone in this. Then, during Jinora’s ceremony, Tenzn announces that the Air Nation is capable of handling everything while Korra is unable, and maybe she believes that now she is unnecessary.
These are heavy issues to deal with, especially for a cartoon on Nickelodeon about kids that control the elements. This season has pushed into more mature territory than past seasons of Korra and Avatar, especially with the deaths of the Earth Queen and P’Li. The theme of anarchy was explored more thoughtfully by Zaheer than most cartoon villains, and if the series intends to explore depression in Book Four, it would make for some intense “kid’s” television. Also, spending the next season asking whether the world needs an Avatar might also set up an ending for this series and the world of Avatar at the end of the fourth season.