Book Three starts off strong with a three-episode premiere, but looks to lose momentum with an immediate holiday break.
When The Legend of Korra: Book Two ended, Korra made a decision. After ten thousand years of separation, Korra decided to leave the door between the mortal and spirit realms open during an event called Harmonic Convergence. In the same series of events, Korra lost her connection to all the past Avatars. Being able to reach out to the past Avatars has always been a crucial aspect of both The Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Aang and Korra, as well as all past Avatars, have received guidance and knowledge from communicating with their past lives.
After Harmonic Convergence, Legend of Korra is changing course. Korra’s decision has had an impact on the world and they will motivate her next steps in her journey. But she isn’t going around fixing problems resulting from the events of Book Two, but rather Korra is helping the world adapt to these new changes. Even with the loss of her connection to the past Avatars, the show continues to recognize the roots of the series in The Last Airbender and Korra is becoming the more mature Avatar the world needs. Almost everyone gets a little screen time in these new episodes, including some new dangerous faces that do some very cool stuff with bending.
The first two episodes, aired as one, were fantastic. Paced well with action, great art, and dialogue that uccessfully builds emotional weight and conveys character development. Unfortunately, because next week is July 4th, Nickelodeon decided to air the next episode immediately after the first block. Where the first one ended with a great reveal that left me excited to see what was next, the third episode is slower and ends at a point that wasn’t too surprising. Now we’re stuck waiting two weeks for a resolution to a problem that is difficult to invest in. Still, a continuing side plot for the series may be enough to keep the energy going over the holiday.
The Legend of Korra airs on Nickelodeon on Fridays at 8PM Eastern, but will take the week of the 4th off due to the holiday and return on July 11th. If you missed the premiere, the first two episodes will be rerun on Nick July 4th at 8PM. If you’re further behind, Amazon Prime streaming has all of Avatar: The Last Airbender and the first book of Legend of Korra, with the rest available for purchase. Some episodes form Legend of Korra: Book One and Two are available on Nickelodeon’s website, but it’s a mixed bag.
Now, on to the episodes!
The two-part premiere of Book 3, “A Breath of Fresh Air” and “Rebirth,” begins by showing the effects of Korra’s decision to keep the portals between the mortal and spirit worlds open. Bumi, brother of Korra’s mentor Tenzin and son of Avatar Aang, is goofing off with one of the spirits when he discovers he can airbend. This is a surprising revelation since he has never been able to bend any of the elements and there are only five airbenders in the world. At first, Korra, Tenzin, and the rest of the group think perhaps Bumi is just a late bloomer, but that changes after a visit from Lin Beifong, chief of police and daughter of Toph, and Mako, Korra’s ex-boyfriend and police officer. Apparently, there is another person in Republic City that is airbending.
The president of the United Republic of Nations is already stressed out from the repercussions of Korra’s actions during Harmonic Convergence. Not only is Republic City covered in vines that are forcing people out of their homes, but now there’s an airbender causing trouble. Korra finds the airbender, a merchant named Daw, at the top of a bridge and calmly talks to him, relating to him over the bad day they’re both having. This is a huge change in Korra compared to her attitude in the past. She is collected and peaceful rather than angry and impatient, taking the time to understand Daw and offer him help, instead of just getting frustrated that he doesn’t understand her right away. This is reflected earlier in the episode as well, when Tenzin finds Korra meditating over how to address the issue of the vines in the city.
Daw agrees to train as an airbender with Tenzin and Korra, but then the president arrives, furious at the turmoil and damage caused by Korra’s actions during Harmonic Convergence. He banishes her from the city and Korra happily accepts. Now, Korra understands her true path, to find the new airbenders across the world and rebuild the Air Nation. Thanks to a new airship provided by Asami and a map of reported airbender sightings from Mako, Korra begins her journey. Joining her is Tenzin, Jinora, Bumi, Asami, Bolin, and a reluctant Mako, who is reminded by his brother Bolin that this journey offers chance to reconnect with their family in the city of Ba Sing Se.
Mako’s initial reluctance is echoed by his awkwardness with Korra and Asami. He’s been in rocky relationships with both of them, most recently going through a final break up with Korra at the end of Book Two. Korra and Asami, however, are becoming better friends. While Asami tries to teach Korra to drive, they discuss Mako’s strange behavior lately and their knowledge of his infidelity during their respective relationships. They recognize Mako’s kind of a jerk, but Korra and Asami still like him as a friend and, more importantly, value their friendship with each other.
Korra and crew are headed to Ba Sing Se, but stop along the way to try and recruit new airbenders — and, of course, run into some trouble. Apparently, people don’t want to abandon their families, give up their possessions, shave their heads, and live a monastic lifestyle. As important as the airbender culture and history is to Tenzin, and as excited as he is to see that carried on by more than just his children, it doesn’t seem possible to indoctrinate people into your culture just because they share abilities with that culture. The gang first finds a recruit in Kai, an orphaned young boy who is also a thief and troublemaker. While the rest of the team happily accepts him, Mako harshly informs Kai that he will be watching him.
Throughout the two-part episode, a threat to the Korra — and the entire world — is revealed. It starts with a prison cell in the middle of nowhere, the sole inmate of which is an older man. He shares some knowledge of older airbenders with his guards before using his newfound airbending skills to escape. This is Zaheer, voiced by Henry Rollins, and he then proceeds to two other prison cells. First, he frees an earthbender named Ghazan: after Zaheer throws rocks into his cell, Ghazan condenses them until they are burning hot and breaks out of his wooden cell. Next, Zaheer and Ghazan head to a cell suspended over lava. In the cell is an armless waterbender named Ming-Hua, voiced by Grey DeLisle (Azula in Avatar: The Last Airbender). Ming-Hua uses water supplied by her liberators as a tool for escape, taking the place of her arms as something like weaponized tentacles.
After they leave, Fire Lord Zuko arrives at the scene. Yes, Zuko is back. Initially the antagonist of The Last Airbender, Zuko eventually allied with Avatar Aang and took control of the Fire Nation and the two helped rebuild after the damage caused by the Hundred Year War. Zuko is also one of only two surviving members of Aang’s group (the other being Aang’s wife Katara), and in his old age is now sporting a beard similar to his uncle/adoptive father, Iroh. Knowing that these benders are dangerous enough to destroy the world, Zuko flies off (on his dragon!) to the North Pole to stop them from releasing a fourth prisoner.
It’s a great hook… which the third episode doesn’t really follow through on.
In the third episode of Book Three, “The Earth Queen,” Korra and team arrive in Ba Sing Se — and it still sucks there as much as it did in Avatar. The city still physically separates people into classes of wealth, the current ruler is overbearing and deceitful, and for some reason the Dai Li (the evil secret police of Ba Sing Se in The Last Airbender) are still around.
Mako and Bolin chase down Kai, who is using his airbending to steal, and end up trapped in the lower ring without passes to get back to their group. While in lower ring, sleeping in trash and debating stealing rotten fruit, they come across their extended family, and both are happy to reconnect with their grandmother and dozens of other family members.
The Earth Queen is harsh and demanding and seems to be an interpretation of Empress Dowager Cixi of Chinese history. Before she will allow Korra to recruit airbenders from the city, she insists that Korra retrieve a shipment of tax money. Of course, when Korra and Asami are collecting the money, they are attacked by bandits they easily dispatch. While retreating, the bandit leader shouts that Korra is on the wrong side — something she thinks could be true.
Upon returning to the palace, the Earth Queen states that after searching, there are no airbenders in the city, despite reports stating otherwise. In truth, the airbenders are being taken by the Dai Li and conscripted into military service, and Kai is their newest “recruit.”
At the North Pole, Zuko is accompanied by Korra’s father, Tonraq, and cousins, Desna and Eska. Zuko explains that this prison was built to contain a very dangerous firebender, a woman who can create explosions with her mind. Zuko reflects on how he hired someone with a similar ability to kill Avatar Aang long ago. Fans of ATLA will remember that Zuko also helped to defeat Combustion Man towards the end of that series. Combustion Woman, as fans have called her since her reveal in the trailer, is actually named P’Li and is amused at the arrival of Zuko and the others, aware that this must mean Zaheer is on the way.
One of the chief complaints ATLA fans have with The Legend of Korra is how different the two series are. Beyond an entirely different cast of characters and new dynamics, Books One and Two of Legend of Korra were constrained to Republic City and the North and South Poles for the most part. Some viewers lamented loss of the “journey” story in Avatar as well as the impulsive, headstrong nature of Avatar Korra compared to the peaceful, contemplative Aang. Now, Korra is much more mindful, but she is still Korra and is aggressive when she feels it is appropriate. Similarly, now that she has taken on this quest, perhaps this season will cater a bit more to those fans that enjoyed exploring world with Team Avatar.
However, this world is different. There was only one airbender in all of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Korra and Tenzin were the only grown airbenders in Legend of Korra. The return of the airbenders is a huge change in this world, so while some of the storytelling concepts of ATLA may be returning, thematically Legend of Korra is still completely its own show.
Still, the season is off to an odd start with a three-episode marathon immediately before heading into a holiday break. We’ll have to see if this book keeps up with its early momentum when the next episode arrives on July 11th.