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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Legend of Korra, Book One: What Didn't Work

**the same notification from the last post applies to this- if you do not know what happens in Book One of Korra and do not wish to know, turn back now**

            And now we come to the hard part- talking about the aspects of Book One that just didn’t go well.  This first season, on the whole, was a very mixed bag.  That’s not to say Book One of Last Airbender wasn’t imperfect, because it was, and it too had a choppy beginning.  What’s different here is that the choppy spots are all over the place, particularly at the ending, and as any Olympic gymnast would say, you can survive a few mishaps at the start of your routine as long as you stick the landing.  Sigh….there’s no point in delaying I guess.  Here’s what did not work in Book One.  

The Love Triangle (Quadrangle?)-

            Why.  Why.  Why, why, why is everything apparently required by law to have a love triangle?  It doesn’t work.  Ever.  I can’t recall seeing/reading about a single love triangle that has ever managed to make me give a damn, and, sadly, Korra is no exception.  I stated above that I really, really like Asami and Bolin, so what made this romantic mash-up especially painful was seeing how Korra and Mako constantly (and callously) trampled over their feelings.  It made both Korra and Mako less sympathetic to me, and it made me a LOT less invested in the outcome of their relationship.  The couples/romantic subplots in Last Airbender worked because they were never shoehorned in- they were there in the background (and sometimes in the foreground), but never more than they needed to be, and that made the romantic moments we did get a lot more effective.  Here’s hoping Book Two strikes a better balancing act. 

The Lack of Filler-

            From what I can tell, the blame for this one can be spread around somehwat- Mike and Brian wanted to do Korra with less filler anyway, and Nickelodeon’s astonishing initial insistence on only two seasons forced them to condense their original plans even more.  Now, irony of ironies, the show’s been green-lit for nearly 60 episodes, almost the length of the original series.  Hopefully they have the room now to let the other three seasons of the show breath a bit more, but the 12-episode limit and the resulting lack of any filler time with the characters really bites Book One in the butt.  As Last Airbender proved, filler can be crucial to a show if it's used well, if it helps to expand the world and show us more sides of the characters.  With Korra, we haven't had that chance yet.  And, as a result, we can’t get as invested as we could with Last Airbender.  Like I said though, since they now have a LOT more time for the rest of the series, they'll have plenty of opportunities to remedy this. 

The Abusive Policies of Tarrlok-

            This is still the big sticking point for me.  The whole crux of the anti-bending movement was the perception that benders (specifically bending gangs) used their powers to abuse non-benders.  Amon builds support by predicting that even harsher measures will be taken against regular people in order to subjugate them.  And Tarrlok plays right into his hands.  His emergency measures are exactly the sort of things that the anti-benders railed against and feared, and their enforcement must have caused support for and enlistment in the movement to skyrocket (which would explain how he could then take over the city without so much as a whisper of opposition). 

            This would have been less of an issue if they’d dealt with it better, but it’s tossed out the window and forgotten quicker than you can say “Cabbage Corp.”  We get a brief image of non-benders being arrested en masse, a brief plea by an unnamed mother to Korra, a brief promise to end this abuse, and that’s it.  Instead of publicly railing against the policy (which she should have done), Korra just tries to get her bending friends freed, and mentions the “other” prisoners as a throwaway line. 

            I get that they were pressed for time, but since that was the case, they should have dropped this particular subplot entirely, because it leaves more than few plot holes in the conclusion of the season- we never see the measures repealed or denounced, and we never hear about the non-benders being released.  And (political scientist discussion incoming) even though Amon is revealed as a fraud, no massive social movement centers around a single individual.  Yes, their leader was discredited, but because the abusive measures that fueled the movement were never fully repealed (to our knowledge), we have no reason to assume the movement is not still just as strong as before.  If anything, it was an even more egregious example of benders manipulating non-benders for their own gain.  Maybe it’s a nit-pick on my part, but this was, for me, even more distracting and frustrating than the damn love triangle, and that’s saying something. 

The Real Ending-

            Alright…..let’s talk about the complete ending to the finale.  I have no problem with Deus ex Machina when it’s used well, but in this case… was not.  That’s not to say the WAY they bring her bending back doesn’t work- I knew from the moment they introduced the idea of taking bending away that it would be possible to give it back again (Yin/Yang and all that).  It just happens way, way too fast.  It takes away any sense of there being consequences for the many, many mistakes that allowed Amon’s takeover to get as far as it did.  And the worst part is that they do it right when I started to feel like Korra was learning, and maturing.  Her temper and her rashness have been her biggest flaws as a character, and her having to go a period of time struggling to adapt to only having airbending would be the perfect way to have her really develop herself as a person and as an Avatar.  It would make for great conflict and difficulty in future seasons.  But nope- Aang’s all WHOOSH, her powers come back, and soon, it’ll pretty much be like Amon’s invasion never happened.  Greeeeaaaaat……

             I don’t want to harp on this ending, because despite this (and the other issues mentioned above), Book One was still a solid, solid season, and I am genuinely excited about Book Two.  I just hope that the extended run time they’ve been given allows Mike and Brian to flesh out these new stories just a bit better.  Book One works best as an adrenaline rush, because once the plot gets churning in the second half, boy does it work.  We’ve still got something really great and really unique in this show, and I still harbor high hopes for its future. 

            The first episode (or episodes, depending on your source) of Book Two premiers on September 13th.  I will not be in the States at that time, so my ability to write/vlog about the episode will be contingent upon how quickly I can view each episode online.  Here’s hoping. 

-Noah Franc 

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