A New Spiritual Age: How The Legend of Korra Became One of the Most Important Shows on TV

Everyone who watched The Legend of Korra knew it was more than just a strange blend of styles and action. Right from the onset, it was obvious we were getting a more introspective series that would examine major social and political issues. Each book tackles something new, but politics isn’t the only way this show would push the envelope. Between all the bending battles were strong, yet realistic family values. Most importantly of all though, there was Korra herself, a non-white female lead, who’s now also an LGBT figure, leading the charge on a Nickelodeon action series. This retrospective will examine all the ways Korra was progressive and groundbreaking, with the hopes of building a more significant legacy for this landmark “kid’s show.”



All the way back in the pilot, Korra stumbles on an activist yelling “We want equality now!” over a megaphone. That was when we knew this new Avatar wouldn’t just be facing off against a nation of pure evil. Book 1’s main villain, Amon, promised to rid the world of benders forever, putting everyone on a level playing field with nonbenders. This was an issue Sokka dealt with back in Avatar: The Last Airbender, one that continued until nonbenders felt they weren’t represented in the world’s new government.

But Amon has a point, he just went about his ideals violently. After his defeat, President Raiko was elected to be in charge of Republic City, finally giving nonbenders a voice. This is the type of diplomatic solution that can cause more problems, something Raiko certainly does in each of the later books. But the show’s approach to politics was never intended to be black and white.

Book 2 went more religious for its debate. Subtitled Spirits, the second season explored the divide between the traditional Northern Water Tribe and the more light-hearted Southern Water Tribe. Unalaq’s ideals that the festival of lights should be a time of meditation not celebration mirrors the “Keep the Christ in Christmas” movement from Christianity over the years. Oddly enough, the season ends with Korra admitting that Unalaq, the season’s villain, as at least partially right, and chooses to reunite the spirits with the human world. It’s a wise choice, and the perfect balance between the two tribes’ way of celebrating their holiday.

Photo Credit:http://avatar.wikia.com/wiki/Unalaq

“Keep the Christ in Christmas, dammit!”

Books 3 and 4 deconstruct two opposing views of leadership and the role of government. The Red Lotus of Book 3 supports an anarchist society rid of corrupt rulers, perfectly demonstrated by the Earth Queen and, to a lesser degree, the timid President Raiko. Book 4’s Kuvira, on the other hand, hoped to reunite the Earth Kingdom, a noble cause had she not become so tyrannical. With these two final seasons, Korra showed us no government and too much government. Both of their defeats at the hand of Korra resemble the show’s theme all along: balance. The fact that Kuvira’s defeat is relatively peaceful, in that Korra manages to talk the Great Uniter through her issues and get her to realize she went too far, is especially powerful. The rare instance of an action series promoting peace.

The point that The Legend of Korra seems to be making is that extremes lead to imbalance. Moderation and mindfulness of one’s own actions are key to a peaceful society. It’s why Kuvira and Zaheer needed to be defeated. They are the yin to the other’s yang, while Korra’s role is to level them out and find some common middle ground. It’s a noble cause for a show on a kid’s channel to take, choosing to promote neutrality and show the consequences of extremes instead of forcing its ideas on its audience. This makes Korra perhaps the most politically sound yet least soap box-y show on TV.



There are a lot of shows that promote strong family values, some more heavy handed than others (looking at you Modern Family). But Korra takes a very realistic approach to how it presents these values. I’m thinking of two families in particular: Avatar Aang and Katara’s children and Toph’s two daughters, who come from different fathers.

Tenzin was the only airbender of Aang’s three children. We learn in Book 2 from Kya and Bumi that this made him the favorite. These three are bitter toward each other, still dealing with a lot of the things they put each other through as kids (it sounds like Bumi and Kya were pretty relentless in their torture of Tenzin).

Photo Credit:http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/avatar-the-last-airbender/images/35727630/title/aang-kataras-family-portrait-photo

Not as perfect as you might think.

But when push comes to shove, they will always have each others’ backs. They are family after all. Take for example how the three fought the Red Lotus together as a team. They may have failed in the end, but there was no way they were going to leave each other behind. So despite some animosity toward who was their parents’ favorite and their differing career paths, they remain a family.

Lin and Suyin are a different story, but one no less realistic. After an argument with her sister and mother, Lin stopped talking to her entire family and got wrapped up in her job. Suyin meanwhile built a new city, as well as a family of her own. Toph, no longer in touch with either Lin or Suyin’s fathers, went to explore the wilderness.

The Beifong sisters’ reunion in Book 3 is brilliant in that they actually get into a pretty big fight, hurling rocks at each other. But afterward, Lin seems ready to talk. After all those years, she just needed to get it out of her system. Lin’s arc in Books 3 and 4 is very much about her learning to forgive and forget. In one of the final episodes of the series, Operation Beifong, the sisters and their mother reunite to save their entire family.

These two families illustrate people who became detached from their roots and find ways to reconnect and be a family again. For anyone harboring animosity toward their family, it’s a powerful message and a rich portrayal of the power of forgiveness. For a show with such mature political themes, it’s refreshing to mix in such a warm-hearted view of family relations. The show never shies away from the faults of their families. Aang neglected Kya and Bumi while Lin and Suyin never really knew their fathers. But these characters all rise above that to keep their families intact. That’s a really beautiful thing if you ask me.



Early on in the series’ run, many fans complained that Korra was too whiney. Compared with Aang, Korra is impulsive, angsty, and less mature, which makes the four season transition into the Avatar she becomes all the more significant. Book 1 and 2 Korra is nothing like Book 3 and 4 Korra, but the growth feels real because Korra uses her past experiences to make every decision henceforth.

But great writing is just a part of what makes Korra such a significant figure. A nonwhite female lead on an action series such as this one is incredibly rare. Korra is comparable to such landmark franchises as Harry PotterStar Wars, and Lord of the Rings, not to mention just about every superhero movie already out or forthcoming. Frodo, Bilbo, Aragorn, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, Batman, Superman, Spider-man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor all have one thing in common: they’re white males. Then there’s Korra, who’s every bit as strong of a lead as any of them, representing a demographic in this genre desperately in need of it.

Photo Credit:http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/avatar-the-legend-of-korra/images/24193359/title/korra-screencap

As strong as they come.

Add the LGBT implications that the finale finished with and Korra lives up to her legendary status both on- and off-screen. As a character, Korra is groundbreaking. This series and its creators deserve a massive amount of credit for what they’ve pulled off. The tasteful manner it was done is to be commended too. Lots of shows that go gay pat themselves on the back for it. Korra and Asami just rode off into the sunset as if no different from Aang and Katara. Hopefully Korra will start a revolution in how gay characters are handled on television. Not to be edgy, but to show every corner of love.



If you look at where this franchise began and where it ending, the significance of Korra on the world of television is absolutely important. This is a series that deserves all the coverage it got this past weekend and more. Korra and Asami are certainly progressive, no doubt, but that shouldn’t overshadow the way this series handled a ton of other issues. From here, only time will tell if Korra becomes as legendary as it deserves to be. I know I’ll be showing it to my kids.


By Matt Dougherty


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