The Legend of Korra Book 3: Change Review: Lower Stakes, Higher Value

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Change was in the air in the third season of The Legend of Korra, even behind the scenes. But the off-screen drama wasn’t nearly as riveting as what may very well be the best material in the entire Avatar franchise. Yeah, I said it.

Book 3 did what we already knew the show did best better than it ever had before. By taking things slow, these thirteen episodes featured outstanding character work and eye-widening world building. The narrative cleverly took the history we know and used it to build a season-long arc that resonated emotionally.

A few weeks after the world-changing Harmonic Convergence, airbenders begin popping up all over the globe. It quickly becomes Korra and Tenzin’s mission to bring them all together and rebuild the Air Nation. After all the time we spent in this world through both series, Aang’s dreams of his culture rising again finally have a chance of coming true.

No, the rebirth of widespread airbending isn’t as exciting as Vaatu threatening the world with 10,000 years of darkness, but strong writing made this the most personal season yet.

With the amount of traveling going on, this almost felt more like a season of Avatar: The Last Airbender. We returned to Ba Sing Se and discovered the metal city of Zaofu, where we met one of the better character additions of the season, Suyin Beifong, Lin’s half-sister. Even the Misty Palms Oasis, a spirit-laden resort in the middle of the desert, was bustling with personality and life.

But all that world-building would have been for nothing had the characters not delivered. Subplots like Mako and Bolin discovering their family, Lin and Suyin reconnecting, Tenzin struggling to be a leader, and Jinora wanting her airbending tattoos all lent a little to the larger whole. Every character had their moment this season, while some new dynamics were explored as well.

Korra and Asami frequently got paired together. After romantic struggles with Mako (which were smartly left out this season), these two built a very real friendship. From cracking jokes about their ex to having each others’ backs in a fight, Korra and Asami were the most fun to watch this season.

Meanwhile, Jinora was given a new love interest in the form of Kai, a young thief who recently got airbending. These two surprisingly worked really well together, feeling a lot more like Aang and Katara than Korra and Mako.

But things obviously weren’t all fun and games this season. Zaheer, another new airbender, was quickly introduced in the premiere before he stunningly broke out three other super criminals: Ghazan, our first lavabender; Ming-Hua, an armless waterbender that was simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying; and P’Li, a combustion bender. These four formed the Red Lotus, the anarchist equivalent of the White Lotus hoping to take down world leaders and the Avatar to put the world into a new form of freedom: chaos.

While it took a little longer than it probably should have for the villains to finally face the heroes, once it happened, we got a ton of the best bending we’ll probably ever see. Mako and Ming-Hua quickly formed a rivalry that alone led to several of the most exciting scenes in this show and its predecessor.

The villains of Book 3 also took this “kids” show to dark places. Zaheer’s brutal murder of the Earth Queen is a prime example of perhaps why Nickelodeon pulled the show from their schedule.

The last three episodes were more intense than anything these writers have ever done. The Red Lotus’ attack on the Northern Air Temple gave us our first airbender vs. airbender duel as Tenzin fought Zaheer for his people. His eventual defeat was gut-wrenching.

Then came Team Avatar’s attempt to take back the temple, which ended in Korra being captured and Ghazan completely melting one of only four Air Temples in the entire world. It’s ok though, the good guys got a victory when Suyin covered P’Li with her armor just as she was about to combust, likely causing her head to explode. When your show goes a little dark, you get these kind of awesome, dramatic moments.

The finale was actually just unreal. The high-flying final battle between Korra and Zaheer topped every other bending battle we’ve seen yet. But Korra’s arc for the season was done when she gave herself up in the previous episode. The larger arc of the season, bringing back the Air Nation, appropriately made it into the final conflict. It made for the most satisfying ending to a season we’ve gotten yet (no deus ex machina!).

But the final scene was of course a tear-jerker. Korra is broken, Asami wheeling her around. But there’s hope. Jinora is being made into an airbending master, the first since her father. Unveiling her newly shaved head, she looks so much like Aang. Suddenly, The Legend of Korra delivers a payoff Avatar: The Last Airbender never got to.

The theme of the season on the surface would obviously be change. I like legacy better. Korra is showing what kind of Avatar she’s going to be. There was frequent talk of what she is going to be remembered for. Her father states in the penultimate episode that her sacrifice for the new Air Nation will be told for generations to come.

Meanwhile, the culture of the Air Nation lives on, but not exactly as it once did. The air nomads’ legacy drives Tenzin’s teachings, but this new Air Nation will serve a greater purpose in the world than the last. Aang’s legacy lives on this season more than the previous two. The world may have changed, but Book 3 was more about what we do in the face of change and how that defines us.

All this made for a truly beautiful thirteen episodes of television. True, it was not perfect. As previously mentioned, the villains took a little too long to arrive on the scene. Also, the flashbacks to Lin and Suyin’s past felt like we were being spoon fed.

But as a whole, Book 3 was absolutely stunning. Exciting from beginning to end, the world of Avatar suddenly feels larger and more defined. The same can be said for the characters, whose interactions were spot on this season, giving us the most emotional finale, and overall season, yet. The Legend of Korra changed in the right direction. After a season this strong, it’s sad to think that Book 4 will be the last. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

One Response to The Legend of Korra Book 3: Change Review: Lower Stakes, Higher Value

  1. SherryAva says:

    True that! I’m sorry it’s over but I feel like we’ve journeyed to a new destination in the end.

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