Review: The Legend of Korra – Book 3, Episodes 1-3

Change can be good or bad, depending on your point of view. Thankfully when it comes to Korra Book 3, it’s pretty much all good.

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Something I need to admit about my relationship with The Legend of Korra: I like it, but I’ve always wanted to love it, and I never really have. There were moments throughout the first two seasons where I’d go, “It’s good, buuuuut…” And there’s something particularly frustrating about a good series that is SO CLOSE to being great, much more so than a decent series that never aspires to anything better.

And so, I am both pleased and relieved to tell you that I loved the first three episodes of Book 3. Loved, loved, loved them. They were well-written and well-animated, funny and entertaining, populated by characters that not only interested me but whom I actually really enjoyed hanging out with.

The cast has grown and matured from their experiences in the earlier seasons, particularly Korra, who is still absolutely herself – strong, well-meaning, and stubborn – but wiser, more willing to listen to the people around her and see the world as it is, instead of seeing it the way she wants it to be.

It’s fitting, of course, that Korra’s own shift into adulthood should come in a season entitled “Change.” And it’s certainly no coincidence that the changes in the outer world happen at the same time Korra’s inner world begins to shift. The Spirit World is invading the human one, new airbenders are appearing everywhere, and Korra admits to Tenzin in a lovely moment of humility and clarity that she has no idea what to do about it. And this, perhaps, is the biggest change in “Change”: Korra’s understanding of herself. Wisdom is all about acknowledging one’s own ignorance, and Korra is finally on the path to becoming what I see as a true Avatar.

Once the show establishes Korra’s new outlook, it takes us right into our season-long adventure: Finding the new airbenders and rebuilding the Air Nomad culture. At its best, the Avatar series has always thoughtfully and intelligently balanced western and eastern ideals, lauding individual choice and the breaking of tradition while never losing sight of the importance of one’s place within a family or a community.

Already we can see this same balance in Book 3, as Korra and Tenzin begin a personal journey to find airbenders while also handling the larger social ramifications of these changes. There’s a difference between being an Air Nomad and being a person who happens to be able to bend air, after all, and through their meetings with the new airbenders, the show establishes what looks to be the major question of the season: What makes a society, and how do people react when their old one collides with the new?

You could call this nature vs. nurture or even fate vs. choice, but it runs through this week’s main storylines – the spirit world invasion of Republic City, the new airbenders, and Mako and Bolin’s discovered family – and looks to be an ongoing topic. Judging by Fruit Stand Cousin’s offhand comment about how “I could have been a pro bender too if I’d grown up in a fancy mansion,” I suspect it will even tie into the social inequality of Ba Sing Se, which looks to be the first major conflict of the new season.

LoK has always been great at asking questions but less great about actually answering them. I think this reflects its protagonist’s attitude in the past two Books as much as anything – we might have thought the Equalists had some good points, but Korra didn’t, so it was never adequately addressed. Now, though, our protagonist is gaining awareness and empathy, and I’m hopeful that the equality issues in Ba Sing Se will be treated very differently from those we’ve seen previously.

All in all, this was a very strong season premiere that set the stage for a lot of potential greatness. LoK finally feels comfortable in its own skin – the humor comes easy, the characters interact naturally, and the story feels small enough to fit in a cour but large enough to have a real impact on both the Avatarverse and the characters within it. Let’s hope that trend continues.

This, That, and the Other

  • Important Big Picture elements aside, man, but these episodes were funny. I think my favorite moment was Bolin’s extended description of what would happen if he met their grandmother and Mako wasn’t there (“And then she dies!”), but the new airbender asking for a diaper change was pretty priceless, too. 
  • Seriously, who DOESN’T want a Bison as their best friend? 
  • It’s tough to cover everything when I’m trying to review three episodes, but let’s all take a moment to appreciate that we’ve got a quartet of legitimately fearsome criminals coming at us this season, and at least two of them really made an impression – the leader, who gives off a kind of philosopher/zealot vibe, and that amazing armless waterbender lady. Here’s hoping they’re a heck of a lot more interesting than the Big Bad of Book 2. 
  • I know I’m in the minority here, but I love the way LoK handles teen romance. Mako’s stiff awkwardness was perfect, and how great was it that Korra and Asami just laugh it off and move on? For all LoK’s faults, we’ve never once had to deal with that stereotypical TV “the boy is mine” catfight B.S., and I will forever be grateful for that. Plus, now Korra and Asami get to go on bestie adventures together! High-fiving a million angels!
  • GRANDPA ZUKO ON A MUTHAFUGGIN DRAGON. That is all.image
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