You think there’s a lot of pressure from your family? Try being the child of a war hero.
The characters in the Avatarverse are forever standing at the crossroads of the past and the future, but it’s becoming more apparent how fixated the older generation is on looking back while the younger is far more interested in looking forward. This is common enough in the real world, of course, but it’s becoming one of the stronger themes in LoK – and one of the biggest creators of conflict, too.
Our post-war generation (let’s call them Gen-P) grew up in a time of rapid development but also great peace. Their parents were builders, founding cities and new technologies and fighting to make the world more stable. This is particularly true for our Gen-P cast, whose parents have become cultural heroes, larger-than-life presences who ended a war, invented new bending techniques, and took on the task of saving a culture from extinction. There are statues of Aang and Toph literally overshadowing their children everywhere they go (at the Air Temple, at police HQ, and even in the metal city of Zao Fu). It’s no wonder their presences are so keenly felt.
And, importantly, the kids have reacted in much the same way regardless of how their parents raised them. Aang badly wanted to preserve the old ways while Toph rejected them soundly, and yet they both ended up with one child desperate to be like them (Tenzin, Lin) and one “rebel” (Bumy, Su), distant from their family in both spirit and body.
And, in both cases, it’s the prodigal child who seems to be the happiest. Tenzin and Lin are well-meaning but high-strung, bent beneath the burden of their parents’ legacies, while Bumy and Su have found joy and connections beyond their parents, whether through a life of military adventures or by crafting a new community. I’m still not entirely convinced that Su is as great as she seems to be (perhaps she really is here to stand as a model matriarch and provide a contrast to the tyrant Earth Queen, but that strikes me as a bit simplistic), but she really does seem willing to put the past behind her, something Lin and Tenzin and even Bumy have a hard time doing.
But while Gen-P spent this week struggling to put aside the past, the spirit world generation (Gen-S, let’s say) was more than happy to look to the future. Gen-S exists in a world where the figures of the Hundred Year War have faded into legend. They are heroes and idols, worthy of respect but never demanding emulation. Where Gen-P tried to either mold itself into the image of its parents or shatter that image altogether, Gen-S looks for the middle ground, respecting the past while still forging their own paths.
This is shown most notably in Opal’s decision to go to the Air Temple, but we’re seeing the same elements play out in Jinora’s story as well. Family is incredibly important in the Avatarverse, but so is personal fulfillment, and it’s the attempt to strike a balance between the society and the individual – and between the past and the future – that has guided Book Three from the start.
As for our title character? While Korra didn’t have much to do this week, what she did do was pretty much all great, and indicative of her growth from last season to this one. Severing herself from the past Avatars may have been the best thing she could have done, in fact – out from under the shadows of her predecessors, Korra is free to become her own person, proactive and clever and finally, finally considerate towards the people around her (and oh yeah, totally able to bend metal, too).
It’s been a trend of LoK’s seasons to spend the middle third looking back and then the last third charging forward, and now that we’ve settled old disputes and begun the creation of the Air Nomad community (forged through shared trials, as most communities are), I suspect the story will focus once again on Korra and the challenges heading her way. And you know, I’m starting to feel pretty confident that our young Avatar can handle it.
This, That, and the Other
- “Remember that long, boring story about the guy who never ate?”
- I know Su says that leaving Republic City was the best thing that could have happened to her, but I’m with Lin on this one: Toph’s actions in that flashback rankled me. Feels like she did it to save her own reputation rather than to protect her daughter. It fits her character – much as I love her, she’s always been a bit selfish – but it certainly wasn’t one of her prouder moments. I hope she and Lin have a chance to discuss it properly later this season or next.
- While the Criminal Quartet are pretty darn interesting, the Earth Queen is by FAR the most evil presence this season (she eats Baby Sky Bison, for heaven’s sake). If Su and Varrick want to start an Earth Kingdom revolution, I would totally support that. Bosco will be avenged!!
- Poor Tenzin is the absolute worst person to rebuild a culture. I’m not sure if it’s just his natural temperament or the pressures his father placed on him (probably both), but he’s a big ol’ ball o’ neuroses at this point, easily swayed by outside opinions and utterly lacking in confidence. Fortunately he’s got good backup, so the new Air Nomads should get on all right. I get the feeling Jinora will make an awesome guru someday.
- I suppose you could make the argument that Episode 7 wasted time on a side story when it should have been focusing on the main arc, but your argument would be invalid, because Baby Sky Bison.
Also thematic unity and table-setting for future plot lines. But mostly the thing about the Baby Sky Bison.
- Still not in love with Opal, but I could definitely relate to her story here. Wanting to make your parents proud while also following your own path isn’t the most dramatic of teenage story lines, but it’s beautifully real, and I love that Bryke spent some time on it.
- …I’m still super upset about Bosco, you guys. ;_;