Three years have passed since the end of season three, and much has changed in the lives of our heroes. Asami has stayed in Republic City to take charge of her company, Mako is taking care of an expressive and dramatic Prince, Bolin is working with Kuvira in rebuilding the Earth Nation, and the Air Nation is working as traveling nomads, protecting the world from wrong-doers. Opal isn’t too happy with Bolin’s newest profession, and from what we learn from the offhand, expository remarks, most of the gang hasn’t seen each other much over the course of the three years, all having begun their adult lives. This means stricter dress codes for the boys instead of the on-the-run, living-it-rough gear, and it means Asami adopts a more mature and professional look.
It’s rare to see age reflected in an animated series, especially over time, which is a detail that I’ve always loved about the Airbender series.
Kuvira (voiced beautifully by Zelda Williams) is obviously being developed to be our big bad of the season and, like so many of the Korra villains, she begins as someone who no matter their intent, believes that what they’re doing is for the good of the people. She’s capturing bandits and setting them straight, she’s bringing food to impoverished towns, and she’s trying to unite her people. Bolin believes in this and has always wanted to help people, as Kai points out, but Opal sees through Kuvira’s “help the people” attitude and instead sees someone who’s manipulative and power hungry.
I’m curious to see if the Red Lotus will play any part in the season if Kuvira is already being set up to be the villain; with only one season left of the series, it’s going to be crucial that there are no loose ends by the show’s finale.
Bolin was likely the most interesting part of the episode due to the conflicting emotions and loyalties he’ll be dealing with. He’s always been painted as a good person, but one who can be influenced; not because he isn’t intelligent, but because he’s trusting. So seeing an adult version of that same trusting, good character but with actual stakes at hand could potentially be one of the strongest portions of the season if the showrunners try to develop it further.
This episode offered up a lot of what I love about the series as a whole: lush animated scenery, impeccable voice work, some understated and under-appreciated musical scoring, and some key political themes that most viewers will pick up on. However, it was missing an integral component in making the premiere as excellent as it could have been.
Despite being the titular character, she doesn’t show up until the final moments after her father and her friends have realized that she’s been lying about her location for six months. Instead of being safe with her support group, she’s in a fighting ring being beaten and bruised by another earth bender, taking the hits as her own form of guilt and self-sacrifice. The Avatar we saw at the end of season three was broken, a single tear rolling down her cheek before the ending credits ran, and it would seem that there’s been irreversible damage done if even three years later she’s still battling herself and others to repair the bleeding and open wounds left over.
She’s a survivor who has dealt with horrors, and it’s realistic to see her dealing with them. Having the hero start at such a low moment will only make her rise all the more emotionally affecting. She needs to rise from the ashes, so to speak, and we all love a hero embracing her true nature. So sure, she begins the final season ignoring her duty and pretending to be anyone other than the Avatar, even having cut her hair to further disguise herself, but it will just make for a more heroic comeback.
It’s just a shame we had such little time to gain any information about her. It built up anticipation, but Korra is such a rich character that she’s always worthy of more screentime.
Season three of The Legend of Korra wasn’t simply one of the best seasons of an animated series I’ve ever seen; it was one of the best seasons of television this year so far. While the first two seasons of the show meandered between plots of romance, action and politics, it never truly hit the right balance of all three, which made it inconsistent. Season three, however, was the first time the show’s spirit hearkened back to the original Avatar: The Last Airbender series.
What makes this series, especially its latest installments, so fantastic, is how it manages to reach such a wide audience without alienating any of its fans. Sure, the advertising team (no matter how non-existent it is currently) may target kids, but the themes, the political allegories, all of them, are adult in nature. The show manages to instill childish wonder and comical sight gags along with talking about darker subjects to summon an audience that goes beyond what Nickelodeon originally meant for it. In all honesty, I have to wonder if some of this is why the show was taken off air so abruptly. Asphyxiation isn’t exactly kid friendly, and neither is a hero who seems to be catatonic by the season’s end.
It was a strong premiere that set the storyline into motion and gave everyone their due time, and hopefully sets us up for another beautifully executed season.