So, were about halfway through the final season of Avatar: The Legend of Korra (LOK) and I think it’s safe to say that since the beginning of book three, the series has found a groove and a method that works for them. People maligned the initial two books consistency and constantly made comparisons to its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender (TLA). While I feel much of it was unfair, what was undeniable was that the quality of the first half of the series was not up to par and left many with low expectations for the second half. Even though the network didn’t have as much faith in book three, (as evidence as how the season ended) it was clear that series had genuinely turned a corner and with book four it has seemed to continue to adjust and ride that wave of success.
Book four entitled Balance picks up three years after the battle with the Red Lotus and sees Korra looking for a way to regain her physical and emotional stature. Her struggles are clear in the beginning as she is in all parts of the world to fix whatever is wrong with her. With Korra’s absence, the new air nation has taken the task of peace keeping. Elsewhere, one of Suyin’s brightest disciples Kuvira has been on a path to rebuild the earth kingdom as the “Great Uniter” in the wake of the Earth Queen’s death. With the help of Bhataar Jr (Suyin’s oldest son and Kuvira’s Fiance) and Bolin they have created an army which exchanges their assurance of protection and goods for their undying allegiance. It’s clear that Kuvira has plans beyond simply uniting the earth kingdom and with the amount of support she has obtained she is not far from achieving her goals.
What this book has going for it (as opposed to the previous one’s) was the development of the story at the end of the previous book. Given the different structure of this series in terms of episodes and season’s as opposed to the previous series there is not the same amount of time in season to develop the same way so there is even more emphasis on making the carryover from season to season seem fluid, While it wasn’t there as much from book one to two or two to three, it was there for this one. Better (not more) exposition also has to be a priority as there may be more seasons but there’s less episodes in the season and with the season’s change so does the antagonist and the journey. This has been much better in book three and the thus far in four as there are not a lot of side stories to congest the season and convolute the plot progression as a whole.
More character involvement and development is also at the helm of the first half of this season as we see Korra deal with a level of vulnerability she has never faced before. With Bolin we see that being apart of Kuvira’s army is to defend ideals he does not agree with as he begins to learn how she attempts to gain power. He is still the funny and aloof comedy relief that the series is known for given its main audience is still towards a younger demographic (and a better one on average than Sokka but I know I’m in the minority on that one), but he has a sense of purpose now that he was looking for in the previous books. Whether it’s being apart of the army or rebelling against it it supplies him with a much needed depth of character. Using secondary characters like Tenzin’s children or older characters like Katara and Toph for stretches provides freshness (especially in the case of Katara and Toph) for the season as it continues. The inclusion of Tenzin’s children was also necessary so we get know them a little more. In the end they resemble their father and grandfather very much and learning that can be a good thing for viewers as they identify with them better as they become larger parts of the story. Even though id still like to see more of some other characters like Mako and Chief Beifong, it’s been pretty consistent the entire way.
Some how some way the writers have found a way to make lemonade out of lemons as they conclude this series bringing together all the former antagonists (notice I didn’t use the word villains) and use them to make Korra a better character (which is also what they should’ve done in the first place). She is beginning to learn that it is not so much about who she is but what her job is. The Avatar is much more than a person who bridges two worlds and “takes the bad guys out” when the world needs it. She is a symbol. As that symbol of peace and righteousness she has to inspire and realize that the world has changed and has to be a leader in that change. They still do need the Avatar just not in the way the used to (just as Toph tried to teach her when they met… man I love her). As with her previous adversaries, Kuvira presents a clash of opposing ideals (instituting a fascist-like regime to gain autonomy over the entire nation of people and probably all nations) and it remains to be seen if Korra can take what may have been mistakes (simply rushing in head first without understanding the ramifications of the actions) in the past and use them to usher in a new era for the world and show them how the Avatar and its relevance has changed. They kinda robbed Korra of that development by bailing her out with antagonist that started out with great potential but fell disappointingly flat (with the exception of Zaheer). With a more mature Korra and what is probably the most complex antagonist either series has seen in Kuvira, this could shape out to have the best finale either series has seen (which is good because I wasn’t a huge fan of the series finale of TLA, seriously I wasn’t).
Verdict: As I have said before it is clear that this final book is great has all the makings to be mentioned in the same breath as its predecessor in terms of quality which is quite the turnaround from where it was before even book three. I’ve always seen LOK as being the opposite of TLA. Where the latter was essentially more plot driven with great characters to support the plot, the former seems to be more character driven as they use the plot to support the characters. Problem is that you still need a good plot to do that and while LOK has had its moments the plots fell short sometimes as they were never really explored by the characters to the extent they needed to thus inhibiting true development. One of the biggest reasons TLA is looked at so fondly is that because the plot was so important they gave the characters time to explore the finer points and create more time for characters to develop throughout the journey and make a good story a great story. It’s all relative now because the creators have found a way to still make the previous seasons worthwhile for Korra and the rest of the cast. If they have put as much effort into the second half of the season as they have this first it could save the series from a lot of ridicule and make its place beside TLA look quite a bit better.
The first half of Avatar The Legend of Korra Book Four: Balance gets a 4 out of 5
+ Better direction for Korra and other side characters
+ Plot consistency
+ Great potential in antagonist and finale
– Would still like to see some more reoccurring characters get more screen time
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