Well, Legend of Korra Season 3 or “Book 3: Change” has finally finished. I feel a sense of relief. Like after a tsunami has decimated something I am a survivor. Kind of like the opening level credit start of Tomb Raider (2013) or as I call it Tomb Raider: Survivor when Lara emerges out of a caving-in tunnel to open skies but wounded, alone and really messed up. Yeah, ironically, Korra must have hated her own season because at the end of “Change” she is very physiologically changed and somewhat psychologically scarred. This season should have been called “Air” or “Return of the Air Nomads” (aka like Star Wars) because the only visible changes are that Air Nation is now coming back and that two individuals are at the crossroads of something big — those two are Korra and Jinora.
As usual this review will be Spoiler heavy weight champion so caution and tread carefully (like how you held SHIFT button in those old Tomb Raider games to cross spiked grounds and not fall off ledges).
This season was, as I mentioned before, the worst season of the Avatar franchise. It had some great concepts but lacked the execution, momentum, clarity and elocution to actually address and tackle the large problems it has been throwing. One of the best things about LOK was that it focused on different conceptual arcs (not side-stories but actual arcs) on the flaws and complications of the world. However, it muddled them like a bad dish served rancid and cold after a sand-storm and blizzard passed and you could feel the icicles and dust in your mouth as you chewed the abomination flaunted as food. I am seriously feeling sorry for the youth and kids of the post-00s and 90s generation because they are given really bad ideological stirrings and told that it’s discourse and analysis of it.
Season 3 was more focused on Jinora and the air benders. Zaheer and the Red Lotus crew of P’Li, Ghazan and Ming-Hua really have no place in the story but to add a temporal dimension to the cast of bending potency meaning that they have accelerated the growth of bending in its subdivisions. Like Zaheer knows how to fly and make air-bound asphyxiation techniques and fog camouflage well, Ghazan knows lava bending, P’Li can combustion bend with her mind and Ming-Hua can do awesome things with water that even challenges her body as she is armless. For a group that yearns a more secure and spiritual base in their actions they sure have been made into bunch of really crude villains. Also unlike Season 2, Korra does not mature with her interactions with them. Rather, the Red Lotus was so useless as even plot phenomenon in this season. They are not necessarily evil. In fact, before they killed Hyou-Ting no one even said “evil” much and the show attempts to force us to accept them as villains by calling them “low life” and “terrorists” reiterating these concepts so vulgarly that it is like total coercion on the producers’ part. Ozai was called king but he was apparently a bad person by his actions and words — no one had to be convinced he was bad through propagandist ways of attempting to seduce our intelligence via coaxing and skillful mind-rape.
When Zaheer finally captures Korra he says he doesn’t want nations or states, or warriors or what-not. The Red Lotus want that people can live peacefully without a symbol of bending or non-bending , or a specificity of nation but rather on hard work, love and integration of people. Yeah, maybe the way he was trying to do that was obscene or too extreme but his ideals are not really warped. We see that his lover P/Li was saved by him from becoming an instrument of battle by a warlord. Yes, for people like them it is difficult living in a consumer driven world where skills are molested by the overarching monarchy and hegemony of power-hungry individuals or collectives. Zaheer, unlike Ozai, truly believed that the Avatar caused pain or rather did more disservice to balance than service. And truthfully, Wan, Roku, Kiyoshi, Aang and Korra all do MESS UP BADLY. They interfere or at times don’t involve themselves in things that causes more damage.
So, yeah I didn’t want The Red Lotus to kill Korra and I do not agree with their methods but they have a good enough reason to want to change social orders and all that. But instead of ever doing anything to talk to them or even see their side Korra just outright attacks them and says really stupid things to them. What also got exacerbated was how the writers made sure that Korra can find no alternatives to actually salvage the situation and make it good. The killing of the earth queen and the riots of Ba Sing Se and the air nation held hostage did nothing to anything. It was obvious that Red Lotus (which is bigger than Zaheer and co.) don’t care about anything besides changing social order and so Korra should have fought them on that regard like she did in Season 2. Yes, her personal self is also intertwined in the fight yet this time it felt that she was just fighting to save herself making the season a very weak portrayal of the term “avatar”.
One can argue that self is very important and that survival of your life is very important. I do agree. I just feel that it was a very messy and unconvincing fight for the narrative cycle of the mythology. It was good to see however that Vaatu has still that modicum of influence of making an avatar lose it as any evil does when you are feeling despair. Basically, Vaatu is like a demonic or devilish Mephistopheles (read Dr. Faustus) who is goading or prompting a human to make wrong choices as in self-destruction so basically Satanic in many ways. I was quite irked that Raava being so endearing and well responsible for the avatar’s well-being can’t help her fight off despair when she really needs it (so much for being a engaging light spirit of principles). This reductionist storytelling is the entire problem of Season 3. Unlike the intensities of Books 1 and 2 Book 3 dabbles on such mediocre methods of storytelling and execution that even Zaheer’s downfall makes no sense. Zaheer was written into the script just so Korra and Jinora can have this bump me up some ladder of hierarchical temporary and flimsy progression.
I do not see any reason for Zaheer to even matter as much as he did. He just didn’t. He was a nada in this series main highlights of introducing other geographical and geo-political locations of the avatar mythological world. This could have been via other ways and Korra traveling had nothing to do with Zaheer. I do not see how this Book was like Legend of Aang/ The Last Airbender in any way. If they were thinking that “Book 1:Water” then yeah there was a lot of metal bending and lava bending and water bending (metal can be a subset of water bending in liquid form and so can lava). But even the journeying was minimalist compared to TLA and also the narration was. Korra didn’t need The Red Lotus because technically and even in many ways The Red Lotus were not really interested in wiping out the Air Nation who after the finale has decided to continue with their nomadic roots but help people of all nations and stop corruption and misuse of power whenever they encounter it. Tenzin does say that unlike their ancestors they will be more involved in worldly affairs. I cannot celebrate this because it is as ambiguous, in a negative sense, as what Zaheer was saying. It was if you think on it.
Exactly how can you combat structuralized and conformed violence and injustices without any creed or code to back you up? Also, The Air Nomads where, as they shown in TLA, the most unwavering and inflexible people alongside the corrupted Fire Nation. In fact, Aang broke that trend. By being more involved but not so much to intrude and by marrying a water bender (he would have married Katara even if there were other airbenders because Aang was like that) and by making a multicultural society that values diversity but keeps cultural influxes and heritages. Aang escaped because the Air Nomads where too disciplined and rigid. They may not have craved power as tbut they did not like different views as no one could do things outside of tradition. They were deeply powered by the rigidity of asceticism. Aang is hardly an ascetic. Aang fell in love, intermixed with other cultures, ate much (not little but with restraint), traveled, learned other cultures and even married another tribe person, Katara. The Air Nomads have to understand that not everyone like traveling or even living an ascetic-lifestyle and that should also be respected. It was because of this that Tenzin had trouble recruiting people in the beginning. True that Air Nomad culture is rooted on more spiritual principles as the Water Tribe and that is quite beautiful but Tenzin was adamant to make sudden large changes in people’s lives. That is hardly fair concerning that most of those people are already scared. The Air Nomads can have different kinds of nomads as real world cultures do have.
Though it would be helpful if the Air Nomads do revise their policies and living accordingly as the Water Tribe and Fire Nation did. The Water tribe is a very flexible culture even if it has its disparages and cultural problems. In Book 2 the Water tribe revised its need to have both incorporeal aspects with corporeal ones. One good thing is that Air Nomads are also adding corporeality with incorporeality too. But like Water Tribe they must review and rethink all the time while keeping core principles. The Water Tribe’s adaptability has always made me love it. From TLA to LOK I have seen that it has gone through many phases and faces but has a natural way to balance itself more or less. The best part was that Korra agreed with Unalaq, not his methods but that the world needs spirits and humans to coexist and thrive. The Air Nomads are still young and thus need to learn how to intermix and adapt.
One point I did not like is that cultural discourse is absent from this timeline. Even within the Earth territory Zao Fu is a fiefdom. No one within the Earth territory challenges the Earth Queen. Suyin with all her metal benders is as useful as rusted steel. Not to mention there is no meeting with delegates of other nations. It is true that Zuko and others shouldn’t just invade another country (because invasion is as anarchic as it sounds; it usually makes things worse. People get displaced because raiding and arresting many cities and structures happen mostly alongside of that) but with all their fame and council powers they can’t even talk or help Ba Sin Se citizens? And what about Raiko too? All these rulers do mostly do things for themselves. They are more interested in trade and commerce than actyal equity amongst people. Nationalism was being properly maintained by even such a wide geographical span as the Earth Kingdom so if there are people like the Red Lotus it would make cultural sense and socially logical because none of these leaders help the non-thriving or the destitute. Republic City and Zao Fu are both quite prosperous but Ba Sing Se was like roadkill. As I mentioned in my previous article it was awful.
My friend and I agreed that by showing Ba Sing Se uprising as “bad” was a big slap on the face on protesters worldwide who stand for humanitarian and equity causes. Yes, it was violent but so was the French Revolution, you know the one that gave birth to modern day Western democracy and democratic legislation. They were suppressed people who were bereft of proper food, homes and also medical and social empowerment of course they would not be gentle and bovine when Hyou-Ting was assassinated. They would go stark mad or even start pillaging. They need assets so that they can have some comfort. Also this is a collective anger and resentment towards the system. They are breaking it by doing these wayward things. They will trash the palace even if some decide not to steal because they will not let the monolith to their suffering stand.
This goes into a discussion on the Red Lotus. It was obvious at the end that Zaheer was an agent of the Red Lotus, his commandeer of sorts but not its head. P’Li, Ghazan and Ming-Hua were equally in power as commandeers as him but they were still just a circuit or rather just a positioning of current affairs within the organization. It was clear that Zaheer is not the main leader and like any loyal agent he just did things with the ideologies he was handed down. And these ideologies or missions is all over the place like a bull going apeshit in a china house. Zaheer first admonishes order and says that the original state of the world is chaos (if one understands even some minor astronomy or mathematics they will know that our nascent or naive view of equilibrium is not how the universe works). It is designed to incorporate both chaos (as in astral bodies hurling amongst each other and supernovae and hypernovae and pulsars and all that hard-boiled ionic bonding and radiation is happening and by God that is the tempo it is designed) and order — yet of course the magnitude in which these are overridden and synthesized it feels pretty chaotic and out of order at how we look at it. So Zaheer is partly right about universe being “chaotic” however does that excuse his large-scale based plans? Not really because that level of “ordered riots” may actually dissolve the positive chaos that the world requires. Is that positive chaos present in all the current nations? No, it is not. Korra can revise laws and work to show solidarity amongst humans and spirits which was her entire reason for keeping spirit portals open which resulted in a great change and that was the return of the airbenders.
Yet when Zaheer captures Korra his ideology is that supreme rulers and nationality only severs human contacts and that people should be free of that kind of nationhood and just love, thrive and protect whom they love without any superficial allegiance hindering them to do so. Zaheer’s ideologies are not farfetched or bad. Yes, as I reiterate his methods are poor and stupid or rather the Red Lotus’s are. But this strengthening social ties and emotional ties doesn’t feel like extreme anarchy or chaos. It’s like the screenwriters had no idea what to define the Red Lotus with so like a headless chicken running around and sporting Kill Bill stylized blood all over the place we are left on both intellectual and personal scarcity. The viewers may be children but they are not dumbshits ok. Neither are the young adults and adults and so that is VERY POOR writing. Not to mention that Lahima’s void is like achieved by Zaheer via losing P’li. That was like putting Lahima, the airbender, as a pretty isolated and socially inept person. So to gain flight you must lose everything that is important to you? It is obvious that Zaheer loved P’li a lot. I would trust that his love is not limited on a temporal plane. So, yeah that makes no sense either. It was just lazy writing.
Change was good with the final two episodes. I liked that Jinora shaved her head and became an airbending master. Though personally I always like Aang and Zuko with hair. I mean the tattos don’t need to be hidden as they are strikingly present on the forehead. Jinora was looking like young Aang as she emerged as young master in the ceremony. This is the first time they had held such an inauguration for a master because last time even Katara did not have such an honour, nor did Sokka and Zuko’s one was less intense. I am happy they have decide to elevate another character so high alongside of the avatar as TLA hardly did that. If they had done this throughout the book I would consider it claiming fully its title name, but hadn’t so there is that. But Jonora seems happy to finally able to take on air nation responsibilities. She is the first air master as Tenzin and she has done all she can to deserve that title (now I guess its Bumi’s turn and the other kids):
One person ascends but another descends a bit. Korra is obviously broken. This Book showed a very psychological and physiological effect on Korra that Aang had faced when attacked by Azula all those years ago. I think people want to think this is Zaheer and the toxins fault. To me it is not really them. The poison has aggravated a situation already present from the time Korra had fought Amon. This is the culmination of all her weaknesses and shortcomings and anxieties amalgamated with the poison’s negative effects. Korra, like Aang but more potently, has realized that she cannot do everything as avatar or with that title. All her hot temper, all her bending and all her gusto can be translated into failures if she has spiritual board or innovative way to pull them together and make them flow. This season had another good point which was carefully fumbled in the fog of things, the interstices of different bendings. Like Suyin taking out the brunt of the poison in Korra as Jinora said tactfully that it was metallic and Suyin did it with liquid metal sort of prowess. Korra does need to learn alternative styles and subsets of bendings (Though Boilin is a lava bender I do want him to try metal bending next).
Her single tear, long and lingering, is both her relief that the Air Nomads have returned and also self-loathing for not being able to fend off for herself and do more than she could. Korra is deeply dissatisfied with herself. It is shown in her face. She is also angry that everyone wants to protect her now or criticize her or wants her as savior because I think she is realizing that she needs top travel and learn more subsets of bending maybe even new bending if necessary. You can see that she is annoyed even by her mother’s maternal affection. She is unable to walk and unable to feel happy. As fans has noticed she is clear VERY DEPRESSED. It is a long time coming PTSD. Culmination of all she faced. Aang also went through this period many times. First after Katara realizes he had abandoned his responsibilities and then when Azula was almost successful in killing him in avatar state. I hope in Book 4 they shows Korra rehabilitation process and if she will learn anything spiritual or rather will she be redefining what an avatar means?
All this time she has used and abused the avatar title and took some refuge or used it as a defense mechanism. Her fighting and conflicts has enabled her to realize that she cannot do that anymore. Her enemies or opponents are strong like her even if they can or cannot bend and she must, like Aang, involve her own self and originality and spirituality into being an avatar that is she not a tradition or a lineage or anything but just her. She needs to focus on what she can learn and also rethink on how she can help The Red Lotus by maybe administrating a new system that helps everyone. Yes, they are portrayed as terrorists and we can say their methodology is extreme but their concepts were tactile and decent and just. Korra must now balance these ideological with the remarkable people with her. She has lost a large chunk of her confidence. Which is good. Because that confidence was cockiness rooted in being an avatar and not understanding or learning new things. So, she can reconstruct for herself an identity and a strength that has more meaning and even reconstruct what it means to be an avatar in her time because she can physically fight all she wants but some battles need to be managed with spirit and dexterity and innovation.
Pretty much Season 3 was a whole pile of messes which only made some substantial things in its last scenes. It really had nothing going for it. I now just want to see Book 4 so that I can see how they make Korra convalesce and return to top form but both spiritually and mentally along with her physicality. In fact, if she learns how to fight without much bending that would be pretty neat too. Yet, that is the problem. I hardly know what half-baked plan these so-called creative team is on with. I guess, I have see it to find out.
P.S. I think Makorra is still canon which is another good thing.