The Legend of Korra’s extended finale mirrored the series’ first season. It was filled with awe-inspiring moments, but was also riddled with so many low-points it's a wonder that the whole story was produced by the same team.
The first half, “Skeletons in the Closet,” was very much about the birth of a supervillain and his rise to power. It was obvious from the origin story down to the Third Reich-feel given by the huge posters of Amon, the planes and the propaganda. Let me say that I am as far from being an army general as one can be, but I would not bring all my ships exactly to where I am expected without having a clear understanding of the situation. The battle massacre of the United Forces was painful to watch, not because ships were sunk or soldiers were killed (after all, the only one we saw fighting was General Iroh), but because it was so obviously designed to give Amon and the Equalists another victory. I think the story could have achieved that without further giving the impression that power is held by incapable figures or that there is some sort of issue with the power structure in Republic City.
Surprising twists are good, but they shouldn’t be brought down on us without measure. While Hiroshi acting as the propagandist-in-chief or “inventing new evil machines” was neat, the hobo with the radio communication equipment wasn’t. Nor was the way Tarlokk was reintroduced to us. If you have read any of my previous reviews, you might have noticed that I wished for a connection between Amon and Tarlokk at some point, but what happened here wasn’t properly developed.
Characters cannot just decide to be “good” from one day to the next. We either need to see them change, or understand afterwards why they changed. The finale failed to make either case convincingly for Tarlokk. Although, it should be said his tragically beautiful story was arguably one of the awe-inspiring moments of the hour. Beyond showing us why Yakone was so important that Avatar Aang needed to warn Korra about him, the scenes with young Tarlokk and his brother Noatak (Amon) were a touching, well-choreographed family tragedy. Showing us that Amon was the product of a troubled past was well done and to the point, and the connection between bloodbending and his aptitude to take bending abilities away didn’t require a more detailed explanation. What was wrong was Tarlokk’s side of the story. We might not care how he got from his difficult childhood to being the power-hungry councilman, but the episode lacked a defining moment showing his return to the ideals of the young man he was. Tarlokk simply saying it wasn’t enough and neither was his tragic end.
Another wonderful scene that lacked an appropriate build-up involved Korra. From the very beginning of the show, it was obvious she was more bent on using raw power than doing anything requiring a softer, gentler approach like, say, airbending or connecting with previous Avatars. Although the scene with Aang restoring her bending abilities and Korra trying them out afterwards was a gem, I didn’t like the way the whole thing was explained. When she was abducted by Tarlokk, she got in touch with Aang because she tried. Here, she had all but given up. While Aang’s explanation had a great ring to it (“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change”), it didn’t feel right. She sure was open to change, but she certainly didn’t work on it. If we set aside the botched love story with Mako, Asami’s “It's time to take down my father,” and finally how quick Amon’s downfall came about once he was found to have faked the scar, the rest of the finale was relatively spotless.
For once, all my favorite moments involved Korra. The way she and Mako rescued Tenzin and family was breathtaking. Her attempt to unmask Amon publicly as Noatak was measured even if it had her trademarked passion. What was excellent in the attack that followed was how firebending was used to maximize the effect of an operation that had to be extremely quick. Occasionally in the series, a bending ability was shown at its best, here was the case for firebending. Korra hiding out right after further illustrated why the attack had to be fast: they both had to stay out of range of bloodbending and not give Amon a window of opportunity. Everything in that extended scene, down to the final blow delivered to Amon by Korra a bit later was remarkable.
I liked what followed after her bending was taken away, as the feeling of loss of identity could be seen. She could barely stand, not so much because of weakness, but because she had given up. What I consider to be the best moment of the episode came with Korra realizing she could airbend (“I can airbend? I can airbend!”) To truly appreciate it, you have to remember that airbending was the one bending ability that eluded her. I liked how the episode suggested that Amon took away the abilities she had, but couldn’t take away one that she hadn’t yet connect with. It was also neat to suggest that in her desperation, she found her way to airbend instinctively, and also that she could cling to her newfound ability with so much strength as to break through Amon’s grip (“No you don’t!). Unlike the connection with Aang discussed above, this was very much in line with the Korra we know and even if everything happened quickly, it was easier not to feel cheated out of a process of change. We saw change happen and were previously given enough information to understand it. Finally, though nowhere as awe-inspiring, Korra restoring Lin’s bending abilities ranks up there for me because it featured the avatar (no more the avatar-in-training) using her prophesized power to its fullest, but also because, well, it includes Lin Beifong…
Even though there were some questionable choices by the production team, the season finale of The Legend of Korra was, at times, very entertaining and managed to bring out the new Avatar in a largely acceptable way. The episode’s most noticeable issue was that the story didn’t always realize the key in a character transformation is not the change itself, but the process.