Legend of Korra Book Two Retrospective Continued: Criticism of this Season’s Character Arcs

Despite having quite a few criticisms of the Legend of Korra in my last post, I thoroughly enjoyed the half-season: it’s clearly the best animation currently on television.

Last post, I focused more on the overall issues with the story. In this post, I want to focus on specific characters. Korra has a LOT of characters, and some had better story arcs than others.

Story arcs done well

Unalaq

Let’s start with the villains. Unalaq was a formidable foe and managed to do something I didn’t think was possible: he upped the ante compared to Airbender. In Airbender, Aang had to save the entire world from the Firelord. It was a lofty goal, and the importance cannot be understated: the world had been at war for a hundred years. Fireload Ozai was on the verge of burning down the Earth Kingdom.

When Korra was announced, I thought, “There’s no way they can top Airbender. What, are they going to have her save the entire world again?” Korra did save the entire world again, but her mission was no repeat Death Star a la Return of the Jedi. The stakes for Korra were arguably higher.

Unalaq knew exactly what he wanted, and he had the right amount of charm and evil: he managed to coax Korra to his side for a few episodes, remember?

Even more interesting about Unalaq is how Korra actually believed in his message at the end. Unalaq thought that there should be no bridge between the spirit and physical world. Korra surprisingly agreed and united the worlds (well, it remains to be seen how united they are) in a different, less violent way than Unalaq intended.

The only thing I didn’t like about Unalaq was his immense understanding of the spirit world. Why are there so many people this season who seem to know so much about the spirit world, when Aang’s world was basically clueless about spirits?

Tonraq

Korra and Tonraq

Korra and Tonraq express their love for each other.

Tonraq didn’t get as much development as Unalaq, but he had an interesting backstory nonetheless. What’s interesting about Legend of Korra compared to Airbender is how much more family there is. Aang had no parents–Korra’s parents are at least present. And while she doesn’t always get along with her father, she loves him. I think one of the best scenes from this season was Korra asking her father if it was okay to enter his house after she favored Unalaq over him.

Mako

I wasn’t sure about Mako’s turn to cop at first, but I think it fits him. Mako’s story arc was separate from Korra’s much of the time, which allowed him to shine on his own. One thing I wished Airbender had done was broken up the main group a little more often. Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Toph pretty much stuck together the entire time. In Book Two of Korra, Mako, Bolin, Korra, Tenzin, and Asami basically have their own separate story arcs going on.

Last kiss between Mako and Korra

Last kiss between Mako and Korra

I appreciated, too, that the love triangle between Mako, Asami, and Korra was toned down but resolved this season. Korra and Mako made the right decision to stop seeing each other.

Bolin

Bolin and Asami

Bolin confides in Asami how different things are this season with everybody doing their own thing. He seems genuinely sad that the group was broken up.

Bolin also had a chance to shine this season. In Book One, he felt more like he was tagging along. He was meant to be the comic relief, but actually wasn’t nearly as funny as Sokka. Yes he’s an earthbender, but nothing special. He didn’t have that many distinct aspects of his personality.

In Book Two, though, we finally got some good character development. Yes, Bolin was a blockhead and never once stopped to think about the morality of the propaganda films, but that’s okay. At least he was entertaining.

Desna and Eska

Eska kisses Bolin

Eska and Bolin try to rekindle their relationship.

I’m still not sure what to think of these characters, nor am I completely comfortable putting them in this section of “well-developed character arcs.” They were present a lot, but didn’t have many original thoughts. Eska got a little more development than Desna. I’m not sure I liked the Eska-Bolin love story, but it was funny at times.

Most of the season I was bothered with the twins’ monotone “nerdy” voices: haven’t we seen this character type before? But by the end, they actually showed a little emotion as they struggled to follow their father into eternal darkness. When I think back to Airbender, though, I was fine with Mai and Ty Lee as characters, even though they also didn’t have much development, so I guess I’m fine with Desna and Eska. Hopefully we see them in future episodes.

Desna is mad

Desna is mad at Korra’s suggestion that he betray his father.

Varrick

The shipping magnate Varrick ended up being my favorite new character this season. He got a lot of screen time, had the best jokes, and was perhaps most pivotal to the overall plot. Varrick was the one who convinced Korra that Unalaq couldn’t be trusted. Varrick helped lead the first rebellion of the southern water tribe against the northern occupation. Varrick helped Korra and crew escape from the south pole. Korra may have started the civil war, but Varrick was the one who made it happen: he hired Fire Nation thugs to impersonate northern water tribe terrorists; he bought Asami’s company and provided tanks for the war; he shipped those tanks to the south; he provided all the propaganda for the war.

Varrick was one of those rare versatile characters: he gets stuff done. His morality is ambiguous: in the end, we should probably view his actions as evil. In a way, he’s like Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad: Varrick doesn’t think about right or wrong: he only thinks pragmatically.

Zhu Li and Varrick escape from prison

Hopefully we see Zhu Li “do the thing” again next season!

If Varrick is to Saul Goodman, then Zhu Li is to Huell. She doesn’t get any character development: we don’t know what motivates her, why she follows Varrick, or if she even agrees with his actions. But we don’t necessarily need her to say these things: the fact that she does follow him, and follows his orders without question, tells us a lot. She probably does admire Varrick to some degree (romantically, though, who knows?), and sees her mission in life as supporting Varrick. In this way, she’s similar to Misa Amane from Death Note or Riza Hawkeye from Fullmetal Alchemist.

Korra and Tenzin

I’m analyzing these two characters together for a reason. Korra and Tenzin obviously had the most well-developed arcs on the show. I think Tenzin is arguably co-equal in terms of importance to Korra, just like Katara and Sokka are co-equal with Aang in Airbender. What I loved about this season was the continued growth of Tenzin and Korra’s relationship.

They started out in a bad place, and Korra dismissed Tenzin as her mentor. Tenzin, though, accepted it, and went away to fight his own demons. But they came together at the end, forgave each other, and encouraged each other.

Tenzin and Korra’s relationship is the most mature one on the show. Tenzin’s relationship with Korra is more complex than the relationships with his own wife and children. Yes, he loves his family, but those relationships are simple. He takes care of them, he protects them, he loves them. With Korra, there’s obviously no romantic connection between the two, so the creators are allowed to explore the mentor-student relationship in all its complexity.

Tenzin and Korra

Tenzin tells Korra he’s proud of her.

What I also love about their relationship is that it’s not the typical mentor-student relationship we see in fantasy. Take Obi-Wan (with Luke) and Gandalf, two old mentors on the same level as Tenzin. Obi-Wan and Gandalf are wise, benevolent, and always right. They are nearly “perfect” and exist to further the destinies of Luke and Frodo. They don’t really have much maturing to do in their own right.

While Tenzin is wise compared to Korra, he’s not always right. In fact, Book Two makes Tenzin out to be a chump at times, given his repeated failures in spiritual matters. And Tenzin and Korra have quite a bit of friction in their relationship, unlike Obi-Wan and Luke or Gandalf and Frodo.

Tenzin unrolls Korra's sleeves

One of my favorite non-verbal scenes from Book One, Tenzin subtly correcting Korra’s training attire by rolling down her sleeves.

Tenzin can provide support for Korra as the Avatar in a way her father can’t. And Tenzin realizes his destiny is not just to propagate the Air Nomad line and train his kids in airbending: his real destiny seems to be supporting the Avatar in any way that she needs him. By the end of the season, Tenzin submits to Korra, telling her that he has nothing more to teach her and that he will support whatever decision she makes regarding whether or not to keep the spirit portals open.

I’m not sure if it’s true that Tenzin has nothing more to teach Korra. Perhaps now, though, the two of them can develop a friendship of equality, having moved past the student-mentor relationship, similar to how Obi-Wan and Anakin had a friendship relationship in Episode III, or how Teacher and Ed and Alphonse had a friendship relationship in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Story arcs that could’ve been better

Kya and Bumi

Bumi plays the flue

Silly Bumi with his silly pink earmuffs!

Ah yes, Tenzin’s family. While Tenzin got a lot of character development this season, and even spent a lot of time with his brother and sister, they, on other hand, didn’t get much development at all. Kya and Bumi were simply one-trick ponies: foils to Tenzin without their own senses of autonomy. Kya and Bumi were there making fun of Tenzin the entire season, and Tenzin lost of patience with them on more than one occasion. We don’t know much about Kya at all, other than that she spent her youth traveling the world “in search of herself,” then settled down in the south pole to take care of her mother.

I’m perhaps most disappointed in Bumi’s character. Yes, he contributed some good jokes here and there, but as a person, he didn’t seem to have any direction. At the end of Book One, we briefly see Bumi arriving on Air Temple Island. We are told he’s a great general and military leader. But at the beginning of Book Two, he’s already given up the military life. Why? His definitive character trait was immediately introduced then removed. In Book Two, he’s simply a lost soul following Tenzin around the world. Sure, he helps in the final battle and helps find Jinora, but beyond that, doesn’t have an original thought in his head.

Tenzin’s family

The rest of Tenzin’s family–his wife Pema and children Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo–didn’t get much development either, even though we spent a lot of time with them. Pema just plays the part of new mom taking care of Rohan: is Rohan’s name even spoken this season? Ikki had an episode where she discovered a lot of sky bison babies, but then left them and didn’t do much the rest of the season.

Meelo had an episode where he trained a hundred ring-tailed lemurs: I thought that was going to go somewhere, but no. It was just a throw-away sight gag.

Meelo trains Poki

Meelo tries to demonstrate to Poki how to roll over while Tenzin looks on with veiled condemnation.

Jinora obviously had more character development than the rest of the family. She’s the one who guided Korra into the spirit world, and she’s the one who resurrected Raava (maybe? how?) Nobody knows exactly what Jinora did at the end, or how she knew how to do it, so hopefully there’s an explanation coming down the pipe.

Tenzin carries Jinora

Tenzin carries Jinora

After being reunited with her father after being trapped in the spirit prison, Jinora tells Tenzin that she has something else to do, and she has to go away. Here’s how I hoped the final battle would’ve resolved itself: Jinora becomes the new Raava, rather than just resurrecting the old Raava, and then merges with Korra’s spirit, sacrificing herself so that Korra can save the world. It would’ve been a very sad scene had Jinora sacrificed herself, but it would’ve taught us something about the unique role each person has in combating evil.

While it would be deep for a children’s show, Airbender had a similar sacrifice when Yue turned into the moon.

Asami

Asami the pilot

I talked a lot about Asami in the last post, so I won’t spend too much time on her again. There was so much potential for her. One challenge with Asami compared to the other characters is that she’s not a bender: the show clearly focuses way more on benders than non-benders. But in Book One of Korra she proved that she could stand her own in a fight just fine without bending. In Book Two, she’s now an ace fighter pilot, which is useful a couple times, but when it came to the final battle, she was sent away, which is unfortunate, as it just reinforced the idea from Book One: Air that benders really are superior to non-benders.

Story arcs that failed

General Iroh, President Raiko, Lin Beifong

The three people stuck in Republic City didn’t really do much at all. Lin Beifong’s story arc seemed to end in Book One when her earthbending powers were returned to her.

President Raiko was a new character. Even though he was somebody in power and of importance, he did nothing. He was simply obstinate for the sake of obstinacy when Korra asked for his help fighting Unalaq.

President Raiko

“My name’s President Raiko, and I don’t feel the need to explain myself to somebody as lowly as the Avatar!”

And General Iroh…can we drop this character already? I know the creators were really pleased with Dante Basco’s performance as Zuko in Airbender, but this actor was mishandled and shoehorned in as General Iroh, the son of Zuko. Basco’s voice is just too distinctive and doesn’t fit the personality of the new General Iroh.

General Iroh

General Iroh only appeared on screen for this one shot during the final battle…how pathetic.

I believe General Iroh only had two scenes this entire season: one when Korra asked him for help and was rejected, and one tiny, tiny scene in the final battle when his ships ineffectively attacked Unavaatu. It’s almost as if the creators wanted Basco to work with them, but didn’t have a good idea for his character. They knew it had to be connected to Zuko because of Basco’s unique voice, but beyond that, they don’t have any plan for General Iroh. He’s easily my least favorite character of the series.

Appreciated cameos!

And then we had some callbacks to Airbender this season. These people didn’t have character arcs, per se, but their brief appearances added to the story nonetheless. Overall, Book Two of Korra did much better connecting to the original series than Book One did. In Book One, it seemed like there were an excessive number of references to the first series just to remind people that the shows were connected (the worst connection was Ikki asking Katara in the first episode whatever happened to Zuko’s mom…why would she care about such a peripheral character?)

Uncle Iroh

I was genuinely surprised when Uncle Iroh showed up in Korra. He was sort of a deus ex machina, showing up at just the right time to guide Korra, but that’s okay.

I’m really pleased that Iroh left the physical world and came to the spirit world, however that happened. It didn’t seem like a forced decision by the creators, either: Admiral Zhao commented to General Iroh in Book One of Airbender that he’d heard of Iroh’s journeys into the spirit world. It was never a detail elaborated upon in Airbender, but it is consistent with his character.

Iroh in the spirit world

Hello old friend!

I was also exceptionally pleased with Greg Baldwin, the voice actor for Iroh. Iroh’s original voice actor, Mako, died between Books Two and Three of Airbender. Greg Baldwin took over voice work in Book Three (and also took over for Mako’s other unfinished roles, like Aku from Samurai Jack and Splinter from TMNT). It’s really hard to replicate another person’s voice, and Baldwin did the best he could, but his Iroh was nowhere near as good as Mako’s. In Book Three of Airbender, it sounded like Baldwin was trying too hard to imitate Mako’s voice.

In Korra, though, Baldwin does a much better job of mimicking Mako’s voice, so much so that I can’t really tell that his Iroh is different than Mako’s. Maybe if I heard the two side by side I could, but separate, I can’t.

Avatar Aang

Old Aang in the spirit prison

Aang’s role in Book Two of Korra was significantly reduced compared to the first season, and I think that’s okay. After all, Avatar Roku played a larger role in Books One and Three of Airbender, but not as much in Book Two. I’m also glad we got to see an older version of Aang, not the 30-something version we see in Book One. As long as the creators don’t retcon their own story in Book Three: Changes, this should be the last time we see Aang. And we see him giving parting thoughts to his son Tenzin, which is an appropriate final message.

Admiral Zhao

Zhao in the spirit prison

I was really surprised to see Admiral Zhao in the spirit prison, but it makes sense. He really made the spirits mad when he killed the moon spirit in Airbender. We saw the moon spirit grab him and take him away, but we never knew what happened to him. I figured he died: it seems like the spirit prison is a hell of sorts. In the spirit prison scenes, I looked really closely at the background characters several times to see if perhaps other characters from Airbender were trapped in the prison, but I couldn’t make out anybody distinctive.

Whew, that’s the end of my two-part analysis! Share in the comment section who your favorite characters were this season!

~Dennis

Book Two: Spirits Retrospective: The Legend of Korra

Book Two: Spirits has finished. It was a quick half-season, but a successful and innovative season in many ways.

As the season progressed, many websites gave reviews of individual episodes as they aired. This is fine, but mostly these “reviews” end up being half summary, half speculation about what it could mean going forward.

But now that the season has concluded, let’s take a retrospective look at the season in its entirety to find out what worked and what didn’t.

Full spoilers ahead. Obviously.

The world's eye opens

When Korra destroys Vaatu, it’s as if the world is opening its eye to light again.

Improvements over the first season

The first book of Korra had a lot of pressure to be successful. It was coming off the hugely successful Last Airbender, a show I easily regard as my favorite visual programming of all time (including television shows, movies, animation, and live-action).

The co-creators, Michale Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, decided to approach Korra differently than Airbender. In Airbender, DiMartino and Konietzko occasionally wrote some episodes, usually episodes that were pivotal to the story. So they had some direct influence on the story, but not complete influence.

For Book One of Korra, they decided to write all the episodes themselves, 12 total. At first, I was excited. I thought, “If those two are writing all the episodes, then Korra will be on its A-game the entire time!” But I was also leery. Remember when George Lucas obtained complete creative control of the Star Wars prequel trilogy? The prequels ended up being hugely disappointing compared to the original series. Why?

Well, there are many reasons, but I think the main reason is that audio-visual storytelling is a collaborative enterprise. One author can write a novel, but it takes a team to create a television show or movie. Give one or two people complete control over everything, and the audience loses out on the creative collaboration that (usually) enhances the final product.

While Book One of Korra was great, it was no Airbender, the audio and visuals being the exception: Korra hit that out of the park. But when it came to the story, Korra noticeably felt rushed.

Part of the reason Korra was rushed has to do with Nickelodeon. Korra was originally intended to be a one-shot 12-episode mini-series. Midway through production, they expanded Korra to 26 episodes, then 52. The creators decided: instead of telling one coherent story for 52 episodes (Airbender had 61 episodes), let’s tell four smaller, independent stories.

As such, Book One had all the makings of a long, drawn out series. In the final episode, Korra lost her bending, and I thought, “This is great! Book Two will be called Spirit [I almost guessed right; it’s called “Spirits”] and will be about Korra struggling as an Avatar without any powers, gaining them back, and eventually defeating Amon, who becomes an Avatar antithesis.”

Nope. About 5 minutes after Korra loses her powers, Avatar Aang appears “deus-ex-machina-style” and gives them back to her. She gives everybody their bending back, everybody is happy, the end.

For Book Two, the co-creators thankfully relinquished some of their writing credits. Dimartino still wrote, but only a few episodes. Book Two also had 2 more episodes to work with than Book One (14 compared to 12), so they had a little more breathing room.

The realities of war are left unexamined

The great thing about Airbender was that it showed children and adults the consequences of war. This was a fighting show, a violent show, to be sure, but it didn’t revel in the violence. It acknowledged that people died in war. People got burned by the Fire Nation and had permanent scars. Families were broken apart by war. The Fire Nation committed genocide of the Air Nomads. Aang wrestled with the morality of killing the Firelord. This was all very deep stuff, and Airbender was applauded for discussing war in an honest, adult way.

I personally think Airbender shows the realities of war better than any adult movie or television show that discusses war.

Unalaq sucks out Raava

Unalaq sucks Raava out of Korra. I think this scene is easily the most violent in the season, paralleled only by the violence of energybending at the end of Airbender. This is spiritual violence, destroying the core of a person. Not all violence is physical.

Unalaq destroys Raava

Unalaq’s destruction of Raava was just as violent. The line of Avatars is broken forever. It really felt like this was a loss.

Book Two of Korra introduced new aspects of war that Airbender had never explored before.

  • There was a civil war between the northern and southern water tribes.
  • Asami and Varrick became war profiteers, merchants of death, selling tanks and weapons of war to the southern water tribe.
  • Varrick crassly used Bolin to spread war propaganda.

These three issues had the potential for instructing children about even more facets of war. And yet, all three were shortsighted.

The civil war that never was

Something has always bothered me about the southern and northern water tribes: are they composed of only one city each? In Airbender, we see one giant city in the north and one tiny village in the south. In Korra, we see one tiny village in the south, and one pretty big city in the south, but nothing in the north. Are these three cities all that constitute the water tribe, or are there more cities we just never see?

It’s an important question: if we knew the full extent of the water tribes’ boundaries, maybe the civil war would seem more real. But because we have such a narrow view of the water tribes, the civil war also seems insignificant.

Korra ditches the southern water tribe just as war breaks out and doesn’t return until the end of the book. We have no idea what the civil war is doing to the southern water tribe. Are people oppressed? In what ways? We don’t know. We never see the effects of war.

Effects of Korra's civil war

We do see this small scene of wounded, Katara too overwhelmed to heal them all. But this small scene is only a few seconds long.

In Airbender, we clearly saw the effects the Fire Nation had on the people. We saw people in the Earth Kingdom who had burns: we know they got those burns from somewhere. We saw Fire Nation flags draped over the Earth Kingdom city of Omashu.

We don’t see such things in Korra. It would be interesting if waterbending actually left permanent scars on people the same way firebending does. I grew up in North Dakota: I know that ice and cold can burn you–it’s called frostbite. When waterbenders encase people in ice, do they not get frostbite? People who suffer frostbite often lose toes and fingers, hands and feet.

Tanraq battles

Tonraq leads a small group of insurgents against Unalaq’s army, but scenes of civil war are rare in Korra.

Korra missed a real opportunity in this regard. What if Korra had returned to the southern water tribe, only to find that not only were people injured, but many had suffered frostbite? What if many waterbenders had their hands frozen off and could no longer bend? Typing that out sounds very dark for a children’s show, but Airbender did it. The main antagonist of the first season, Zuko, was permanently burned on his face via his father. Can anybody say child abuse?

Is nobody bothered by Bolin’s propaganda?

Bolin becomes a mover star (read: movie star) as Nuktuk, water tribe warrior of the south. Varrick’s propaganda films were clearly influenced by real-life World War I and II propaganda films. Bolin was finally given a unique identity this season. His mover scenes provided a lot of comic relief, but also had something to say about the morality of stretching the truth for a good cause (supporting the southern water tribe).

Bolin acting out a mover

Bolin’s big fight scene in “Night of a Thousand Stars” was probably my favorite fight this season. The animators really went out of their way animating Bolin twice in each scene: as a waterbender and an earthbender.

But nobody ever raises any objections to the propaganda, which is unfortunate. Bolin is a blockhead, so maybe he fails to see the significance of the propaganda. But what does Asami think? She watches Bolin’s movers and says nothing at all?

What about Korra? Bolin impersonates a waterbender and basically “borrows” Korra’s polar bear dog Naga for weeks on end. Is Korra not bothered by it? Why doesn’t anybody say to Bolin, “Hey, do you think these movers are acceptable?”

Nuktuk poster

For some reason, Nickelodeon is really slow to capitalize on merchandising for Korra. This poster, though, needs to be made!

Asami: the merchant of death

Asami’s company Future Industries is on the verge of bankruptcy following her father’s actions in Book One of Korra. Asami has no money; her inventory is stolen at one point; and she’s in desperate need of doing something to save the company. So Varrick comes up with an idea: why don’t you sell your mecha tanks to the people of the southern water tribe? They are being oppressed: they need weapons. It’s a win for them and a win for you.

Asami immediately agrees, which is fine at first. She’s just a teenager and maybe is thinking in the short-term. But throughout the entire season, she never once considers: I am profiting off the destruction of life. People are dying because of my weapons. Am I okay with this?

Useless Asami

Asami doesn’t even hang around for the final battle. She’s only an ambulance driver. She’s sad because maybe she realizes there’s nothing special about her this season.

When Team Avatar returns to the southern water tribe, it would’ve been really interesting to get Asami’s reaction to the way her tanks were being used to kill people. When Korra led the assault on the southern spirit portal, mecha tanks, controlled by Unalaq, surrounded it. Did Unalaq (who’s from the northern water tribe, remember) somehow steal the mecha tanks intended for the southern water tribe? Where did he get them? Why doesn’t Asami comment on this?

Bolin certainly had no qualms about blowing up the tanks.

Unalaq says he will fuse with Vaatu

When Unalaq said he would fuse with Vaatu, Eska and Desna are briefly surprised. Korra’s non-verbal storytelling, at least, is on top of its game.

The problem with a “tight” story

The overall problem with Korra is this: by writing “tight” stories, seasons with no “filler” episodes, the creators thought they were enhancing their storytelling capabilities. In reality, Korra has proven that the “filler” episodes in Airbender really weren’t so filler after all.

Let me show you. Below is a list of every episode of Airbender. I’ve classified the episodes in three ways: essential episodes, filler episodes that become important, and straight up filler episodes. Korra was supposed to be like Airbender, but without any filler.

Book One: Water

  1. The Boy in the Iceberg (essential)
  2. The Avatar Returns (essential)
  3. The Southern Air Temple (essential)
  4. The Warriors of Kyoshi (filler that becomes important)
  5. The King of Omashu (filler that becomes important)
  6. Imprisoned (filler that becomes important)
  7. The Spirit World (Winter Solstice, Part 1) (essential)
  8. Avatar Roku (Winter Solstice, Part 2) (essential)
  9. The Waterbending Scroll (filler that becomes important)
  10. Jet (filler that becomes important)
  11. The Great Divide (filler)
  12. The Storm (essential)
  13. The Blue Spirit (essential)
  14. The Fortuneteller (filler)
  15. Bato of the Water Tribe (filler that becomes important)
  16. The Deserter (filler that becomes important)
  17. The Northern Air Temple (filler that becomes important)
  18. The Waterbending Master (essential)
  19. The Siege of the North, Part 1 (essential)
  20. The Siege of the North, Part 2 (essential)

Book Two: Earth

  1. The Avatar State (essential)
  2. The Cave of Two Lovers (filler)
  3. Return to Omashu (filler that becomes important)
  4. The Swamp (filler that becomes important)
  5. Avatar Day (filler)
  6. The Blind Bandit (essential)
  7. Zuko Alone (essential)
  8. The Chase (essential)
  9. Bitter Work (essential)
  10. The Library (essential)
  11. The Desert (filler)
  12. The Serpent’s Pass (filler that becomes important)
  13. The Drill (essential)
  14. City of Walls and Secrets (essential)
  15. Tales of Ba Sing Se (filler)
  16. Appa’s Lost Days (filler that becomes important)
  17. Lake Laogai (essential)
  18. The Earth King (essential)
  19. The Guru (essential)
  20. The Crossroads of Destiny (essential)
Korra's cosmic energy

I love the callback to Book Two of Airbender when Korra fuses with her cosmic spiritual energy.

Book Three: Fire

  1. The Awakening (essential)
  2. The Headband (filler)
  3. The Painted Lady (filler)
  4. Sokka’s Master (essential)
  5. The Beach (filler that becomes important)
  6. The Avatar and the Firelord (essential)
  7. The Runaway (filler)
  8. The Puppetmaster (filler that becomes important)
  9. Nightmares and Daydreams (filler)
  10. The Day of Black Sun, Part 1: The Invasion (essential)
  11. The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse (essential)
  12. The Western Air Temple (essential)
  13. The Firebending Masters (essential)
  14. The Boiling Rock, Part 1 (filler that becomes important)
  15. The Boiling Rock, Part 2 (essential)
  16. The Southern Raiders (filler)
  17. The Ember Island Players (filler)
  18. Sozin’s Comet, Part 1: The Phoenix King (essential)
  19. Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters (essential)
  20. Sozin’s Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno (essential)
  21. Sozin’s Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang (essential)
Black and White Pabu

I love that Pabu is briefly shown in black and white. Back in the early days of film, animals and objects were sometimes painted black and white to help them show up on the camera better. I’m glad Korra contains little details like this, even if they are never explained. Airbender was good at leaving small details unexplained as well.

We could quibble about the designation I gave some of these episodes: I’m not entirely satisfied with these classifications myself. But one thing you might be wondering is: why were some episodes deemed “filler that become important?”

Airbender had a very special way of taking episodes that seemed useless, pointless, “filler,” and making them important episodes in retrospect. Characters, locations, or ideas introduced in the early episodes are referred to in later episodes. A character who seems like a throwaway at first, like Suki, ends up becoming extremely important.

The number of “essential” episodes from Airbender is as follows:

  • Book One: 10
  • Book Two: 12
  • Book Three: 12

As you can see, about the number of essential episodes is about a half-season of Korra.

The number of straight “filler,” useless episodes per season is as follows:

  • Book One: 2
  • Book Two: 4
  • Book Three: 6

Most episodes in Books One and Two eventually became important: I think Book Three has the most filler episodes because they were nearing the conclusion of the series and didn’t have time to expand upon the themes raised in some episodes.

But Airbender was about more than just filler and essential episodes. As somebody who’s watched Airbender five or six times now, I’ve found that the filler episodes were never a waste. Characters were developed, and themes of war explored in more detail. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss the character arcs in Korra in more detail, but for now, let’s speculate on what some “filler” episodes of Korra could’ve looked like.

Vaatu almost trapped

I also love the callback to Airbender when Korra bends all four elements to put Vaatu back in his prison (unsuccessfully).

Filler Idea #1

The southern water tribe, we are told, was repopulated following the Hundred Years War by people from the northern water tribe. What if a soldier in the northern water tribe fights in the southern civil war and ends up facing against his cousin, uncle, or even brother? How do the two relatives feel about being on opposite sides of the same conflict? This is what Union and Confederate soldiers had to deal with in the American Civil War.

Filler Idea #2

Asami realizes that her war machines are killing people and sees directly that the more tanks she sells, the more money she gets, but the more people die. Perhaps at the beginning of the episode, she’s living the life of luxury, buying new clothes, new cars, a new house. But when she witnesses first-hand how her money comes at a consequence, she has a crisis of conscious. Perhaps she sabotages one of Varrick’s own ships, which is bringing a fresh supply of tanks to the mainland, because she doesn’t want to profit off murder anymore.

Filler Idea #3

Desna and Eska go back to the north to take care of something. While there, they remark on how empty the northern city has become now that all the ships and soldiers are gone. Perhaps some rabble-rouser tries to take advantage of the leaderless and soldierless north and stages a coup. Desna and Eska realize that the civil war is hurting the north just as much as the south. They debate what to tell their father Unalaq. They want to support his goal of reuniting the tribes, but not if it means weakening the homeland in the process.

Maybe those aren’t the best ideas, but you can see how they might work. The good thing about Korra is that there are still 26 episodes to go. Hopefully plot points raised in Books One and Two are returned to later: there’s still time.

I really hope the creators don’t drop any of the ethical questions raised in Book Two the same way they dropped the ethical questions raised in Book One. What happened to all the anti-bender sentiment from Book One? Are you telling me everybody immediately abandoned Amon once he was shown to be a fraud? Didn’t the non-benders have real concerns about being oppressed? Why is there suddenly harmony in Republic City? Book Two never answers these questions, and Korra suffers for it.

Season rating: 5/5 (a story I live my life by)

~Dennis

Tenzin's family is reunited

Tenzin’s family is reunited in the spirit world.