Bear with me because this article may be longer than usual. Also, watch out for spoilers!
I tend to rant a lot about Legend of Korra when given the occasion. Although I had mixed feelings about the very existence of a sequel/spin-off to the best kids show ever put together, it had a relatively good first season. I really enjoyed the steampunky flavour and the overall darker tone that the creators went for, although I always felt like the characters lacked the maturity and development to match said dark themes and storylines. Yes, some of the stuff was pretty edgy for a kids show (HELLO suicide bombing at the end of the first season) and there were a lot of good things in there. I was just not quite on board with the one-dimensional characters and the very rushed last few episodes, as well as the very quick and not believable change that Korra went through as a character. I know that Konietzko and Di Martino did not quite have all the time they wanted to flesh out those episodes and this is probably why Korra’s reward doesn’t seem well-earned. So even though I tend to go on for hours about all that was wrong with that first season, it was objectively not bad at all.
Well, if I had uncertain feelings about the first season, the little hope I had was completely crushed during the first half of season two. The plot was certainly interesting: Korra is with her family at the South Pole and Unalaq, the King in the North (yeah, I had to make that joke) shows up. At first, he pretends to be “friendly” by helping the southerners getting in touch with their spiritual side again, then it turns out that he wants to take control of the nation (and I’ll stop here because I don’t want to spoil it too much for you guys). The plot was pretty much the only thing that really worked, but even that lost a lot of its interest because of some really basic problems with the characters. Surprising, when you know that the same persons created some of the most beloved characters on television.
The very first issue I had was with Korra. During the first half of season two, she had not only reverted back to where she was at the very beginning of season one (remember the whole « punching is the only good way of doing things she was supposed to be over with? Yeah, that’s back like nothing has happened since she moved to Republic City), but was also dumbed down to the point where she wouldn’t follow clear evidence that was put right in front of her eyes. With her lines in particular but soon with any dialogue, I also quickly noticed something strange: the characters didn’t even seem to listen to each other when they talked, half of the time. It was like two people talking about radically different things, who just happened to be in the same room. One of them would say something and the other would ask a question about something else, and half of what was discussed in dialogue was never brought up again, which threw me off an impressive number of times. It was also disturbing that the characters never really talked about how they felt or what they wanted. They pretty much just did what they had to do to advance the plot, which distanced me from them.
Some of the characters, due to clear pacing problems throughout the season, seemed to randomly appear and disappear as the plot demanded, like Asami, who disappeared for entire episodes at a time, only to show up and pretty much say a very minimal amount of useful things before disappearing again. Plus, much like in season one, most of the characters that were not Korra or Tenzin’s family were really one-dimensional. Mako and Bolin, for example, who were supposed to be a big part of the plot, were respectively reduced to “Korra’s boyfriend” and “comic-relief”. I mean yes, Bolin gets to do stuff, but honestly it feels less like character development and more like “LOOK, WE’RE MAKING HIM BE ALMOST BAD BECAUSE HE GETS MONEY”. Also, Mako and Bolin, although they’re supposed to be brothers, barely talk to each other at all.
Speaking of Mako (if he existed, I would apologize for my constant rants about him), if there is one thing I really want the creators and writers of the show to stop doing, it’s trying to make us believe in the love triangle between Mako, Asami and Korra. Guys, seriously, it does not work. None of those people act like young adults in a relationship. Plus, the relationship in itself is mentioned so rarely that when it does, it feels forced and simply uninteresting. Also, jut a heads up, there’s no way two girls who both dated one same guy won’t talk about it. They WILL. Especially if the guy is acting like an asshole. Because yeah, part of the problem with that love triangle is that no one ever faces any consequences for anything, especially Mako. When Korra kisses him in the second half of season two, when he’s supposed to be back together with Asami, Asami frowns. That’s it. It’s never mentioned again. To be fair, writing believable relationships is one of the most difficult parts of writing. It barely worked in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but we believed in those relationships because the characters were usually between 12 and 16. Now that they’re 17+, however, we need something more solid.
Now, I feel like a lot of this (character development especially) was supposed to be inferred in dialogue. The problem is, guys, for there to be subtext, you already have to say something interesting in text. Also, for my last bit of rant, I’m going to write in caps. AANG, A BAD, UNFAIR FATHER? AND KATARA NEVER SAID ANYTHING ABOUT IT? YOU MAD?
Excuse my French. Anyway. Honestly, by episode six of season two, I was almost ready to stop watching. Even though the plot was interesting, they had screwed up enough with all the rest that I just wasn’t interested anymore. I was ready to turn off my tv and declare Legend of Korra dead to me. The only reason I went on is because I had heard of a certain double-episode starring nobody less than the first Avatar.
And guys, I’m glad I decided to give the show a chance, because those episodes where the moment when the magic started happening. I can’t think of any better way to describe it. Episodes seven and eight made me tear up all the way through, which is a really hard thing to do. And you know what’s even harder? Making me sob and sniff and rub my eyes for seven whole episodes. Yet, the second half of Legend Of Korra season two did it.
I don’t really know how they went from killing the show to make it rise and shine like it had never did. I think it’s a mix of going back to the basics (the show is and should be about the Avatar and his mission) and bringing back an old friend of ours whose appearance will sincerely make you the happiest person on the planet. It was also the characters, who became human again. They wanted things, felt emotions they were willing to talk about, experienced fear and hope, and that was enough to make me love them and root for them. Part of the success was also the choices the writers made for the story, each one bolder than the other. I don’t want to go too much into spoiler territory, but one of the final twists is actually one that I wished had happened in season one. And they did it. They completely broke apart what the Avatar was supposed to be and gave it a new meaning. And it was awesome.
The message at the end of this second season seemed to be as much part of the story as it was a message from the creators to the fans. Maybe this time, Korra will stop trying to be its predecessor and actually try to do it its own way.
Legend of Korra is the show that died to be reborn in a spectacular way. I am proud to say that I am now looking forward to season 3.