It is here! A month and a half after the epic, heartbreaking ending of Book Three, Legend of Korra is back for its final Book: Balance. Before we dive into this first episode, I can already tell you one thing I’m happy about: only one episode was released. I know how silly this may sound, but I hope we’ll be lucky enough to get only one episode per week, so that we can savour this last season.
We start off with our favourite narrator talking over a charming touristic ad. The two most important facts here: humans and spirits apparently live in harmony in the city and Korra hasn’t been around for the last three years. This last fact, you may have known just by following the brief ad campaign for Book Four. Personally, I think it’s a good decision: if they had set this last season right after Book Three, the events with the Red Lotus would have been too fresh in universe, and given the direction they’re taking with this first episode, the new storylines would have had been less plausible.
Fade to colour on President Raiko as he inaugurates the new train station with Asami and introduces us to Prince Wu, the soon-to-be King of the Earth Kingdom. If him posing for the journalists was not a good enough hint of his personality, we get to see him try to hit on Asami. Kid, “I’mma be king” is not the pick-up line you want to use on the most intelligent, successful, skilled, and beautiful woman in this show.
Mako sends Prince Wu away. Mako, like Asami, got a new design, including new hair that makes him look all dapper and adult. They really managed the passage of time well here, it’s not all expositional dialogue. You can see that things have changed in the designs, the voice acting, and the animation. During Asami and Mako’s quick discussion, we learn that Korra is supposed to arrive the same night. We all know what that means: see you at the end of the episode, Korra. Maybe.
Meanwhile, Prince Wu talks about his return to the Earth Kingdom with Lin Bei Fong, President Raiko, and Tenzin. Raiko then reveals the identity of the woman who’s working on the reunification of the kingdom: Kuvira. Yes, the same Kuvira who was just a soldier in Book Three. The same Kuvira who is voiced by Zelda Williams, which means that she has one of the best voices ever.
Speaking of the Earth Kingdom, we travel to a poor Earth state where bandits are practicing assholery. They’re trying to run away with a poor woman’s last food supplies when something appears in the sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s airbenders! More specifically, it’s Opal and Kai, all grown up and wearing pretty awesome flying suits. They capture the bandits without breaking a sweat and present themselves to the governor of the state as the help he’s been waiting for. We quickly understand that the airbenders are scattered across the nations. It seems that aside from Republic City, the world isn’t exactly at peace.
Cut to a train! And Bolin! He’s also got a new haircut (vaguely reminiscent of his acting haircut if you ask me) and now works for Kuvira, along with some handsome hipster-looking dude and Varrick, who hasn’t cut his moustache for the past three years. Bolin brings good news: two new Earth States have joined the union. Everybody’s happy except for Kuvira, who apparently can’t be satisfied unless everyone around bows down to her. When the train has to stop due to an obvious trap, Kuvira gives us a taste of her power. She takes down twenty bandits on her own and gives them the choice between being run over by a train or submitting to her. Guys. I don’t want you to get too excited, but I think we may have our new Azula.
Republic City again! Mako, as Prince Wu’s bodyguard, accompanies him to his spa day. It’s pretty clear that Prince Wu adores Mako. To be fair, when Mako is not busy being annoying, he is a smart, dutiful young man, while Prince Wu is vain and clueless. So of course, when Mako, whose eyes are wide open, sees the angry crowd waiting for the prince outside, he knows better than to let him linger around and saves him from strawberry pies thrown by Kuvira’s supporters. See, Kuvira is unifying the Earth States for Prince Wu, who is the rightful heir to the Earth Kingdom throne. However, since she is originally a woman of the people and is the one doing all the work, it makes sense that some people would root for her instead of a rich spoiled brat who gets his allergies mixed up. This sets up a nice political conflict.
Back to the Earth state where Opal and Kai have been deployed and where Kuvira’s train has just arrived. Bolin comes out of the train and hugs his pal and his girlfriend. Kuvira and the handsome hipster dude come out and the handsome hipster dude calls Opal « little sister ». I had completely forgotten that I was supposed to know that guy. In all fairness, Suyin the hipster queen has, like, fifteen kids. How am I supposed to remember them all?
Opal is not very happy with Kuvira and her brother, Baatar Jr, what with them leaving Zaofu to work for the Earth Kingdom and betraying Suyin Bei Fong’s ideals. It doesn’t help that Kuvira is now engaged to Baatar. Kuvira is nice to Opal and way less nice to the governor of the state. During their meeting, Kuvira basically gives him the same choice she gave the bandits: accepting her generous offer to take their land, ressources, and independence in exchange for protection and food, or letting the pirates starve the people out and take over the state. A tough choice. Kuvira may be power hungry and menacing,but she does have a point. Still, the governor rejects her offer and commands her to leave his state. Bolin has to leave with her, which upsets Opal. She doesn’t understand why he won’t choose her over his duty.
With Kuvira and her army gone, Opal and Kai decide to use their sky bison to gather supplies from other villages. The bandits are kind enough to wait until Opal is done complaining about her long-distance relationship with Bolin, but not enough to let Kai rave about how perfect him and Jinorra are together. They attack quickly, efficiently, taking away the food Opal and Kai had gathered and leaving me perplexed. Don’t get me wrong, I know that the scene is here to show that a), since the bandits now have planes, even the skies are unsafe, and b), Opal, Kai, and the villagers need Kuvira’s help. I just don’t understand why Kai was fighting solo against the one and only bandit who attacked them. The sky bison didn’t get nervous at any point, so Opal could probably have helped and saved them some trouble. With that said, of course, the governor of the state has to sign Kuvira’s contract to save his people. Kuvira and her army immediately come back and hand out food to the starving villagers, as well as mecha armors. Because everything is better with mecha armors.
On Air Temple Island, we find pretty much everybody, as well as Tenzin and his family. Lin reveals to Mako that instead of getting back to his detective duties after the coronation, he’s bound to follow Pinrce Wu to Ba Sing Se. That’s what he gets for being too good at his job. Everybody rushes out to welcome the Southern Water Tribe ship that just pulled up to the dock. Naga dashes out of it and Tenzin greets Tonraq, who keeps getting more handsome with each passing season. Jesus, Tonraq. So where’s Korra? « With you », says Tenzin. « No, she’s with you », says Tonraq. Classic. Awesome. Exactly what I wanted.
In the back alleys of what looks like an Earth State, Korra, her hair cut short and her face hardened, free fights against an earthbender for an angry crowd. The fight is intense but Korra is obviously not herself. She takes hit after hit and eventually collapses. After the fight, a man pays her and takes note of her resemblance to Avatar Korra, wondering what happened to her. We end the episode on Korra leaving the pit, stating that she wouldn’t know.
Folks, I watched the episode twice for this recap and both times, I started making high pitched noises at the end. The whole episode sets up some engaging political conflict but I was mostly interested in knowing what had happened to Korra. I’m glad to see that the team didn’t use the time skip as an excuse to make her completely recover from the events of the last season. I’m happy that they’re letting her deal with the consequences of her fight against the Red Lotus and her long-lasting conflict with the rest of the world. Maybe I’m getting excited too quickly, but I do hope that we’ll get to accompany Korra through a very compelling, very dark journey. Friday can’t come soon enough.