I’m going to file this under English and Random Facts, because it is a fact that the series was done badly and for reasons closely related to writing, and thus English.
One of the main problems here is the use of deus ex machina, which is technically from Greek tragedy, but as a literary/dramatic technique, I still consider this post relevant to the topic of English.
Ok, let’s get started. A lot of fans will remain close-minded and adamant that their favourite series is as perfect as the rainbow shooting out of a unicorn’s behind but hopefully some of this information will shed light on why the series was particularly bad. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Avatar series and look forward to the next season. I also hated Shyamalan’s movie, as anyone in their right mind would. However, of all the seasons, LoK was the worst by far.
This was mainly because of poor planning. The Avatar team had this whole “four books for the four elements” theme going. Season 1 was Book One: Water, then came Book Two: Earth, and the last season of The Last Airbender was Book Three: Fire. Then The Last Air Bender ended (by the way, I also had a problem with them calling it Sozen’s Comet when a comet is made of frozen gases, and it doesn’t make sense that ice should power up fire benders). So what now? Three seasons, one element missing. Let’s make a quick fourth one to finish off with. Enter Legend of Korra.
What I’m getting at here is LoK was meant to be a standalone. Unfortunately, they tried to do too much with it and eventually Nickelodeon ordered a second season of LoK which is under production. If anything, that is an admittance that they didn’t accomplish what they set out to achieve with LoK – a nice ending to the four part series – and don’t want to end the franchise with a terrible impression. There’s too much left unexplored so they need another season to explain it all. That’s fine with me, but they should have anticipated it in the first place. Instead, we have a horrible standalone. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching. The series was entertaining and if you watched The Last Airbender, chances are you’ll have enough back-story to make sense of LoK. However, LoK, from a writer’s perspective (and any other intellectual) is a poor text for the following reasons.
Introducing the new Avatar. As a baby she’s already busting through walls and bending three elements (can’t do air yet). Flash forward and she’s defeating skilled benders in duels and is known as being incredibly strong. First appearance in Republic City and she trashes three benders from a notorious gang. With no history of Pro-Bending (the sport) she carries her team to the finals. What am I getting at? She’s damn strong from the onset and displays no real character growth. Aang took seasons to learn one element at a time and grow stronger and wiser. Yes, I’m aware The Last Airbender had more time to develop the story – so that’s why I said it was poor planning. Regardless, there is very little character development at all in LoK. The viewer is thrown into a story and watches events unfold. There is no journey, no connection and no feeling of accomplishment because there is no character development. It’s a list of events occurring in a world that isn’t explained with characters that are set in stone. From a writing perspective, that’s bad.
More, Korra has the attention of the only two male leading characters her age. Why? I don’t know. She hasn’t done much to get their attention. Bolin likes her because he likes any female attention (he goes on about how she came to see him as a fan and is characterised as someone who enjoys the company of women). Somewhere during the series, that personality got erased and replaced with the sad little brother that couldn’t compete with his big brother for the girl he loves. Then Mako apparently loved Korra, which I’ll get into later.
What does this mean? Korra is a Sue. A Mary Sue is a character that violates the reality of the story by having everything. A Sue is too ideal to be plausible, and makes for a horrible character because an underdog achieves goals, a perfect character just exists and everything works out for them. There’s a lot more to a Sue but you’ll have to Google that yourself. Maybe I’ll post about them later.
Now, a lot of people have accused Asami of being a Sue, just because she’s the rich, pretty girl. I think this is mainly jealousy over the fact that she’s pretty and has Mako’s attention, and people somehow wanted Mako and Korra to be together. Well bad luck, because Korra is more of a Sue than Asami is. Asami is pretty, yes. But she lost her mother when she was young, she loses her wealth because her father betrayed her trust and turned out to be a psychopath, she’s only strong because she was constantly targeted as a child and needed to learn how to defend herself, and all of that aside, she lives in a world of bending and she’s not a bender. That’s a huge disadvantage. Add to that the fact that her love rival is the freaking Avatar.
How about Korra? Strong from the very moment we are introduced to her, has the only two male main characters in love with her, treated special because of her status as Avatar, can bend multiple elements, and manages to steal another girl’s man, as well as steal a kiss from him when she knew he was in a relationship, but not get in trouble for it. Everything just works out for Korra. She’s the freaking Avatar. She’s special. Her one flaw is that she can’t connect to her spiritual side, which is never a complication in the story, and eventually she does anyway so she can bring in a deus ex machina. So yeah, Korra is the Sue here.
Amon is another problem. There was so much potential in his character. He could have been the “immortal idea” like V (from V for Vendetta). He could have just been the heart-wrenching product of a firebender’s cruelty and a jaded view on the world after the death of his parents at the hands of a bender (as he claimed). Nope. He’s just a liar. Maybe this was a weak attempt to portray a Machiavellian antagonist, like Iago from Othello, but really, he was just a waterbender who lied so that he could seize power. How boring. In fact, his entire motive makes no sense. Apparently the villain of the entire series is explained in a one minute flashback by his brother (he doesn’t even have the grace to explain himself) in which Amon is first the caring, protective brother, then the cruel, animal-torturing brother, then the guy who wants to eliminate all benders because he believes in equality. What the f-? Great, at this point it feels like the entire conflict of the series was a sham and the story is just falling to pieces.
Now that we’ve talked about how shallow the characters are, let’s get on to inconsistency and unnecessary additions to the series. The love triangle was stupid, quite frankly. It was featured in so any episodes as a point of conflict but it was never established properly. When I was watching it, all of a sudden I was like “wait a freaking minute here, Mako likes Korra?”. Why did I have this reaction? Because it was never properly demonstrated that he liked her. Yes, he complimented her for her good performance in pro-bending (which is normal) and there was a scene where he was staring across the water at the air temple where she lived. For like three seconds. Sorry girls, I live in a real world where it takes more than a well-earned compliment and looking in the direction where someone lives to fall in love. Compare that to Mako first meeting Asami.
See? Now that’s love. He spontaneously generates love hearts which float around his head. That’s true love. Maybe he firebended those hearts, I have no freaking clue, but it’s inconsistent as heck with the rest of the story. I had no idea that Avatar was a show that portrayed visual representations of their character’s emotions. So why are there no light bulbs every time someone has an idea? Why no hash and exclamation marks when characters get angry? Because this scene was stupid (man I really want to use the f-word) and inconsistent with the rest of the story. And honestly, he blatantly expresses love at first sight for Asami (four goddamn hearts, count ‘em!). At what point did he give a clear sign that he liked Korra? No point at freaking all. Yet somewhere, they decided to turn it into a love triangle that had absolutely nothing to do with the plot and was just a constant reminder of how poorly thought out the series was.
Finally, the deus ex machina. For those unfamiliar with the term, it means “god out of the machine” and was basically a feature in some ancient Greek tragedies (performed on stage) where a “god” would resolve the characters’ problems and basically fix everything. The deus ex machina was often an actor being lowered down on to the stage, symbolising the descent of a god to magically put everything right. Nowadays, it’s basically a feature that doesn’t gel in with the rest of the story and is introduced for the sole purpose of resolving an issue that has caused the story to get stuck. It’s bad because it undermines the integrity of the entire text and removes all feeling of conflict. It’s like, why should I care if someone’s just going to come and fix everything? There’s no suspense at all. There’s no consequences.
Aang is the deus ex machina. Korra loses her bending and everyone freaks out. For once, I feel as if something momentous is occurring in the plot. It’s like, wow, the Avatar has lost her powers! Holy monkeys, what do we do now? There’s some real emotion now – sadness, fear, uncertainty, and destitution. One minute later – wait, never mind, here’s Aang to fix everything. Yes, I get that Korra was sad, and yes, that tear that fell off the cliff was symbolic of her character’s “death” (an Avatar without bending is a dead character – it fails to serve its intended purpose) and possibly reflecting her morbid mindset in which she may have contemplated suicide. This has nothing to do with the fact that these badasses come in and remove all the emotion, suspense and integrity from the text.
There is no purpose to any of the conflict in the series when Korra can just be sad and Aang will come fix everything. That is why a deus ex machina sucks.
Why am I so frustrated? I think the series had so much potential. They could have made something amazing, but instead, it was a rushed, poorly planned, inconsistent, shallow show. Hopefully they take more time with the next season, although thanks to their little deus ex machina, there’s no conflict for a second season. Amon is dead (supposedly – we never see him actually die) and the Avatar has her bending back and the power to restore bending. So what now?
Seriously though, how could would it have been if the second season was Korra journeying with Beifong (and possibly others) to find a way to restore bending? That would have made for a good story.