Fandom is abuzz regarding the season one finale of “Avatar: The Legend of Korra.” A pivotal scene at the end of “Endgame” reveals just how vulnerable Avatar Korra is as a 17-year-old girl.
Korra’s bending was taken away by main antagonist Amon. Just as she is about to be killed, Korra learns how to airbend for the first time. Yet the victory is hollow for the Avatar. Her entire life has been about learning all four bending styles. Without water, earth and fire she feels as if her purpose is meaningless.
Mako declares his love for Korra but she still feels shattered without her bending. She rides off on Naga to the precipice of a huge ice cliff at the Southern Water Tribe. Katara, the best healer in the Avatar universe (and wife of Aang, the previous Avatar) was unable to heal Korra’s affliction.
A solitary tear falls down to the ocean below. Then, a figure arrives that Korra believes to be Tenzin at first. Then he reveals himself to be Aang in spirit form. He says something profound. “When we are at our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”
At that point, my family gasped. We thought Korra’s lowest point was when her bending was taken away. Her thoughts must have turned much more desperate when she realized her condition might be permanent.
Aang then granted Korra the power of all her past lives by allowing her to go into the Avatar state, a defense mechanism by which Avatars gain incredible powers of all four elements. Korra finally became the person she was destined to be after one agonizing moment of desperation. What would have happened had she thrown herself into the water? Would the Avatar State have kicked in anyway?
Very soon afterward, Korra’s purpose is revealed (which I predicted in this previous post). Korra is supposed to bring balance to the world by restoring all of the bending Amon took in his quest to conquer Republic City.
The first person Korra restores is Lin Beifong, the woman who saved Tenzin’s family from Amon’s airships and sacrificed herself.
Still, the very serious theme of suicide by the story’s protagonist hits home for many teenagers and even adults in contemporary society. Much news has been made over the past five years of vulnerable, emotionally sensitive teenagers killing themselves after being bullied. Megan Meier, Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi are just three of the hundreds of sad examples facing today’s kids.
Korra’s contemplation is just one of many facets that make the imaginary world of “Avatar” even more believable. Creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko have outdone themselves once again. Great storytelling doesn’t have to be real–just realistic. The setting of the “Avatar” universe is a fantastic palette by which the masters have perfected the art of animated storytelling.
There is teenage parental angst, sibling rivalry, inter-generational conflict, oppression, war, racial strife, socioeconomic tension and the very real prospect of taking one’s own life.
The beauty of “Avatar: The Legend of Korra” comes not in the didactic nature of what one’s behavior should be, but in the details of the broad canvas by which the creators show how human interactions propel us forward in personal ways. The original series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was brilliant. But the creators have out-done themselves. Sequels often disappoint (see: “The Matrix”) but in very rare instances such as “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” and Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy, later incarnations are better than the first.
I’m very happy to see the “Avatar” franchise is now in elite company with these other two master storytellers. George Lucas and J.R.R. Tolkien (along with Jackson) made their work a part of popular culture because the stories spoke to millions around the world.
DiMartino and Konietzko, affectionately known as “Mike and Bryan” or “Brychael” are now are part of the pantheon of storytelling gods we adore. They were already at the pinnacle of creativity at the end of the first series, but the season finale of “Avatar: The Legend of Korra” took it up a notch further.
I’m proud to consider myself a fan of “Avatar” and I unabashedly admit I squee like a fan boy during my favorite episodes.
I believe Sokka’s quote from “The Blind Bandit” sums up my feelings for Mike and Bryan the best. “Nicely done.”