BY BASMALLA HUSSEIN
With Avatar being recently released on Netflix, fans of the show made it known that they wanted The Legend of Korra (LOK), the sequel for Avatar, to also be put on Netflix. Any fan of LOK knows that when the show was initially released, Nickelodeon, the channel it was airing on, messed up their budget and airtime, and the ratings of the show tanked. It was nice to see Netflix try and revive its popularity, and with the show being in the Top 10 in its first week of release, it’s important to discuss what implications this show will have on its viewers.
Korra, the protagonist and Avatar of the show, is followed over four seasons as she goes on numerous journeys of self-discovery and adventures to save the world from four distinct villains.
In season three, Korra is faced with Zaheer, who was ultimately her toughest villain. He was a part of the Red Lotus, a group of strong benders who wanted to kidnap Korra when she was young and train her for their own purposes. Zaheer’s goal was to remove all forms of government, as he believed humans were better off governing themselves. His team was composed of strong benders who were so feared that they were locked in high-security prisons prior to escaping. Their bending was unmatched, and they eventually succeeded at kidnapping Korra. In the last fight of the season, Zaheer poisons Korra with mercury, forcing her into the Avatar State. He bound her with chains, with the ultimate goal to kill her right there and end the avatar cycle forever. See, if an avatar is killed while they are in the Avatar State, the cycle will end and never restart. Korra is forced into the avatar cycle but manages to escape her chains and starts a big battle with Zaheer. Despite being poisoned, she still gives the fight her all and uses techniques that resemble the final fight Avatar Aang had with Firelord Ozai.
The fight is a real struggle, even for Zaheer, despite fighting against a poisoned avatar. At one point, Zaheer almost succeeds in taking the air out of her lungs and killing her, but she is able to break through. The end of the fight comes when the airbenders on the ground were able to conjure a big tornado to take Zaheer down and finally end his terror. Korra is still poisoned at this point and has to get the poison metal-bended out of her. She is in an obvious bout of pain, and the season ends with her visibly depressed as she sits in a wheelchair, feeling helpless. She leaves Republic City and returns to the Southern Watertribe where she undergoes treatment with Katara, the best healer in the world.
Season 4 takes place three whole years after the fight, and she has still not returned to Republic City. The first episode is a montage of her friends, and it explores their life without Korra, as well as how they’ve been working to undo the damage Zaheer had on the world. She appears in the final scene of the first episode, and she is no longer living in the South Pole. She told her family that she was returning to Republic City, telling them she hit a mental block with her recovery and needed to be back where the action was. In actuality, she has fled to a city in the Earth Kingdom where she’s haunted by her past everywhere she turns. She believes the key to getting back into shape is forcing herself into fights where she can feel like herself again. Even through simple brawls, she is unable to focus and often starts hallucinating and believes that she is fighting herself.
As season 4 progresses, it is revealed that Korra struggled, even with her first steps to recovery. She gets angry with herself and starts taking her anger out on Katara without realizing it. Her recovery has not been linear, and this is unusual for Korra, who has previously bounced back quickly. Her route to recovery is not an easy one, as the majority of Season 4 is her struggling with her fight and accepting that what happened to her is over. After disappearing for three years, she starts having even more self-doubt, wondering if the world even needs her anymore. If the world has gone this long without her, then was she necessary to the balance of the world? She grapples with this, despite understanding that she is in no shape to return to her friends in Republic City.
She ends up following a spirit into the swamp, where she finds Toph, a member of the previous Team Avatar, and ends up discovering that not all of the poison was taken out when she was initially healed. Korra asks Toph to bend it out for her, but each time Toph tries to do it, Korra starts to have flashbacks and Toph is unable to continue. At this point, her family and friends have finally realized that Korra was missing, and they were on a mission to locate her. Meelo, Jinora, and Ikki (Aang’s grandkids) find her through her energy as Korra interacts with the swamp. Being isolated from her loved one sent her into a spiral of self-deprecation, doubt, and worry. Finding them again helped her push through, understanding that she was needed, now more than ever, as the newest villain emerges.
Despite finally getting the poison out of her, she still struggles through the remainder of the season. In her first fight with Kuvira, the villain of Season 4, she sees her past self once again and is unable to win her fight, giving up. She thought she was healed and ready, but she still has not realized that her road to recovery is not just a physical one but also a mental one. She needs to accept the past, and realize that her past does not have to keep her from moving on, but can help her navigate through her future.
Korra’s recovery only expedites after she meets with Zaheer, the person who put her through all this turmoil in the first place. She meditates with him, finally receiving the closure that she needed to start truly healing. As she makes amends with what happened, she faces her fears head-on and meditates with him into the Spirit World. After this, she’s finally able to start fighting, and no longer sees hallucinations of herself. The rest of the season focuses on her taking down Kuvira, and regaining control over the Earth Kingdom.
Many critics of LOK say that her taking three years was too much time for her to come back and be the Avatar. However, I think her recovery arc was one that was more than necessary to see the weight of her struggles truly unfold. In past seasons, the conflict is wrapped up easily with a simple resolution, and there aren’t any references to her past enemies in future seasons. Season 4 was a culmination of the mental toll being an avatar has on you, while also properly portraying the untold truth of living with PTSD. Even after recovering, we can see how much she’s changed, as she makes careful decisions, and starts putting her trust in her team; qualities she failed to exhibit earlier. She builds new relationships as she strengthens past ones, and surrounds herself with loved ones as she progresses through the rest of the season. Korra even reflects on what happened during the last episode and is thankful for her loved ones as she starts a new chapter of her life, continued in the comics.
Legend of Korra will always live in the shadows of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but being a show with heavier topics and implications, I personally relate to Korra’s teenage struggles more than I relate to Aang’s. I think if you have time, you should definitely watch these shows and immerse yourself in the lore and meticulously nuanced world-building that takes place over the span of 7 total seasons.
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