Thoughts on Korra finale [SPOILERS]

The season finale of Legend of Korra, Book IV, and of the Korra franchise as a whole, has come and gone from our screens in a 45-minute whirlwind of action, drama, passion and giant laser canon-wielding robots. The baddy was beat, balance restored, and love vindicated. Some characters received a happy ending, some were tearfully farewelled, and the fate of some was left frustratingly opaque. I personally enjoyed this finale — I found it a strong, well-rounded and satisfying conclusion to the season, and, in many ways, to the series itself. However, in some respects I felt it was lacking something for what was to be the conclusion of televised Korra — in some ways it felt like it does when a television series is abruptly cancelled and the story and the characters are left hanging in limbo (e.g. Upstairs Downstairs, Born and Bred, Doctor Who in 1989, etc.) It lacked a certain closure that a series finale demands. Nevertheless, here is my take on various aspects of this finale.

Initially, it seemed to me that the conflict in Book IV was the least high-stakes of the four Korra seasons. Surely the elimination of bending from the world, 10,000 years of darkness, and the abolition of all worldly authorities are greater threats and greater challenges than the domination of the Earth Nation by an autocratic Napoleon? The people of the Earth Nation and the United Republic may not have been happy living under Kuvira if she had won, but they would at least have been able to tolerate Kuvira, who seems like she would be a benevolent ruler insofar as her subjects remained submissive and obedient. Whereas the threats in Books 1-3 are far greater in that they promise to seriously throw the world out of balance.

It only occurred to me upon watching the finale, however, that the scale of Kuvira’s threat was not the point of Kuvira. That is, if Books 1-3 were about Avatar Korra confronting external threats to the peace and balance of the world, Book IV involved Korra’s confrontation with herself. Firstly, Korra had to confront and overcome her own demons and self-induced disabilities — the lingering physical and psychological effects of her narrowly-avoided death at the hands of Zaheer. Secondly, she had to contend with the challenge of defeating an adversary who, in many ways, represented a mirror of herself — a determined, headstrong, idealistic young woman fighting for what she thought was right, and determined to do anything in pursuit of what she believed in. In Kuvira, Korra saw what she, with the enormous power she wields, could become if she lost sight of what it is to be an Avatar. To this end, Korra ultimately saved Kuvira’s life rather than allowed her to be decimated by the spirit cannon. Korra could have ended the threat of Kuvira by allowing her to be killed without herself being responsible for Kuvira’s death, but Korra chose to preserve Kuvira’s life, and “finished” Kuvira by showing her that she was wrong. While Korra’s character development in this way is an effective plot point, it was not all that well conveyed — it might have been better executed, for example, if Korra were to have flirted with means of defeating Kuvira earlier in the season that were not totally morally blameless, only to have come to the realisation (perhaps in a very distressing way) that she was wrong to confront Kuvira in such a way.

In relation to this, I was, at first, slightly disappointed that the “showdown” between Korra and Kuvira did not involve a more momentous battle between the two. In fact, it was more due to Mako than Korra that Kuvira was defeated — it was Mako who risked his own life to destroy Kuvira’s superweapon, after which Kuvira was, for all intents and purposes, defeated. However, I came to realise that Kuvira was not an adversary Korra should have defeated by brute force. To be sure, Korra could have easily defeated Kuvira by resort to force, after she had recovered and faced down her own internal demons, but to what end? Think of it as the opposite to Aang’s face-off with Ozai — Aang abhorred violence and especially killing, so fighting, and needing to kill, a supremely powerful enemy who cannot be reasoned with represented the greatest challenge for his character; in contrast, Korra, who often resorts to brute force to deal with problems, would be equally challenged by an enemy who could (or rather should) not be defeated by force alone. I think that if Korra were to have overcome Kuvira in an epic Sozin’s Comet style showdown, notwithstanding the awesomeness of the battle scene and special effects, the conclusion would have felt somewhat unsatisfying. Kuvira would have been either killed, leaving Korra distressed and morally broken, or if defeated and imprisoned, then bitter and unrepentant, vying to avenge herself on Korra. Korra had to finish Kuvira the way she did — by showing Kuvira that she was wrong — for her sake and Kuvira’s.

Alternatively, another way Korra could have “finished” Kuvira in a satisfying way while including a more substantial fight scene might have been for Korra to have died in the process of defending the people of the Republic City from Kuvira’s spirit cannon, a sacrifice of sorts in which Korra gave her own life to save others from Kuvira. Kuvira, whether ultimately defeated or not by Korra’s act of sacrifice, would at least have been so moved by Korra’s selflessness that she realised in horror the error of her ways (cue shots of Kuvira looking on in distress at the anguished faces of people lamenting Korra’s death), thus bringing about the same result as if Korra had personally shown Kuvira that she was wrong. Such a conclusion might have brought about that sense of closure to Korra’s story that I mentioned I felt was lacking in this finale: the death of the Avatar and regeneration of the Avatar cycle would be the greatest closure of all, would it not?

Finally, there was that ending. The Korrasami shippers are rejoicing in their “victory”, although, to be honest, I think the Korrasarmy are overreacting to insist that the final scene represented a confirmation of Korrasami. The ending was almost certainly intended to allude to Korrasami, but, at the same, time, it was certainly intended to be ambiguous and capable of being interpreted different ways. If Bryke had wanted to conclusively confirm Korrasami, Korra and Asami would have kissed. What actually happened was that they decided to go on a holiday together, holding hands as they entered the spirit world while looking at each other in a way that could be construed as romantic. There is not necessarily anything sexual about this — girls and young women often tend to have these intimate, loving, quasi-romantic friendships with each other that can seem like romantic love at times, but are nevertheless wholly platonic. Boys and men do not have these friendships, which is why, when I see two young women holding hands and staring affectionately at each other, I do not necessarily see anything more than platonic love between them, but if I were to see two boys or men doing the same, I would almost certainly assume they were gay. My point is not to argue that Korrasami is out of the question, merely that it is a slight overreaction on the part of Korrasami shippers to insist that the final scene establishes Korrasami conclusively and beyond dispute. It does not; it can very easily be interpreted both ways, and it is quite obvious that Bryke intended it to be so.

Would I mind if Korrasami were to be confirmed? Not particularly. I merely think that, if the final scene does, canonically, represent the beginning of a Korra-Asami romantic relationship, it would feel like a clumsily-shoehorned piece of parting fanservice gimmickry, as there was next to zero foreshadowing of any mutual romantic feelings between Korra and Asami throughout the series — it seemed to come out of almost nowhere in the last three minutes of the episode. If Korrasami really is to be A Thing, I would have been much happier if their relationship had actually received some attention and development, as Aang’s and Katara’s did, so that their eventual getting together felt like a gratifying culmination rather than a fanservice gimmick. Ho hum.

[EDIT: I wrote this post before Bryke confirmed extra-curially that the final scene was indeed supposed to be romantic, and that Korra and Asami are indeed in a relationship. I preserve my premature pontifications here for posterity/because I can’t be bothered to rewrite.]

As for the fate of the Earth Nation — i.e. Prince Wu’s decision to renounce his claim to the throne of the Earth Kingdom and allow the Earth Nation to break up into small self-governing states — I suppose this is a satisfying resolution to that particular conundrum, but, if I might be so bold, I think it rather shows the writers’ distinctly American prejudices, as well as in their portrayal of Wu in general. The “return of the king” is a very powerful and romantic motif in the folklore and literature of cultures with a strong monarchical tradition, its greatest exemplar being The Lord of the Rings, and the coronation of Good King Wu, finally ready to assume his throne, would have felt the perfect resolution for the beleaguered Earth Nation. However, the actual resolution was satisfying in its own way — the Earth Nation has undoubtedly grown weary of “great uniters” and abusive absolute monarchs alike, and letting the Earth peoples go each their own way seems an eminently fair and sensible course of action. Bryke were at least good enough to resist the temptation to take the “no more kings!” route and simply turn the Earth Kingdom/Empire into an Earth Republic, and even transformed Wu from an indulged, privileged princeling patently unfit for rule into quality king material (albeit an eccentric and immature king).

In general, I quite enjoyed this finale, apart from the small criticisms I’ve already mentioned, and especially the lack of sufficient closure to the Korra franchise. The episode(s) was satisfactory enough, however, for me to give it a respectable 8/10. Give yourselves a well-deserved pat on the back, Bryke.