At the start of The Legend of Korra: Book Three premiere, it’s been weeks since Harmonic Convergence, and the spirit vines that infested Republic City haven’t gone anywhere despite Korra’s best efforts. With her approval ratings already down and President Raiko throwing her under the bus when it comes to the press, she needs a win and needs it fast. A snotty remark from a recent spirit world expat gives Korra the idea to use the spiritbending technique she learned from Unalaq to tame the vines, but it only backfires, strangling the building in question and spreading to the one across the street. Korra evacuates the residents in the nick of time, but the entire incident does nothing to help her public image.
Meanwhile, Bumi goes out on a limb. Literally. In the process of chasing after Bum-Ju, who clearly does not care for his new sweater, Bumi falls over the edge of a cliff. Seriously. How this guy has lived this long is a goddamn mystery to me. Bumi’s about five feet away from becoming some stuff on a rock when he breaks his own fall with some last-second airbending. He runs to share the good news with the rest of the family, but they have their doubts since he is unable to replicate his new ability until Meelo tosses a dish at his head. That kid needs so much Ritalin. Like…SO MUCH.
According to Beifong, Bumi isn’t the only new airbender. While responding to a domestic disturbance call, Mako got his ass accidentally kicked by a guy with no clue how to control his new powers. He tries to stay away from everyone and ends up at the top of Kyoshi Bridge, even Beifong’s metalbending police are unable to get near him. But Korra can and she convinces him to meet Tenzin, so he can learn how to master airbending. President Raiko uses this incident as the perfect opportunity to exile Korra from Republic City, but she doesn’t mind. She’s found a new purpose: to help Tenzin rebuild the Air Nation.
Everything points toward a happy note until we are reminded that spirituality is a neutral force, not a moral one, and bending is a spiritual connection. In one final scene of a remote White Lotus prison in the mountains, a scraggly yet surprisingly well read inmate named Zaheer (Voiced by Henry Rollins! Fuck yeah!) escapes his cell in an impressive display of airbending, especially for a novice. He praises a new age that will spell the end of the White Lotus and the Avatar.
Just… just… yes. YES. This premiere was amazing. It was a solid, self-contained story that opened up new possibilities for this season. It brought us up to speed on the characters we know and love, teased some new dynamics, and it appears that their character development has stuck!
Korra is still Korra, hotheaded and defensive, but you can see in her behavior that she’s gotten better at stopping to think before she speaks and acts. She’s learned to be diplomatic to a degree. She gives much more thought to her role as the Avatar and seems to genuinely be trying to own up to her responsibilities, rather than just taking her frustrations out on the nearest butt-monkey. She still has a boiling point, but she’s more patient and introspective than she was before, actually seeking out Tenzin’s counsel and really listening to his insights. Not to mention that the Korra of Book One would have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and never have used spiritbending as the solution to a problem, making a knee-jerk association with the villain she learned it from. This Korra, however, can distinguish between an evil thing and a neutral thing used toward an evil end, and so even though she has not forgotten than Unalaq was a madman, she knows that the skills he taught her could still be used for good.
Korra is also more mature in her approach to her relationships. Her friendship with Asami means a lot to her, and Asami’s admission that she kissed Mako while Korra was missing doesn’t seem to faze her. Given the events of Book One, Korra sees the big picture and figures they should just call it even, and put it behind them. They even bond over how insufferably broody Mako is. It is an incredibly mature friendship and one that is very refreshing to watch. I really like the pairing of these two characters and sincerely hope this friendship is explored further.
I’ll also say it here and now: I want Korra and Mako to be done. Done, done, done. In keeping with the more mature tone of this series, it would be refreshing if the teenage protagonist didn’t end up with her first love a la every character in Avatar. Korra’s parting with Mako was bittersweet, but it felt right and not even all that sad. Even they knew it was the way things had to be, and they broke it off before they ended up hating each other so that maybe they could stay in each other’s lives. Holy crap. Amazing. So, let theirs be that special first love they’ll reminisce about twenty years from now when they’re out having lunch on a double-date with their spouses. Let this go and open Korra up to a new character, someone who could really change the game for her. Asami as well. Mako fucked her over twice. Please, please tell me that ship has sailed. Please. I beg of you. No more.
As for Mako himself, his reaction to last season’s events makes sense. With his and Bolin’s apartment overtaken by vines (Bolin is once again crashing on Air Temple Island and loving it!), Mako has taken to sleeping at the Police Station to avoid being near Korra, because he just can’t deal with the uncomfortable vibe… uncomfortable for him, anyway. Korra acknowledges the weirdness, but is willing to power through it so they can maintain some kind of friendship. Mako doesn’t disagree, but can’t bring himself to comply.
Not every character got the spotlight, but even those who didn’t had their moments. A scene is given to Tenzin and his kids where they discuss as a family what it will mean for there to be new airbenders in the world, and between the kids’ adorable questions, Tenzin’s incredible parenting, and his glistening eyes at the bittersweetness of his father not living to see his dream of a restored Air Nation, I had to wipe my eyes. I’m not too proud to admit it! Beifong didn’t have a lot of screentime in this episode, but every second of it portrayed the Lin Beifong we met in Book One, not the Skrull that took her place in Book Two. Even Jinora’s affinity for the spirits carried over. What was her own little secret last season has now become an integral aspect of her identity and her character.
All in all, this was a fantastic premiere, stronger by far than the premiere of Book Two. What stands out the most is how incredibly balanced it was. It had a good story that was paced well, all the plotlines wove together seamlessly, every character was used well, there was emotion, there was humor, and there was even a seriously kick-ass fight scene at the end with Zaheer and the White Lotus sentries.
Ah, yes… Zaheer. I would be remiss in my duties by failing to mention that in the short bit we saw of Zaheer, he establishes himself as a very different kind of villain. He’s spent most of his life as a non-bender, obviously having committed crimes severe enough to have him placed in solitary — in the fucking mountains — without the use of any bending. He’s had airbending abilities for maybe a few weeks tops and already seems to have mastered the basics as well as a few intermediate level tricks. He’s well read and philosophically inclined, clearly not an interest he developed in prison, because there were no books in that cell, which means he was like that already.
Most interestingly though, the first thing Zaheer vows upon his escape, even before his intention to end the Avatar, is that he wants to end the Order of the White Lotus. That’s a grudge we’ve never heard of from any other character before, and I am deeply eager to learn the root of Zaheer’s distaste for them. Hopefully it runs deeper than the fact that they were the ones guarding his cell. But you know what? I’m feeling hopeful.
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