This review contains spoilers.
1.1 Welcome to Republic City & 1.2 A Leaf in the Wind
“I’m the Avatar! You gotta deal with it!”
With those words, Avatar Korra announces her arrival. It’s an excellent introduction to the character, but it’s also a statement to the audience: Korra is the Avatar now, and we have to accept that. As Katara states later on in the episode, the time of Aang and his friends has passed. It’s time for a new generation to take over. And so though we get a handful of updates on what the original series characters have been up to since we last saw them (Aang and Katara had three children, Toph had a daughter, and Sokka has died), we’re quickly thrust into this brave, new world with a boatload of new characters to meet.
Most important is Tenzin, Aang and Katara’s son and the world’s only airbending master. Aang’s son lacks his childish sense of fun and is much more of a no-nonsense teacher. He quickly lays out strict rules and becomes frustrated with Korra when she fails to grasp the more spiritual side of bending. Korra is just as frustrated with him, though, as her hotheadedness and short temper are at odds with the mindset one must have in order to airbend. Just as Aang had trouble with the stubborn, confrontational stance required for earthbending, Korra has difficulty adapting and listening to the world around her, which puts the two at instant odds.
When Korra ventures away from Air Temple Island in order to watch a pro-bending match (a sport so complicated that it makes Quidditch look relatively simple and sensical) she meets brothers Mako and Bolin who make up two thirds of the rookie team The Fire Ferrets. Bolin, an earthbender, brings to mind memories of Sokka, particularly in the scene right after their first match when he and his brother discover that Korra is the Avatar. Mako, on the other hand, brings to mind early memories of Zuko, but unfortunately feels a bit more one-dimensional than Zuko ever did. That said, the original’s greatest strength was always its character development, and so I’m eager to see how they develop Mako out of the “brooding guy” persona.
Finally, there is Lin Bei Fong, the head of law enforcement in Republic City. When Korra is arrested for destruction of property while trying to stop a group of ruffians from escaping, Lin comes down on her hard. Lin is completely different than her mother, and her dynamic with both Korra as well as Tenzin is fascinating.
The brilliant thing about this show in these first two episodes is that every interaction has multiple layers: when Katara encourages Korra to set out on her own, it’s never far from the viewer’s mind that Korra is the reincarnation of Katara’s husband. Similarly, when we see Tenzin try to teach Korra how to airbend, it’s impossible not to think about the fact that this is the reincarnation of his father. And when Tenzin arrives to retrieve Korra from Lin at law enforcement headquarters, one must remember that these two people grew up together. Their parents were friends. Tenzin and Lin have known each other their entire lives. So why the animosity? We don’t find out in this episode, but hopefully this will be explored further in future episodes, because the history all of these people have with each other and with Korra’s previous incarnation makes for fascinating dynamics.
But perhaps most importantly of all is Amon, a mysterious figure who seems to have dark designs on Korra and indeed all benders. While walking through the park, Korra encounters a man rallying others to the cause of the Equalists, a group that believes benders oppress non-benders. It’s an interesting idea because we’re supposed to immediately side with Korra – bending is the coolest thing in the world, and can do so much good. Additionally, it’s not as though we’ve never seen non-benders be just as competent at fighting as benders are: Sokka, Suki, Mei, and Ty Lee all come to mind as extremely competent fighters who were not capable of bending.
But being able to bend is a privilege. In this world, it’s the equivalent of being born with a silver spoon in your mouth. There will always be things that come easier to you than they do to your non-bending peers. And is that right? Is that fair?
It’s a question we explore in our own world, and given how well the original show handled complicated topics, I have to believe that it will be explored thoroughly and handled with aplomb in this new series.
It’s been way too long since there was an Avatar in my life, and though Korra’s premiere isn’t as good as, say, season two of the original series was, it’s off to a great start. I can’t wait for more Korra in my life. Can you?