I have fond memories of lazy schoolkid afternoons when I’d sprawl across a long blue futon and watch cartoons until mid-evening. I tried everything, from PBS’s educational adventure-cartoons to Cartoon Network’s anime specials, eager for anything spontaneous and unpredictable.
Of course one of these formative shows was Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. With its charming cast and clever world building, every episode expanded the borders of my imagination and anticipation.
Happily, when Avatar appeared on Netflix a few years back, I was able to rediscover the Gaang’s enduring quality. What other show was as quick to take risks as Avatar? When network comrades Spongebob and Timmy Turner preferred hyperactive gag-humor, Avatar upheld a powerful, long-term narrative, a diverse cast and a story that respectfully derived influence from a variety of world cultures — feats some live action sagas are incapable of emulating.
When its sequel-series Legend of Korra premiered in 2012, I wondered if the series would match the excellence of its predecessor. I admit, I was disappointed with its initial seasons. An unnecessary love triangle and lost plot potential pervaded the first season, while the second season carried on in much the same way despite interesting tie-ins to the canon’s spiritual realm.
Comparatively, Korra’s third season showed miles of improvement. Wisely abandoning its romantic focus, Korra concentrated on new settings, as well as intriguing Airbender and Beifong family subplots. Although I maintained minor concerns, the show’s bittersweet finale reinforced a concise theme, as Korra must grapple with being the Avatar in a world that may not want her.
This would establish the tone of Korra’s last season, which premiered on Nickelodeon’s website this past week (Korra no longer airs on television, a witless decision on Nickelodeon’s part, but that’s another Scene). The season’s second episode, “Korra Alone” depicted an emotional portrayal of Korra’s path towards physical and emotional healing after her battle with Zaheer. The episode showed more maturity and frustration in Korra than I’ve ever seen — understandable, as Korra’s disability directly contradicts her defining physical strength. Moreover, Korra’s friends are beginning to grow without her; an excellent decision on the part of the writers, who can now turn their attention to Mako, Bolin and Asami’s development independent of Korra, and vice versa.
Korra spends the rest of the episode journeying through familiar destinations, detached from her role, unable to relate with anyone. For the first time I felt that Korra was confronting a low on par with Aang’s loneliness as the last airbender, which made dearly missed Avatar favorite Toph’s reappearance all the more meaningful. Toph will surely give Korra the tough-love she needs to feel confident in the best environment possible — the place where Aang and Toph first met. The subtle callback has me thrilled for Toph and Korra’s swamp-filled training sessions and all their future adventures, just as I was excited years ago.