Spoiler warning level : 3/5. Some spoilers up to episode 22 / S02EP10.
Before people break out the pitchforks, let me start by saying that, while not as good as The Last Airbender, I still enjoy Legend of Korra. I think it’s a fun show and I like a lot of aspects of the series, including its slightly more mature edge.
That said, LoK has yet to really hit the sweet spot that A:TLA did for me. The series is fun, the characters are entertaining (though less dimensional than their predecessors), and still carries with it the sort of whimsy and adventure that we loved about A:TLA.
Why Korra is a less than stellar lead character
One of the main issues I have with LoK is Korra herself. By design, she is shaped to be in a lot of ways the antithesis of Aang, but that has somewhat resulted in a problematic character. She has quite the shoes to fill, and we’ve been left breadcrumbs over the series that give us an idea of why she is the way she is. Yes, we get it, being the Avatar is stressful and sucks. It’s a blessing and a curse – this is something that’s been emphasized from the early days of A:TLA. And yes, Korra was pretty much locked up in a complex in relative isolation. That doesn’t seem to be an excuse for her lack of development, however, since her story started.
Even for a hot-headed 17-year-old, it feels like Korra has completely failed at growing as a person and it’s a bit grating to watch. There was SO MUCH emphasis put on the need for her to connect to herself spiritually to truly understand and use her power as the Avatar to its proper and full extent. But none of that happened. She essentially unlocked both airbending and energy-bending without having ever really getting the spiritual side down.
The Avatarverse has certainly evolved and changed, and that was lampshaded by the fact that Korra’s mastery of bending was aided largely by her involvement in pro-bending, a style which deviates largely from its more spiritually rooted beginnings. But being the Avatar is a deeply spiritual role, and despite the changes in the world around her, disconnecting to that past is a dangerous road to follow. Why she keeps getting away with this up until very recently, I might just not understand.
A commenter on a (somewhat drab) Korra-bashing post on Fanpop had a much more insightful answer to the question of Korra’s issues:
She’s unlikable because she… has no concept of the qualities of heroism. She has sacrificed nothing, has taken as she pleased, has shown no maturity or growth and disrespects everyone.
Paraphrased as I don’t agree with the original commenter’s blame of feminism for this attitude.
Funnily enough, just as in my reviews for some of the summer films I’ve watched, I’m seeing this continued trend of titles being carried more by their entourage and supporting characters than their leads. Which is unfortunate here, because one of the major breakthroughs of Korra was having a woman of color as the lead. Yet I am much more interested in Tenzin’s family – Jinora especially. And despite being an antagonist, Amon proved to be more deeply layered and complex than our own hero. Even the affectionately named “Legend of Wan” gave us a more concrete, fleshed out character in 2 episodes than LoK has managed to do with Korra in 22.
It’s so disappointing for me that she’s yet to really prove herself as someone worthy of respect, or at least being taken seriously. 10 episodes into season 2 and Korra is still as stubborn and impulsive as ever. Her need to rebel lends to being easily manipulated by Unalaq. The way she acted in her relationship with Mako actually makes his decision to break up with her reasonable (which is saying something, because Mako is easily the lamest character of the lot). She goes into the spirit world and antagonizes the citizens there almost immediately, setting off a chain of events that arguably lead to Jinora’s capture. This is after she’s connected with Wan and learned the importance of keeping peace with spirits – something that the first avatar and her most recent incarnation (Aang) both knew well but she seems to ignore completely still.
A tumblr user had a good sum up of their feelings about Korra as more a problem with inconsistency rather than bad development:
Speaking of Korra, her character is all over the place. Very driven and badass when she needs to be, totally incompetent and out of her depth when the plot demands it, with motivations for doing things that can only be described as “that’s what was next in the script.”
I don’t think she’s terrible, but there’s a distinct lack of evolution that puts her far behind even minor characters of A:TLA and her own crew. Edit: after some banter on twitter on this topic, I do want to clear up my point a bit better.
It’s not that her initial impulsiveness is a problem – I think it’s perfectly fine that she’s a 17 year old who acts like a 17 year old. My problem is distinctly on her lack of growth, in that her stubbornness seems to extend even to her very serious experiences in season 01 (like the theorized suicide ideation). She was handed her bending back without much consequence under the premise that she might learn something from all this – but then season 2 happens and she hasn’t, at all.
It feels like “ New Spiritual Age” might finally hint at a much-needed growth on her part. It’s easily the best episode (perhaps tied or second to Beginings 1 & 2, actually) so far, but the series is quickly coming to a close.
I’ve got some hope that she will change for the better – the whole point of this season is spirituality and with four episodes left (two double-featured nights, total), we still have some decent time to see her grow. I think this tale with Jinora will hopefully (finally) get her to take herself seriously so the rest of us can.
To the readers: What are your thoughts on Korra? Am I being too harsh? How do you think she might flesh out from now until the finale?