First Look: The Legend of Korra: Book Three: Change

After watching the first two seasons of The Legend of Korra, I had trouble with how the story of a new Avatar was progressing. I didn’t feel the joy or the character arcs that I got out of watching Avatar the Last Airbender.

Fortunately, with the first three episodes of Book Three: Change, I think the show is finally getting to where it’s always needed to be.

Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon
Copyright © 2014 by Nickelodeon

Episode One: “A Breath of Fresh Air”

Weeks after Harmonic Convergence, Korra struggles to find a balance between the spirit world and the human world. However, reports of airbenders reemerging gives her an idea: to help Tenzin travel the world and rebuild the Air Nomad culture that the Fire Nation drove to extinction. However, recruiting these new benders prove difficult and a new threat looms in the form of dangerous criminals led by an airbender named Zaheer.

While I feel like the spirit world angle gets dropped fairly quickly, the concept of airbenders returning does provide some excellent visual comedy and a great focus for Korra’s spiritual journey. It’s also telling that this episode finally sees a real friendship form between her and Asami, who bury the hatchet over the whole love triangle with poor Mako and start to build one of those rare female partnerships.

My only complaint—so far—has to do with the villains. While the idea of an evil airbender like Zaheer has potential, his voice actor (the great Henry Rollins) seems stuck delivering only pure exposition, even in his threats to his former prison guards. His companions have far more personality and sinister appeal between them. However, this could still be remedied as the season continues.

Episode Two: “Rebirth of a Nation”

Korra, Tenzin, and the others travel the Earth Kingdom, trying and failing to recruit airbenders everywhere they go. Things seem to look up when they recruit a young airbender named Kai, only to learn that he’s a skilled thief and consummate liar. Meanwhile, the old Fire Lord Zuko learns of the escaped benders led by Zaheer and leaves to make arrangements to protect the young Avatar from the threat they pose.

You might think that trying to rebuild an ancient culture of airbenders would be poignant and dramatic. As it turns out, Tenzin’s eager sales pitch about being a monk with tattoos and a flying bison for a friend are pretty hilarious (thanks in no small part to J.K. Simmons’s delivery). We also get more antics from Bumi, who is great when paired with the equally funny Bolin; it’s like hearing Sokka and Toph again.

Seeing Zuko return was a delight, especially considering the fact that his older self resembles his beloved uncle Iroh. I look forward to seeing how he can contribute to the plot. However, when it comes to the newcomer Kai, I’m a bit skeptical. Sure, he’s streetwise, talented, and a possible love interest for Jinora, but I could see him becoming annoying fast. He’s got “kid appeal character” written all over him. However, if this show has proven anything, it’s that everyone’s actions have consequences, even the Avatar’s (and come to think of it, especially the Avatar’s).

Episode Three: “The Earth Queen”

Arriving in Ba Sing Se, Korra meets the Earth Queen, who proves demanding and ungrateful, even when asking for Korra’s help in retrieving tax money from local bandits. Meanwhile, Mako and Bolin come across their father’s relatives in the slums, learning more about their heritage and the return of the Dai Li, who have press-ganged the city’s airbenders into the Queen’s secret army.

While I liked Ba Sing Se both in the original cartoon and in this series, I admit that I’m a little skeptical that we’re getting the same Dai Li plot recycled. The only difference seems to be that the Earth Queen is complicit in their underhanded actions instead of being kept in the dark. Fortunately, this means we get to see Korra show a little more foresight when it comes to dealing with the Earth Queen’s tactics, not to mention a fantastic fight scene between her and Asami as they take down a gang of motorcycle-riding bandits.

Now that we’re past the “stupid cops” subplot from last season, Mako and Bolin finally get a better storyline with their family reunion. It’s touching to see them introduced to their grandmother and dozens of cousins, but it’s also effective as a storytelling tool. Through the family, we get a local’s perspective on the problems in the Earth Kingdom and a contrast to the easier life that Mako and Bolin enjoyed in Republic City (even though they both grew up on the street as orphans, which is really saying something).

Ultimately, what’s been good about this season so far is that we’re finally overcoming some of the old hurdles, like a coherent plot and the constant love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami. We’re getting to see more of the world outside of Republic City and get a deeper focus on Korra’s mission as the Avatar. It’s appropriate that this season is entitled “Change” because it’s a bold step forward for both Korra’s world and for the show itself. It’s very telling that I feel much more optimistic and excited about how this season will develop than I did the last one.

The Legend of Korra is available for viewing on Nickelodeon. New episodes air on Fridays.

Bibliography: The Legend of Korra Book Three: Change. Created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Ki Hyun Ryu, Colin Heck, and Ian Graham. Written by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Tim Hedrick, and Joshua Hamilton. Produced by Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Joaquim Dos Santos, and Tim Yoon. Ginormous Madman, Studio Mir, Nickelodeon Animation Studio, and Studio Pierrot. Nickelodeon (channel). Original broadcast date: April 14, 2012 to present.

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