Korra is probably the most scrutinized character in The Legend of Korra (apart from the fan-favorite Mako) and it’s expected since she’s the main protagonist. As a successor to Aang legacy in both the Avatar universe and the fandom itself there’s a lot of things expected of her. Thus, her characterization and decisions in these past two seasons spurned a variety of reactions from the audience, both positive and negative.
Judging from fan reactions, Korra received the most intense hate at the beginning of Book 2 due to the way she treated her father, her mentor Tenzin and Mako and because of the way she reacted in the events that unfolded. Surprisingly, that was the period I fell in love with her character.
It’s a general consensus that Korra developed in the latter half of Book 2 but I feel that her characterization prior to that received disproportionate criticism instead of recognition and credit. In this analysis, I’ll discuss why Korra is a complex and complicated character with multiple layers. My analysis do not aim to explain all of Korra’s actions not excuse her mistakes, but rather to provide insight on the depth of her character. For an essay defending her character, check this one.
some fans think jinora's role was a deus ex machina but what did you consider her role as in book 2
I don’t like to see it this way, as deus ex machina. Jinora was an empowered and influential agent throughout Book Two: Spirits. She alone had Spiritual affinity enough to guide the Avatar into the Spirit World. It made so much sense to me that during the greatest Spiritual and celestial occurrence of ten millennia all the most powerful Spiritual beings alive would take action. Unalaq and Korra waged war of the essential Spirits of Dark and Light. Jinora, gifted as she was, intervened as a consummate Spiritual agent on behalf of her dear friend and ally.
Deus ex machina, meaning “god from the machine” essentially, has to do with a new character, plot device, force, ability, etc. suddenly appearing to solve the primary conflict at hand. Was Jinora’s manifestation of Spiritual power never-before-seen in this instance? Yes! Was it unprecedented? No. Jinora’s Spirit powers are prefigured from the second episode when she detects some spirits at play in the Hall of Statues and later when she witnesses Wan’s Avatar statue communicate to her when Korra unlocked the Souther Portal during the Winter Solstice. They are furthered in episode 209, “The Guide” when her regular communication with Light Spirits is unveiled, and in episode 210 “A New Spiritual Age,” despite Korra’s disruption of the energy there, Jinora is able to freely navigate the Spirit World by means of this communication and by dint of her own Spiritual powers.
Unlike the Lion Turtle in the finale of ATLA (I have an essay analysis of that posted here), Jinora’s capacity for Spiritual intervention seems to be well-prefigured in episodes prior to her intervention. (I personally think they could have done a bit more to explain or ground it, say we see Jinora one more time in the Spirit World convening with the Light Spirits and perhaps seeking advice from Iroh before she manifests as the restoration of Raava in the Material World.)
Thus said, Jinora’s act cannot be true deus ex machina. Does it seem to be? Yes, of course it does. Nonetheless, I like to conceive of her act as one of clear character agency and not as one of writers’ contrivance.
If you’re looking for an explanation of exactly what Jinora accomplished during the finale, one that has been essentially corroborated by the Creators’ DVD commentary, look no further! Check this post of mine out!
I’d also like to laud the writers for refusing to abandon this vein of character development for Jinora! They have averred that Jinora’s astral projection during the Harmonic Convergence is, in essence, the advanced Airbending technique of “entering the void” and “projecting the Spirit.”
While I was writing reviews for the last four chapters of this beautiful series I found myself defending several plot points that many Avatar fans have correctly labeled as deus ex machina, a rather prosaic plot device in which some entity swoops in to solve the unsolvable conflict.
I know what you’re probably thinking already: this guy…
I want to argue - please note I am not opposed to the labeling of this plot point as a deus ex machina - the appropriateness of the Lion Turtle’s Intervention by addressing Aang’s extraordinary experience as the Avatar.
I think it prudent to declare myself now: I believe the inclusion of the Lion Turtle, the reactivation of the Avatar State, and Aang’s rediscovery of energybending in the finale to be far less contrived than the average fan, because of something I am generally loath to believe when it comes to reality, something that happens to be integral to this beloved series: destiny.
The idea of destiny is constantly harped upon in Avatar: The Last Airbender, as Prince Zuko struggles to find his path in life, as Iroh discovers his portended purpose to free Ba Sing Se in the finale, and as Aang rises to the challenge of defeating the Firelord and saving the world. Destiny is a quaint idea, to say the least, and an easily understood one at that. Whether we realize it or not, we are all guilty of assigning some greater meaning to occurrences that are more likely than not simply generated by the randomness of our chaotic universe. The beauty of fiction is that writers can assign such purpose or meaning, and univocally, this happens throughout the entire series of Avatar.
My theory of Aang’s destiny requires acknowledgement of the peculiarities of Aang’s life as the Avatar. As everyone knows, he was trapped for an entire century in the Avatar State, which preserved his body by pumping pure spiritual energy through him. This, in conjunction with his already heightened spirituality - as an Airbending Monk he is spiritually predisposed to serenity - makes Aang intimately tied to his past lives. After all, the combined power and knowledge of all his past lives coursed through him for 100 years! I am inclined to believe this is incredibly unique for an Avatar.
In light of this anomaly, Aang has quite the few Spirit World encounters in the single year of his travels during which we follow him as a viewing audience. He actually befriends a Spirit, merges with another in a terrifying display of power, and journeys through the Spirit World itself on two separate occasions. He enters the physical realm of the Spirit World for the first time within a month or two of his awakening and discovers his higher purpose: to stop the Firelord before the comet arrives. Now the timing of this seems too good to be true, improbable. He is lost for an entire century and is awakened, quite conveniently, the year of the Comet’s return, and this doesn’t seem at least somewhat planned or predestined? On the contrary, I believe Aang’s reawakening was directly influenced by the Spirits, or whatever higher power governs the Avatar world, and that a large part of his journey was Spiritually scripted.
For example, Admiral Zhao attacks the Northern Water Tribe with knowledge of the Moon and Ocean Spirits mortal forms, has been planning to do so for quite some time, and has known of their existence for even longer due to information he stole from the Spirit Library. This then could explain why Koh knows of the danger they are in during the Siege of The North. Either that, or Koh is privy to some grand design of the universe, or is responsible for the chain of events. Regardless, the Avatar’s reawakening in time for this assault on the Northern Water Tribe, and his arrival there beforehand, moreover, seems almost as predestined as the safety net the Moon Spirit created for itself in Yue. Combined, Yue’s sacrifice to restore the Moon Spirit and Aang’s spiritual intervention in acting as avatar to the Ocean Spirit to oust the Fire Nation proved to be the perfect opposition to Zhao’s threat.
That is merely one example of Aang’s connection to the Spirit World and the oddly coincidental, or rather, predestined nature of his journey. Aang’s connection to Roku and his fluency in all things spiritual made his mastery of the Avatar State almost laughably easy, and he succeeded in the end of Crossroads despite the fact that Azula shot him. He was there, in the Avatar State, having reached it by simply meditating.
Next, while he was unconscious for several weeks, recuperating, Aang traveled through the Spirit World and individually reforged his connection with the previous four incarnations of the Avatar Spirit, further tethering him to the Spirit World and providing him with another opportunity to directly traverse the alternate plane.
Now, with all this backstory in place, I find it hard to believe that some fans cannot see the influence of the Spirits, or the powers of the Avatar universe, having a hand in the plot of the finale. The Lion Turtle is, as far as we know, as old as the world itself and a manipulator of spiritual energy. His arrival on the eve of the Comet screams kismet to me, as if he would have come for Aang no matter what by some higher decree. The Universe simply would not tolerate the abuse of the great power it bestows upon its children of Fire twice in a row, and so it sets in motion a plan to use the Avatar, frozen in ice and hardwired directly to the realm of the Spirits through the Avatar State, by awakening him and guiding him through the trials and tribulations that face him in the war-torn world.
One of the clearest examples of the Spirit World monitoring Aang’s actions and nudging him back on path is in The Awakening when Aang runs away and nearly expires in his attempts to escape a storm. Unprompted, the Spirit of Roku appears to Aang and inspires him to keep calm and carry on. Not only Roku, but the Moon Spirit herself, Yue, graces the Avatar with not only her presence, but also her physical assistance in augmenting his Waterbending and safely guiding him to The Crescent Island (a highly spiritual place, if you ask me). It’s as if Aang, cracking under the pressure and ashamed of his failure, is ready to give up here, but the Spirit World directly intervenes, picks him up, and puts him on his feet again. As if the Spirits are telling him, “Nope, sorry, we’ve got plans for you, little one.”
I see little difference between this and the intervention of the Lion Turtle. I think of Aang’s spirit as a power source or a beacon of energy. He is, as all Avatars are, a bridge between the Spirit and Physical Worlds, so it is understandable that the Lion Turtle, manipulator of this sort of energy, seeks him out in his time of need. Yes, this intervention is as if the higher power of the Avatar World directly reaches in and affects Aang, giving him the wisdom and power he needs to prevail, but how is this unprecedented? In light of all that I’ve pointed to, I figure this is just another example in a series of similar occurrences.
To address a final point many seem to have problems with: Aang’s reactivation of the Avatar State during his fight with Ozai. First off, I would like to begin by pointing out that whenever the human vessel of the Avatar Spirit encounters great stress, marked by a release of certain powerful hormones in the body (including epinephrine, aka adrenaline), the Avatar State is triggered as a defense mechanism. It is logical to presume that Aang’s epinephrine levels were high enough at the point just before he entered the Avatar State to have automatically triggered it, without any meditation. Secondly, while barraged by Ozai, curled up in his Earth Sphere, Aang enters a state of utmost concentration, likely attempting to invoke the defense mechanism himself. Thirdly, I believe that his encounter with the Lion Turtle, and the light that was given off when the creature touched both his head and chest, helped to free Aang’s chi, beginning the process of reforging his pathway and permitting him to enter the Avatar State once again.
All of this accumulates to allow for the mechanism to trigger the moment outside force is applied to the area of chi-blockage. That this happened the precise moment after Ozai broke through his defenses was, again, fated. I am suggesting, once again, Spiritual involvement through this confluence - the Lion Turtle’s part, in particular - as well as in the actual triggering. Also, Aang was in such dire need that it is quite possible the Spirits stepped in and actually dragged him into the Avatar State. The ensuing rampage and Aang’s Avatar State dialogue with Ozai (“Firelord Ozai! You and your forefathers have devastated the balance of this world, and now you shall pay the ultimate price”) suggests the absolute wrath of the Spirits. Ozai’s defeat was imperative.
This argument of mine has been forming for quite some time, in response to those who seem to ignore the subtleties of the series, and those who shit on the finale or Aang’s character for how he ends things. He ends things by exceeding all expectations, taking everything the Universe hands him and following through. He was ideal, embodying the peace he wished to establish in the world by quelling the wrath of the Spirits, proving his purity, and robbing the Firelord of his ability to further disrupt the balance of the Avatar World.
So I will say that we now know the Avatar State manifests for different Avatars quite differently. The stress-trigger might only have been the case for some Avatars, seeing as we know it was never the case for Korra.
Either way, I stand by nearly all of what I have said here. The Lion Turtle’s intervention in the finale of ATLA is decidedly deus ex machina! It’s an entirely new character with an entirely new ability ready to save the day. Nonetheless, this kind of intervention on behalf of Aang was never out of the ordinary.
Reposting for anyone looking to read up on my thoughts for the Avatar finale since I recently linked everyone to it in my most recent ask about Jinora’s intervention in the finale to Book Two: Spirits (which I didn’t find to be very much so deus ex machina)
Really quick, would you recommend watching LOK? I'm nervous to start it because i love ATLA and i've heard some not so great stuff about LOK. I've watched the first few episodes of book 1, and was not really impressed. Does it get better or am I just being snooty?
Well let’s get right down to it! I’m going to provide a brief list of why every Avatar fan should watch The Legend of Korra! Then I suppose I’ll give a brief (mostly) spoiler-free review of the three seasons as they stand.
Why you should watch The Legend of Korra:
The legacy - The Legend of Korra upholds the legacy of that inimitable series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The animation, the music, the choreography…these are all comparable to the original series if not better. Korra is more mature in many of these respects. The storytelling, while it may occasionally disappoint, flows in the same way as A:TLA. The same talented hands of bryankonietzko and michaeldantedimartino penned these tales and it shows.
The objective - Korra attempts to accomplish something quite similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender yet a cry more advanced. The show continues to be about finding inner strength despite weaknesses and conflicts! It sets women and men on equal grounds and really challenges viewers to put aside their cultural preconceptions. Note: this is the only action/adventure show out there with a female, let alone Woman of Color protagonist are you kidding me!?! TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!In my opinion, Korra dominates as a positive role model. She is easily the most focused upon and most developed character over the course of the series. Do you have to invest time and energy watching the show to finally see her shine? Yes! Is it worth it? Oh hell yes!
The entertainment - Irrespective of its predecessor and its sequel status, I find The Legend of Korra to be really entertaining. For the most part, the characters are still better written than half the shows out there. It gets really real, and really dark, and really dangerous. We have the hijinks of Avatar with a new twist of intensity from Korra. Sure, most fans complain of this deviation from the original series, but I find the psycho-thriller elements quite captivating.
The dynamism - The Legend of Korra carries viewers through a broad range of storytelling elements. While I’d say some of the dynamics of the show leave viewers with a fair share of chagrin or frustration, I will say that this is an undeniable asset to the show!
The story - A while back it occurred to me why the creators chose to write of the Avatar to follow Aang and not some past Avatar (though we’re treated to the impeccably executed Avatar origin story in Korra as well). This is the time of greatest change in the World of Avatar. As standalone as Aang was, Korra follows up to brave the new world forged by Avatar Aang and co. The parallels between the series, often in conflict with the outright, bold departures from the original series, make for quite the interesting tale. What more, this series conveys a real legend of modern miracles and unignorable drama.
Now, for a quick review of each Book in this series:
Book One: Air - Clearly well-conceived and carefully-plotted, this season establishes the new World of Avatar in Republic City, the symbolic and proxy Fourth Nation. We see Korra crash into obstacles as she enters the World as an active agent for the first time in her life! This season grounds the series as a tale counterpoised to Aang’s. While Aang’s tale told of a gifted Spiritual being, the Avatar, seeking insignificance as a regular old human who learns to properly assume his role as the Avatar, Korra’s tale regards an Avatar with Spiritual failings who seeks nothing else but success in her unique role. As Aang learns to assume responsibility as the Avatar, Korra learns to assume responsibility as a being entangled in complex interpersonal relationships, and as a being in the World. The finale of this season leaves you lacking, with a quite contrived explanation for the season’s main conflict and with a quick tie-up at the end, but I love it nonetheless. It’s beautifully animated, perfectly scored, and intoxicatingly dramatic.
Book Two: Spirits - This season has some of my favorite moments from The Legend of Korra, yet they are buried in the fold of confusing and disconcerted efforts in the writing. The Korra creative team expanded for this season, yet it seemed to have an adverse effect. Some episodes are poorly written - at many points, the dialogue grates on viewers’ ears as harsh, unlikely, unnatural. The plot meanders dangerously, like a drunken wander in the woods, stumbling headlong into pitfalls and, finally, rushing towards the forest edge. It feels so rushed, or maybe stunted. Some new characters delight, others disappoint as two-dimensional and unexplored. (They wouldn’t let the teen romance die till the end but thank Yangchen they finally did.) Nonetheless, the latter half of this season reassures viewers of a conclusive season arc. This is delivered. I adored the end of this season; it launches Korra to new, previously unimaginable heights.
Book Three: Change - Did any one of us fans think Korra would ever get this good? Book Three: Change has sailed through from the chaos of Book Two and emerged victorious. World building the likes of which we haven’t seen since A:TLA, breathtaking animation, and proper character writing emerge! New villains challenge an old order within the fictional world just as they challenge an established precedent within the show’s writing for not delivering on compelling backstory and explanation for these kinds of characters. The show has hit its stride. The writers seem to have taken to heart prior criticism, cured the malaise of their shoddy dialogue from Book Two, and really expanded their potential.
In essence, watch The Legend of Korra if only to reach the Avatar origin story, “Beginnings,” the conclusion of Book Two: Spirits (which was wondrous), and the entirety of Book Three: Change, which delivers on so many things fans always wanted to see!
why is everyone obsessed with Suyin being a villain!?!
Reasons she isn’t:
- That Zaheer look-alike from the circus…
Had way too thick eyebrows to be Zaheer! Just look!
They don’t have the same shape of face either! Or the same nose! Plus, the circus guy is much bigger and taller than Zaheer, who strikes me as all that tall. I don’t think they’re the same person!
- She may have progressive political views regarding the Earth Queen, but that doesn’t make her an anarchist! She runs her own city! Sure this makes her a leader and a matriarch and in a way a governor of the people, but I like to see Zaofu as a safe haven, an extended house that she owns — she literally bought the land and built the city — something similar to Elrond’s Rivendell!
- Suyin had nothing to do with the Red Lotus attack on her city, actively opposed the Red Lotus, and has grieved quite genuinely over the loss of her advisor.
- Ai Wei assured Zaheer that no one in Zaofu knew anything of his affiliations or machinations! There you have it, I have exculpated Suyin.
Believe what you want, but I think, though Su might have a complicated past and a bit of a darker, angrier side, she is Team Avatar through and through.
I have been thinking a lot since the unofficial introduction of Suyin (in the Spanish leaks…so happy to say I prefer her lines in English pheww)…
I see Suyin and Lin Beifong as obvious foils to each other, sure, but what more the two of them, from their personalities right down to their bending styles, mirror the two sides of Metal and, in a way, reflect the two sides of their mother, Toph.
Lin is stubborn, indignant, ruthless, intractable, cold, unyielding. She is Metal as it is refined for reinforcement and support, yet as she assumes these traits she too shoulders a massive mantle of weight.
Suyin is fluid, effusive, genial, affable, bright, understanding. She is Metal as it is refined for conduction and flexibility, and as she assumes these traits she gains the capacity for change.
These two parallel Toph’s two defining characteristics: independence and stubbornness. Suyin, quite lovably, recalls both Toph Beifong’s youthful rebellion as well as her current pursuit of enlightenment, Toph’s acceptance of the past. Suyin has flourished as a free, unfettered, buoyant, unbound. Nothing could stop her, Suyin, and she literally changed the world, just as Toph did.
Lin’s character has calcified in the middle-stage of Toph’s life, it would seem. She is martinet and rigid, upholder of law and righteousness. As ill-mannered as Toph was and as reinforced this was by her stubbornness, Lin is the same when it comes to her rectitude. Her capacity for emotional growth has completely stunted as a result.
Hey, I was wondering if you'd recommend watching LOK? I remember watching up to the beginning of the second season and just being extremely disappointed at the plot line and how the characters behaved. I don't know, it just seemed, childish compared to ATLA. I'm considering continuing with LOK but I'm not sure?
I will now pontificate on the boons of Book Two: Spirits.
While some of the writing, in terms of character development and (more importantly for me at least) dialogue, was quite unsatisfactory and shoddy, the dynamics of the season are compelling.
If you only watched halfway through Book Two you likely did not see the visually scintillating Origin Story episodes detailing how the Avatar came to be. Beginnings was worldbuilder’s gold. That storyline harkens back to Avatar in a way Korra never had before. If handled disappointingly in terms of its introduction and some of its dialogue, the tale of Avatar Wan was unforgettable.
Everything after the midseason masterpiece Beginnings is, well, really quite good, especially the challenging, symbolic, and masterfully paced four-part finale. Book Two: Spirits hooks with its opener eps, devolves into a confusing battle-less civil war paired with Roaring Twenties “movers” nonsense, then really shapes up after the main conflict is introduced. In my opinion this, the main conflict of Spiritual strife and celestial inevitability, should have been more of a focus. It comes together at the end; this, no one can deny.
In all, watch Book Two for these reasons or more importantly…
WATCH BOOK TWO TO GET TO BOOK THREE BECAUSE BOOK THREE: CHANGE IS AS GOOD AS AVATAR WAS NO LIE! I have seen six of the thirteen third-season eps and they are SO MUCH BETTER WRITTEN! The last of these eps, ep six, is actually my favorite ep of Korra and I sense it will ONLY CONTINUE TO IMPROVE!
Thank you so much for your question! I hope I have adequately persuaded you to press on through the three or four shitty eps of Book Two and towards the end of the season.