BY CHRISTOPHER HEIM
I feel bad for show creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. Not only has the sequel series to the widely acclaimed “Avatar: The Last Airbender” suffered from a downward spiral of viewership ever since season one, but they are cursed with a home network (Nickelodeon) that seems to want to nothing to do with it. Especially given season three’s absolute mind-boggling airing schedule. While the fourth and final season is inevitable, it’s still a shame that one of the most mature pieces of dramatic American animation went underneath most people’s radar because season three is “Korra”’s best yet.
“Korra” has always been an imperfect show. That’s not to say it’s bad—it’s actually an overall good show, but the first two seasons never matched the quality of “Avatar” on the whole. There are certainly great aspects to the show that I love. This includes the diverse cast, the on-point humor (classic Bolin), the intense creative action (Seeing people fight by bending elements rarely gets boring), the darker tone and a strong, relatable female protagonist. However, the short episode count of each season, the lack of intimate character exploration, awkward romance angles (Korra and Mako) and messy plot execution always held the show back from greatness.
Thankfully, season three proved to not only be a great improvement, especially over the wildly un-even season two, but showcases the show at its most focused, thematically-coherent, consistently enjoyable and emotionally powerful.
Taking place two weeks after Korra’s “Pacific Rim”-style battle with mega-Unalaq (Remember that black hole of blandness of a villain?), we are shown the effects of Korra’s decision at the end of season two when she chose to keep the spirit portals open. The physical and spirit world are no longer separated, but Harmonic Convergence also gave way to an unforeseen consequence: people are starting to acquire the power of airbending. As Korra and friends search the world for these new airbenders in an effort to revive the long-extinct Air Nation, four deadly criminals escape prison and attempt to kidnap the Avatar for reasons unknown. On top of that, we get to meet Lin Bei Fong’s sister Suyin Beifong and meaty character development ensues.
Those two words are key: character development! In season three, pretty much every character is detailed out a lot more than previous seasons. I especially loved watching Tenzin learn to be a teacher, seeing Bumi adapting to becoming an airbender, the sisterly drama between Lin and Suyin and the interplay between Asami and Korra. I also liked the call backs to the original such as making Toph Bolin’s idol and FINALLY meeting the older Zuko.
Now let’s talk about the villains! Punk rock legend Henry Rollins voices the new airbender and group leader Zaheer. Rollins proves to be an inspired choice because he provides the character with the right amount of cunning menace but at the same time philosophical inquisitiveness (his motivation is rather sympathetic). Although I must say that his ultimate plan showcased in the final episode treaded the line of foolishness.
Season three also proved to be the darkest season yet, sporting a remarkably high body count. By far the most shocking moment was Zaheer killing the Earth Queen by bending all the air out of her lungs (You can say she was left . . . breathless). However, the show demonstrates a new level of maturity at the end of its season finale. I won’t spoil the moment but it is both subtle and devastating.
If you haven’t checked out “Korra” yet, or “Avatar” for that matter, then please give these two shows a chance because it’s some of the best Western animation has to offer.