After the world-changing ending of The Legend of Korra Book 2, we were cautiously optimistic about Book 3, and so far, the new season is looking good. It helps that Korra has a renewed sense of purpose and some truly spectacular baddies on the horizon.
Book 2 was ambitious, but plagued with problems. The main characters spent too much time apart and some of their plotlines (especially Tenzin's) tended to meander. Korra starts out the season on a quest to find herself, and it was frustrating to see her so thoroughly manipulated by Unalaq. And Unalaq proved a disappointing villain in the end, far less complex than he seemed at first.
When Book 3 opens in Republic City, I feared that the show might be regressing a little. Yes, this is the most self-actualized we've seen Korra, but she's still obsessed with her poll numbers. But hey, at least there's Asami.
The writers have realized what we've all been saying for ages: Korra and Asami make a good team. Plus, a female friendship greatly improves the show. Thank you for letting them sidestep the whole Mako drama.
But the sudden appearance of Airbenders, a side effect of Harmonic Convergence, gives Korra the purpose she so desperately needs. Tenzin wants to rebuild the Air Nation, both because it was what his father would have wanted and because it will bring greater balance to the world, and that is the push that Korra—and the show—needed to free herself of this need for the public's approval. Rebuilding the Air Nation feels right, like something the Avatar should be doing.
It also establishes who Team Avatar is this season: Korra, Tenzin, Asami, Bumi (who now Airbends), Bolin, Mako, and Jinora. No more splitting up the team into five different plotlines. No more Aang family vacation. Yay.
Tenzin and Korra assume that the new Airbenders will be eager to rebuild the Air Nation, but they're in for a shock when they realize that folks aren't just going to uproot their lives because they can control one of the elements. Tenzin tries going door-to-door Latter Day Saints-style, but no one is particularly psyched about becoming a vegetarian, worldly possessions-renouncing nomad.
Korra's attempts fair no better.
Naturally, it's Bolin, this show's Sokka analogue, who comes up with the best idea. Don't tell people how great it is to be an Airbender. Show them.
Their first recruit is Kai, a character who is best described as a "scamp."
Team Avatar quickly learns that Kai has a small problem with respecting other people's property, but they decide that even if he's a dirty, lying thief, at least he's their dirty, lying thief to deal with. Bolin immediately adopts him as a younger brother, but Mako sees Kai as a younger version of himself and instantly dislikes him. Jinora's just enjoying having a cute boy around whom she's not related to.
But even having a single new Airbender in their party gives Team Avatar more confidence when they head for Ba Sing Se—at least until they arrive in Ba Sing Se. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ba Sing Se was a wonder, a marvel of prosperity and technological innovation in a war-torn world. Now the stratification of its classes has made the outer ring dismal, with the poorest of the poor living among garbage and surviving on rotten fruit while the people of the inner ring still live in luxury.
It doesn't help that the Earth Queen is a woman in love with power, something she asserts by forcing those in her presence to submit to a complicated and supplicating etiquette. And when Korra appears asking for the queen's help in recruiting the new crop of Airbenders, her majesty is quick to note her displeasure that Aang and Zuko carved the United Republic out of Earth Kingdom land. But Korra initially believes that the favor the Earth Queen asks of her—to escort a payment of tax money—is just an obnoxious and slightly humiliating errand.
Last season, I said that Korra and Asami should start their own biker gang. Watching them fight a biker gang is almost as good.
Now this is great Avatar story material. Korra travels the world on a grand quest, and along the way must help the helpless and thwart those who would abuse their power. Korra is done being manipulated; when the bikers tell her that the tax money she's trying to move belongs to the people, not the Earth Queen, she's inclined to believe them. She has seen what Ba Sing Se looks like with her own eyes and as the Avatar, she won't be able to ignore this injustice.
She also won't be able to ignore the fact that the Earth Queen is using the Dai Li to kidnap the city's Airbenders in the hopes of assembling her own army. Tenzin sees the reappearance of Airbenders as an opportunity to rebuild the Air Nation; the Earth Queen sees it as an opportunity to reconquer former Earth Nation land.
Meanwhile, Mako and Bolin get their own side story. After unsuccessfully trying to chase down Kai, the brothers find themselves stuck in the outer ring, where, through a miraculous coincidence, they meet their father's family. Mako and Bolin are orphans no more. This encounter may be doing a wee bit of rehab on Mako's character, snapping him out of brooding teenager mode.
And I haven't even gotten to the prisoners of the White Lotus yet. This quartet gets a fantastic introduction, with the writers really using the strengths and weaknesses of each element to give us some glorious set pieces and fun fight scenes.
We get Zaheer, angry and well educated, who has been trapped atop a high earth prison. I can almost suspend my disbelief that Zaheer goes from non-bender to professional grade Airbender in no time flat, because he's clearly a skilled fighter from the start and seems like the sort of person who might have incorporated bending forms into his fighting stances because he found them useful.
Then there's Ghazan, an Earthbender kept on a ship far from any land, who can defeat his guards with just a few stones. And the armless Waterbender Ming-Hua, who looked so exciting in the trailer, doesn't disappoint as Zaheer and Ghazan help her bust out of her volcanic prison.
It also turns out that this is an excuse to reintroduce Zuko, now aged and a badass dragon rider. It's nice to see that while Zuko is now older and wiser and more powerful, he's still capable of some awkward-but-not-awkward humor. He is Iroh's nephew, after all. It's also nice to know that the writers haven't forgotten about Eska and Desna, who are now joint chiefs of the Northern Water Tribe, and who will probably see some action when the gang comes to free P'Li, the combustion-tattooed Firebender living in their deepest ice prison.
The writers have set up some nice pieces this season, and Korra herself is feeling like a stronger character than ever. Let's hope that they play out across the Avatar board is in a satisfying game.
Top gif from Korra Nation.