Let's get some disclaimers out of the way. SPOILER ALERT!! Please do NOT read this journal if you have not seen LoK Season 4 and you do NOT want to be spoiled!! SPOILER ALERT!!
Have we got that out of the way? Good. Then here's another important disclaimer.
I am NOT writing this journal entry to be hating on LoK. The only reason I am writing this journal entry is because I personally love LoK and the general Avatar: Last Airbender series. I loved the fourth season's action and animation. Seriously, it was a beautiful thing to watch. Don't get me wrong on that. I have an incredibly critical mind for this show not because I don't like it - far from it. It's because I have such high expectations and hope for this show that I can be critical about it at all. Let's just say my expectations of LoK have been very low from the first season, lower still after second season, raised quite high after third season and then... well, crash-burned after watching the fourth.
So this entry is for anyone else who watched the show, saw the fourth season finale and somehow... felt unsettled. Felt like something was missing, something really important, and just felt cheated out of what could have been an amazing ending and instead got this bad taste in your mouth. This entry is really not for people who loved the fourth season, because if you did, then this entry is going to annoy you and that's not my intention. I don't want to convince people that the fourth season was a bad one if you liked it. If you liked it - good on you!! Seriously. Go ahead and take that warm and fluffy feeling with you and don't read on.
But if you didn't like it and you couldn't quite put your finger on why, or you do know why and you want further validation for your opinion, then please read on.
I watched this fourth season over one weekend so it was neatly packaged for me without a grueling wait between episodes. Now, I could talk about a LOT of things that I thought were severely lacking from the show. I could talk about the very weak villain that Kuvira made, especially compared to villains of the last season. I could yawn at the meandering and kind of boring main plot of the 'great unification' of the Earth Empire that ultimately led to a very narrow focus of plot instead of an epic scale. I could discuss the other main introspective plot of Korra's journey to conquer her fears that were ultimately resolved by the nonsensical partnership struck with Zahir of all people which is arguably one of the worst plot resolutions I have ever seen in terms of trying to fix someone's problem with a weak link or illogical reasoning on the (ex-)villain's behalf. I could seriously rage about the lack of tactical expertise by employed the good guys so they just look both stupid and lame. I could really just complain about a LOT of things in this show that really wrecked things that could have been great but rendered them either just good, mediocre or plain terrible.
But none of these are - surprisingly - the main reason I came away from the show feeling pretty weird, and I mean that in a bad way. I kept feeling like I'd been cheated out of something, and it took me quite a while to figure out exactly what it was. So I'm going to talk about that one thing and just try to get it out of my system.
Let's talk about Korra's character development.
Yes, I know. Her character development was in the hands of many different writers, who all seem to have had many different ideas about who Korra really was. It drives me up the wall to see the inconsistency between seasons - and I don't mean that the fact she changed every season was a problem, because she definitely should. That is what character development is! Korra matures as an Avatar throughout the seasons because that's the whole point. But my question is, how believable are these developments and really, what can viewers learn from Korra's maturation stages?
Now, I could start from season one, but I feel like that's unnecessary. Let's just start straight from season four because in my humble opinion, many of the problems that were sparked from season one and two were actually tackled in season three and fixed to some extent. And by the end of season three, we had an amazing Korra to work with. She had been kicked down, lost much of her purpose in life, and couldn't even walk. The final tear down her cheek indicated how broken she was, and season four was bound to be a time Korra would have to learn to get up again.
So let's see. We begin at season four with an episode entirely without Korra. We watch how the world has been changing during the absence of the Avatar for three years, and I think the episode covers a great deal and builds anticipation for readers to see Korra again. When we don't see her, the tension is built in a good way.
Second episode then covers the three years of rehab and Korra's weakened state of mind. Now here, I think the writing was not bad. If anything, Korra's pain was so palpably felt, I feel that this episode packed a great punch. Her fears and descent into utter isolation somehow made sense. The problems, however, also start to arise in this episode, which is bad because this is the first episode Korra appears in this season, and it is not a good start.
We understand - it's not subtle - that her greatest fear is to be hurt. The reason she isolates herself so entirely from her family and friends appears to be because she is too afraid to confront her own fears. She sees her fear manifest in both purely psychological and also phyiscal ways. But when she gets fed up and tries to tackle her fears, she ends up running again because it hurts her, and then tries to chase them again, and then runs away again. She keeps seeing old villains that haunt her and we see that she has never really shed the pain they inflicted upon her, and much of what Korra has been doing is putting up a strong front.
I'm cool with that. Plot-wise, we get the idea that Korra is blind to her own actual problem. She sees visions, sees fears and recognises that she is terribly afraid, and feels that the only way she can conquer her fears is to bulldoze them down with violence as she's done with problems many times in the past. She can't even sense metal in her own body even though she learnt metal-bending in the third season.
Hmm, wait a minute. This sounds like... Korra hasn't really grown. Hmm.
Of all people Korra meets to try and improve her situation, she meets Toph. Toph is insensitive to Korra's emotional state, beats her around like a ragdoll despite the fact Korra has been through physical rehab just six months prior, and in addressing the crux of Korra's situation tells her that she is the only one who can help herself.
Hmm, wait a minute. This sounds like... Korra's decision to isolate herself was entirely correct. She is the only one who can help herself. So... huh? Why did she need Toph again? Oh, to beat the crap out of her. That's right.
So we get this idea that Korra can really only help herself... only to see her cry as Tenzin's kids come to help her, and for Toph to say, kid, you've been disconnected from the world for too long and that's your problem.
BUT YOU JUST SAID...
Anyway. Korra is forced to face her fears because she is told she is desperately needed. Again, I have issues with this because we just saw Korra whinge about the world needing her and Toph telling her to get over herself. But instead of really getting the time to mull this over, she is forced back to action because apparently she is right. But let's ignore that for now.
Korra pulls the metal out of her body, and apparently by doing so she proved she was able to overcome her fears of getting hurt and grow past the need to blame something for her situation. (Never mind the fact she didn't know about the poison residue still in her body and really couldn't have blamed it anyway out loud. I mean, whatever.) Now she can get into the Avatar State, something that she was extremely afraid of doing - understandably - after being forced into it by Zahir so he could murder her and end the Avatar line forever.
Here's where things get really tricky. Korra is still afraid. She makes the rash decision to fight Kuvira but loses because she cannot overcome her fears.
Waaaait a minute. What? She still hasn't ov... then how did she get the metal out of her body? ... Did she just overcome parts of her fears? How? Which parts? Why does she see the same damn vision over and over if it's a different part of her fears?
And why does this fear trigger just when she is about to win the fight with Kuvira? It would have been totally understandable if this fear had surfaced in an ugly way while she's getting beaten up the whole time before she enters the Avatar State. Instead, this fear only hits her when she's about to win. It's... It's almost like it's just some weird convenient timing to break the plot so Korra can't win just at this crucial juncture. To show that her fear is crippling her even when she is physically able to win... at the cost of logical coherency of what Korra JUST DID.
Anyway, Korra gets her ass kicked again because we apparently haven't seen enough of that, and then proceeds to fly away to figure something out. Korra is just lost and doesn't understand what about her fears she cannot conquer. We are back to suffering Korra who cannot kick ass like before because she is an emotional cripple, not a physical one.
In other words, we are back to square one.
Don't get me wrong, setbacks are realistic and Korra can't easily conquer her fears the way Aang did because she is a different kind of character. But these setbacks happen HALFWAY through the show and seem to be absolutely necessary for the bad guys to continue their path of destruction. We are forced to watch Korra struggle with the same damn thing for many episodes, but here's the nice part: she is finally back with family and friends halfway through the show, and so since they made this whole point about Korra needing to be back with friends and family so she can be connected again, we can expect her to utilise that connection and learn how to beat her fears back.
But no, that would have been too easy.
Korra's character development here begins to seriously drag in the mud because Korra suddenly refuses to share any of her problems with anyone. Sure, she shared some of her personal issues with Asami at the start of the show, but she rarely talks to Asami after this point - it is only at the end that she shares her retrospective thoughts with her. She sees Tenzin but doesn't want to talk to him because she feels she has lost his faith, respect and trust. She sees Mako but - while taking him around with her or going to where he is at - doesn't have anything to tell him that she is personally struggling with. In fact, she opens up to no one except Zahir.
Did you catch that?
Korra doesn't open up to anyone except the greatest enemy she has faced thus far, and trusts him enough to lead her into the spirit world.
I can't get over this as a plot development, but to think of what it means for Korra's character development is even worse. What it means is this: Korra has learnt nothing from anything she has suffered through regarding what it means to:
1) Connect back with your family and friends in a significant way, and
2) Find a way to resolve the issue of conquering her fears on her own.
Instead, she refuses to open up to anyone about the real crux of her problems, pushes them away in a fit of hurt pride because she lost to Kuvira and instead of trying to conquer her fears on her own like Toph told her she had to try to do, has someone handhold her through it - much like any spiritual problems she had back in season two. She can meditate on her own but fails to get anything done, even when she travels to the spirit world itself in the flesh, so apparently she needs Zahir - the guy who tried to kill her - to hold her hand and despite the fact he screwed her over royally the last time she met him in the spirit world, somehow trusts him enough to do this. Oh, apparently she can trust him because he doesn't like Kuvira. Yay, same enemy.
Weak. That's what I call that reasoning.
But now I'm digressing back to badly woven plot threads when I really want to focus on Korra, so let me get back to that.
In the spirit world, Korra finds Raava in herself again, which was unexplained but an extremely important event that was utterly glossed over in three seconds. The writers don't seem to realise the significance of finding Raava again. Finding her centres Korra once more because it is the very core of who the Avatar is (the unflinching desire to continue to try, no matter how long it takes, to balance the world and bring good to it) and brings peace herself. And apparently, Raava was always in her.
... Because when we saw her get ripped out of Korra, that didn't count as anything. Apparently.
Argh, digressing again. (Just so many things wrong with... *sigh*) Korra finds her peace, is able to fully embrace contact with the spiritual world and resurfaces with a sense of being whole again. And now that she feels this way, she doesn't mind sharing her feelings with other people. And now, since she feels totally cool again with herself, she is ready and raring to go beat up Kuvira!
Let's rewind a little bit.
Remember when Korra first goes to try and talk some sense into Kuvira, trying to find a diplomatic solution instead of a violent one? Maybe she was trying to avoid conflict because she was afraid. She goes out of her way to tell viewers that the 'old Korra' would have been all violent, but this new Korra is much more calm and less prone to brainless ways of resolving conflict. But maybe she only said that to cover up the real reason she's trying to be all diplomatic all of sudden - she's just trying to hide her fears.
Either way, this was a very important thing Korra tries to do - to resolve the situation with just talk, because it really wasn't what the 'old Korra' would have done. It shows character growth! But immediately after her attempts to fix up a peaceful truce, the impatient and rash actions of Su and her twins result in a completely justified aggressive response from Kuvira that breaks the truce before it can even begin. So Korra rashly decides to fight Kuvira and gets her ass kicked.
Let's think about what that means. Could the writers be trying to... I don't know... prove that rash actions and violence are not good ways to resolve conflicts?
But after feeling that Kuvira cannot be reasoned with, Korra goes back to her usual mode of conflict resolution and in the final fight of the finale, she decides she will go after Kuvira and force her to submit.
In other words, the writers force Korra to the point she doesn't actually seem to truly learn from her suffering. Think about it. Korra's suffering helps her realise over time what it means to feel desperately weak and afraid. She understands that the receiving end of pain results in all this anguish. She was subjugated to some psycho's desire to kill her over and over again, very physically and emotionally. Exerting force is supposed to be her last resort, and her attempt to get Kuvira to step down using her fiancee is apparently indicative of this.
But in all of Korra's decisions, none of them work except the one to beat Kuvira back down. As though to say that rash actions and violence on Korra's part are really the only way to resolve conflicts after all. And it's okay now because she's 'whole' again! Yay!
No. Seriously. Korra has never been a killer from the start. She would have saved Kuvira at the end scene where she protected her from the Giant Purple Death Ray regardless of her compassion levels, because Korra's instincts have never been vindictive. From season one, Korra has shown viewers that she is brash, stubborn and violent, but she is most definitely not a killer and has shown she is willing to talk to old enemies. Kuvira seems to think she has personally wronged Korra and wonders why Korra would help someone like her, but if you really look at it, the only thing Kuvira did was beat the crap out of Korra in an entirely justified way. The two have political reasons to fight but not very personal ones.
And that's the major problem with Korra's growth as a character in this season, because in the end, her growth isn't all that personal. She's lost the whole time for a good reason, but doesn't quite get found for any good reason. What we see is not a growth fostered by learning from past villains, as Korra has been advised to do, but rather a 'growth' absolutely forced by circumstance and yet staggered by Korra's inability to really connect with those around her. Korra is afraid of being hurt and isolates herself, but in choosing to connect back with people, to care about them once more and put their needs first, we are supposed to see Korra reach out, humble herself to her friends and show that she is willing to grow and let herself be helped to grow. But we don't see a single indication of this. She talks to her friends only to actually make plans to defeat Kuvira. All we see is an isolated Korra who is handheld by decidedly not-so-compassionate (if not outright villainous) people and at the end, she is only willing to share her feelings in retrospect.
In fact, the only person she connects with is Asami, apparently. The two of them head off into the spirit world at the end, which seems to indicate that... well... Korra doesn't really want to open up to anyone except Asami. Which means... what, exactly? ... It means Korra has no real friends to connect with on an intimate level except for one person. (I'm not going to go into KorrAsami here but let's just accept that the writers were gunning for that pairing and move on.) Way to isolate Korra, writers, and basically prove that she isn't willing to be vulnerable to anyone except one real friend. Yay.
So THAT was the underlying major reason I just couldn't bring myself to love season four, but instead find myself really hating this part about it. Korra deserved something better than this. She deserved to learn how to cope with her problems by getting helped by people who could really care about her and love on her. She deserved to learn that she was needed not because she was the Avatar but because she was Korra, a person with real personality who was genuinely loved by people for her heart. She deserved to be someone who conquered her fears on the basis of true self-discovery and love-fostered growth.
She didn't deserve season four.
... WOW that is an ESSAY I compiled there! Anyway, I think I got it out of my system. Feel free to disagree and convince me otherwise if you so wish, though like I said at the start - this journal isn't intended to make fans of season four angry, it's really just for my personal venting space. Whew.