I am saddened to write that Legend of Korra has finally come to a conclusion. What a crazy two years it has been, a truly magnificent ride. Since I did a recap of the first three seasons of Korra, it's only appropriate that I follow up with the final season.
I must warn you that there are going to be MASSIVE SPOILERS from here on out. So if you haven't watched the fourth season yet, I recommend you check it out here before reading this recap.
Hoo boy. Where to start? It seems like this season was much longer than 13 episodes. A lot of stuff was packed into these ~4 hours of content.
I guess we should start from the beginning.
Season four takes place three years after the fall of the Red Lotus and things have changed radically.
Mako is now the bodyguard of Prince Wu, son of the Earth Queen and next in line for the Crown. Tenzin has been working to organize the new Air Nation. Asami has been rebuilding Future Industries. Bolin has been trying to rebuild the Earth Nation with Kuvira, the Interim Leader of the Earth Kingdom. Everyone has been making great strides in their careers. Everyone, that is, except the Avatar. Korra has been struggling to recover from her brush with Zaheer and the Red Lotus.
This season focuses primarily on the Earth Nation, which is in shambles after the death of the Earth Queen. The citizens are starving and resorting to a life of crime in order to survive. Kuvira, the Great Uniter, is trying to unite the Earth Kingdom under one banner. In the first episode, we see how competent of a leader (and fighter) she is as she single-handedly takes out a group of bandits attempting to rob her train.
In direct contrast to Kuvira, it is established that Price Wu is...a complete fucking idiot. He's a spoiled rich boy out of touch with the needs of the people. Mako is tasked with bodyguarding (babysitting) Prince Wu until he is coronated as King.
The coronation is the event that's supposed to reunite Team Avatar. Mako is there with Prince Wu, Boilin (along with Varrick and Zhu Li) is there with Kuvira, Asami is there as a major industry leader, Tenzin attends the ceremony along with all of the other major nation leaders (even Zuko's daughter is there!). However, Korra never makes it to the ceremony.
This was a brilliant move on the part of the writers. The entire first episode of the final season is missing the titular character, building some excitement and anticipation for the rest of the series. The second episode then focuses exclusively on Korra and gives the viewers an in-depth view of what she has been doing for the past three years. In a nod to the previous series, this episode is aptly titled "Korra Alone".
Korra has not been doing well. Katara worked to literally get the Avatar back on her feet. And while Katara is able to heal Korra's body, there isn't much she can do about her mental state. Avatar Korra is struggling with PTSD after Zaheer's attempt on her life. It has greatly affected her ability to fight, which in turn has completely destroyed her confidence. Korra sees herself as a failure and is under the impression that the world doesn't need her anymore. This belief causes her to abandon her role as Avatar and disappear.
Korra chops off her hair and takes up residence in the Earth Nation. She joins an underground fighting league where she gets the piss beat out of her by some random earthbender scrub, further showing how far Korra has fallen. Korra's travels takes her to the swamp, where we meet a familiar face- Toph Beifong: Matriarch of the Beifong Clan, Inventor of the Metal Bending, and all around bad motherfucker.
Toph has been living in the swamp (and keeping tabs on everyone through the spirit vines) and has not changed in the slightest since her days in The Last Airbender. As it turns out, she has always been a eighty year old lady and her appearance finally reflects her personality.
After "sparring with" (kicking the shit of) Korra, Toph reveals that Korra still has some poison floating around in her veins, which may be affecting her ability to bend. Toph then tries to remove it for Korra, but then decides that it's not worth the trouble and tells Korra to do it herself.
Meanwhile, at the Coronation, where Prince Wu is supposed to take control of the Earth Kingdom, Kuvira announces that she is not going to give up control and that she will continue leading the Earth Empire as the Great Uniter.
Naturally, everyone is shocked and dismayed at this revelation. But nobody really knows what to do. The World Leaders are hesitant to start another war. The Avatar is nowhere to be found. On a smaller scale, the members of Team Avatar are divided among themselves. Mako, Asami, and Opal are all against Kuvira's decision to rule the Earth Empire, while Bolin and Varrick think that Kuvira would be a better leader than Prince Wu. Everyone ends up going their separate ways, with Bolin and Opal breaking up.
Some more great writing here, as Kuvira was arguably a better ruler. She put in the legwork in rebuilding the Earth Nation (in spite of her questionable methods) and clearly has a handle on the situation. The thing that's really cool about this plot arc reflects the rise of fascism in the 1930's. The first season was clearly based off of the Roaring 20's, then the fall of the Earth Queen and the subsequent collapse of the Earth Kingdom parallels the political climate of post-WWI Europe. And just as Hitler rose to power in Germany through his charisma and ability to lead, so did Kuvira in the Earth Empire.
After the Coronation, Korra is tracked down by Jinora, Ikki, and Meelo just as Kuvira sets her sights on Zaofu. Kuvira is engaged to Su Beifong's first-born son, Baatar Jr. Baatar tries to reason with (bitch at) his mother to convince her to make the Metal City of Zaofu a part of the Earth Empire. Of course, Su isn't going to give up the city she built willingly and basically tells Kuvira to come and take it if she wants it so bad. Kuvira sieges the city with her army and prepares to lay waste.
Bolin isn't on board with the idea of Kuvira laying waste to his (former?) girlfriend's hometown and tries to talk her out of it. Kuvira turns on him and makes him her prisoner. Varrick also has second thoughts about Kuvira, as she is forcing him to work on a highly destructive weapon powered by spirit vines (again paralleling the 1930's and 40's with the race for the atom bomb). Varrick shows some scruples as he refuses to work on this weapon. Kuvira responds in kind by forcing him to work on the weapon under the supervision of armed guards and Baatar Jr. In a twist of events, Zhu Li betrays Varrick and agrees to work as Kuvira's assistant. Both Bolin and Varrick come to the same conclusion:
And right as Bolin and Varrick come to this conclusion (along with the audience), Su attempts to assassinate Kuvira. However, the Great Uniter has forseen this move and abducts Su and her metal bending sons. Baatar Jr. doesn't seem to care that his family is now in jail, due to what seems to be a massive inferiority complex.
Korra, having finally rid herself of the remaining Red Lotus venom, arrives to intervene just as Kuvira starts to advance on Zaofu. Korra is ready to prove herself. She's ready to show the world that she can maintain balance, that she's strong enough to hold the peace. This drive for purpose is so strong that Korra agrees to a one-on-one duel with Kuvira for the fate of Zaofu.
Of course, Kuvira kicks the shit out of Korra. The fight is mostly one-sided, with Korra throwing wild strikes and Kuvira dodging and countering. Then Korra goes into the Avatar State and proceeds to knock Kuvira around like a rag doll, making Aang's ghost proud as another power-hungry dictator gets what's coming. But just as Korra is about to deal the finishing blow, her mental blocks return in full force.
The airbenders save Korra's ass (again), leaving Kuvira to take Zaofu.
Meanwhile, Bolin and Varrick are on the run after barely escaping Kuvira. What a pair these two make. Up until this point, they've served only as comic support, occasionally providing movement to the plot, sometimes as the plucky hero (Bolin) and sometimes the villain (Varrick). Bolin and Varrick show their mettle as they're escaping the pursuit of the Earth Empire. Varrick is genuinely hurt by Zhu Li's betrayal and Bolin is tasked with keeping him from falling to pieces. As they make their way across the Earth Empire, Varrick shows off his mad-genius abilities by MacGuyvering a machine to generate an EMP.
Finally, the team is reunited. Bolin and Varrick come to warn everyone of Kuvira's new superweapon. Korra returns to Republic City after three years. She then attends an extremely awkward dinner with Asami, Mako, and Prince Wu, where it's revealed that she exchanged letters with Asami over her three year absence, (revealing how close they've become) making Mako feel neglected. Prince Wu remains entirely oblivious to the tension between the three friends, and hits on Korra.
And it just wouldn't be a season of Korra without friction with the network. As it turns out, there wasn't enough money in the budget to make 12 full episodes of LoK, so the creators were given the choice: fire a bunch of people, or make a clip episode. Being good guys, Mike and Bryan decided to make a clip show. This blog post explains things better than I could.
Following the clip show, The leaders meet to discuss what to do about Kuvira on hearing the news of her potential superweapon and her intent to turn it toward Republic City. President Raiko and Tenzin propose a preemptive strike against her, but the other officials disagree, forcing them to prepare for an incoming attack by evacuating the city.
Meanwhile, citizens of Republic City are being abducted into the Spirit World due to Kuvira's harvesting f the spirit vines. Korra tries to enter the Spirit World to save them, but is intercepted by none other than an astral projection of Zaheer. This, of course, stirs up all kinds of unpleasant near-death related memories in Korra. However, she decides to confront her fears head on and goes to Zaheer's prison.
Zaheer is horrified to find that the "freedom" he created in the Earth Kingdom has been replaced by the rule of a fascist dictator. He agrees to help the Avatar by leading her into the Spirit World and reuniting her with Raava, the spirit of light, giving Korra her groove back.
Having finally overcome her mental block, Korra rescues everyone from the spirit world. Following that, Bolin, Opal, Lin, and Toph go on a mission to rescue the Beifongs after Bolin does some fangirl-ing over meeting Toph. Lin, on the other hand, is less than thrilled on being reunited with her mother. They find themselves at the test site for Kuvira's spirit cannon and see firsthand the potential for destruction this device has. They also happen to witness Zhu Li's attempt to sabotage the cannon and rescue her in the process as well.
There is a great scene prior to the rescue where Lin and Toph sort out some of their issues. Lin calls Toph out for being an absentee parent and Toph shrugs her shoulders and says she did the best she could. Bolin, ever-unaware of his surroundings, asks the question that has been burning in fan's minds since season one: who is Lin's father? Toph again answers with a shrug, saying that it was some guy named Kanto and things didn't work out with him. Talk about anti-climax. This was an awesome joke on the fandom by the creators, who have some rather interesting theories on Lin's linage (mostly involving Sokka). It can be inferred that Su's father is equally unremarkable.
Toph leaves the group with some wise parting words. She tells the gang that there's a point where the older generation needs to step aside and allow the kids to take care of it. Here the writers were speaking directly to the fans, who have always clung to the past and hoped for appearances of characters from The Last Airbender. Even at this point, everyone was speculating Toph's role in the finale of this season. Was she gonna die? Was she gonna lay waste to Kuvira's army? In the end, she did neither. She went along her merry way to live out her golden years in relative peace. A smooth exit for Toph and the other characters from TLA.
Kuvira attacks Republic City a week early, forcing the evacuation to be expedited. Prince Wu steps up as a leader and takes the reins in organizing the evacuation with Pema. Kuvira surprises everyone by storming the city not by train as everyone expected, but by giant fucking mecha.
Team Avatar decides that what they need is a little leverage and they kidnap Baatar Jr.. First, they try to interrogate him in order to find out the weaknesses of the mecha, but not even his own mother can get him to talk. Korra threatens him first with death, but he calls her bluff, so she tells him that she will never let him see Kuvira, the love of his life, again. Baatar Jr. radios her and tries to talk her out of attacking Republic City.
However, Kuvira has come too far to turn back. She's too proud and too invested in "uniting" the Earth Empire. So she puts her dreams and her duty ahead of her personal happiness and turns her spirit cannon on Team Avatar, attempting to kill them all, including Baatar Jr. This was a great reversal of traditional gender roles as Kuvira plays the part of the duty-bound leader while Baatar Jr. is the sympathetic lover who just wants to get married.
Team Avatar regroups and along with the Airbenders, the Beifongs, and Varrick and Zhu Li, attack Kuvira's mecha. Varrick manages to disable the mechas with another EMP. Then, realizing that he might not survive the ordeal, Varrick proposes to Zhu Li and they celebrate their engagement by helping the gang defend Republic City.
Team Avatar is supported by an unlikely ally. Hiroshi Sato, Asami's father, is released from jail in order to help protect the city. Asami, having visited her father in jail earlier in the season, is pleased to work with her father and finally manages to forgive him for everything he's done. Hiroshi sacrifices himself in order to allow the others entry into Kuvira's giant mecha, dying a hero instead of a criminal.
Team Avatar proceeds to fuck shit up inside of the mecha, with Lin and Su succeeding in disabling the cannon. Kuvira, in a fit of frustration proceeds to rip the malfunctioning cannon off of the mecha. Korra goes up to the observation deck to take on Kuvira in the rematch of the century while Mako and Bolin go to disable the mecha's power source. But things never go as easily as planned and (since it's the season/series finale) Mako uses his lightning to destroy the remaining spirit vines, fully prepared to sacrifice himself in the process. The only reason he makes it out alive is because Bolin steps up and rescues his brother with seconds to spare.
In the resulting explosion of the Mecha, Kuvira and Korra are thrown from the wreckage into the remains of Republic City. Kuvira refuses to give up and tries to make a run for it despite being injured. She finds the discarded supercannon and attempts to turn it on Korra. However, because it's malfunctioning, it nearly kills Kuvira. Korra takes pity on Kuvira and saves her by energybending the spirit vine blast, sending them both into the spirit world.
There, Kuvira asks Korra why she saved her after everything that's happened. And the Avatar explains that she understands Kuvira. She understands that she was only trying to do what she thought was right, that she was only trying to be a strong parent to the Earth Nation in a way that she never got to experience (since she was adopted by Su). Korra spares Kuvira and proceeds with empathy and understanding, bringing them back to Republic City through the newly formed spirit portal.
The series closes with Varrick and Zhu Li's wedding on Air Temple Island. It's a lovely affair with fireworks and dancing and fancy food. Everyone is worn down from the massive battle that took place over the fate of the city. Korra and Mako have a moment where he lets her know that he would follow her to the ends of the earth- as a friend, causing the fandom to let out a collective sigh of relief.
Then once he leaves, Tenzin tracks down Korra, who has retired from the festivities, and they have their last heart to heart of the series. This is another scene where it seems as if the writers were speaking directly to the fans, as Korra says she feels like there's more to do. Tenzin reassures her that there's still plenty of time for everything. Asami then comes along as Tenzin leaves to stop Varrick from jumping off Air Temple Island Tower. Korra and Asami decide to go on vacation together in the spirit world leading to this final shot:
Goddamn. What a series. What a way to end a series. Every single character has grown by leaps and bounds. Tenzin is no longer the serious airbending master. He's the loving father and brother, who has trust in others to lead and take charge when he can't. Likewise, Lin doesn't take things so seriously and has made peace with her family. Bolin went from being a goofy comedic relief to a major player, an actual hero. Mako was a ladies man and a athlete and is now an accomplished, albeit awkward detective. Asami became far more than Mako's girlfriend: she's the leader of a major industry, an accomplished engineer, and (arguably) the Avatar's new squeeze.
Then there's Korra. Korra was a hotheaded teenager whose first instinct when solving a problem was to shoot fireballs at it. Now she's an accomplished Avatar who has saved the world three times over, who has changed it in ways that other Avatars couldn't even dream. She's learned mercy and compassion and what it means to suffer. She has bridged the human and spirit worlds and created a new era of harmony and peace. Korra has grown into her role as Avatar and we got to watch every step of her journey.