Nickelodeon’s animated series, The Legend of Korra ended last night, and I have to say, although my enthusiasm for the show has ebbed and flowed, I adored the final episode. I’m sure in the light of day there might be things I could nitpick about it (unsatisfying character resolutions, etc.), but overall, I thought it was fantastic on so many levels. The core fight against the Colossus was just superbly animated and choreographed. There was something immensely satisfying about seeing all of the characters working together in a single encounter, weaving their respective strengths and abilities together, and guarding each others backs. The action was clever and kinetic and exciting, and as always, the music perfectly underscored the emotional stakes of those involved.
As much as I’ve enjoyed Kuvira whenever she’s appeared on screen, one of my problems with her characterization was how little effort the writers seemed to exert in getting us to sympathize with the reasons behind her crusade. In the final episode, however, I think that changed. Kuvira let slip her mask of calm, steely resolve, and revealed a torrent of fear and rage and despair. The conversation she has with Korra in the Spirit World was brief, but very effective, because it echoed a lot of the trauma that Korra has been struggling to cope with since the beginning of the season. The image of Kuvira as a little girl, orphaned by her parents, growing up alone and afraid, and wanting to make the world a better place—so that other children would never have to feel that way, so that she would never have to feel that way again (powerless and vulnerable)—is kind of heart-breaking. Obviously, it doesn’t justify any of her actions, but I find the idea of enemies opening up to one another on a personal level (something the Avatar series is rather fond of) incredibly moving.
As Korra points out, they have a lot in common. They’ve both been scarred, and are terrified of losing control or being hurt again. Korra cut herself off from the rest of the world, maybe because she felt unworthy of her friends and family, or maybe because she thought she could outrun her demons. And Kuvira – well, what’s a better metaphor for isolation than welding yourself inside a of cold, metallic giant? What better way to simulate a feeling of control over your own thoughts, than by trying to take control of the entire world? Again, none of this detracts from her crimes, many of which are horrific, but I don’t think the show wants us to think of her as a sociopath, or indeed, of being beyond redemption, but rather, as someone who is deeply mentally unwell. Kuvira has been cultivating that calm, steely gaze for so long that she had become blind to the consequences of her actions and unmoored from reality; that is, until Korra is able to coax her back from the brink through an act of compassion. Sometimes it helps to talk.
Like Nega Korra, the Colossus is the demon that threatens to destroy Kuvira. It promises absolute power, but carries with it the danger of losing control – not in the sense of being vulnerable or victimized by the world, but of losing your boundaries and being severed from who you are and what you believe in. I think part of Korra’s trauma, along with the poison and the torture Zaheer subjected her to, is that the last time she went into the Avatar state she completely gave herself over to rage, and let her body become an instrument of savage violence and destruction. Now that fear stalks her, threatening to devour her once more. When attempting to go into the Avatar state to fight Kuvira, she recoils. However, at the end of the season, Korra instead attempts to save Kuvira, and finally manages to attain sense of control (or perhaps balance is the better word) over the Avatar state, while still maintaining a connection to who she is. She reconciles with Nega Korra by protecting Kuvria from her own demons (literally a canon of pure rage that has spun out of control). It seems to be a significant evolution in her powers.
As for the ending between Korra and Asami, I can’t really praise it enough. It didn’t feel like it was meant to be shocking or pandering or “socially important”; it just felt like a very natural and lyrical continuation of where these two characters are in their life, and the bond they share. What’s especially striking is the ambivalence of the scene. This is less some happy romantic ending, and more about two wounded souls who are sick of feeling lonely and afraid (they have tasted where that path leads), and who have found solace and acceptance in each others company. In a strange way, it is the anti-“walking off into the sunset” moment. The land around them is a scorched desolation, and the sky is heavy with storm-clouds. It reflects their own emotional scars, and suggests a deeply uncertain future for this world and its inhabitants. There are dozens of Kuviras and P’Lis and Amons waiting in the wings; perhaps some were made this very day, bred by the suffering of a world they cannot control. But what Korra has learned is that they are not beyond saving, no less than she was. It’s not a boundless sunlit horizon that Korra and Asami are walking off towards, it’s a thin, trembling sliver of light.
But it’s enough.