- 8th August
- 25th June
One of the elements that I disliked the most about the finale was how they handled Korra as the Avatar. Looking at the series as a whole, I didn’t like how they handled benders and bending in general, and bending privilege specifically, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Let’s just, at first, go over what the Avatar is.
In ATLA-verse, the Avatar is:
-Master of all four elements.
-The great bridge between the natural and the spiritual worlds.
-The spirit of the planet in human form, reincarnated endlessly to know human experience and bring balance to the world.
In Korra-verse, the Avatar is:
-Master of all four elements.
No, really. That’s it. Where in ATLA we saw the Avatar’s duty to uphold balance between the nations, oversee and handle conflicts, converse with the spirit world and intercede on humanity’s behalf, in ATLA we just see Korra stressing over her airbending. A White Lotus members says, early on: being the Avatar is not just about fighting, but we really don’t see why it’s not, because all this show focuses on is her learning how to bend. Sure, you can argue that she tries to gain a spiritual link with Aang, but what that ends up being is a bunch of uncontrolled or barely controlled ‘visions’ that are nothing like the conversations with Roku that Aang had back in ATLA.
And even when she does try to learn some spirituality, it’s not really there to help her gain a greater understanding of people as it is to give the audience a greater understanding of the plot. When she does make forward steps towards talking to Aang, she stumbles into them or they fall into her lap, she doesn’t stress over them like she does her inability to bend. Considering what the Avatar’s duties are, bending knowledge seems to me like the least important, but it’s stressed by many of the characters as being the defining trait of a full Avatar.
(This made sense for Aang, who needed to face the Fire Lord really quick, but Korra wasn’t really supposed to fight Amon with her bending. In fact, she was being actively dissuaded from doing so, but kept trying to have a showdown with him anyway because she is hotheaded and impatient.)
Aang handled disputes and tried to mediate. This is partially because that’s the kind of person he was, so it was certainly easier for him to do so, but also because canon said this was what the Avatar was supposed to be: a mediator. Someone who handles conflict and crisis and tries to find the way to make things best for everybody. Korra has one moment: ONE MOMENT in which the crowd of nonbenders cry for help, saying: “You’re our Avatar, too.” And I admit, I had hoped that Korra would learn of the complexities of the situation between benders and nonbenders…but no, it turned into a showdown with Tarrlock instead.
Tenzin certainly doesn’t stress the Avatar’s position as a guide to people and a balancing force, he doesn’t stress that she needs to understand all people and be compassionate. There’s more stress on individual spirituality and, of course, mastering airbending.
Finally, when Korra is stripped of her bending, she sees herself as broken. Worse, she sees herself as no longer the Avatar. Worse still, no one contradicts her in that entire room of people. No one tells her she is wrong, that the Avatar is more than the four elements, that she is a spirit reincarnated into physical form and made to learn human experience and grief and separation is one of these. They are silent, confirming the idea that the Avatar is no longer the Avatar if she doesn’t have all four bending skills are her command.
And I really, really HATE this, because why? Her spirit hasn’t changed. She still has the ability to connect with the spirit world because every human, bender or nonbender, has that ability. Does that mean if Aang got chi-blocked by Ty Lee and couldn’t bend, he stops being the Avatar until it wears off? This would have been a wonderful opportunity to explore her as a character with that loss, to have her find her purpose and work with airbending and reach a sense of spiritual peace and then maybe unblock what was done to her through knowledge of chi points and conference with Aang’s spirit.
Instead we got Korra’s sense of self-worth entirely based on her ability to bend and the show, instead of denying it, reaffirming it. She only could tell Mako she loved him after she felt like she was ‘whole’. After she felt like she was worth getting into a relationship with, because she clearly thought that without her bending she was nothing and not even the Avatar anymore. This is very problematic.
In a way, the show reaffirms the nonbender inequality itself, by its treatment of benders being stripped of bending. Not a single bender comes out of that without seeming broken. They fall to the floor and lie weakly on the ground, when we see them after their bending has been stripped, their hair is a mess and they look miserable. Lin’s sacrifice was treated as a death scene. None of them reach a point where they accept the loss and realize that they have worth as nonbenders, they are capable of being heroic, awesome people without their bending.
Good god, Azula kicked butt without her bending. AZULA.
It’s just a cop-out. They don’t grow as characters, they don’t face what was done to them and move on from their grief and sense of loss, the show continues to uphold benders as superior and worse, make it seem as though not having bending makes you not ‘whole’.
All of this is yes.
- 1st June