That, dear reader, is how you end a series.
“Day of the Colossus” offers quick relief by revealing that everyone survived the explosion at the end of last week’s episode. Tension ramps back up immediately. I felt a thrilling endgame pressure watching Team Avatar plan a course of attack to bring down the Colossus.
As Josh and Søren noted in their finale podcast, it was intriguing (and an example of good writing) to see that most of the team’s efforts aren’t working. Varrick’s (John Michael Higgins) attempt to shut down the giant suit with a large electromagnetic pulse fails. Defeating the suit appears impossible. But, as a familiar voice asserts, it’s not. Enter Hiroshi Sato (Daniel Dae Kim).
A few episodes ago, Søren speculated about the purpose of Hiroshi’s appearance earlier this season. He noted that since Asami (Seychelle Gabrielle) made amends with her father he might play a role in the finale. I was happy to see that he was right. Hiroshi was a compelling antagonist in Book One. It was a welcome surprise to see him join the good guys for the sake of Republic City.
I was less satisfied with Baatar Jr.’s (Todd Haberkorn) sudden change of heart. His reconciliation with Suyin (Anne Heche) seemed forced. I understood his conflict over Kuvira’s pragmatic strike, but what I couldn’t accept was how readily Suyin pardoned him for the atrocities that he committed by Kuvira’s side. Hiroshi was given an entire episode subplot to repent with his daughter, so his redemption felt natural. Baatar, Jr. is painted as sympathetic in one scene, so his didn’t.
Overall, the finale phenomenally melds action with intimacy. DiMartino’s script blends a number of character resolutions into scenes focused on preparation for battle. The task at hand literally looms over the individual conflicts between Team Avatar and their allies.
That doesn’t mean that the hatchet burials feel any less genuine. These moments are as affecting as they are efficient. Mako (Dave Faustino) and Bolin (P.J. Byrne) come to terms as Mako makes a life-risking decision to bring down the Colossus power source himself. Bolin balks at him for trying to be a hero – “This isn’t the time to prove how awesome you are. I already know how awesome you are. You’re awesome!” – but accepts Mako’s decision. The scene is simultaneously heavy and lighthearted, as befits the brothers’ dynamic.
Asami makes final amends with her father while arming the hummingbird mechas with plasma saws. He remarks “It’s great to be working together again” and holds his daughter’s hand. They affirm their familial love as the reality of the showdown hangs in the air.
This tender exchange makes Hiroshi’s sacrifice all the more heartbreaking just moments later. Asami urges her father to dismount their hummingbird as Kuvira gets closer and closer to freeing the Colossus’ arm. With solemn resolution, Hiroshi tells his daughter he loves her one last time, then ejects her from the mech. The slow-motion shot of her screaming face as she sees the Colossus crush him is devastating.
The ante has been raised, and Korra is more than up to the challenge. I recall Byran Konietzko’s comments at the Korra panel at New York Comic Con in October. He noted that for Korra’s new water tribe outfit he and DiMartino were going for “more a superhero vibe because she is… The Avatar!“
The creator’s intention with Korra’s updated design feels especially apt given the finale’s bending sequences. Korra looks more than ever like the hero she was meant to be. She wields the elements with a reinvigorated finesse. I felt a giddy joy at one point during that colossal battle in the streets. Korra launches three giant boulders towards Kuvira’s super-mech and then propels herself into the air by firebending from her feet. She looks undeniably like a superhero. Her majestic display of power embodied everything that I’ll miss about this fantastical universe.
Jeremy Zuckerman’s incredible score perfectly augments the finale’s wide emotional and tonal spectrum. Huge orchestral swells accompany the montage of destruction in the center of Republic City. A powerful string arpeggio supports Mako as he fires electricity into the Colossus’ gargantuan spirit vine heart. Deeply personal cues resound after the Colossus collapses.
As exciting as the large-scale face-off is, however, the more tightly-focused moments in the finale’s latter half are far more resonant, and Zuckerman’s music follows suit. A hauntingly sparse string arrangement follows Korra as she searches for a runaway Kuvira in the Spirit Wilds. The Great Uniter finds her detached spirit vine cannon and makes one more attempt to kill the Avatar.
The music drops out as the spirit vines absorb the buildup of energy and send the cannon out of control. An awe-inspiring variant of the Avatar theme bursts forth as Korra enters the Avatar State and blocks the blast. These aural and visual elements flow seamlessly together, helping clarify Book Four’s central theme of balance. Zuckerman’s last musical cue in particular blends so well with the last scene that the two have become inextricable in my mind.
In its final half, “The Last Stand” strongly reaffirms the show’s character-driven core. Korra shows her maturation and personal growth when she speaks to Kuvira about their similarities. She approaches the broken leader from a peaceful perspective. She acknowledges Kuvira’s misguided motivation for creating the Earth Empire as tragic rather than purely evil.
Korra’s demonstration of maturity drives the balance theme home. She has realized her place in the world as the Avatar: to act as a neutral guardian, enable positive progress and treat everyone with equal compassion. Hearing her later explain this newfound understanding to Tenzin was a bittersweet reminder that I’ve watched Korra grow for the past two years. She has transformed from a brash, headstrong teen into a sensitive, thoughtful woman.
The Legend of Korra is a show concerned as much with change as it is with love. The romantic parallel drawn between Zhu Li/Varrick and Korra/Asami in the finale’s final minutes links these concepts. Varrick finally breaks from his selfish nature by professing his love for and proposing to Zhu Li before they leave to battle the Colossus. Their eventual wedding serves not just as tranquil decrescendo but also as narrative closure.
Bolin prefaces Varrick and Zhu Li’s vows by noting that true love is fickle, but “even the longest of longshots can have a chance at happiness together.” His words prime the viewer for one final romantic catharsis. Korra and Asami’s private conversation outside the wedding after party demonstrates yet again how strong their bond is, but the show’s last images confirm that their deep friendship has blossomed into love.
The two women approach the newly formed Spirit Portal. They turn to one another and smile. They hold hands in a closeup that pulls back to show them step into the light, still looking into each other’s eyes. The score’s gorgeous final notes twinkle as Korra and Asami dissolve into the portal. The glow absorbs them and a title card appears with the Chinese text for “The End.” The creators have both confirmed their intentions, but the scene is wonderfully and unmistakably romantic.
The Legend of Korra, like Avatar before it, has pushed boundaries. The show has embraced the complicated subjects of war, racial tension, depression, PTSD and now, sexual orientation. Konietzko and DiMartino have made strides to represent groups that are continuously marginalized by adult and especially children’s media. By ending this show with the depiction of a healthy same-sex relationship between two women of color, the creators have set a new bar for others to rise to.
I expected that watching this finale would bring me to tears. I was wrong. Instead, I felt a rush of warmth bubble up inside me, as if some inexplicable source of spirit energy had grown within my own chest. Those final moments made me realize something about this show. The Legend of Korra, in its sometimes subtle but always earnest way, has made the world a bit more beautiful for everyone.
Be sure to check out Josh and Søren’s podcast discussion of the finale in last week’s Ember Island Airwaves.