Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Legend of Korra 1x11: "Skeletons in the Closet" and 1x12: "Endgame"

Bryke, we need to talk. I'm staging an intervention for you guys. The fact of the matter is, you are addicted to deus ex machina. This is a problem. You might think it is harmless, but it is not. It is unhealthy, and it hurts you and what's more, it hurts the people who love you.

All right, all right, I am getting ahead of myself. But really this is the main point of what I have to say: This finale was awesome, right until the last three or four minutes. Up to that point I was not only excited about what was going on, I was excited for what season two had in store. There were so many nice little unresolved plot threads that would make for excellent drama come next season, covering so much as-of-yet unexplored territory.

And then they resolve everything out of goddamn nowhere. And while it doesn't come with an unfortunate implied message the way the deus ex machina in "Sozin's Comet" does ("your youthful arrogance is well-placed; sometimes you should just completely disregard the advice of those older and wiser than you and go your own path, no matter how many people it might hurt" okay I'm done ranting now), but it is even more blatant and abrupt as a deus ex machina than the Energybending solution.

Okay okay okay, so here's a quick and dirty summary, since really why are you reading this if you aren't watching the show, and for that matter, why aren't you watching this show?

Team Avatar is living underground with, of all people, the hobo from the very first episode and some of his lot, who are all about the cause of peace in Republic City. Zuko's grandson Iroh has arrived with the United Forces fleet, and Korra helps them fight off Equalist biplanes with little success. Regrouped, the team (now plus General Iroh) decides to split up to both take down the secret airfield from which Sato is dispatching the biplanes, and take down Amon himself. When I say "decides to split up", I mean Korra decides to go after Amon, and Mako immediate abandons his girlfriend and his brother to go with her because of twue wuv okay I'm done ranting for now. The point is, Naga busts some defenses, Iroh shoots down some planes, and Asami and Bolin take down Hiroshi Sato. Meanwhile, when Korra and Mako go looking for Amon at Air Temple Island, they find him absent, but are treated to some exposition from, of all people, Tarrlok, who gets special prisoner treatment from the Equalists because he's Amon's brother. Gasp! He explains that he and Amon, whose birth name is Noatak, were raised in the Northern Water Tribe by their father Yakone, after he escaped imprisonment at Republic City and adopted a new identity. As they got older, Yakone taught them how to bloodbend, and demanded that they become powerful and avenge the wrongs done to their father. Tarrlok didn't take to the vicious power of bloodbending, but Noatak was gifted enough for the both of them, as well as defensive of his little brother. One day, Noatak bloodbent Yakone in retaliation for his cruelty and fled, never to be seen again until he had adopted the name of Amon. With this knowledge, Korra and Mako plan to expose Amon at the big Equalist rally. Amon is making his speech, preparing to de-bend the imprisoned Tenzin and airbender kids, when Korra shouts the truth for the audience to hear. Though they don't seem to buy it at first, Korra and Mako are able to free the airbenders and flee. In the ensuing conflicts, Amon de-bends Korra, and is about to do the same for Mako, which somehow (like many things in these episodes, never explained) triggers something in Korra, and she finally airbends, knocking Amon out of the window into the bay, washing off his mask and his scar makeup and prompting him into reflexively waterbending to prevent himself from drowning. He flies the scene, goes back to Tarrlok's cell and takes his brother with him on a speed-boat to far, far away. As they speed away, the guilt-ridden Tarrlok uses an Equalist glove to send a spark into the gas tank, blowing them up, and providing us with perhaps the darkest scene in Nickelodeon history. Meanwhile, though the Equalists are apparently defeated what with losing their leader, nobody can find a way to return Korra's bending to her. Mako tries to comfort her and tells her that he loves her, despite not having properly broken up with Asami, and Korra runs off to be alone in her sorrow. Then spirit Aang arrives and announces that because Korra tapped into her spiritual side four episodes ago, he and the past Avatars are imbuing her with the Avatar state, her other bending back, and to top it all off, energybending so that she can give Lin her bending back as well. Then Korra tells Mako she loves him too, and they kiss, and my soul dies a little.

...Look, there was a lot in this hour of television that was awesome. The return of the hobo was awesome. Iroh shooting down biplanes was awesome. Bloodbending was awesome, and still creepy as fuck. Even Tarrlok and Amon's backstory was awesome. There were also a lot of loose ends as well. The list of questions raised before the end of episode 12's second act--the good part of the episode--is quite extensive: How exactly does Amon block other people's bending if he is simply a normal (if very powerful) waterbender? How will Korra and friends find a way to undo this block? How will Korra adjust to being without the bending she's had all her life? If Amon honestly believes in the cause, as Tarrlok insists, what does he plan to do about his own bending power? Can he de-bend himself, and is he just waiting until all other benders are depowered? Hasn't he considered the fact that his own backstory proves that de-bending someone doesn't prevent them from breeding little benders? Are we ever going to get a moment when a hero acknowledges what a good point the Equalists have? When is Mako going to actually just break up with Asami already and/or get the talking-to he deserves about his mistreatment of her? And let me make this clear; that list is not a problem. I like that list. When I thought the season was gonna end with that list, I was happy as clam, because it meant that season two was going to be awesome.

And then that third and final act of episode 12 happened. And then all of those questions were rendered irrelevant by a stupid cop-out deus ex machina ending. Okay, some of them died in Tarrlok's murder-suicide, of which I feel two ways, because while the scene was really damn good, I also feel like the story of Amon and Tarrlok could've continued into next season. But really it was those final five minutes that killed this finale for me, as well as most of my excitement for the next season. The one new thing I'm actually looking forward to is Tenzin's brother Bumi, the United Forces Commander who stole the show with a single wild whoop near the end of the episode.

Look, I can lay all the blame I want at the feet of the executives at Nickelodeon for limiting the choices Bryke could make in this story, as well as the time they had in which to tell it, but really this ending was just plain sad, and I'll be damned if the executives at Nickelodeon required Bryke to employ such a lame and clumsy deus ex machina and completely ruin the potential for the next season. Eventually, however much I may love Bryke and want to defend them, they done goofed. We're supposed to just accept so much at the end of this season, most glaring of all being the forced romantic resolution between Korra and Mako, who--can I emphasize it any stronger?--did not clearly break up with Asami before professing his love for Korra. (I don't mind him being an idiot as much as I mind the writers and Korra not treating him like one.) I appreciate all of the great things in this finale, I swear I do, and that includes pretty much everything I didn't gripe about just now, so that's a lot. It gave me many feels, and if nothing else, I have reason to write an epic fanfiction detailing what season two should've been. But those last five minutes spoiled so much for me, and I just wish they hadn't happened. So there.

1 comment:

  1. While for the most part I wholeheartedly agree with you (on all your reviews, not just this one), I'm wondering if you knew that Legend of Korra was originally intended as a mini-series. Now, that doesn't excuse the cop-out resolutions, but it *does* offer an explanation as to where it came from.