By: Dan Tomasik
It’s been an interesting and unconventional journey for Avatar Korra. Since she was 4 years old, she’s known she wanted to be the Avatar. Wouldn’t you know it, she was. When her training began, she mastered the first three elements with ease. She had the passion of a firebender, the bull-headedness of an earthbender, and the fluidity of a waterbender. Together, she customized them into a style that fit her personality. Combative, initiative, and above all confident. The world was her oyster and she could handle anything it could throw at her.
When she began training under Tenzin, she struggled to adopt the foreign mentality of the airbenders. Clarity, serenity, spirituality; Korra fought it every step of the way. For the first time her confidence was shaken by an obstacle she could not overcome by brute force, hard work, or natural intuition. Then there came the Equalists, Amon, and another obstacle she couldn’t overcome; confronting her own vulnerability for the first time. For Korra, losing her bending seemed like the end of the world because it took away what she thought was her very identity. Aang initially rejected his destiny, he just wanted to be Aang. Korra has wanted to be the Avatar since birth. If that’s taken away from her, what does she have left?
However, her confidence was restored by the intervention of her past lives and once again Korra had everything she had ever wanted, in addition to something new and exciting. Once again Korra could hide her fears and vulnerabilities away indefinitely. With the rebellion of the spirits and the civil war taking place amongst her people (and her group of friends), Korra was once again faced with a challenge that seemed insurmountable. However, her freshly boosted confidence told her she could handle a new challenge this time. She began taking things into her own hands more, trying to adapt and adopt whatever she needed to learn to handle the situation. She became hostile to others who tried to help her, determined to remain independent and take care of things herself. It was as if she had learned nothing from the start of the series.
It took a journey into the very origins of the Avatar to finally snap Korra out of her selfishness. A look into her original predecessor, who established the defining elements of the Avatar not by virtue of his strength or successes, but to atone for and correct his failures. In the wake of this revelation and the realization of what needed to be done, Korra finally let go of the “I can do it myself” attitude that had defined her for so long. Finally she was ready to put the well-being of others before herself. Finally she was embracing her failures and vulnerabilities. In the end she suffered her greatest failure yet, possibly the greatest failure in the history of the Avatar. That which had defined the Avatar since time immemorial was stripped from Korra, leaving her with nothing but her own flawed self.
It was on that note that Book 3 began. In many ways it marks the true beginning of Korra’s journey as Avatar, and the end of her journey as a selfish heroine with an attitude problem. What Korra now faces on a day-to-day basis are issues and challenges no one could have prepared her for, but she is accepting them with stride. Change is happening all around the world, and Korra is trying to deal with it just like everyone else. The threat she faces now is more grounded, more human, more personal. It’s not a revolutionary movement composed of thousands of followers, nor is it an ancient being of supreme evil. Her adversary is a small group of exceptionally talented individuals seeking to overthrow the leaders of the world. There is no secret revelation that will stop them, nor any mystical force that will solve the problem, it’s a simple game of cat & mouse.
It’s so strange to believe such an adversary could have the strongest impact on Korra, but that is exactly what Zaheer does. Zaheer is different from all the past enemies in the Avatar universe, desiring neither power nor glory. He carries no bloodlust, harbors no ill-will for his enemies, and wields a power none would call otherworldly. But it’s his dedication to something greater than himself that makes him the most dangerous of Korra’s opponents. His determination to upset the system that has existed for so long, unchallenged. It’s definitely interesting to have someone like Henry Rollins cast for Zaheer. The former frontman for Black Flag is famous for his anarchic beliefs and hell-raising tendencies, even prompting the creation of a character based on (and voiced by) him; Mad Stan from Batman Beyond. To have such a volatile and explosive personality voicing a character defined by calmness and spirituality is bizarre to say the least. It must be said, however, that he does have a more traditional Henry Rollins moment upon his capture.
But in the wake of this short crisis (the season is only 13 episodes long), the lasting effects are the strongest of any seen in the series. Korra, so long defined as the warrior Avatar, the rebel Avatar, the proud Avatar; is now the invalid Avatar. Confined to a wheelchair, barely able to speak, and with a haunted look on her face, Korra no longer bears any resemblance to her former self. The challenge she now faces cannot be overcome by any amount of skill, strategy, intuition or determination. Her challenge now is to endure. To sit there and watch as the world changes around her, unable to experience it for herself. Korra is now at the mercy of everyone and everything and unable to act for herself. Every source of strength is gone, leaving her with nothing but weakness.
For a season marked by so much uncertainty and small-time conflict, it has left us with the strongest conclusion by far.