I don’t watch a lot of TV. I’ll pick up a show here and there, but week in and week out commitment? Ugh, no thanks.
However, my burgeoning career as an author has allowed me to pretend I have a little gravitas within the industry (I don’t, really, but roll with it). I’ve been watching a few shows on my streaming channels (I have a few. Not many, but a few) and I just finished Avatar: The Last Airbender yesterday. Today I started Avatar: The Legend of Korra and right away I felt a very different vibe in the writing, like something was not good. It was strange and took me to the end of the episode to understand fully just what was wrong with it. The problem, actually, is the main character herself — Korra.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m still going to give it its fair shake. I wanted to get this down now, while it’s fresh in my mind.
Okay, so back to my first thoughts. The setting for this new Avatar series is 70 years after the events in The Last Airbender. Aang is dead and the cycle for the Avatar has passed on to the Water Tribes. Namely, Korra. Those searching for the Avatar discover Korra when she is like 6 or 7 years old and bending all four elements. This is a HUGE deal because the Avatar is supposed to train with other element masters to learn how to bend them. Aang, who was considered the most powerful Avatar in history, only knew how to airbend when he was 12 and disappeared. So for a child to already be more advanced than Aang without any training whatsoever is a big deal…
…and this is where they messed up, and I even understand why they messed up. In the creation of their expansive plot (which seems much more convoluted than the first series did), they skipped over the character development stage.
Anytime you write a sequel to a story, you need the stakes to be higher, and after the events of The Last Airbender, there isn’t much higher one can go then saving the world. Aang was also considered a very powerful airbender because of how young he was when he mastered airbending. He was 13 when he defeated Fire Lord Ozai and restored balance to the world. That’s… impressive. Very impressive.
So the writers are stuck trying to top Aang, and they want it to be a woman (reasonable; you want to establish a different character in the same universe, the easiest way to do this is to change the sex). With this in mind, they created Korra. Now, this was in 2010 when production and storyboarding was first beginning, so keep that in mind. This is before the train wreck character creation of Rey Palpatine (I refuse to call her Skywalker, sorry). Hell, you could possibly say that the writers for The Force Awakens used the very same character arc (Korra/Rey) and simply swapped out the name. They created Korra to be overpowered as all get-out, and then pretty much made her flawless, except for her lack of patience. Viewers didn’t really click with her the way they did with Aang, who had to struggle for every little scrap of knowledge along the way. It showed in the ratings (I went and researched a little, and the ratings dropped quite a bit when compared to The Last Airbender).
You see, this is a writing error many who create sequels do. They believe that the grand scale of the world must be even bigger, and therefor must show the viewer immediately just what is at stake. With The Last Airbender, the show took its time showing the stakes. Sure, there was a huge 100 year war going on, and it was directly affecting many lives, but it really felt more of an afterthought while Aang discovered the truth about the Airbender nomads, his people, and what happened while he had disappeared. It was only midway through the season, after the viewers had grown attached to Aang, did they drop the huge bomb: Aang had less than a year to master all four elements before the comet returns, and allowing the villain to be too powerful to be stopped.
Deadline? Check. High drama? Check. Emotionally invested in the main characters? CHECK! Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a terrific fast-paced, action packed overreaching story arc to follow!
With The Legend of Korra, I’m not getting that feeling. Again, it could be that I’m too soon into the first season, but there doesn’t seem to be much going on in terms of an overall story arc. If it’s about Korra’s personal arc, fine, I’ll let that one slow-burn for awhile. The problem with that, however, goes back into my primary complaint about her — she’s just overpowered. She’s not even an adult yet at the start and she has already mastered three of the elements. I remember Aang’s avatar mentor (whose name escapes me at the moment) admit it took him years to master waterbending (he was a member of the Fire Nation). It’s… a rushed development of a character, I think, and forces the viewer into an expansive, convoluted plot the writers believed necessary to drive the show forward.
I’m hoping it gets better. Judging by what some of my friends are saying, I shouldn’t get my hopes up.