Previously, I posted a mini review of the first season of Legend of Korra. Did I think it was a bad show? No! Did I see a great deal of potential? Absolutely! Did I like it with the same zealousness as other fans? No.
Writing for television is a challenging task and sometimes writers have to let things slide to make deadlines. An imperfect script is better than no script at all. However, here’s an imaginary situation where the script lands on my desk and someone points to it and says, “Do better, smartass.” Could I do better? Let’s find out.
First, I must keep with the premise of the show. A new Avatar, a female waterbender, is now a teenager and must go to Republic City to continue her training. It takes a little time for her to adapt to the bustle of the city, as all she knows is the quiet life in a Southern Water Tribe village. She meets a pair of brothers, gets involved in Pro Bending, and learns about the growing threat of violent revolution. As the Avatar, she must keep the balance between the bending nations and between the physical and spiritual worlds. Now, she seeks to keep the balance within a young city that has become of the hub of the world.
Now, to examine the central character upon which this entire story balances upon: Korra. Here’s the first run in with my lore warden. Korra is first a waterbender and she was trained by Katara, who also trained the previous Avatar. The character of Korra should reflect that. Also, as established by Last Airbender, Avatars weren’t usually told of their status until they were sixteen years old. Aang was an exception only because of impending doom. Those conditions are not present for Korra. She would train to be an amazing master waterbender under Katara and then learn of her status as Avatar. Drama! Did her parents already know? Would Korra have already made plans about her life, only to have them dashed?
Korra’s personality would be influenced by her prime element. She can be as forceful at a tsunami at times, but water is a flexible element, an element of change. It is also prone to taking the easiest path and succumbing to emotions. However, waterbending is affected by emotion, so she would be trained to recover quickly from an unbalanced emotional state.
As a waterbender and Katara’s student, she would reflect a great deal of Katara’s techniques, including carrying a waterpouch. Her defense is her offense and she would be skilled at using her opponent’s own force against them. By the time Korra learns she is the Avatar, she is already a master level to rival Katara.
As the new Avatar, Korra must now go to Republic City and train in the other elements. There, she meets Lin Beifong, who will teach her earthbending, and Tenzin, who will teach her airbending. While a student under Lin and acting as an assistant, she learns of the criminal underworld and the political complexities of the city. Earthbending proves easy for Korra to learn and she quickly gains proficiency. Earth is the element of substance and requires determination to work with it, something that Korra has plenty of. However, the finesse of waiting and listening in Toph’s lineage of earthbending proves the greatest challenge, but not one that is insurmountable, though Korra does not manage to learn seismic sense or metalbending during the course of the first season. When Lin is busy with sensitive matters, Korra goes to Tenzin to learn airbending. Water and air are both flexible elements that are about flow and reaction. Air is the element of freedom and its base is appealing to a spirit like Korra’s. However, she can not reach the Avatar state on her own. In fact, she confesses that she has never reached that state, even when in extreme danger. Her spirituality just isn’t strong enough for that.
She also takes interest in Pro Bending and joins the Fire Ferrets to test her training and have some fun. She takes up the waterbender role and delivers creative top-notch performances. After she friendzones Bolin, Mako friendzones her. Korra learns the lesson that not every romantic interest can be pursued and that she has to respect that. No wasting time on a love triangle.
What about firebending and Korra being a fully-realized Avatar by the end of the season? If that absolutely must happen, the let her learn the basics from Mako. Sure, maybe she was supposed to be trained by a master firebender (Old man Zuko perhaps? Or Iroh II?), but she wanted to learn some basics as soon as she could. Fire would be her opposite element and the most difficult one for her to master, since it is not about directing an element, but controlling it.
That takes care of most of Korra and hopefully the intent of the character has remained mostly intact. On to the rest of the plot.
Here’s where things get even stickier. A revolution story is no easy feat to do well. Who are the instigators? Why? Are these reasons believable? Why would people follow this movement? If it’s about benders being tyrants and lording over the nonbenders, then that has to be shown in areas beyond the criminal gangs. If benders are the living utilities, then who is abusing who? However, this world is one of 1920s technology. Nonbenders would already be catching up to benders in terms of power. In fact, benders may be on the path to obsolescence. Perhaps that could be a plot point. Perhaps fewer benders are inclined to even learn their elements, save for certain career paths, such as Pro Bending sports. The spiritual knowledge of bending could be on the brink of vanishing from the world beyond tiny enclaves.
Masked Amon is a great villain design and it would be a travesty to waste that. What if his direction were reversed? Instead of seeing bending as an impurity to be cleansed, bending can be a spiritual enlightenment to save the world from the march of modernity. The Air Nomads were all benders because of their great spirituality before they were wiped out. What if Amon saw bending without the prerequisite spirituality as an insult and a threat to the balance of the world. What if he sought to return benders to their spiritual roots and remove the bending from those that refused to join his movement? What if he thought he could be a better Avatar than Korra as the bridge between the material and spiritual worlds? To make the story personal to Korra, let Amon see her showboating in Pro Bending and take that as the ultimate insult to the spiritual nature of bending and the responsibilities of the Avatar. He could then change his initial thought about her joining his movement to teach and give legitimacy, to putting a bounty on her so that he could take her bending away. He may even think that he could assume the mantle of Avatar from what he sees as a naive lost girl. This would also give a more direct reason for him to attack the Pro Bending tournament and target the Pro Benders for power blocking, as the whole thing would be a desecration of the art to him.
Where did Amon come from? Most of backstory about a fanatic waterbender father could be kept. Let him take the spiritual seeds from that. Let Amon learn that energybending exists from a record of how Avatar Aang neutralized Fire Lord Ozai. Let him learn about the spirit world. Let him go on journeys into the spirit world. Let devote his life to learning how to reach energybending, thinking it as a form of enlightenment. Let him think that he is enlightened.
As for Asami’s part of the story, why would her father really be pouring so much money and resources for Amon’s group? He’s got a company to run and money doesn’t magically appear. I could see him being anti-bender and that’s why he’s making technology, but then he could be operating openly and advertise that what he makes will reduce the differences between bender and nonbenders. Why train for years when you can master FutureTech in minutes? Benders wouldn’t have to be living utilities or risking their lives as enforcers. Machines and nonbenders could take up the roles. More leisure time for everyone! Better quality of life for everyone! Those advertisements worked wonders during the early 20th century. He doesn’t need to be evil about being anti-bender. He could see a huge customer base and want to make tons of money off of them. Then Asami’s daddy-issues can come into play when she takes a fancy to the firebender Mako and his Pro Bending sport. Her drama can then be a bit more personal than “oh no, my daddy is evil.” Amon could even begin targeting Future Industries because of Asami’s support of the sport and the technology’s role in reducing bending to its modern form. However, that doesn’t mean that Amon needs to be a complete technophobe. He could see its use as a means to an end and a way to augment traditional bending.
For the final confrontation between Korra and Amon, let them fight as two master waterbenders, while the rest of the team plus help hold off Amon’s supporters. Let Korra use the other elements to leverage an advantage over Amon. Let Amon use technology to surprise Korra. Let it be an epic confrontation that she loses. Amon tries to use energybending to take away Korra’s power and assume the role of Avatar. Call back to that scene where Ozai’s red aura nearly consumes Aang’s blue. Korra finally taps into the Avatar state and with the combined strength of all of her past lives, she overwhelms Amon. The backfire destroys Amon’s bending and he is powerless, but not dead. Korra must decide whether or not to kill him or to let him face trial in Republic City.
Is this better? Is it crap? Is it on par with the aired show? Do you have an alternate gnawing at the edge of your imagination? Let me know!