Earth. Fire. Air. Water. The four elements joined forces one last time in the season four premiere of Nickelodeon’s “Legend of Korra.” After coming off a strong third season, creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko upped the ante in “Book Four: Balance,” focusing on a new storyline, introducing dynamic characters, constructing wicked bending sequences and setting the stage for a final season that has potential to be the best one yet.
“Book Three: Change” ended on a heavy note. After successfully defeating at least one major villain a season while showing no signs of physical or emotional damage –– typical of your usual animated superhero –– Avatar Korra showed her human side at the end of the season three after being kidnapped and poisoned by the Red Lotus, an anarchist unit run by airbender Zaheer. Although the Red Lotus was destroyed and Korra was saved in the finale, the last frame of the episode –- which focuses on Korra’s tired, tear-streaked face as she remains restricted in a wheelchair –– is what prevents LoK from ending on a happy note like Nickelodeon’s other cartoon series.
Three episodes into the final season –– which fast-forwards three years from the season three finale –– Team Avatar has split up indefinitely, but each individual appears to have aged well and has done their part to help Republic City and the rest of the world. Except Korra.
Although she may have been rescued from certain death, Korra’s mind and body have all but abandoned her, including her ability to enter the Avatar state. In an attempt to regain her form, Korra decides to join waterbending master Katara in the Northern Water Tribe. After nearly two years of treatments, Korra is finally able to walk on her own.
Korra’s newfound vulnerability is a change of pace from her fearless heroism displayed in previous seasons, cuing fans in on the severity of her situation and the struggles that await her in the future. Her spirit broken and self-confidence shattered, Korra travels to the Earth Kingdom and becomes a nameless nomad, altering her appearance and leaving behind the title of Avatar, in search of a way to overcome her greatest obstacle: herself.
Korra isn’t the only one given character depth. The introduction of Book Four’s newest antagonist, metalbender Kuvira, is a welcome contrast from the other villains that have appeared in the past for the sole reason that many LoK fans find her relatable or, at least, somewhat human. After making her first appearance in Book Three as the captain of the Metal Clan in the city state of Zaofu, the stern-yet-caring Kuvira has emerged as a prominent character, assuming the role of interim president of the Earth Kingdom while the incoming king, Prince Wu, is being properly groomed. In her three years of reign, Kuvira has traveled with her army of metalbenders from city to city, offering supplies and protection to each village in an attempt to unite the broken kingdom once more.
While Kuvira’s plans are soon made clear when she denounces King Wu at his coronation and declares herself to be the new leader of the “Earth Empire,” one cannot pin her as the generic evil mastermind just yet. While some fans jokingly point out that she differs from past bad guys in that, yes, she’s physically beautiful, others can see that Kuvira is focused, goal-oriented and though she seems to be embarking on a power trip, at least she’s doing something about the imbalance in the world.
Amidst all the excitement of an M.I.A. Avatar and complex antagonist, one mustn’t forget the rest of Team Avatar. While Tenzin continues to focus on rebuilding the Air Nation and Asami is spearheading Future Industries, brothers Mako and Bolin encounter their own set of problems. Forced to put his role as a detective on the backburner, Mako is assigned the cumbersome task of babysitting Prince Wu.
Bolin on the other hand, has chosen to assist in Kuvira’s take over of the Earth Kingdom. The two brothers’ differing allegiances eventually leads to a confrontation. After Mako questions Kuvira’s intentions, Bolin retaliates by accusing Mako of being a close-minded, glorified nanny. For two characters who have always been on good terms, the fall out between Mako and Bolin is quite alarming.
Beginning the last chapter of Korra’s book by fast-forwarding three years has proven to be a great decision so far by giving its characters time to grow in complexity and develop compelling subplots that will be explored intensively. With new antagonists, the continued presence of the spirit world and the return of some familiar faces (our favorite blind-and-badass earthbender Toph Beifong is back and just as snarky with Korra as she was with Aang), LoK has a great deal to offer without giving too much away in terms of predictability.
RECOMMENDED: Season four hits the ground running in a premiere that will leave Korra fans satisfied and craving more.