When Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino first announced Legend of Korra—a sequel series set 70 or so years after the events of their beloved original show—they certainly were subjected to no shortage of high expectations. And despite a few bumps in the road here and there, Legend of Korra more than met these expectations, crafting a relentlessly engaging series of stories that married the whimsy and imagination of Hayao Miyazaki with the kind of complex political intrigue one might find in a typical episode of Game of Thrones. Moreover, the show also gave us an incredible female protagonist in the form of its titular character—a kickass teenage girl who must save the world, all the while going through that all-too-familiar adolescent journey to discover her own inner self.
Originally slated as a 12-episode miniseries, Korra’s reception garnered it an additional three more seasons. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and last Friday marked the conclusion of Legend of Korra’s fourth and final year. In celebration of this all too underrated masterpiece of television, here is a very subjective list of the best the show had to offer. ?
11. “When Extremes Meet” (Book One)
“When Extremes Meet” may not be the most sophisticated of Korra stories, nor is it the most action-packed. What it does represent—for me, at least—is the moment the show properly clicked into place. After the first half of the season was spent mostly focused on the team’s pro-bending sports career, and the soap-opera-worthy love (rectangle?) between Korra, Mako, Asami and Bolin, this episode really dives into the meat of the central story as well as the political complications it brings about. Naturally, in a world divided into those with powers and those without, the benders run the risk of using their abilities to rule over the non-benders. When the not-so-benevolent Tarrlok ends up ordering the arrest of a group of non-bending protestors, Korra finds herself in the middle of a delicate situation. While they certainly must sniff out potential threats to the government, where does one step over the line into civil rights violations? Add in the revelation that Tarrlok has mastered the seemingly illegal skill of blood-bending, and the whole episode presents one hell of a curve in the direction of the show.
10. “Darkness Falls/Light in the Dark” (Book Two)
Out of the first three Korra season finales, “Darkness Falls/Light in the Dark” stands as, by far, the most problematic. But, dear God, if it isn’t ambitious. After the season’s (quite dull) villain Unalaq ends up melding with the evil spirit Vaatu to become a Dark Avatar, all hope seems to be lost. Not only that, the leveled-up antagonist manages to almost completely demolish the good spirit Raava, thus severing Korra’s connection with past Avatars. In response, Korra harnesses some major internal mumbo-jumbo, and grows into a giant, blue version of herself. Yes, the amount of deus ex machina in this story is utterly absurd—even by Korra standards. Yet, between boasting some of the most jaw-dropping, creative animation of the series, and ending the wobbly Season Two on a truly epic note, this two-parter more than earns a spot on the list.
9. “Old Wounds” (Book Three)
An episode primarily focused on the steely, no-nonsense Lin was no doubt always in the cards, especially given that she was the daughter of Last Airbender’s de facto Earth Master Toph. In the third season, the show finally decided to prod this well of familial discord, and ended up striking storytelling gold in the process. During an intense acupuncture session, Lin begins having flashbacks to the events that led to her estrangement from her sister, Suyin. What could very well have been a saccharine tangent from the main story instead becomes, in the hands of the Korra writers, a poignant and utterly relatable tale about the complexities of family.
8. “Ultimatum” (Book Three)
The final stretch of episodes in Season Three marks some of the absolute best that Legend of Korra has to offer. In the arc of the show, “Ultimatum” serves as the stepping stone installment for the season finale. That being said, it’s a breathlessly paced, exhilarating entry all on its own. For one, there’s the titular ultimatum—Korra must decide whether to give herself up to the Red Lotus (a group of newly minted benders determined to overthrow the government), or risk the destruction of the Air Bender nation by refusing to comply. On one hand, of course Korra should do everything to protect the air benders; on a big picture level, however, there’s no telling what unforeseen damage the loss of the Avatar could have on society. Such complex dilemmas helped to both define Korra, as well as help distinguish it from the much more simplistic morality of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Not to mention, the episode features a phenomenal aerial battle between Korra’s master Tenzin and Zaheer, leader of the Red Lotus.
7. “A New Spiritual Age” (Book Two)
Like “Ultimatum,” “A New Spiritual Age” is a late-in-the-season entry that really works to raise the stakes before the season finale. More importantly, it boasts the return of a beloved character—Iroh, from Avatar: The Last Airbender. His presence comes about after Korra tries to navigate the spirit world with the help of Jinora, Tenzin’s daughter. The chaos of this magical realm quickly separates the two, and Korra, overwhelmed and lost, reverts to the form of her four year-old self. She’s promptly rescued by Iroh, who teaches her how to best navigate her surroundings. This poignant encounter soon gives way to tragedy, as Unalaq makes an unexpected attack. Even this dark ending, however, does little to diminish the sheer wonder and excitement of what came before it.
6. “Skeletons in the Closet/Endgame” (Book One)
As I mentioned in the intro, Nickelodeon originally commissioned Korra as a 12-episode miniseries. This background info certainly makes sense when viewing the inaugural year’s last installment. Certainly, there’s a sense of finality to the whole proceeding—as if the writers suspected this might be the one chance they had to tell this story, and wanted to get in as much as possible. Shockingly, the episode never ends up feeling cluttered; every character is given their proper moment, and the story plays out with the heightened, epic feel that any great finale should have. The only ding I have against this episode comes at the very end, when a (take a drink) deus ex machina ends up abruptly resolving a major character beat. Other than that, however, this two-parter set a great precedent for finales in the brief history of the series.