I have to admit that after the 10-episode thrill ride that has been The Legend of Korra thus far, I was a little let down by the two-part season finale. The sound of plot hammers ring much more loudly than in the episodes before it, and there are far too many amazing coincidences, plot cheats, and needlessly ambiguous events that leave a bit of a sour aftertaste.
In “Skeletons in the Closet,” the conquest of Republic City by the Equalists seems complete, with Korra and her friends taking refuge with vagrants hiding away in the sewers (including a familiar face from the very first episode). General Iroh and the United Forces fleet fare little better than Republic City itself, with the fleet decimated by mines in the harbor and Hiroshi Sato’s new airplanes. I can understand the need to remove the fleet from the plot, since “The Army conquers everything” wouldn’t leave much for our heroes to do, and the planes are cool and scary new weapons for a newly-industrialized age. I just dislike the way the heroes in the Avatar world constantly forget that the enemy gets a vote in your plan, too. Sokka’s father was using mines decades earlier, so it’s not like they’re a completely new concept. Even if that had been forgotten, the direct frontal assault against an enemy known to be highly mechanized doesn’t make General Iroh look like much of a leader. The science nerd in me is also compelled to point out that explosions underwater are even more lethal than on land; I would believe Korra could survive all those near-miss bombstrikes through Waterbending, but she would have to know to do it and I’m not convinced she would (she visibly doesn’t at least once). Of course, “the Avatar is killed by an underwater bomb strike” is even less satisfying than “the Army conquers everything,” but I’d have had no quibble if Korra arrived too late to do anything in the battle except save General Iroh.
Korra rescues General Iroh from the devastation and leads him back to their refuge, where he radios a warning to a second United Forces fleet commanded by Bumi, Aang’s son and Tenzin’s brother. I was happy to see the vagrant from episode 1 making a surprise reappearance, and his involvement makes perfect sense, but I find it awfully convenient that he just happens to be a trained radio operator with a pretty rocking setup at exactly the moment when they need one. A hasty war council sends Iroh, Bolin, and Asami (with Naga and Pabu) to disable the Equalists’ airfield, while Korra and Mako attempt to decapitate the Equalists by infiltrating their new headquarters on Air Temple Island and taking down Amon himself. A tender moment between Mako and Korra the night before is cut short by Korra (and if only she stuck to that line of thought). Mako and Korra’s disguises get them onto Air Temple Island, where they learn that the Equalists are about to hold a victory rally at the Pro-Bending Arena right before discovering Tarrlok locked in a cell on the island. Tarrlok reveals that Amon is really his brother Noatak, and both we’re trained by their father Yakone in psychic Bloodbending. While Noatak had more talent, the training also made him colder and more reserved. When Yakone tried to force the boys to Bloodbend each other, both rebel, with Noatak lashing out at his father before running away, never to be seen again until resurfacing as Amon. Armed with this knowledge, Mako and Korra set off to reveal Amon as a Bender to all the Equalists at the rally.
The final reveal of Amon and the extended backstory that Tarrlok relates was one of my favorite things about the finale, even if I felt a twinge of disappointment that the show dedicated almost half an episode to an extended exposition dump. It’s the sort of thing they avoided earlier, and in the original Avatar. Even so, I appreciated how it manages to explain circumstances and personality traits, without explaining exactly how and why Noatak became Amon. Noatak remains intriguingly cryptic, which I’m totally OK with since it’s a trait that persists in Amon. The expressionless mask Amon wears and Steve Blum’s chilly deadpan vocal delivery are both external representations of Amon’s inscrutable thought processes. More than anything, the story goes a long way to humanize him, but doesn’t let him off the hook for the monstrous things he’s done. It makes it easy to feel sympathy and revulsion at the same time for him and for Tarrlok, which is one reason the ending has as much resonance as it does.
At the start of “Endgame,” Asami, Bolin, and Iroh find the Equalist airfield and discover the hard way why there are fenceposts but no fence, getting zapped into unconsciousness by an invisible electric field. Korra and Mako’s surprise appearance at the Equalist victory rally goes poorly, as Amon denies their allegations and supports his version of the story by unmasking in front of the crowd, revealing a horribly scarred visage. Honestly, I have no idea why Korra and Mako thought it was a good idea to walk into an arena full of people who don’t like them to make an insane-sounding accusation with absolutely no proof. In the immortal words of John Crichton from Farscape, “Wile E. Coyote could come up with a better plan!” Also see above comment about forgetting that the enemy gets a vote in your plan, which hurts you even more when your plan really sucks. Korra and Mako even have the nerve to look surprised when their terrible plan fails, but before they can make their escape, Amon reveals that he has captured Tenzin and his family, revealing Tenzin and his children chained to posts and promising the crowd to rid the world of Airbending forever.
At the airfield, Asami spurns Hiroshi Sato’s explanations, but the elder Sato reveals that he intercepted General Iroh’s transmission and is sending planes to destroy the second fleet. Luckily, Naga and Pabu free the trio from their cell, allowing Bolin to tear up runways with Earthbending while Asami gets into a mecha-tank to do more >
Back at the Arena, Korra and Mako charge the stage, with Mako tying down the Equalists while Korra frees Tenzin and the kids. Tenzin’s Airbending tips the scales in their favor, giving enough breathing room for an escape. Tenzin takes the kids to find Pema and baby Rohan, while Korra and Mako hold off Amon and the Equalists. The two lure Amon into a storage room in the Arena, where Amon confirms the truth of Tarrlok’s story by Bloodbending Korra and Mako out from their hiding places before doing the unthinkable, stripping Korra of her bending abilities.
General Iroh is doing better, successfully destroying the Equalist squadron and stretching credibility even further. Not only does he become the first ace pilot in the world only minutes after learning how to fly a plane, but he survives not one but two planes shot out from under him in midair. Thrilling scenes, to be sure, but also ones which beggar belief. At the airfield, Bolin wrecks the runways, getting cover from the mecha-tanks from Naga (another moment that feels more convenient than believable), while Asami trashes the remaining airplanes. The Satos both give up any hope of redeeming the other in the mecha-tank combat that ensues, which ends with Hiroshi Sato receiving a taste of his own electroshock bolos.
Amon’s Lieutenant walks in to say he saw Amon Bloodbending, and now knows that everything the Avatar said was true. As much as he was someone we loved to hate, it was pretty painful to watch him lose his faith in everything he believed in, and I hope we get to see him again in the second season of the show in a marginally more sympathetic role. Also, because Lance Henriksen is awesome and didn’t get to do enough as the Lieutenant this season. The Lieutenant’s attack is cut brutally short by Amon’s Bloodbending, and Amon casts him aside, saying that his usefulness to the cause has ended. Before his bending can be taken away, Mako recovers enough to hit Amon with a lightning bolt, flinging him across the room. He tries to run with a near-catatonic Korra, but their escape comes to a sudden end when Amon re-appears, savagely Bloodbending Mako into a few walls. When she sees Amon about to take away Mako’s bending, Korra lashes out, Airbending for the first time and blowing Amon out a window into the Republic City harbor. To save himself from drowning, Amon reveals his abilities as a Waterbender to the gathered crowd, beating a hasty retreat before they truly react or Mako’s firebolts can connect.
Amon makes his way back to Air Temple Island, freeing Tarrlok so they can flee the city together, promising that things will be just as they were in the old days. However, on the boat making their escape, Tarrlok takes one of the electrical gauntlets on their boat and turns it on the fuel tank, bringing Yakone’s legacy to an explosive end. It’s a devastating scene, despite (or perhaps because of) its ambiguity. Now it’s Tarrlok turn for cryptic motivation, but his decision doesn’t feel surprising once the initial shock of the scene wears off (which is intense both for its finality and the realization that we’re seeing a murder-suicide on a Nickelodeon show of all places). It’s the second time in the episode that we watch someone’s dream wither and die, and like the Lieutenant, I can’t help but feel sorry for both Tarrlok and Noatak that their tale had to end the way it did.
Elsewhere, one last dream seems to be dying. At the South Pole, Korra’s gathered friends learn that even Katara has failed to restore her bending to her. Korra emerges, grabs her coat, and leaves, spurning Mako’s attempt to comfort her and his declaration of his love for her, with or without bending. She and Naga leave for a cliff by the coastline, where Korra breaks down in tears, and when a man in Airbender robes walks up behind her, she tells Tenzin that she wants to be alone. However, the man is the Spirit of Aang, who tells Korra that she has finally come in touch with her spiritual side at her emotional nadir. The contact restores Korra’s bending, unlocking the Avatar State and opening her to return Mako’s affection as they share a kiss in the snows. Korra restores Lin Beifong’s bending (and I love how our first visible crowd reaction is from Naga, whose wagging tail speaks for all those assembled), ending the episode with a feeling of hope.
Like many other fans of the show, I found that the final scene rang a bit false: the last element that felt driven more by coincidence and convenience than credibility, in a show that had managed to avoid that too many other times in the prior 10 episodes. I can think of several ways to intellectualize that final scene, but none of them manage to be as emotionally satisfying as I think it should have been. But that will have to come in the final Korra recap, along with a bunch of other deconstruction and probably more text than is sane about that ending and the Korra/Mako relationship…coming soon to a blog near you.