For the entirety of its run, The Legend of Korra was almost as nerve-wracking for its fans as some of the show’s more intense action scenes. Originally a 12-episode sequel miniseries to Nickelodeon’s critically acclaimed Avatar: The Last Airbender, the show was quickly expanded into a full 52-episode series. But just as quickly, there were network hiccups; midway through the third season, the show was relegated to a digital-only series. Despite some behind-the-scenes drama, the series was allowed to end on its own terms, with a finale that culminates in a spectacular and fitting fashion.
The Legend of Korra made a fascinating choice in setting the series 70 years after the much-beloved show that spawned it—it gave Korra space to suggest (and later, confirm) that many of the first show’s heroes were still around, while comfortably placing another generation of characters between the old heroes and the new. The idea of legacy—and stepping away from it—is a vital part of the show’s DNA. If Avatar was about children saving the world, Korra is about becoming an adult and being a part of that world. Korra’s growth from brash and impatient teenager to capable leader and mature woman is incredibly satisfying; Korra managed to be one of the best series about a female superhero since Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The two-part series finale, “Day of the Colossus/The Last Stand,” concludes Book Four’s story with some of the biggest and most thrilling action the series has ever seen. It starts with everything on the brink of disaster: Kuvira’s insurrection-turned-hostile takeover of the Earth kingdom has reached Republic City, and President Raiko has surrendered. Meanwhile, Team Korra’s bid to sway Kuvira using her fiancé Baatar Jr. as leverage failed, as Kuvira, laying siege to the City in her giant mech, fired the spirit cannon at their location anyway—coldly condemning her lover to die.
Team Korra survives the attack, and scrambles to come up with a plan to stop Kuvira’s invulnerable mech. In a grand battle that unfolds across the entire city, Korra, the airbenders, and other members of the resistance, engage in a desperate, losing battle to stop Kuvira. Meanwhile, Asami and her father Hiroshi work with Varrick and Zhu Li to upgrade the last two hummingbird jets with plasma cutters capable of penetrating the mech’s armor, while Prince Wu works with Pema to help evacuate the remaining civilians. These scenes are filled with fantastic, quiet moments in the midst of all the action, as many of the characters display just how much they’ve grown in response to the crisis at hand. Asami and her father make amends, Varrick hilariously proposes to Zhu Li (using an adorable variation on their “do the thing” catchphrase), and Prince Wu suddenly proves himself to be an inspiring and noble protector of his people.
It’s almost all for naught, though—Korra and Co. are barely able to slow down Kuvira’s mech, despite their best efforts. Fortunately for them, the hummingbirds arrive. Korra freezes the mech in order to buy the hummingbirds—piloted by Varrick/Zhu Li and Asami/Hiroshi—enough time to cut the mech’s hull, but it’s not enough. Hiroshi ultimately chooses to sacrifice himself after Varrick And Zhu Li’s hummingbird is put out of commission, ejecting Asami, and staying behind to make sure the job is done right before the mech crushes him. It’s a somber ending for the first half of the finale, but it’s one that at affords Hiroshi his redemption.
Now that the mech is compromised, Team Korra plans to take it down from the inside. Su and Lin go dismantle its spirit cannon, Bolin and Mako head toward its engine, and Korra goes to confront Kuvira in the control room. The entire sequence, with the three separate fight scenes unfolding simultaneously, is beautifully animated, edge-of-your-seat stuff. One of the most satisfying things about Korra‘s action is the sheer imagination on display as it incorporates the advanced forms of bending that Avatar merely hinted at.
But as astonishingly good as the action is, Korra has always been about more than that—after a disastrous malfunction leaves Korra and Kuvira in the Spirit World, the Avatar finally realizes that she’s fighting the very thing she’s been in danger of becoming if she succumbed to the bitterness and trauma of past events.
While Korra‘s series finale featured the biggest battle the show’s ever seen, its focus couldn’t be smaller. That’s always been the fascinating thing about the show’s arc—while the Book One echoed Avatar by focusing on something external—an element Korra couldn’t master in a world she hadn’t seen—subsequent books would go deeper. Just look at their titles: Spirits, Change, and Balance—Korra is all about internal growth and maturation.
While the series started by showing how the world had changed since the ending of Avatar—industrial revolution! Pro bending! Lots of secondary bending powers!—it also slowly began to step away from its origins as a sequel series. Some of this was subtle, like the spare and smart way the show used characters from Avatar, and other ways were more explicit—as when Korra literally had her connection to past Avatars severed at the end of Book Two.
Like Toph Beifong says as she exits the series two episodes before the finale:
“At some point, you gotta leave it to the kids.”
This simple truism doubles as a statement of purpose for the show’s final act. Since Toph is the only main cast member from Avatar: The Last Airbender to play a role in Korra‘s final season, her exit just prior to Book 4’s final act is an extremely symbolic gesture—this show was going to end standing on its own two feet. It does so with aplomb.
The series’ final image of Korra and Asami going hand-in-hand into the Spirit World for a much-needed vacation is perfect in this regard. These are two women who have wrestled with their legacies and the roles the world wanted them to fulfill, and rejected them in favor of a destiny of their own making. When they return, it’ll be to take part in the world they helped shape in their struggle to find themselves.