10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

From its beginning, Avatar: The Last Airbender knew the story it wanted to tell. Mike DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, and the rest of the team told it beautifully across its three seasons and 61 episodes. But whether they planned it or not, the show became a beloved phenomenon, so the only responsible thing to do was to make another show in the Avatar universe.

Set 70 years after The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra follows a headstrong female Avatar named Korra navigating an increasingly modernizing world. Along with its predecessor’s Asian mysticism influences, Korra adds turn-of-century industrial revolution technology and urban crime drama. Instead of telling one continuous story, Korra is broken into four self-contained seasons that lead into each other. Korra also features a more mature tone to match the age of its angsty teenage characters. Looking back on both shows, I still consider The Last Airbender to be the better, more consistent work. But at its best, The Legend of Korra is one of the most thoughtful, ambitious cartoons you’ll ever watch. These episodes demonstrate why.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

1. Turning the Tides (Season One, Episode 10)

Even with just twelve episodes, the beginning of Korra’s first season drags. So much time is spent introducing the characters, the new status quo, the intricacies of Republic City, and an extraneous sports element that it was hard to keep track of what we’re supposed to actually care about. Fortunately, everything starts to crystallize with “Turning the Tides” as the anti-bending ersatz communists known as Equalists begin their final assault on Republic City. The eerie gray color scheme, impressive feats of bending, emotional sacrifice, and tantalizing peak at the larger army coming to the rescue make this one of Korra’s most exciting early episodes.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

2. Skeletons in the Closet (Season One, Episode 11)

Without an entire villainous country like the Fire Nation to fall back on, each of Korra’s four seasons features their own main villain. For most of season one, Amon, the Equalist leader and Asian take on Anonymous, was a charismatic, mysterious force in the night with the chilling power to remove someone’s bending. But this episode, mostly an extended flashback, reveals his tragic origin, his shocking connection to the season’s other main antagonist, and his role in an unresolved past mystery involving adult versions of Aang and the old Team Avatar. This episode mostly sets the table for the season finale, but I think it’s actually the stronger installment.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

3. Beginnings (Season Two, Episode 7-8)

Season two of Korra got a lot of criticism for its drop in animation quality and weirdly protracted plot. But it still has some great episodes. In “Beginnings” we learn the origin of Wan, the first Avatar. Wan’s journey from beggar to messianic hero is so well done it sneaks up on you. Moments like stealing the power of fire from a Lion Turtle City, living amongst the spirits in the forest, traveling with a shrinking god of light in a teapot, and merging with said, god, when the planets align to seal darkness in a tree for ten thousand years sound grandiose and biblical. They are, but because we never lose sight of the characters as people, it becomes a story we care about, not an abstract history lesson that maybe doesn’t quite fit in with previously established Avatar history.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

4. A New Spiritual Age (Season Two, Episode 10)

Like “Beginnings,” “A New Spiritual Age” tracks a young Avatar’s journey throughout the Spirit World to find enlightenment. Season two’s focus on spirits actually left me more confused about the nature of spirits than previous episodes in which they were prominently featured. But here their function is clear. They mirror Korra’s emotional distress, externalize her epiphanies, and provide some fun Miyazaki-shenanigans. We even reunite with another Last Airbender character, Uncle Iroh. This episode is also a joy to look at since the Spirit World sports strange, vibrant colors and creature designs brought to life by the superior animators of season one. Plus, this is the best thing Steven Yeun has ever been in.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

5. Old Wounds (Season Three, Episode 6)

After sitting on the sidelines during season two, fan-favorite supporting character Chief Lin Beifong plays a prominent role in season three, the strongest season. One of my favorite subplots of Korra is that most members of Team Avatar from The Last Airbender turned out to be kind of bad parents. Trapped in the magnificent metal city run by her half-sister Su, Lin relives the traumatic events of her past with her sister and her mother Toph that caused the family to splinter. Of course, we also see a sibling metal-bending fight, but the real draw of the episode is the decidedly adult drama, an area in which Korra has a definitive edge over its predecessor.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

6. The Ultimatum (Season Three, Episode 11)

Season three’s dual plots, the return of airbenders and the mystery of Zaheer’s gang, begin to merge in this tense episode. The show is smart enough to recognize airbenders are essentially an entire race of people on the brink of extinction, an occurrence unfortunately not uncommon in our world. So Tenzin’s desire to defend them to the death is inspiring to watch and heartbreaking to watch fail. But before that happens, at least we get to see him smack Zaheer around. Before now the evil airbender was portrayed as a master fighter. Against a true airbending master like Tenzin, however, we get some satisfying glimpses of his limitations. Tenzin and his siblings might have even been able to succeed if not for the lady who explodes things with her mind. It’s a harrowing last stand.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

7. Enter the Void (Season Three, Episode 12)

Korra’s season three finale feature superheroic action, near-asphyxiation, awesome music, and one of the most bittersweet final shots. But season three’s penultimate episode “Enter the Void,” with its mountaintop stand-off between the Red Lotus and Korra and her allies, to me might be the highlight of the entire show. Zaheer’s ability to fly unlocked after losing his final earthly attachment following the death of his lover is another example of how interesting the mystical mechanics of bending are. It’s a fantastic look at the dark nihilism one could read from monk philosophies. Kudos to the show for honestly grappling with that after years of romanticizing that kind of Zen enlightenment.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

8. Korra Alone (Season Four, Episode 2)

Season four, the final season, skips ahead three years from the end of season three. In “Korra Alone” we understand why. Korra’s poisoning at the hands of Zaheer left scars too deep to heal in time for the next adventure. Instead, they left her stuck in place as the world, and her friends moved on beyond her. Seeing Korra achieve minor victories like regaining the use of her legs only makes her most existential setbacks like failing to stop a burglar all the more depressing. When we catch up to the present, we find Korra at her lowest point, wrecking her fragile body even more in underground bending fights. This episode elegantly covers a lot of important material while expertly setting up the emotional throughline of the season: Korra’s recovery. Pay attention to thematic allusions to previous events in the series as well as “Zuko Alone” from the earlier series.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

9. Beyond the Wilds (Season Four, Episode 9)

The Legend of Korra is laser-focused on its main character more than The Last Airbender ever was. Watching it at the time, I didn’t quite appreciate this, which made the constant starts and stops of Korra’s recovery throughout the last season kind of aggravating. But as much fun as fascist Earth Empire mechs can be, Korra’s recovery was ultimately the point of this season and the show’s larger arc of moving Korra from a physically minded person to a spiritually minded one. After reconnecting with the Spirit World thanks to her former tormentor Zaheer, Korra is pretty much back in fighting shape. But the show is also sensitive enough to recognize that trauma is something we learn to carry, not something that ever truly goes away.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

10. The Last Stand (Season Four, Episode 13)

The last episode of The Legend of Korra and the entire Avatar franchise so far features a giant robot armed with the fantasy equivalent of a nuclear weapon as well as a final confrontation that has the hero and villain talking things out instead of punching their problems away. But the real beauty of this episode comes in the final moments. What makes Korra a more frustrating show than The Last Airbender was that its ambitions more frequently clashed with its limitations. Instead of being a smart kids show like Avatar it was a prestige drama that had to reign itself into pass as a kids show. This led to higher highs but uncomfortably lower lows. Fortunately, “The Last Stand” features the highest of highs as it ends with Korra and Asami entering the Spirit World for a romantic vacation. Yes, romantic. The Legend of Korra concludes with a blossoming lesbian relationship and a positive message of love directed at an audience where it can do the most good. That giant robot is pretty sweet, too.

The complete series is available for purchase from Amazon.

10 Essential Episodes of The Legend of Korra | Television | Geek.com

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