would have liked it if korra had lost her bending for a little longer than five minutes but ¯_(ツ)_/¯
When we are at our lowest point, we are open to the highest change.
[8.8/10] One of the smartest things Avatar: The Last Airbender did was start to turn its season finales into two-parters so as to avoid having to cram too much incident into 24 minutes. (I swear, at some point I’m going to stop comparing TLoK to AtLA). You’re kind of expected to give everyone something to do, to include a climax, and some kind of aftermath, and that’s a tall order to manage in a half-hour T.V. show without making things feel rushed and overstuffed.
That’s my big criticism for “End Game.” There’s so much great stuff in the episode, but I wish it had run double the length so that more of that great material had time to breathe. For instance, the smaller emotional counterpoint to the big Korra-Amon stuff in this episode is Asami having to confront her father. It’s a solid basis for a story, but the issue we never spent much time establish the relationship between Asami and her dad, so the dissolution of it doesn’t land with the force that it ought to, leaving the episode having to coast on the idea of how hard it would be to go against your last living parent in a war, rather than on this particular relationship.
But you can tell TLoK is trying to quickly add depth and texture to that relationship, with Hiroshi telling his daughter through bars that he hopes they’ll be a family again and Asami responding that her mother would hate him for what he’s done. It’s an interesting tack to take, but it’s too little too late, to the point that when Hiroshi appears to try to kill his own daughter, and Asami returns the favor, it should be the this heavy, emotionally-laden thing, but it feels undercooked to where it’s not nearly as affecting as it should be.
By the same token, it wouldn’t be an Avatar-verse finale without some kickass action, and “Endgame” delivers that in spades. Iroh Jr.’s one-man attack on the Equalist dogfighters is a sight to behold, with his gravity-defying stunts thrilling from beginning to end. At the same time, I’m a sucker for this franchise’s propensity to have the animals save the day, so watching Naga and Bolin get the better of the Equalist mechas was a real treat. The problem is that as much as I enjoyed these scenes, the real thrust of the episode -- the confrontation between Korra and Amon and his reveal to the public -- felt very quick, and I would almost be willing to lose those exciting sequences if it meant we got more time to develop and absorb that important culmination of this season’s biggest plotline.
And look, I’m being pretty critical of an episode that I really loved, so take this all with a grain of salt. The golden rule of any art is that if it works, it works, no matter whether it’s structurally sound or flawed in other ways. If a show can get the right emotional reaction, prompt the audience to care about the characters and their plight (which “Endgame” absolutely did), then it succeeds, even if you can’t help but think about the ways in which it could be better.
To the point, there’s some logical questions I had about Korra’s plan for exposing Amon here and a certain level of convenience to how things work out. Maybe it’s just the evidentialist in me, but there’s something that seems hopelessly naive about Korra just bursting into an Equalist rally, declaring that Amon is a fraud, and expecting everyone to believe her, regardless of whether he could unmask and contradict her. It might just be the times we live in, where I feel like one party could show video of an opposing party’s politician beating up a kitten and the other party would find a way to excuse it. Maybe the fact that Korra is The Avatar gives her words more weight, even to people who are against her. But it feels like just making bold declarations to a group of Equalist partisans without anything to back it up would accomplish very little, especially in this dire hour.
Still, I like the ensuing confrontation. There’s an urgency to Korra and Mako’s effort to escape, and an intensity to their showdown with Amon that carries the day. I’m not sure if the show’s intention was for the audience to believe that Korra really was mistaken and/or misled by Tarrlok (I never wavered, if only because I assumed Amon was just burned after the events Tarrlok described), but the moment when he bloodbends Korra out from hiding and tortures both her and Mako was still a chilling confirmation of what Tarrlok said. There is an underlying horror to bloodbending that always makes it unnerving to watch in action, and having the season’s big bad use it on our heroes, not to mention one of his own lieutenants who’s aghast at the hypocrisy of his leader, raises the stakes and the terror of what’s taking place.
That’s heightened by Mako only managing to survive by using a well-timed lightning blast. Thus far, we’ve never seen anyone get the best of Amon, but her, in desperation, both Mako and Tenzin get their licks in. (I haven’t even talked about the shock of Amon having Tenzin’s family tied up and the frightening prospect of him ending airbending in one fell swoop!) Having our heroes use desperation moves, finding the right answer in tight situations, really works for the dramatic tension.
And then it happens. Amon gets the better of Korra and takes away her bending. It’s a shocking moment, one you didn’t think the show would have the chutzpah to do, and adds a sense of legitimate wonder as to what will happen next. It fits then, that it’s only in these moments that Korra unlocks her ability to airbend. I’ll admit, I’m not crazy about it only unlocking when she’s desperate to save Mako -- the “powers manifest when loved one is threatened” bit is a cliché -- but it pays off the title character’s major quest for this season in a way that dovetails nicely with her biggest narrative threat.
It’s also followed by a nice contrast of reactions from the people. When she initially air-blasts Amon out of the arena, the folks outside understandably boo. They see it as another instance of the benders holding down their leader and their movement. But then Amon has to waterbend to save his own life, thereby revealing himself as a fraud to his faithful. It’s a canny way to not only cement Amon’s total defeat, but find a compelling reason why he’d be exposed and why the public would turn on him.
(Spoilers for Godfather Part 2 in this paragraph) I also loved the coda to Amon’s story where he and Tarrlok go off to start a new life together. As I said before, there is something unexpectedly tragic about the two of them, and the notion that they’ve been so damaged by their father. That makes it all the more heart-rending when TLoK has its Fredo moment out on that boat. “Endgame” thankfully doesn’t underline the subtext too hard, but I love the unspoken implication that Tarrlok believes this is what has to be done, because they’ve both been too warped by their father to be trusted to keep their moral centers and use their bloodbending justly. There’s real pathos in that sacrifice, in Amon’s doomed belief that they can have a new life, and in one brother’s effort to let his brother believe that while doing what he has to do to ensure they’ll never hurt someone else again. It’s a powerful scene, and I just hope to high heaven that TLoK doesn’t get cheesy and try to undo it or erase it somehow.
And I wish the episode had ended there. Don’t get me wrong, I like the material with Korra and company back with the Southern Water Tribe to attempt to restore her bending, but it felt like it needed to be its own episode and not just an epilogue in this one. Previous episodes established how much Korra’s identity is tied to seeing herself as The Avatar. The scenes where she is inconsolable, wants to be left alone, and just has to reckon with the sense that her entire role in the world has been changed are great, but we barely get to delve into that meaty emotional material before it’s all wiped away. It’s such fruitful territory, and as good as it is, it’s just a shame that it’s squandered in only two minutes of screen time.
I’ll also say, once again, that I’m just not compelled by the Korra-Mako relationship. The show hasn’t done a great job of selling us on the affinity between them, with their supposed connection being more told than shown, and as well-meaning as Mako is here, it seems like a really bad time for a profession of romantic love when what Korra really needs is just support. I don’t mean to belabor this point, but romance has never been the Avatar-verse’s strongest suit, and I wasn’t a fan of injecting it into the proceedings here, when there were much bigger things going on than whether two characters got together.
But I like where the episode goes with it, that it’s that devastation, being forced to confront the fact that her life might be changed forever, that unlocks Korra’s spiritual connection to her past lives, and allows Aang to restore her bending and grant her the ability to do the same. Again, I wish we’d gotten more time to explore this development, since it would make that moment and reversal carry even more weight, but the image of her standing face to face with the expanding crowd of Avatars past is still a momentous and heartening one.
There is something appropriately messianic about Korra being able to restore the bending abilities of those lost. I’ll admit, Aang giving her the bending back feels like a quick fix given how rushed everything is, and the bending restoration from Korra seems like it could wipe away the consequences of this season, which isn’t a tack I always like. But “Endgame” earns these developments, making them a part of the larger Avatar mythos and more importantly, about the personal growth and development of Korra as a person. Balancing those two sides of being the chosen one is something this franchise does well, and it’s nice to see that continue.
As I said, this is a lot of critiques for an episode that, at a basic level, still absolutely worked for me. If anything, my big complaint is that there’s so much in “Endgame” that works that I wish we had more time to let it unspool and savor it. Still, this a mighty fine way to wrap up TLoK’s first season and its first major arc. There has been a cohesiveness to the challenges, internal and external, that Korra and company have faced this season, and “Endgame” does a stellar job of bringing those two vital elements of any successful Avatar-verse arc together in an exciting, affecting, and above all satisfying way.
So far everything in this show has happened so quickly that it's really difficult for it to make an impact, at least for me that's how it is. Bolin, Iroh and Asami get caught and a couple of minutes later they're out and destroying the equalists' army, Korra loses her bending and BAM! five minutes later she's got it back and has the ability to give it back to those who had lost it to Amon as well...
That was a weak season compared to Avatar show. Very disappointed. Korra is an annoying character. The story line was rushed but they spent to much time on nonsensical drama. The only good thing was Tarloq ending Amon. Let’s hope season 2 is much better but don’t have high hopes.
That was so corny!!! And I still cannot believe that that was Korra's plan!! I really went from loving Mako to hating him so much. The only thing I liked here was Tarloq ending Amon- Noatuk. That really hurt in a good way.