“Book Four: Balance” is a lot better than I remember and is easily my second favorite story in “The Legend of Korra” series. This series is about endings and because of this is wrapping up quite a few stories of characters we’ve been following. A lot of the strength in this season is in how our characters change and us being given a compelling antagonist. There are some story choices that I would have made differently, largely related to how it ends but I’ll get into that in the review.
The story takes place after a three year jump. Korra has gone missing and Kuvira has been uniting the chaotic Earth Kingdom after the assassination of the Earth Queen under her new Earth Empire. Varrick, Zhu Li and Bolin are working for her while Mako is now the bodyguard of the heir Prince Wu. The Air Nation has also been working on keeping the peace as well in the absence of the Avatar.
Korra Alone – This season is really Korra’s story. After her poisoning from Zaheer she is facing the depression and trauma that have come out of it and she is haunted by a vision of herself in the Avatar State during her fight with Zaheer. Katara is unable to heal her and after time with her family she takes off on her own leaving all connections behind staying only in touch with Asami with letters. This whole arc is powerful as we see how out of her element and broken Korra is. It is during this time she cuts her hair, fights in a Earth Kingdom fighting pit and eventually finds herself in the swamp where she meets Toph, who helps her face her fears and find some of her confidence again. It is a great arc and easily the most compelling Korra has been on the show.
The Beifong Family – The main drama outside of Korra is the drama between the Beifongs. Kuvira was taken in as an orphan and she and Baatar jr. have created the Earth Empire which Suyin and the rest of her family are firmly against. This also creates a rift from Bolin and Opal especially when Kuvira takes Zaofu and captures her family. This drama eventually comes to a head when Toph works with Lin, Suyin, Opal and Bolin to save the Beifong family. They succeed but are unable to stop the creation of Kuvira’s superweapon and we soon learn that Kuvira plans to attack Republic City.
Toph – Toph is fantastic as Korra’s Yoda-like mentor. She lives in the swamp and is able to sense things happening all over the world because of the vines that make up the swamp and the great tree. Toph is the one who first suggests Korra needs to face Zaheer and see what her enemies have to teach her. It is powerfully done and I loved when she rescues her family from the Earth Empire.
Kuvira – Kuvira is a fascinating villain. Her fighting style is very technical and it reminds me a lot of Azula. Like Azula she also beliefs she is the only one who is right to rule because of her strength. This seems to be based from her rising from an orphan to the Great Uniter as she is the one who united the Earth Kingdom into the Earth Empire during the time the Avatar is missing. My one issue with her is she has put her desire to rule above all else, even her fiance when Baatar jr. and her relationship gave more dimension and I wish she’d taken the Avatar’s deal as the Earth Empire can still be even without control of Republic City. Instead it is through Korra’s defeat of her and showing her compassion that she chooses to surrender and believes all she has done was a mistake. This was a con given it was such a radical change given all the actions prior, but I do still consider a pro and Zelda Williams does an amazing job voicing her. The one thing that works narratively is that Kuvira does respect strength and Korra’s power of holding back the super-weapon opened another spirit portal in Republic City.
Hiroshi and Asami – One of the themes of this season is forgiveness and redemption and that is best illustrated in Hiroshi’s story. Asami at first returns all his letters and doesn’t want to hear from him until he speaks of all his regrets and how her existence is the only good thing in his life. In the end he helps them take down Kuvira’s giant mech. and he sacrifices himself to do so. This B-Story was compelling and I liked how it was a slow buildup of Asami and Hiroshi having a healthy relationship again.
Varrick and Zhu Li – Varrick and Zhu Li continue to be two of my favorite characters on the show. The two of them are working for Kuvira but when Varrick develops a conscience and refuses to make spirit vine super-weapons he is made a prisoner. Zhu Li “turns” on him but we soon learn it was just to stall the process of making the weapon. Eventually Zhu Li is rescued when her plan is revealed and she and Varrick work with Team Korra to defeat the coming Earth Empire army. It is during this time she stands up to Varrick and in the end they become partners and married. It is a sweet arc and it was a joy to see this happen over 3 seasons.
Korra and Asami – Korra and Asami is one of my favorite relationships in the Avatar Universe. This is a romance that grew out of a deep friendship and in this season we see how they are vulnerable and accountable to one another. Asami was the only one Korra wrote too (not even her parents, mentors or friends) and Asami was quick to tell Korra about trying to work things out with her dad, which she was supportive of. This relationship is also the last shot of the show as together they walk into the new spirit portal together.
The Dangers of Nationalism – The main ideology being fought this season is that of Nationalism. Kuvira is seeking to unite all of the Earth Empire and this ends up meaning oppression of people who can bend other elements, militarization and eventually the conquest of Republic City, as it was a nation formed from former Fire Nation colonies on the Earth Kingdom. The danger in the ideology is expressed in Republic City too as at point Prince Wu is kidnapped to be turned into Korra. This is a theme that “The Last Airbender” touched on as well with the Fire Nation and that we saw in “Book 3: Fire” but I liked seeing how “The Legend of Korra” tackled it.
An Exploration of Depression and Trauma – One of the most powerful stories this season is Korra. Korra is alone and cut-off from the world and haunted by the many moments of trauma she’s faced over the course of the show. The show is honest too in that facing it doesn’t mean it goes away forever. Trauma and depression will always remain a part of us and the show didn’t shy away from showing that.
Meelo – Meelo has always been the most annoying character on the show and he is the worst here. He talks down to his sisters, is gross and is as arrogant as Prince Wu. The writers giving us more time with him was a mistake. He becomes a far bigger supporting character than in any other season and it hurts scenes.
Prince Wu – Prince Wu like Meelo is really annoying. He talks down to people and is an arrogant prick. He does eventually grow into his role as a leader and that arc is alright. His time being annoying outweighed that though.
The Ambiguous Fate of the Earth Empire – Kuvira surrenders but she still has built up an entire system that is loyal to her and the system she created. This is all brushed off and it is just assumed that the people will accept Prince Wu…really? He didn’t earn the respect of the people and most of the populace would be loyal to the Empire because of what Kuvira did through her dictatorial means (re-education camps) to make it so. Her being left in power but without her superweapon and Korra still defeating her would have left less questions and left up so many more possibilities. The Earth Empire is a fantastic threat for future stories.
I ended up really enjoying this season in the rewatch. There are so many amazing stories wrapped up, there are some of the best action sequences, Korra’s personal journey is powerful and I really enjoyed Kuvira and the Earth Empire as antagonists. I wish we could have got more of them in a later show given the next Avatar would have been born in the Earth Empire. The season isn’t perfect and there were quite a few annoying characters this time but in the end more of the show worked for me. This is a rewarding end to “The Legend of Korra” and if you’ve been watching the show so far, watch it till the end. I highly recommend this Book and Series.
Final Score: 8.5 / 10 I wish Kuvira had escaped and that the Earth Empire had been around as a threat after for a future Avatar (one born into the Earth Empire) but for a series that had to wrap a lot up, I liked it.