The Legend of Korra 4.01 Review: “After All These Years”

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After a whopping six-week break, The Legend of Korra returns to Nickelodeon…kind of. It’s difficult for many fans of the show to accept the treatment Korra‘s had, since what is certainly the best animated series of this generation (and perhaps of any other generation) has been relegated to the network’s online database. The production of season four was nearly complete by the time season three wrapped up in August, which partially explains how quickly this final season has come around. But considering Nickelodeon’s eagerness with cutting ties here, one can’t help but wonder if we’d be getting this fourth season at all had it not been as complete already.

That’s all somewhat depressing and annoying discussion to linger on, though. The Legend of Korra is back! “After All These Years,” as its title suggests and as the announcements and videos in the past weeks have said, takes place years after the events of the third season (three years, to be exact). Plenty has changed in that time, and in true Korra fashion, the premiere takes time to painstakingly set up the events and relationships that will shape the season. After coming off a ridiculously exciting conclusion to season three, I could see how fans might be a bit underwhelmed by the lack of adrenaline that usually punctuates The Legend of Korra, but if being back in the world isn’t enough, then consider how all the Korra seasons have begun rather calmly to set the stage for the massive jump in stakes and action.

Kuvira, who was introduced late in last season, has attained the title of “The Great Uniter,” as she travels around the Earth Kingdom trying to get each of its states to join her. Bandits plague some areas of the kingdom still, but Kuvira silences and enlists them during her skirmish in “After All These Years”; even without the skepticism of her strange introduction last season, it’s impossible not to see that she’s being set up as the final season’s Big Bad. As is the case with all Korra villains–and remarkably so–Kuvira’s point of view is something viewers can relate to. After all, with Korra MIA, the Air Nation can’t be wholly responsible for restoring order and balance to the world (balance, the season’s title, will be a key theme throughout these final episodes). So, even if Kuvira’s methods are tough and motives questionable, she displays the same kind of determination and natural leadership that a character like Lin possesses. And we all love Lin, especially after last season. A slightly older Kuvira doesn’t make the same kind of first impression as Zaheer did last season, but these episodes are more likely to deal with nation-versus-nation rather than developing a strong, individual foe for Korra to duel at the end.

Things are much bigger than that now. As The Legend of Korra has progressed (and as Avatar: The Last Airbender did before it), the Avatar isn’t in this alone, nor could she be successful were she without her friends and family. That group of people receives the bulk of the episode’s attention as we check in with nearly all the main and supporting characters who aren’t Korra. Two long-distance and official relationships have been established–Opal is with Bolin and Kai is with Jinora–both of which were telegraphed last season but are still nice to see even if Bolin and Opal are having issues. Love’s been one of the trickier things for Korra to handle with dexterity, since it pretty much has to be a major presence considering the ages of the main characters (teenagers fall in love; it’s a thing), but the show’s been much better at translating natural and believable behavior more recently and downplaying some of the over-the-top romantic aspects that were a part of the first season.

I won’t spend time detailing where everyone else is and what they’re up to, since the episode doesn’t establish too many drastic changes in character…other than Korra. In a 22-minute episode (not including the credits), we first see the Avatar after the 21st minute. And she’s not doing well. Three years ago, she was in a wheelchair following her battle with Zaheer. Now, she’s back on her feet, but she’s doing some on-the-side earthbending brawls and getting worked. (Slight tangent: this reminded me a lot of the first time we see Ryan Atwood in the fourth and final season of The O.C.; and that made me realize how similar Korra and Ryan are…weird.) Additionally, she’s lied to her father and implicitly to Tenzin about where she is and what she’s up to, which makes total sense given her situation. It’s hard to see our main character go through these kinds of trials, but we know she’s going to come out the other side at some point. Korra’s always been headstrong, and part of that means thinking she can do things on her own. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary in previous episodes, I don’t think she’s fully understood that yet, so I’d expect her journey in these first few episodes to deal with coming down to earth a little bit more, accepting who she is and allowing other people back into her life once she feels like she deserves them again. All pretty weighty stuff to kick off a season of TV that will leave absolutely every other show this fall in the dust. Seriously, why would anyone be watching the new network shows when they could be watching “After All These Years” fifty times per day until next Friday? Because they’re insane; that’s why.

Meditations from the Spirit World:

– Just to be clear, The Legend of Korra will premiere new episodes every Friday. This final season will be thirteen episodes. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably a huge fan of the show and already knew that. (Side note: I’ll get these reviews up as soon as I can each Friday.)

– I don’t know how Korra can handle both Prince Wu and Varrick in the same season. Those are two huge personalities. Let’s hope they get some time together on-screen.

– “I don’t know what would have happened if you weren’t there!” “You…would have been hit by a pie…” Yes! Still got it, Mako.

– “Meelo the Boy has turned into Meelo the Man!” I love how the background images shift to generic scary creatures and we get a heavy metal riff to indicate just what Meelo the Man is all about.

– “Whatever happened to her, anyway?” “I wouldn’t know.” Yeesh. Talk about a cheery way to end the season premiere. Korra obviously doesn’t know she’s part of a television show and that everything will be okay in the end. (Prove me wrong, DiMartino and Konietzko. I dare you. Seriously, nothing would make me happier.)

– Welcome to weekly coverage of The Legend of Korra here at TVOvermind. I am Sean Colletti, and I will be your flight attendant. I don’t have airbending powers, though, so chances are this flight is going down without the help of a sky bison. I couldn’t be more excited to be writing about this show, since I rate it as the best animated series ever and one of the best television series altogether. It’s going to be tough to say goodbye, but, like Team Avatar, we can do it together. Feel free to leave your comments, complaints, questions and concerns below. Thanks for reading along.

[Photo via Nickelodeon]

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