Editorials

Privilege, Crime, and Spirits: What I Hope to See From Legend of Korra Season 2

As the credits rolled on the season one finale of The Legend of Korra, someone remarked, “What are they going to do for season two? They’ve tied up all their loose ends.” To a certain extent, he was right. The villains had been exposed and disposed, Korra confronted her fear of losing her bending and finally learned how to air bend, order was restored to Republic City, and the love triangle was (kinda, sorta, maybe) resolved. On the other hand, if the status quo of Republic City has been restored by the finale, then the underlying problems in that society that led to the conflicts of the first season are still in place. A very brief recap for those not familiar with the show: In the Avatar world, certain people are born with the ability to “bend” the classical elements, giving them to ability to lift and project water or earth without touching it, or else shoot bursts of fire or air from their hands and that sort of thing. Each “bender” can only bend one element, except for the Avatar, who is a bodhisattva-esque figure that is continually re-incarnated and can bend all four elements. In the first season of Legend of Korra, a terrorist group calling themselves the “Equalists” argues that non-benders are oppressed by benders and launches a series of attacks aimed at overthrowing the government of Republic City. The leader of the Equalists, Amon, had the (nearly) unprecedented power to take away a person’s ability to bend permanently, but as it turns out was a bender himself, and was revealed as a fraud to his followers.

Now, it’s entirely possible that the writers will use the revelation of the above lie as an excuse to have everyone write off the Equalists and go back to what they were doing. But part of what made Amon so dangerous was that his criticisms of Republic City were to a large degree borne out by what we saw in the show. The ruling council of Republic City, who were all too willing to impose curfews and other restrictions on non-benders as a group as Amon escalated his attacks, are all benders. The police force of the city, who in one scene round up a large group of non-benders on spurious suspicions of being Equalists, are all benders. All of the professional athletes are benders, and the organized crime syndicates in the city are all benders as well. In short, virtually everyone with power or prestige in Republic City is a bender, and as noted above, non-benders were made subject to punitive measures based purely on their lack of ability to manipulate the elements and the suspicion that they might possibly have sympathies with the Equalists. Nothing in the first season’s finale addressed these clear imbalances in power, leaving an opening for them to be addressed as part of the second season.

Now, granted that social reform might not make the best plot focus for a kid’s show, particularly one focused on martial arts action, but this could easily be addressed in subplots and asides. Perhaps someone mentions that a non-bending sports league is being founded. Maybe Tarrlok’s vacant council seat is filled by a non-bender, giving them a voice in the city’s politics again. There could even be a new police division instated, consisting of chi-blocking (a martial arts style that temporarily prevents a bender from bending) police officers trained by Equalists given pardons, creating the possibility of non-bender law enforcers capable of apprehending bender criminals. For that matter, the established presence of organized crime triads in Republic City provides a ready source of antagonists while also raising an interesting question: Amon took away the bending abilities of the leaders of the various criminal groups in Republic City, and the end of season one demonstrates that Korra can return people’s bending abilities and implies that she intends to do so on a large scale; so is she going to give these known criminals their powerful abilities back in the name of providing spiritual healing to all who need it, or will she withhold said healing on the grounds that they will abuse their powers if they regain them? And what sort of fallout might we see from every major organized crime group in the city simultaneously trying to fill power vacuums in their internal structures. That’s a recipe for a lot of chaos, a lot of danger for bystanders, and the possibility of ambitious individuals trying to unite all of the triads together under their control.

Finally, what we do know about season two so far is that it will definitely feature the spirit world. I enjoyed the segments in the spirit world from the Last Airbender series, so I’m looking forward to that. What I’ll be really interested to see is if the conception of the spirit world will have shifted at all, given that the world of Avatar is currently well into a sort of industrialization compared to the first series. Will there be spirits of cars and factories and other bits of technology around, or will Republic City be home to a lot of nature spirits confused about where all the trees went?  They have an opportunity to explore the side effects of the technological advancement of the Avatar world (hopefully without getting too preachy), or alternately to envision an animistic system that incorporates human constructions instead of viewing them as an alien force.

Also, Lin Bei Fong needs plenty of screen time.

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