The Sad Ending to the Avatar Universe

No, I’m not talking about anything having to do with James Cameron.

The sequel series to Avatar: the Last Airbender ended last month. The Legend of Korra enjoyed a finale that many critics and fans loved, with some calling it “the best series finale of 2014.” For my part, I initially was not a big fan of Korra‘s final episode. While I liked the events of the finale, the – everything that happened – portion of it, I was disappointed in the ‘how.’ It just all felt rushed. From the two-minute “forgive me ’cause I’m an orphan” speech by Kuvira to the sudden and controversial final moments between Korra and Asami, I walked away feeling like the season could have really used another episode to explain and flush out the resolution.

We get it Kuvira, you did not have a great childhood. That really does not justify your basically being Hitler this season.
We get it Kuvira, you did not have a great childhood. That really does not justify your basically being Hitler this season.

I actually began writing a post that was dedicated to exploring the resolutions in “The Last Stand,” but my research compelled me to drop it (at least for now). The reality is that something far sadder than a series finale occurred last month. This very likely is the end of the Avatar universe, at least as far as creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino are concerned.

The two masterminds behind the Avatar universe.
The two masterminds behind the Avatar universe.

There is a reason that season four of The Legend of Korra feels like it is missing an episode. It is.

After the immensely poorly handled fiasco that was season three, Nickelodeon felt compelled to interfere again with Legend of Korra. The show’s numbers had evidently fallen (surprise, surprise; when you yank season three off the air halfway through the season and then release season four a month later with little promotion). Nickelodeon must have been losing too much profit for their liking, so they responded by slashing Korra‘s animation budget.

Konietzko and DiMartino apparently received an ultimatum: lose an episode or some of their staff would be let go. Rather than firing anyone, the two came up with a compromise: a clip-show style episode that heavily reused animation. Nickelodeon got to save on costs, no one lost their jobs, and the series did not have to completely lose an episode…

Even Varrick's hilarity could not save Remembrances from feeling really useless.
Even Varrick’s hilarity could not save “Remembrances” from feeling really useless.

Well, they still did. While “Remembrances” (as the clip-episode came to be called) is not in itself completely terrible, it is by far the worst episode of both series. Simply put: not enough happens in it. It is hard, however, to be overtly critical knowing the limitations that were faced. Nothing could happen in this episode, they did not have the money.

This means that Legend of Korra, an extremely fast-paced and tightly written story, lost twenty minutes of storytelling. Audiences can only imagine what the original, uncut, season four storyline might have looked like. Talk about treating one of your highest rated programs with complete disrespect. That would be like if HBO cut Game of Thrones set budget.

Do you really need all those extras? Do they need to be wearing armor?
Do you really need all those extras? Do they need to be wearing armor?

As if the mishandling of season three and the mistreatment of season four weren’t enough interference, Nickelodeon was apparently very limiting in another aspect of the show:

They're bisexual - you gotta deal with it.
They’re bisexual – you gotta deal with it.

Yes, it turns out that (spoilers) bisexuality is not an identity that Nickelodeon promotes. In his comments addressing the show’s ending, Konietzko handled it as politely and publicly correct as possible: “while they were supportive there was a limit to how far we could go with it.” That’s the nicest way possible of saying they were restrictive. If you are at a table with someone who has cookies and you ask for a cookie, they can be as nice as they want… while still not giving you the cookie. They can support your decision to want a cookie til the cows come home but you’re still hungry at the end of the day.

What is more troubling is the timing of Nickelodeon’s mishandling of the series. Reading the creators words on the dubbed “Korrasami” relationship (isn’t the internet just so clever?), it becomes clear that the idea of the two having a romantic relationship become much more concrete after season two. Seasons three and four were meant to be the set-up. Hmmm, now what two seasons did Nickelodeon really interfere with? I am not accusing the corporation of homophobia, but it is a little unsettling to have these timelines line up.

Suicide? That's fine, just make sure the two women don't kiss!
Suicide? That’s fine, just make sure the two women don’t kiss!

Regardless of what happened, one thing is clear: Konietzko and DiMartino have grown too mature for Nickelodeon. Who can really blame them after everything that happened with Korra? It does not sound anything like the successful partnership that occurred with Avatar: the Last Airbender. You can bet the two have a future project planned, they have said as much themselves. The sad news is: it is not Avatar related.

The two are moving on, likely to a studio or network (Netflix, HBO) that allows more artistic freedom. While this is likely a great move and I eagerly await their next series, it is sad that this is how the Avatar universe ends. There will be more comic books, which is nice I guess… but it appears unlikely that Nickelodeon will ever produce another series (after some feel that they tried actively to kill Korra) and even less likely that it will involve the two creators. This was an incredible universe that spanned two extraordinary shows. Even if its “cartoon” status prevented it from earning the acclaim of Game of Thrones and Orange is the New Black, both Korra and Avatar accomplished something truly special.

It is just a shame that this good-bye tastes so bitter.

"Hey cheer up, at least Michael Bay hasn't made a movie about us yet."
“Hey cheer up, at least Michael Bay hasn’t made a movie about us yet.”

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What Happened with the Legend of Korra Season Three?

Television is in a strange time. As many report, we have recently entered a second “Golden Age” of television shows. House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad, I could go on and on. Wherever you look, there is a plethora of quality entertainment… except on actual television channels. Yes, what makes the times truly strange is that, despite the killer lineup of quality programming, television as a viewing medium continues to die. It simply cannot compete with internet streaming – and that is before piracy is factored in. There is just no incentive to watch shows on TV anymore. Which would you rather have: commercials or no commercials, binge watching or pre-planned air schedules, tight plots vs. weekly escapes… there really is no contest. It is a strange time and, as networks adapt, bizarre things can happen. So, let’s talk about just what the heck Nickelodeon is doing with its critical hit, Legend of Korra.

For those out there not in the know: Nickelodeon is pulling Korra off the air midway through its third season. Tonight, the eighth episode will air and… that will be it. The final five episodes will only be viewable through digital distribution (find the episodes here). Wait… what?

The bizarre pulling caused a lot of panic amongst the fans of the show. Co-creator Bryan Konietzko posted this image to console the panic.
The bizarre pulling caused a lot of panic amongst the fans of the show. Co-creator Bryan Konietzko posted this image to console the panic.

On the face of it, this is a real head-scratcher. The Legend of Korra is a very story-driven show so this type of disruption will create chaos with the fans and could potentially damage the show’s viewership. Also, it is not like Nickelodeon is enjoying a quantity of quality shows being created at the moment. Korra’s spot is currently being filled by reruns of Spongebob… with reruns of Full House following that…. really, Nickelodeon? So, it must have been ratings, right?

Gotta get my Full House fix! Party like it's 1995!
Gotta get my Full House fix! Party like it’s 1995!

Yes and no.

Season three of the Legend of Korra had the worst premiere ratings of the series. The third season premiere had less than two million viewers, which is a really low number for a season premiere apparently. It really does not look like much when compared with season one’s impressive 4.5 million viewers. However, the low ratings do not necessarily reflect no interest. Consider this: there was no advertising for the Legend of Korra until one week prior to the premiere. Nickelodeon rushed the show out of nowhere in one week.


There is a reason, but it is not a good one. Piracy. The Legend of Korra was not supposed to air so soon in the summer… which really is a bizarre launch window when considered. It is also strange that Nickelodeon would give up all the hype they usually enforce during the San Diego Comic Con (going on now), which is the past has been used to really promote the coming season. Okay, so how did piracy “force” Nickelodeon’s hand?

Legend of Korra is one of the first in the "animated drama" genre, and book three took the series to new heights of maturity, exploring adult themes including the relationship between Lin Bei Fong and her half-sister.
Legend of Korra is one of the first in the “animated drama” genre, and book three took the series to new heights of maturity, exploring adult themes like the relationship between Lin Bei Fong and her half-sister, Suyin.

According to this report, four mid-season episodes were leaked online during production. Rather than dismissing the leak, it seems like someone at Nickelodeon hit the panic button. Oh no, they thought, four episodes that people can just watch online – we better scramble to get our episodes on TV! Rather than let any word of mouth occur or give marketing a chance to build up hype, season three was vomited forth less than two months after the leak. Three episodes, then two, then two… in three weeks over half the season had aired. With only thirteen episodes, that means Nickelodeon intended to spit out the entirety of season three of Legend of Korra in less than two months. How was this plan supposed to work?

In a manner that perfectly highlights the weaknesses of traditional television programming, Nickelodeon shot itself in the foot. Why show Korra at all if it will be done in such a foolish and costly manner? Indeed, that appears to have been the reasoning behind the pull. Should fans be worried about Korra going digital? Not really. Will Nickelodeon cancel Legend of Korra? Not likely but they might. They have already purchased a fourth season and it is unlikely that this season will be held accountable for mistakes made at the network.

Surely nothing bad has ever happened to a great show when the network has screwed up airing it... right?
Surely nothing bad has ever happened to a great show when the network has screwed up airing it… right?

That said, Nickelodeon might balk on purchasing a fifth. It would be its loss, however, and Netflix/Hulu/Amazon’s gain. After all, this action only proves that the future of TV lies anywhere except through traditional broadcasting channels.