There are pretty high expectations for Book Four of Avatar: The Legend of Korra. Not only is it premiering on Nickelodeon's website just weeks after the end of the triumphant third season, it's also the final installment in The Legend of Korra, and, at least for now, the last fans will see of the Avatar world. Thankfully, if the trailer for Book Four ("Balance") is any indication, the season seems likely to be just about everything we could hope for — lots of Avatar political intrigue, spirits, beautifully choreographed bending fights, and an old character or two from The Last Airbender.
Before "Balance" begins October 3, Complex asked Avatar creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino a few questions about the upcoming season, and how the show's world has changed over the course of the series.
To what extent were Books Two through Four conceptualized as one longer story rather than three shorter arcs? Did that change your ability to react to how individual parts of the show were turning out as production went on?
DiMartino: From the start, Legend of Korra was conceived to have stand-alone seasons with a new villain each time, rather than the three-season arc of The Last Airbender. We had no idea when we began how many seasons we would have, but once we got the green light for the second batch of 26 episodes (which make up Books Three & Four) we knew we could weave in more connective tissue between the seasons, while still keeping them separate stories. The biggest thread linking them is what happens in Book Two when UnaVaatu unleashes spirit vines on Republic City. Those spirit vines play a big role in the final season! Also, we were able to see Korra’s character arc through to the end. She still has a lot of healing to do and some soul searching before her journey is finished.
From the trailer, it looks like Book Four will pick up three years after the end of Book Three. Why the time jump, and how much can we expect to be filled in on what we've missed?
DiMartino: I loved it when shows like Battlestar Galactica, 24, and Lost jumped forward in time at the end of (or between) seasons, and a dramatic time jump made sense for the story we wanted to tell in Book Four. We needed some time to pass for the political situation in the Earth Kingdom to evolve and for Korra to be out of commission for a while. Everyone’s grown up a bit and moved on with their lives and there’s enough information we weave in to explain how the characters got to where they are now. We devote a whole episode to Korra and her emotional and healing journey, beginning at the end of Book Three and following her recovery up to the start of Book Four. It’s one of our most unique episodes, storytelling-wise, and one I’m very proud of.
The theme of last season, "Change," seems like it's defined a lot of Korra and the way the Avatar world has unfolded, especially with the introduction of specialty bending techniques. What's been the creative drive between the intense flux the world has been in since Book One?
Konietzko: From the inception of this series, Mike and I were very interested in exploring the theme of tradition versus progress. We always like the struggle for balance to be a central theme of our stories, so as we introduce all of these changes to the Avatar world, we get to see how people react and try to realign themselves. Sometimes it forces a character to confront something about one’s self, and sometimes it drives people to do desperate and dangerous things. Major changes happened in the end of Book Two and throughout Book Three, so we get to see that struggle for balance play out in Book Four.
We want our villains and antagonists to have distinct motivations. As for pushing a particular, single political agenda, I don’t think we are ever trying to do that within the show. —Konietzko
Korra has increasingly felt like an interrogation of different political philosophies — Amon's radical anti-bending egalitarianism, the Red Lotus' anarchism, the totalitarian Earth Queen, and of course the creation of the new Air Nation. How much of that has been conscious, and is there a particular political ideal guiding either the show, or Korra?
Konietzko: Yes, those have definitely all been conscious examinations of particular political ideologies. We want our villains and antagonists to have distinct motivations. As for pushing a particular, single political agenda, I don’t think we are ever trying to do that within the show. We are more interested in looking at these ideologies from different angles, and digging into characters’ relationships to these beliefs. Any political or philosophical agenda can and will be perverted by power and/or fear. And there will always be contrasting cultures, so it is interesting to have an Avatar standing in the middle of it all, trying to balance the world while trying to remain fair and impartial. Korra and Aang ultimately stand for freedom, equality, and basic human rights, and I think Mike and I are fine with pushing that agenda.
Book Four of Avatar: The Legend of Korra premieres Friday, October 3, on Nick.com and the Nick App.
Eric Thurm is a contributing writer. He tweets here.