As a successor to Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra is entirely worthy. The artwork, the music, the voice-acting, the storytelling; they've all been utterly splendid—which is why I think Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino are going to do something extraordinarily brave… and leave Korra permanently handicapped.
To recap: In the 3rd season finale, the villainous Airbender Zaheer poisoned Korra with a mercurial toxin, forcing her into the Avatar state. Then, he curb-stomped her with the craft that took her the longest to master, and even came close to killing her with it. The season ended with Korra unable to walk.
I've followed The Legend of Korra since it premiered, and it quickly became one of my favorite shows on the air. As a writer, a troper, and a keen af-fiction-ado, I've had crackpot theories pan out before. So I feel confident in suggesting that it could be deeply, thematically consistent for Korra to spend the rest of her days in that wheelchair. Here's why:
There's a Precedent For Handicapped Bending Masters
Let's start with an easy one: Toph Beifong. Her name literally means 'Supported Lotus'. Thanks to her blindness, she's been underestimated since day one. At the tender age of twelve, this Earthbending Master invented a new style from scratch: Metalbending. Even if that was her only accomplishment (aside from, ya know, helping save the world), no one could deny that the handicapped girl changed the world with that single act. She took her disability and turned it into an asset: specifically, using her heightened senses to identify minuscule impurities in metal like iron, allowing her to mold and bend the ore to her will. She should be the picture in the dictionary beside the word 'indomitable'.
And then there's Ming-Hua. It's unclear whether this Waterbending Master lost her arms in some tragic circumstance, or was born without them. It ultimately doesn't matter. She's a force to be reckoned with, regardless.
(Likewise, Combustion Man sported artificial limbs, and they did nothing to hinder his sparky sparky boom boom powers.)
The Show Is About Moving Forward, Not Undoing The Past
Since the first episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, one thing has been clear: you cannot change the past. The Air Nomads were wiped out, save for one overwhelmed little boy who had already ran away. The show was never about trying to undo that horrible slaughter, but rather coping with it, and preventing such a loss from happening again to the what's left of the world.
As we've moved through the first three seasons of Korra, we've seen the Air Nation return... albeit in an unexpected way. In addition to Avatar Aang's descendents carrying on the Airbending traditions, Korra's handiwork ensured that more Airbenders were 'awakened', for lack of a better word.
But they haven't replaced what's been lost. Far from it. They've found new recruits, yes, and they've returned to the sacred temples that the Air Nation held dear. But the Air Nomads are essentially starting over. There's a reason the third season ended with Jinora being granted the title of Master: She personifies the Air Nation's new beginning.
Korra's True Strength Is Adapting To Change
Korra has been through the wringer a few times, now. She's been attacked, villified, harassed, and her powers were stolen at one point... and that was all just in season one. Since then, she's grown into her role as Avatar and steward of the world's well-being as a whole. That's a hell of a lot of responsibility for a single person— even someone who's been reincarnated hundreds of times!
But it's this last blow that cut the deepest, in my opinion. After being poisoned, her body was forced to react in ways she had no control over— going into the Avatar state against her will— the parallels are not subtle, and easy to draw. But Korra survived. She has already faced enormous, world-threatening dangers, and she's beaten them. Not alone, no. But she has prevailed.
Brian Konietzko released this image of Korra for season four: She's standing strong, fighting fit. And based on the color scheme of her surroundings, it looks like she's striking this pose in the spirit realm, a place where the laws of matter and physics don't apply.
Korra started off physically strong, with no connection to the spiritual aspect of her duties. When she lost her Bending abilities, she discovered a new one— she was able to Airbend, and finally make contact with the spirit world. When she lost her connection to the line of previous Avatars, she found ways to connect anyway: by communing with the people whose lives were touched by Aang, and delving even deeper into the spirit world. My point is this: every time Korra has lost something, she's found something of equal or greater value.
What Has Been Broken Need Not Stay Broken
There's a very old art form that's dear to me, called Kintsugi. To me, it symbolizes the notion that just because something has been damaged, does not mean it cannot be restored— or made even more beautiful than it was before.
Yes, Korra could walk again. She could regain what she's lost in the physical world, and stand on her own two feet. But how does that story compare with one of a deeper triumph? Of overcoming hardship by working with it instead of against it? Of finding new ways to be strong? Isn't that the kind of grab-you-by-the-gut storytelling we've come to enjoy from Konietzko and DeMartino?
Korra has phenomenal strength in her, a strength that has absolutely nothing to do with her body. I believe she will rise up again from this latest blow… even if it's not in a way many people are expecting.
[Screenshots courtesy of DongbuFeng.net.]