As a survivor and a mentally ill person, I’m always keen to undertones of mental health and recovery narratives in popular fiction.
I’ve noticed quite a few in the Avatar series. For those of you not familiar with this amazing cartoon, it is…you know what? I can’t describe it. On the surface it’s a story of an alternate world of four nations, each based around one of the four elements, with individuals in each nation who can bend one of the elements. The Avatar is the master of all four elements, and is tasked with maintaining and bringing balance to the spirit and human worlds. It’s so much more. It’s a story of love, of hope, of pain and of the power of goodness. I love it.
The Avatar Series is made up of two different shows: Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: Legend of Korra. Both spoke to me, as an abuse survivor, in different ways. I want to talk about Legend of Korra, because I just watched the series finale and damn.
In Legend of Korra, season 3, Korra is kidnapped, poisoned and nearly killed by a man named Zahir. The fourth season of the show is essentially about recovery. Korra withdraws from the world because she feels she has failed as an avatar. The poison Zahir gave her is still inside her. Despite support from her family and friends around her, she is haunted by Zahir. She manages to get the poison out, but his memory still haunts Korra.
Korra goes to see Zahir in prison, to tell him that she is no longer afraid of him. He charges her, and laughs when she startles. She tells him that he ruined her, that she thought facing him would end her suffering but that she will never be the same. He tells her that she needs to stop blaming him as an excuse against moving on. He leads her into the spirit world, and she is finally able to reconnect with her abilities. In the end she is able to accept what happened, and thinks that will make her stronger.
Does this remind you of anything? If you replace “poisoned” with “raped” it still works. She might as well be singing my life with her words, insert more song lyrics and poetic stuff here.
I realised, watching that episode, that I’m basically going through the same stuff Korra is. I respect the writers and creators for not having Korra’s struggles end after she gets the poison out. That would be the easy way out. A lot of people assume that when you get out of a toxic environment that everything will magically get better and that’s simply not the case. I also liked that Korra was able to make peace, kind of, with Zahir, instead of just one of them destroying the other. I think that’s another thing that people don’t realise–confronting the rapist doesn’t make it easier. It doesn’t solve jack shit, most of the time. Avatar has always taken a restorative justice standpoint, and I respect that. It takes many people to right a wrong, even the wrongdoer.
And yes, before you ask, I would like to sit down with R and talk it out. But I really doubt that’s going to happen. I’ll just settle for living vicariously through Korra. And the experience does make her stronger. She states that it made her more compassionate in the season finale, and uses it to establish common ground with the villain, who she eventually defeats with talking.
What I didn’t like is how Korra took the “it happened for a reason” standpoint in the series finale. As previously discussed I disagree heartily with that idea. The experience did make Korra more compassionate, but I feel that she would have got there on her own.
I think that I’m biased. I’ve accepted what happened, but I’m still withdrawn from the world. I feel as though I belong to no one and nothing. The poison is still inside me, and I can’t bend it out.