Just watched the two-part season (And probably series) finale of "The Legend of Korra" last night while recovering from my hosptital. I'll admit I was pretty emotionally raw, and the only digital device I had to watch it on was a 3DS, but even so it brought me to the edge of tears on occasion. It is undoubtly the best example of over-the-top gonzo action/drama/awesomeness produced by the Avatar franchise since "The Siege of the North" in the original "Airbender" series.
A quick recap: Nick allowed the original Airbender series an unprecidented 3-season deal, and were basically hands off. They let the show grow up with its audience, so season 1 was a kid's adventure show, season 2 was a slightly older kids adventure show, and season three was aimed at a slightly older audience yet. After the story concluded (It had always been intended to end where it did), discussion for various spinoffs were floated.
Eventually they chose the ballsiest one imaginable: A new Avatar set 70-ish years later, in a somewhat more modern world (Tech level would appear to be around 1930 by our world's standards.) Originally Called "Avatar: The Legend of Korra," it was intended as a 13 episode miniseries which explored a different angle of things: how do the normal people feel about Benders? Not great, as it turns out, and the "Equalists" uprising is a great story.
At some point during the run, getting gonzo ratings, Nick agreed to a 2nd season, which had never been part of the plan. Season 2 was...wildly uneven. It was done on the fly and it shows. Several episodes are done by different studios, and there's little to no attempt to hide stylistic differences. The show goes info-bomb way too often, the story is a bit of a muddle, and while it all makes sense in the end, it's just too disjointed to really engage. "Avatar" never did a bad season, but I were to rate them:
Airbender season 3
Korra season 1
Airbender season 2
Airbender season 1
Korra season 2
Actually, Korra season 1 would easily beat Airbender season 3, but the short episode order (13 rather than 26) doesn't allow us to get as engaged in the characters.
Ratings were soft, but Nick signed a 2-season deal just the same. WIth more time to prep and a total of 26 eps over 2 years, telling a fuller story, it seemed like a good move. It was a good move. But then the ratings for season 3 were way soft, and Nick started dumping episodes, gerrymandering it all across the schedule, and eventually pulling the show entirely and dumping it online.
Well, the consensus (Which I'm pretty sure was wrong) was that they just lost faith in the show. Certainly that was what I believed, but having seen the last half-dozen episodes, I don't think that's the case. I think Nick just wasn't given the show they wanted.
I think they were given a show that was too damn dark to run.
To recap: The original "Airbender" made it through 78 episodes without killing anyone. Yeah, people died - one even onscreen - but he decided to reject aid that could have saved him. Granted, a show aimed at a younger audience, but still: War, folks, and a lotta' lotta' lotta' violence (Most notably Zukko's wildly physically abusive relationship with his father) and emotional heft. Deaths were handled ambiguously for the most part, something they even joked about on the show ("Wait, I'm unclear: Did Jet die?" "It was kind of ambiguous") The finale revolved around Aang trying to find a way to defeat his enemy without killing him.
By contrast, Korra (Aimed at an older audience) culminated with a murder/suicide. In context, it worked. Still: Intense.
Korra season 2 may or may not have had people die. I honestly can't remember.
Korra season 3 had FOUR ONSCREEN DEATHS! Three were in combat, but one was the bold-faced murder of an elderly woman. Korra is, herself, clearly trying to murder someone at one point, and she's even pulling out some of Azula's old tricks. Holy crap! The denouement shows us that the good guys won, but at far greater cost than ever before: The Avatar is paralyzed from the waist down, and there's serious doubt that she's ever going to get better. Her mentor, Tenzin, doesn't sound entirely convinced when he says she's going to survive. And Tenzin, poor Tenzin. After three years of this, he never gets his moment in the sun. Always in the shadow of his father, then the Korra, and now his own daughter. You keep thinking he's going to finally become the man he was meant to be, but he gets his ass kicked so badly he nearly dies. Poor guy. His daughter is the man he's suppose to be. And despite the ears, she's the spitting image of Aang.
I think the show simply became too dark for Nick to run.
Which is a shame because this season may well tie the first year of the original Airbender as the best thing the franchise ever produced.