Taking Bending Away: Why it Hurts so Bad

Earlier this year, Avatar the Last Airbender was added to Netflix, and I was introduced to the wonderful universe and story. It is better late than never because I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I would even dare to rank it as high as Star Wars in my mind. If you know anything about me, you know that that is high praise.

After I finished ATLA, I was left wanting more. I figured that Netflix would soon add The Legend of Korra, and I just hoped that it would not take too long. Thankfully, I did not have to wait too long for this to happen, and at the time that I’m writing this, I have recently finished Season 1!

While I greatly enjoyed the first season, one thing that immediately stood out to me was how heartbreaking it was whenever Amon would take away someone’s bending (I was even somewhat disturbed when Aang took away Ozai’s bending).

It resonated with something inside of me that I related to, which honestly really confused me. I was not able to articulate why I was relating to and being hurt so much by bending being taken away from people. Obviously, I do not live in the Avatar Universe and do not have the ability to bend earth, air, water, or fire (if I could, I would bend water), so why was I relating to it?

What makes stories great is that they contain archetypical truths (concepts that are true for almost everyone) within them. Because of that, I would not be surprised if many of you felt unnaturally disturbed whenever Amon took someone’s bending away too.

I think it comes down to a feeling that is nostalgic for most of us: even though none of us can bend or have superpowers, almost all of us have at one point in our lives wished for these abilities. 

This is why series such as Marvel or DC, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Twilight, and Avatar have been so successful. We’ve all wished we had superpowers, could use the Force, control magic, become a werewolf or vampire, or bend the elements. If you were like me, you may have even wished for these abilities so hard that you convinced yourself that you would one day be swinging between buildings at high speeds.

What Amon does is vanquish these childlike dreams of ours. Even though I am grown up, deep inside of my psyche, this dream still lives. And every time Amon takes away someone’s bending, I am reminded that the dream is just that: a dream- not reality. That is why it hurts so much and why Amon made for such a compelling villain in the first season.

I find this pretty similar to the addition of midichlorians to the Star Wars universe. Before the creation of Episode I, the Force seemed like a supernatural ability that anyone could get in contact with if they just believed hard enough. With the addition of midichlorians, the supernatural lost the “super” and simply became natural-scientific. There was an explanation now for how people can communicate with the Force, and the problem is that not everyone has a high enough midichlorian count to do so.

I believe that this is a reason why fans responded so negatively to them. Midichlorians may have a purpose in validating Anakin as the Chosen One and introducing scientific reasoning to the Force, but it certainly does take the magic away. Because we don’t have midichlorians (that we know of), it makes it more difficult for the child within us to believe in it.

In these stories, it is important that the child within us is able to believe in the magic. And as terrifying as Amon was, it was just as invigorating when Aang restored the bending of Korra, and Korra then restored the bending of others. 

The first season of any show should have the viewer fully invested into the protagonist, and this first season certainly did just that. In the end, Korra was able to inspire the belief of magic back into the child within me. 

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