Mako and Bolin's backstory. Their parents were killed in front of them during a mugging resulting in the two of them growing up on the streets with no family but each other. They formerly worked for the Triads until becoming pro-benders to make ends meet, even then just barely. In addition, eagle-eyed viewers will notice the shoddily mended tears in their practice clothes - the brothers are still dirt poor, and may very well end up back on the streets if they don't win the prize money. Their fortunes improve thanks to Korra, though.
Korra, as the new Avatar, is older than all of Tenzin's children. That means poor Aang died before he even got a chance to meet his own grandchildren. Kya and Bumi never had grandchildren, either. There's also the fact Aang didn't know if Tenzin would have any airbender children, so he died not knowing if his people would be lost with his son.
Word of God is that Aang only lived to 66, in a world where Avatars at least have been known to make it past 200, due to his century in the iceberg (making him technically 166 when he died, but it means he only lived for 54 years after the end of the original show.)
On a meta note, Nickelodeon's decision to abandon the televised airing of Korra season 3. Well at least airing things on the internet might make it easier to get the recent Korra/Asami ship teasingpast the radar if the other stuff in this season is anything to go by...
Book 1: Air
Welcome to Republic City
Korra elatedly telling Naga about her firebending test as Naga licks her cheek. With Korra's excitement and laughter, you'd think this would be a happy scene, but the music playing softly during the sequence, as well as Korra's overall situation, makes it all become quietly heartwrenching and bittersweet. Naga appears to be Korra's only real friend, and just something about the atmosphere of this scene really tugs at the heartstrings.
The night scene where Korra is riding on Naga through the falling snow, as "Korra's Theme" plays on the soundtrack, is heartwrenchingly beautiful. It's a masterpiece of cinematography, music, and animation.
Katara makes it clear that her brother and most of her friends are dead. This means she lived long enough to not only see her immediate family, husband included, die, but many friends as well. And then it hits you that she's been teaching and caring for the reincarnation of her dead husband for seventeen years.
Katara wiping away a Single Tear as her family flies back home, leaving her alone again. And the sad look on her face when Tenzin tells her that he's not staying.
Tenzin looking up at the statue of Aang. It's clear from his face just how much he misses his father.
A Leaf in the Wind
Not a sad moment, but a tear jerker nevertheless, because of how powerful it was. When Korra is in the pro-bending championship, and Tenzin is about to walk away... Korra suddenly starts moving like a real airbender, spiraling around gracefully, dodging every attack. Tenzin looks on with the same expression as us- pure awe and amazement.
It is still sad when you consider that Tenzin must feel like he's watching a shadow of his father. It's not just that Korra's picking up on airbending; it's that this girl, who's proven to be so unlike Aang, which probably breaks Tenzin's heart in a way, is showing some sign that his father really is living in her.
The horrified look on Bolin's face as he's revealed on the stage of the rally.
Amon's backstory, at least assuming it's true. His parents were poor farmers who were exploited by firebenders, and when his father tried to stand up to them he was killed, and Amon's face was burned beyond healing.
This parallels with Mako and Bolin's backstory. The only difference is they could support themselves with their bending, but if they can only barely scrape by with bending oriented jobs, how did Amon or other non benders in the same situation fare?
Even if the story itself isn't true, it still depicts an awful reality. Somewhere out there many inoccent people were murdered for daring to speak against criminals with bending.
Amon's, or rather Noatak's, real backstory is, if anything, just as tragic. See below for details.
Bolin's expression when he suggests using Pabu to make money and Mako shoots him down. It's just really kind of heartbreaking because it makes it perfectly clear that behind his lazy, care-free exterior Bolin really wants to help and not make Mako do all the work and, more than that, that he puts a lot of stock in his brother's opinion of him.
A Voice In The Night
Korra breaking down and crying Broken Tears saying "I've never felt like this before. I don't know what to do!" She's basically having a panic attack in this scene. She's regretting her decision, she wants to undo it all, but she can't, and the only thing she can do is cry.
It's not just Amon who breaks her down. It's also the publicity that psychologically pressures her. Korra has a big responsibility and does ultimately live with the guilt that she has to sacrifice time for training before saving the city. Imagine getting lured into the center of press attention and being provoked with fiery questions.
Korra's whole situation in this episode is as heartbreaking as it is terrifying. Even before her encounter with Amon she was already terrified of him. And just when she finally does get the courage to face him, he psychologically destroyed her. It is hard to watch the Badass we know get completely broken. Worst part of it is, if Amon's plans work, it will just get worse for her.
Not to mention, most of the authority figures don't like her or treat her with any concern, except for Tenzin. It means that Korra has only one solid ally, and also that she has no support network in a city where she hasn't had the time to meet anyone other than Tenzin's family, and her teammates (who still aren't solid friends with her).
Tenzin's side of the story as well. How he patiently and quietly tries to give her understanding and room to voice her fears. And at the end? She breaks down crying in his arms. And he quietly just accepts it without breaking himself, hugging and comforting his father's incarnation.
The lead-up to the above moment will be tear-jerking for fans of the older series: Korra, while knocked unconscious, has several heartbeat-quick visions of an older Sokka, Toph, and Aang.
The Spirit of Competition
Seeing Bolin heartbroken and crying after seeing Korra kiss Mako was a devastating thing to witness, especially since he had bought her flowers.
It's not just that he went on an adorably heartwarming date with "...the smartest, funniest, toughest, buffest, talentedest, incrediblest girl in the world," who he has been interested in since the first time he met, but this scene seems to take place shortly after the game. The game which Bolin pretty much single-handedly won. Just look at him jumping around in excitement after the tie-breaker. The elation from his victory probably gave him some sort of confidence boost, which would have made the kiss all the more emotionally crushing. Oh, and now we know he's only sixteen.
And The Winner Is...
While the break-up with Tenzin and Lin was rough, the screen time seems to have more focus on Lin when the pressure and suffering fell more onto Tenzin. It's not easy to smile when you're conflicted with ending your first relationship with one of the priorities to finding a life-long partner being that he alone has to keep an entire culture alive, a vicious double whammy to him. He probably suffered the pain for years and is likely still feeling it.
Tenzin makes it perfectly clear that he's deeply in love with Pema, and that she helped him discover that he didn't feel that way towards Lin. One can still tell it was hard on him ruining a relationship with one of his best friends, though, and how happy it makes him when he and Lin get back on friendly terms.
Korra meeting Tahno after Amon took his bending was very sad. He's depressed and looks miserable. His hair is unkempt and he's got bags under his eyes, which makes him look like he's been awake for days looking for a cure and processing the loss of his innate ability. Even if he was a douchebag, it is still incredibly sad.
Also, his Broken Smile when he tells Korra "See you around, Avatar", and the way it fades away from his face as he turns to walk away. Pretty much had to have been designed to nail home how he went from a painfully cocky and arrogant jerk to this drained, fragile husk of a human being.
Asami discovering that her father is part of the Equalists, after she'd spent a whole episode defending him from that accusation.
Especially hard to see is her final lines to her father before siding with Korra. Despite the evil things he'd done while giving support to Amon, she still loves him, and continues to love him even as she has to take a stand against him.
The worst part is that you know that the kindly, jolly man he pretended to be had to have been how he genuinely was before the death of his wife.
When the Krew leave the Sato mansion behind. Asami just stares out the window, until the mansion is all but gone. She's leaving behind the life she once knew, has no family and is effectively on the run from the wrath of the Equalists. Is it any wonder she breaks down crying in Mako's arms when he tries to comfort her?
Korra's face when she sees Asami collapse into Mako's arms. Made worse when she practically told him "She needs you more than I do."
Even though it didn't take, Mako's simple heartfelt Little "No" when Asami appeared to have joined her father.
When Extremes Meet
Asami compliments the simple room she's given to stay in at Air Temple Island, stating that, above all, "there's nothing to remind me of my father". Later, when listening to a police report in the Satomobile, she sadly says that her father always had police radios installed in his cars and "I guess now I know why."
Tarrlok breaking down Korra twice. First by reminding her she isn't a complete Avatar and then sending her off in a Satomobile to get her out of the picture.
Wrenching to see Tarrlok's laws take in effect on the non-benders, even arresting Asami. The fact that Korra is taking her job as the Avatar seriously and halting the arrest being made to no avail makes one want Amon to come out and debend Tarrlok.
It was really sad to see how angry and scared the non-benders were during the arrests. Especially when that one woman holding a baby cries "You're our Avatar too!" And Korra, even as the Avatar, couldn't do anything to stop it.
Korra sitting out at Air Temple Island, staring out at Aang's statue with tears streaking down her face. You can tell how the overwhelming pressure of protecting the city, as well as living up to Aang, is affecting her. As the Avatar, she's supposed to have control of the entire situation, but the fact is that she doesn't.
Korra: I'm the worst Avatar ever.
Maybe this is more heartwarming, but when the new Team Avatar finds Korra sitting out there and cheers her up by telling her that she's not alone and that they'll help her out.
The effects of Korra's childhood are even more apparent in that scene. She lives with her friends and an entire surrogate family, yet her coping method for loneliness is hiding by herself the way she did in the pilot.
Out of the Past
When Korra sees Amon, she attacks him with icicles. He dodges them, and Korra runs, terrified.
On a closer look, the icicles hit the ground at least ten feet in front of Amon. He didn't have to dodge because they weren't even close to hitting him, but they were too large and widespread to smash aside or jump over. Then, Korra was running even before the last one landed. She wasn't attacking—she was already terrified the moment she saw him, and those icicles were meant to slow Amon down.
Mako's intense concern about Korra's safety. While it is heartwarming, it is quite painful to see the strain it's putting on Asami. He has yet to notice this effect, but he will eventually, one way or the other.
And when Asami asks Bolin if Mako likes Korra more than just a friend, and he says that's just crazy talk, then admits that there was that one time that Mako and Korra kissed is a double Tear Jerker. You can tell that Bolin is still a little upset about it and Asami's face is just heartbreaking when she realizes that her boyfriend seems to care more about Korra than her.
Lin realizing that the police officers she's just rescued have already lost their bending. The defeated look on their faces is terribly depressing, and the fact that they can barely manage more than nodding to answer Lin's question about losing their bending. Lin's expression was just as sad.
After Tarrlok locks up Korra, she manages to wear herself down hitting the walls of her cage and yelling. The really painful part is her final, resigned "please" before she accepts the fact that she can't escape.
The flashback storyline may end relatively happily, but there's still sorrow to be found there as well (especially considering Fridge Horror), starting with the horrified look on Sokka's face when bloodbending is first mentioned, considering that he was bloodbent during the previous series and that he must feel some pain at his sister having been forced into learning the technique. And then when the actual bloodbending occurs, it is heartbreaking to see Aang, Toph and Sokka all writhing in pain. And the worst part is that Yakone lifts Toph into the air to bring him his keys - so not only is she not in control of her body, by not being in the ground she is truly blind while at his mercy.
A retroactive one: look at Tarrlok's face when he bloodbends Tenzin and the others into unconsciousness. Then watch "Skeletons in the Closet". You now know exactly why looked the way he did, and why he was so distraught about his life being ruined when he came back to where he was holding Korra captive.
When she turns around, we see a shot of the family. All of them are holding each other and have scared expressions, but pause the screen and we see Jinora hugging Ikki, just how her parents are holding the other two children. Jinora is hardly 10, yet here she acting like an adult for her younger sister. Ikki's obviously extremely scared, but considering how Meelo and Rohan are little young to fully understand what's going on, Ikki is the youngest one who knows what danger they're in. Jinora obviously knows too, and protectively hugs Ikki. It's little more than a few frames, but it captures the two girls' relationship perfectly. Seeing the whole family so scared and shocked is a tear jerker in and of itself, but Jinora and Ikki's expressions are especially powerful.
Her acceptance of her fate was a tearjerker by itself. The moment she closed her eyes, her eyebrows changed from defiant and furious to sad and resigned.
Bonus points for it showing that she was truly her mother's daughter all the way, taking down an entire airship.
"Whatever happens to me, do not turn back!", and then Lin jumping off Oogi makes it clear what's going to happen. The way she gracefully accepts her fate of de-bending really increased her Lady of War status, and that she's been such a One Woman Army up to that point made seeing her defeated by Amon even more horrific. The tragic music that played as it happened didn't help.
Hiroshi's regretful look at a family portrait in his locket as the Equalist attack starts.
Right after the birth of Rohan, Korra steps in and informs Tenzin that more ships are coming. You can almost hear the temporary happiness in the room shatter.
Ikki: Everything's not going to be fine, is it Daddy?
After Korra and co have escaped from Air Temple Island, Korra just stares at the island, which was like a home to her, until Mako leads her away. It's implied that she's been standing there for a while.
Skeletons in the Closet
Tarrlok's and Amon's backstory: Being forced to bloodbend your brother, who you clearly love.
The biggest punch to the gut is after it happens, little Tarrlok starts crying and refuses to bloodbend Noatak in return, saying "That felt horrible! I never want to do that to anyone!" Go back and watch "Out of the Past", and suddenly Tarrlok's My God, What Have I Done? look when he bloodbends Tenzin and the others into unconsciousness is really, really depressing.
The torturing of that cow, and those wolves. They were clearly terrified, and the wolves were actually whimpering like puppies.
Yakone yelling at and verbally abusing young Tarrlok.
The flashback, in which we see a young Tarrlok and Noatak. They're playing in the snow, with sad music in the background. Tarrlok falls to the ground, and begins to cry. Noatak helps him up and brushes the snow off his face gently. Tarrlok smiles, and they go back to playing. It was gutwrenching to see these two villains as children, before they went bad.
Korra: That's...one of the saddest stories I've ever heard.
Yakone's wife. She has no lines and is never given a name, but her situation is potentially just as sad as the rest of her family. She started a family with whom she thought was a good man, and probably saw it as a perfect life. But little did she know, she was married to one of Republic City's most notorious and dangerous criminals, and that he was teaching their children how to bloodbend. Then one of her children runs away, and she never knows the real reason, thinking he simply perished in the snow, and she is never the same again. It is unknown if she is still alive during the events of The Legend of Korra, but if she were, learning of her sons' fates as enemies and their tragic deaths would be even more unbearable. Imagine having a seemingly perfect life, never knowing that its all a lie.
When Amon brings Tenzin, Jinora, Ikki and Meelo onto the stage at the rally. Lin's Heroic Sacrifice didn't matter in the end.
The look on General Iroh's face when he realizes that Bumi and his forces are in danger because of the wire that had been sent earlier.
When Amon arrives to inform Tarrlok of his ruined plans, he asks the latter to run away with him, telling Tarrlok "You're all I have left in the world." For all the nastiness and lies that Amon encompasses, the one truth we see is that he really does care about his brother.
Tarrlok kills himself and his brother, Amon, by igniting their boat's fuel tanks. It's made worse because you see it coming, and can tell he's planning it.
Especially when you hear his last words.
Tarrlok: It will be just like the good old days.
Even worse Amon probably did want to live a peaceful life with his brother, and even somewhat regretted what has happened between them, even shedding a Single Tear right before they both died. There's a good chance Tarrlok had considered starting over and changing for the better as well, but probably believed that the two of them had done so much harm that they were beyond redemption. Even more importantly, escaping and starting over with a better life was exactly what their father Yakone did, and we all know what came out of THAT. Tarrlok wanted no further generation to have to suffer from Yakone's hateful legacy. The tear also implies that Amon knew what Tarrlok was about to do. The whole affair is actually quite similar to the ending of Of Mice and Men.
Amon: The two of us together again! There's nothing we cannot do.
What is particularly impressive about this is that both Tarrlok and Amon had committed their share of heinous deeds in previous episodes, and both well over the Moral Event Horizon, and yet this scene and their whole story was the most tragic and heartbreaking moments in the series.
Amon/Noatak's last words, followed by one final Single Tear:
Asami's fight with her father. Especially, from the way that she looked, she didn't want to do it, but she needed to stand up for what she believed is right. She even starts crying after the deed is done.
Asami: You really are a horrible father.
Also, Naga can't even see Asami crying but must sense it somehow because the scene ends with her whimpering. Even the dog is sad here!
Just their falling out which then led to their fight was tragic, especially since Hiroshi intended to kill her, and Asami almost looked as if she was about to return the favor.
Asami's whole story is one big Tearjerker, inspired from Zuko's no doubt. Born in the lap of luxury, she lost her mother to a firebender, her father went on a path of revenge and aided the Equalists, manufacturing all sorts of very destructive technology, whose impact could long outlive the Equalist movement. On discovering all that she was forced to betray her father and leave all she had known as home behind. She's thrown in jail for being his daughter and would have to live with that image for most of her life...as second season previews show, the bad rep doesn't go away. Then she's forced to move into the sewers and live like a street urchin for a while. Then she was forced to duel her own father who was on the verge of killing her, almost to the point of killing him herself And to top this all off, her boyfriend ends up leaving her for her friend, whom he gets involved with BEFORE calling it off with Asami. How much more angst can we keep piling up on her?
Just before the ending. Korra, with all but her airbending removed, goes up to the edge of a cliff and starts crying. Judging from the way her tears fall over the edge, it is implied she is contemplating suicide, a fact made even worse since we had just seen an on-screen suicide.
To add to that it could have been considered the right thing to do. If she had lost all her bending, the world was without their all powerful Avatar. Killing herself and continuing the cycle would have been her last act of service as the Avatar.
Korra even says that she doesn't think she's a proper Avatar anymore. It's just about as blatant as you can get without outright saying it that, yes, Korra did want to commit suicide over losing her bending.
Korra thinking that being the Avatar is the only reason Mako (and presumably her other friends as well) would take any sort of interest in her. It can hit pretty hard when one realizes how dependent Korra is on her status as the Avatar to think that her friends wouldn't like her if she wasn't. The scene where Mako tells her that it never mattered whether she was the Avatar or not was just incredible. For all we know, that may have been the only thing that stopped her from jumping near the end.
Even the Lieutenant gets one. Consider - this man clearly genuinely believed in the cause he was fighting for, and gave everything he had for Amon and the Equalist cause. Then, at the very moment of victory, he sees that his leader is not only a liar and a fraud, but precisely the kind of person he's been fighting against all this time - a bender using his power to bully and exploit others. Then he gets literally tossed aside by Amon when he confronts him for it. Also, consider that in the absence of Amon, he'll probably take most of the rap for Equalist crimes that were rightfully Amon's responsibility (if he even survived Amon's Curb-Stomp Battle).
Also notice that he is crying as Amon is bloodbending him. Prior to this, he says "You traitor! I dedicated my life to you!" Not to the Equalist cause, but to Amon. And his tear is shed because Amon callously says "You served me well, Lieutenant.", showing that he truly doesn't care for him in the slightest. He doesn't only feel angry that the movement was based on a lie; he is genuinely hurt by what Amon personally had done to him and the other non-benders. He gets physically tortured by Amon through bloodbending for finding the truth. Imagine having someone that you dedicated your whole life to betraying you in such a horrific and painful way.
When Katara reveals she cannot restore Korra's connection to the other three elements, Lin desperately tells her that she has to keep trying. When Katara repeats that there's nothing more she can do, Lin looks completely devastated. You can tell it wasn't just sympathy for Korra - that was, to her, the last hope to get her own bending back gone as well. There's a brief shot of Korra just as Katara closes the door. Not moving, just facing the wall. Even in a room full of people who love her, she still feels so hopeless. The pained look on Senna's face in the background says it all.
Book 2: Spirits
Korra choosing her uncle over Tenzin to be her spiritual teacher was heart-wrenching. Especially because it wasn't hard to tell that Tenzin doesn't just want to teach Korra airbending and spirituality, but he genuinely cares for Korra and (despite Korra treating it as a negative) he sees her as one of his children. J.K. Simmons really did a magnificent job with injecting the perfect amount of hurt and pain into Tenzin's voice as he leaves the South Pole.
Just the way he says goodbye to her; it's too formal. He's trying to hide how badly he's been hurt.
Katara's scenes were brief, but you can't help but let the tears flow when she's present. During the dinner, look at the way she watches Tenzin get lovingly bullied by his elder siblings, and then later insist that Tenzin take Kya and Bumi with him. One reason is so that the three of them remember their father together as they explore his birthplace and culture, but there's another reason she gives: once they get to her age, they're going to wish they cherished all the moments that they had with their siblings. For all their bickering, Katara really loves Sokka, and she misses him dearly.
The Southern Lights
Tonraq's backstory. He was banished from the Northern Tribe for accidentally unleashing a horde of angry spirits by desecrating a sacred forest. Just the sight of him, sailing away from his home, then turning around for one last wistful look. It gets worse when you realize that Tonraq's father most likely died without ever seeing his son again, not to talk of his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.
When Unalaq tells Korra that he believes in her, she actually looks stunned and says that she's so used to everyone giving her advice and telling her what to do that she'd forgotten what it was like to have someone just trust her.
It's also a callback to the previous episode, where Korra lashes out at Mako for being supportive and berates him for not telling her what to do.
As mentioned on the Nightmare Fuel page: just imagine being an elder of the Southern Water Tribe, and seeing warships docking for another invasion of your home. Only this time, the invader is the Northern Water Tribe.
Civil War Part 1
Tenzin's falling out with his siblings. An entirely understandable development where there's no one to easily side with. You can see the cause of everyone's grievances and can only hope they're able to move past them.
To wit, both Kya and Bumi are angry with Tenzin because Aang heavily favored him, and took him to many places, excluding Kya and Bumi, and Tenzin didn't even notice they were gone. Likewise, Kya and Tenzin are angry with Bumi for his childish and reckless behavior, as he pretends to be just as capable as his siblings even though he's not a bender. Finally, Bumi and Tenzin are subsequently angry with Kya because she mothers them and flitted about the world to find herself, only coming back to see her mother after Aang died.
Heavy bit of Adult Fear when Ikki is revealed to be missing at the Southern Air Temple. She hasn't been found all day.
At the end of the episode, Korra reconciles with her parents and less than a minute later they're both arrested by Unalaq.
The fact that Aang, who loved almost everyone and was loved by all his friends was apparently not the best father to Bumi and Kya. It's actually pretty surprising for Aang, considering he was always great with children in the original series.
Yet it's not surprising, at the same time. Aang was desperate to keep the Air Nomad culture, as well as the art of Airbending, alive. And Tenzin was the only person who could keep it going after Aang's death. Kya and Bumi, being a waterbender and non-bender respectively, couldn't. And of course History Repeats when Tenzin is so wrapped up in keeping Republic City together that he winds up neglecting his own children and Korra...
There's also the fact that Aang spent the whole time between the beginning of the original series and Tenzin's birth as the only airbender, which must have been extremely lonely.
Civil War Part 2
Bumi going to the statue of his father Aang and telling him he's sorry he wasn't an airbender but that he tried his best to save the world and hoped he was proud of him. Kya appears and hugs telling him that "of course" Aang was proud of him.
The fact he felt the need to apologize for how he was born is a Tear Jerker in and of itself.
Kya showing her brothers the old picture their mother gave her of their family: Aang and Katara, and their young children ten year old Bumi, three year old Kya and infant Tenzin.
Korra learning that Unalaq is a backstabbing liar gets even worse when you realize she preferred him over Tenzin, the first adult in the series to actually have faith in her.
Made worse in that she finally was able to make her decision for once and she realized she got manipulated yet again.
Made (if possible) worse still due to the simple fact that this is her uncle, her own family. ...Ouch.
At the end of the episode, Bolin was finally able to dump Eska because of Unalaq's actions. You then see Eska gliding the ocean angrily. You can also see that her makeup was running, implying that despite how abusive she was towards him, she really didn't want him to leave her.
It's even more tear jerking when you realize that Bolin left her at the altar.
Senna crying because she hates feeling so helpless while her husband is sent to prison for life. It's a short scene, but it's very sad. The fact that Korra pretty much hunts down the Judge not long after and threatens to feed him to Naga makes it more jarring.
Mako and Korra's break up. Full stop. They were fighting quite a few times this season, but always made up. But things went downhill really fast once politics got involved in their relationship. Korra tried to circumvent the president's power by enlisting the military directly and when Mako found out, he reported it. She confronts him at the police station and they fight again. This time, Mako decides to end it, and looking conflicted all the while. Korra storms out, destroying part of Mako's office in the process, and races to the Fire Nation to get troops for the Southern Water Tribe. Mako had a responsibility to the city, but Korra had to defend her people and they just couldn't find a compromise anymore.
Korra's entire situation at this point counts. Siding with the South gets her accused of breaching the Avatar's neutrality. Remaining neutral gets her branded a traitor by her own people. And now, her attempts to stop the conflict have been blocked by the Republic's politics. No matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries to do the right thing, she's going to get called out for it.
It's hard to not feel bad for Mako in this too. He knows something's up, but nobody believes him, not even his girlfriend. And it must have really tore at his heart to end up ratting out Korra so he wouldn't be arrested for treason, and he probably knew she would be mad. There wasn't anything else he could do!
Whether their relationship was Played for Laughs or not, it became quite clear this episode that Eska really did like Bolin and was really saddened by him running away from her. She really does love him, in her own way. She's positively heartbroken that Bolin ran away from her.
Making Unalaq's lack of concern - or even recognition - of her dramatic reaction saddening in itself. Its quite obvious something snapped in Eska, and her own father doesn't care.
This subdued, meaningful exchange between Tenzin and his son during lemur training:
Meelo: Being alpha lemur is lonely. Tenzin: I know.
Mako and Asami discovering the Future Industries gear has been stolen. Seychelle Gabriel's monotone delivery makes her seem completely dead inside, without any heart to keep fighting.
Asami mentions that with her mom gone and her dad in jail, Future Industries is the only thing she has left of her family.
While many saw it coming, it was still a little saddening to discover that, yes, Varrick is a dishonest crook. Just after we'd gotten over the shock and disappointment that Mr. Sato was an Equalist, we get saddled with this newest revelation.
Wan reunites with his friends from his old village after being banished years ago, only to find that they've been feuding with the local spirits and destroying their territory. When said spirits arrive, Wan discovers that they're also friends he made after his banishment, but prior to his journey to master the other elements. He tries and fails to settle their arguments peacefully, and a fight breaks out with him caught in the middle, airbending each side away from each-other in the hopes that he can find some way to diffuse the situation. Unfortunately, this doesn't last either, and Wan is forced to push himself into the avatar state in order to keep them apart. He fights valiantly and succeeds for a while, but having so much power all at once starts to take a toll on his body, and after a minute or two he passes our from the stress. Wan awakes later with the area around him converted into a wasteland, and Vaatu rushing over to tell that all of his human friends were slaughtered in the battle.
The last we see of Wan. He's old and tired, and judging by his surroundings and the damaged armor he's wearing, it seems like he's just arrived at the end of a long battle. His last moments are spent apologizing to Raava and lamenting the fact that even after separating the human and spirit worlds, humanity is still suffering, and there simply wasn't time in his life to fix it.
The Spirit Animal is utterly loyal to the Avatar and completely bonded to him/her. The implications of its absence at the end of Wan's life count as a Tear Jerker.
To put the Avatar's entire existence into perspective, he spent his whole life trying to undo his mistakes. He's in battle armor. He's been constantly averting wars by delving right into the warring battles until the point where his body, seemingly uninjured, just gives out from old age and a life of constant conflict. The biggest tearjerker is that the avatar cycle is to maintain balance in a world, which it itself threw out of balance. The Avatar/Wan/His Incarnations/Raava are spending endless cycles making sure the world remains balanced. Their spirits will never get rest in this eternal mission. There most likely will never be "enough time" as per Wan's last sorrowful words. Avatar Wan (spoiler image) - ◊
Unalaq continues the series tradition of horrible fathers when he ignores Desna getting hurt trying to open the spirit portal. If it weren't for Eska, the poor boy probably wouldn't have gotten anything in the way of help anytime soon. This, combined with his lack of concern over Eska's obvious emotional turmoil over Bolin and the way he scolded them for not capturing Korra earlier makes it seem like he views his children more as tools and doesn't really care about them as people.
Then comes the Fridge Sadness when you realize that their contempt for Korra is not because of the Cultural Posturing Unalaq may have imposed on them out of his hatred for his own brother, but the fact that she has a loving mother and father and they don't.
Their emotional extremes (almost pyschopathic blankness with extreme rages) along with how they treat others are a direct result of how he raised them.
Hard Work Hardly Works. You can tell Tenzin really wanted to help Korra get into the Spirit World. He trained his whole life for this, probably conducted countless hours of research on how to get into the Spirit World and tried numerous times before, but... things just didn't work out that way. It doesn't help that he probably feels like he's letting his father down, too.
In addition to that its implied that Tenzin's problem is just that he's trying too hard.
Asami at the end, when Lu and Gang try to convince her that Mako is a Dirty Cop who was using her the whole time. She doesn't look like she bought it, but to even have to consider it is sad. What's more, Asami has been slowly losing everything she cares about over the course of the series. She may have become just pessimistic enough to believe that, since Mako is one of the last good things in her life, that's going to get taken away too.
When Tenzin admits his failure to enter the spirit world is his greatest shortcoming as a Son of Aang, Bumi laughs and welcomes him to the "I disappoint Dad" club. It's Played for Laughs and goes by quickly, but even that just goes to show just how much Bumi really does consider himself a disappointment.
A New Spiritual Age
When the Fisher King nature of the Spirit World ages Korra into a kid again, we see her lost, helpless, and alone. It's a side we aren't used to seeing from this Avatar, which makes it even worse.
Just hearing her voice regress into childhood can inspire some serious Adult Fear.
Remember that guy Zei who remained in the library when it got sucked into the Spirit World? Yeah, he died in the interim.
To be fair, given the way WST talks about Zei, it's possible that he left his body that way more as a warning to any tresspassers rather than out of any spiteful intent.
The interim? Visually it's implied he died almost immediately after the Gaang left, as elaborated here
Jinora meets one of her spirit friends not long after being separated from Korra, and he helps her out during her journey. Unfortunately, he's corrupted into a dark spirit and helps Unalaq capture her.
Simmons' voice-work probably drove the moment into feels overkill.
Tenzin: (with growing desperation) Korra! What happened to my little girl?
Iroh's appearance itself. We knew he'd be long dead by now, which makes his sudden return so tearjerkingly wonderful.
Iroh bidding Korra goodbye, especially considering how dear Aang would have been to him.
Iroh: It was nice to meet you. Come visit me again, in this life or the next.
Night of a Thousand Stars
Pema's reaction when the group comes back with Jinora's soulless body.
Bolin visited his brother in prison, and while he tried to be supportive, he wasn't cheering Mako up much.
It's made even worse by the revelation that he asked Asami to come as well, but she declined.
The reason Asami didn't visit Mako was because him being in prison reminds her too much of her father.
Asami and Bolin have a talk while Bolin is getting some air at the opening performance of the film, and Bolin expresses his sadness about how Team Avatar has grown apart.
Tonraq being defeated and captured by Unalaq.
When Mako is let out of jail, Korra comes and gives him a big kiss, obviously glad to see him, unaware that he had kinda started seeing Asami again (not to mention that Asami was glaring at him, for dithering about telling Korra the truth).
Once again, the world refuses to be nice to Asami. She's been nice and supportive of everyone, and then Korra comes back and Mako doesn't reveal they've broken up even though Korra doesn't remember, and Mako is too scared to remind her, once again making Asami's life sadder.
The show is kind enough to give you a nice reaction shot of Asami looking (understandably) completely crushed that she chose to put faith in Mako, only to be shot down. Again.
Bolin's face after finding out Varrick staged the attack on the president, and Varrick's face right afterwards.
Cheesy though it was, Juji's death in the mover was honestly sad. Especially when you remember how sensitive Bolin is, and how much he loves Pabu: That scene must have been difficult for him.
Mako still hasn't told Korra about him and Asami.
Korra trying and failing to talk Eska and Desna into a Heel-Face Turn, made worse by Desna's faith in his father, which we all know is very misplaced.
Though his declaration of faith was certainly undeniable, one could not help but notice slight traces of uncertainty in Desna's delivery. It almost looked as if he did have lingering doubts in his father's motives but proceeded to convince himself otherwise... perhaps even out of fear.
The earlier scene with Unalaq revealing his plans to become the Dark Avatar is another one for Desna and Eska, who both react with total shock when Unalaq announces his plans. Not only were they kept in the dark despite being Unalaq's children and most trusted lieutenants, but both of them seem astonished that their father would try something like that. They still stick by his side even then.
Tenzin harsh dismissal of Bumi's accomplishments as crazy stories. Even worse is that we see him take out a base camp in a manner like how he'd describe his stories, and when he's about to tell them, he realizes there's no point because they won't believe him anyways.
The hug between Korra and her dad before she goes off to battle Vaatu, especially when you realize that they fear that they might not see each other again
After Unalaq forcibly removes Raava from Korra, he starts beating on Raava. On the first hit, Korra sees the image of Aang disintegrate. The next blows destroys Roku, followed by Kyoshi and Kuruk. One by one, Korra's link to each and every past life of the Avatar is destroyed and Korra, who also physically suffers with each blow, is unable to stop it. Finally, with one last blow, Unalaq destroys Korra's connection to Wan and Raava.
Even worse, the Fog of Lost Souls shows the people trapped there their worst fears or memories. So to be confronted like that, Tenzin must believe his worst failure is not being like his father. Even if facing that failure did allow him to rescue his family, that is so sad.
Even more heartbreaking is Kya and Bumi. Bumi's been such a strong, fearless character, so whatever happened in the past with the cannibals must have been truly horrific for him to abandon his family and run screaming. And Kya doesn't even acknowledge her brothers, except to say that they're holding her back.
Zhao should by no means be sympathetic, but seeing him reduced to a muttering lunatic, doomed to wander the fog of lost souls for eternity is pretty pitiful.
The look on Desna and Eska's faces as they watch their father's transformation into an inhuman monster.
Light in the Dark
Mako and Korra have a sad but honest and mutual break up "for real this time" even despite reaffirming their love for each other.
The link to the past Avatars is (apparently) lost forever.
Allow that to sink in for a moment. This means no more Kyoshi, Roku, or even Wan and Aang. You know that moment where Aang came to guide Tenzin? There's a good chance that that is the last time we'll see Aang. Or how about Wan? He died believing that he had failed in his quest to bring peace and balance to the world. He at least had the consolation that he would be able to continue helping the world even after his death. But now he doesn't have that, if and when the world does achieve peace he won't be a part of it. Grant it this being TV-land it might not truly be permanent but knowing the people who make the show chances are good that they'll stick to their guns.
Which kind of makes Iroh's request for Aang/Korra to; "Pay me a visit sometime, in this life or the next" absolutely heartbreaking.
After Korra gives Eska and Desna her regrets for not being able to salvage Unalaq from the battle (Unalaq having fused with Vaatu and thus getting purified/destroyed along with him), the twins basically go on to say they do not care for their father's demise, nor even wish to miss him, and are only worried about how they will have to break the news to their mother when they return home. Even if they are more cynical than most, and this response is somewhat believable coming from them, it still really hits hard seeing the twins finally realize just how cold, secretive, and manipulative their father always was and now see no reason for any sympathy upon his passing. Desna even refers to Unalaq as a "deplorable man" in the end.
This was the first mention we've ever had of Unalaq's wife and how reluctant Eska and Desna are to telling her. This begs the question as to whether or not she was aware of the horrible atrocities her husband committed, as well as some Alternative Character Interpretation on Unalaq's part.
Book 3: Change
A Breath Of Fresh Air
There are finally more airbenders in the world... and Aang can't see it due to Korra's connection to her past lives being cut off. Tenzin is driven to tears by it.
"Maybe there will be enough to fill the temples again. I just wish your grandfather were here to see this." The way JK Simmons delivers this line really hammers it home.
Korra being expelled from Republic City by the President. Despite everything she's done for it (Defeating the Equalists, saving the world from Unalaq) they quickly turn on her when she can't solve a hard problem quickly. Ungrateful bastards...
While the other recruits plays off like a Terrible Interviewees Montage, the first interview includes a guy who doesn't want to leave his family to become some monk, and everyone from his family is upset at the possibility, resulting in a pretty heartbreaking rejection.
It's kinda sad for Tenzin too. He was so excited about new airbenders, and a real chance to restore the Air Nomads. But most of the new airbenders don't want to give up their lives, and change how they live to do so. It seems Tenzin is learning it takes more than being an airbender to make one an Air Nomad.
The Earth Queen
Mako and Bolin seeing the picture of their deceased parents.
Mako and Bolin having to tell their grandmother and the rest of their relatives what happened to their father.
What makes this even worse is that they find out that their father had left home, estranged from his own father for not wanting to stay in Ba Sing Se and run the family fruit stand. In all likelihood, Bolin and Mako's father died before ever making his peace with his own dad. Is it any wonder their grandmother almost starts crying when their uncle tells them the story?
Mako gives up his trademark red scarf, his Tragic Keepsake of his father. He drapes it around his grandmother, stating that his father would have wanted her to have it.
Just before this, the grandmother comments on their Fire Nation mother, and is greatly saddened by the fact that the two women never met, but is sure she and her son were a good match.
Ba Sing Se. At the end of the last series it looked like the Earth King would make real changes to deal with the corruption and inequality in the city. Over 70 years later and if anything things are worse than they were before. The Earth Queen clearly cares little for her people, corruption and inequality are still rampant, and the Dai Li are back.
The current Earth Queen is explicitly Kuei's daughter, and she on-screen derides him as a soft-hearted fool for having wanted to make things better for the common man, and more than implicitly shows that she's the cause of the back-slide. Kuei was never a very effective ruler, but he always had a good heart no matter what, and his people loved him. To see his offspring come out so badly just makes one's heart go out for him.
Tenzin shedding tears of joy as the rescued Airbenders decide to join him at the Northern Air Temple.
The airbenders from the Earth Queen's army. They didn't choose to become airbenders, but because of it they were forcefully conscripted, introduced to Training from Hell, and then essentially exiled from their home on the grounds that, if they ever return, they'll be recaptured.
The Metal Clan
Poor Naga whimpering after Lin popped her ball.
The whole situation between Lin and her half-sister Suyin, especially that scene where Lin lashes out at her niece Opal, who leaves the room in tears.
It get's worse: Korra directly calls her out on this, angrily saying she'll always be a bitter woman before leaving... then the scene focuses on the breaking-down Lin, who visibly sheds a tear. She's never been that low, in all the time we've seen her.
This is Lin Beifong we're talking about, Chief of Police in Republic City and one of the most hardened, badass characters in the entire franchise. To see her crying like this and faltering in her usual stoic demeanour is a pretty big indicator that Korra's words really got to her and that the Beifong family has some serious, serious issues.
According to Suyin, Toph basically gave her daughters all the freedom in the world to be whoever they wanted to be. It's heavily implied that as a reaction of her own strict upbringing, Toph was as hands off as possible when it came to her children, and that was why they ended up fighting over her affections. She still ended up driving one of her daughters (Suyin) away, who travelled the world and had to build an entire city to find the family she'd always wanted.
Even worse, it's stated that Toph wasn't totally happy with how either of her daughters turned out. It's easy to see why this would affect Lin so much, when she's the one who's tried really hard to follow in Toph's footsteps.
Bolin's angst on how he's unable to metalbend, despite Toph being a personal hero of his.
According to Lin, Toph was so guilt-ridden over covering up Suyin's crime that she resigned a year later because she felt unworthy of her badge.
And later, Lin confiding in Opal that the only reason she became a cop was so she could finally gain her mother's approval, and it didn't work. Lin Beifong is one of the most accomplished badasses of this show and even took over Toph's position as Chief of Police... and her own mother wasn't impressed.
In the flashback, a young Su Yin scoffs at the idea that Toph would disapprove of her criminal friends, because 'it's not like she [Mom] would even care.'
The story of how Lin got her scar:
Specifically, she gets into a car chase with a bunch of thieves, one of whom turns out to be her own sister - who while not involved in the actual robbery, did drive the getaway car because she owed them a favor. Things naturally escalate when Suyin claims "Or what, officer? You're gonna arrest me?" and walks away, only for Lin to yell "Don't take another step!". Suyin does anyway after a moment, and Lin's metalbending cables catch her by the wrist... Suyin cuts them in a rage.
Tenzin's frustration with his student's lack of progress.
There's no question that the Earth Queen is a despicable person, but just the idea that she would have her own father's beloved pet butchered and served to her is just sickening (not even her allergies can really justify that).
Let's not forget that she was also the one that sent those poachers out to gather baby sky bison for steaks.
Bumi's issues coming to the forefront again, when he tells Tenzin that he never felt like he was a part of the Air Nomad culture even though he's the son of Aang.
The baby bison flying in the air for the very first time, accompanied by a blissful soundtrack, as the new Air Nation watch. Tenzin's comment "Looks like everyone is growing up", in reference to his eldest daughter, his own baby, finally being worthy of her tattoos really seals it.
The Terror Within
Bolin being depressed at both his trouble with metalbending and Opal leaving, right as they were just starting their relationship.
Korra getting frustrated at Lin and Mako.
Suyin trusted Aiwei implicitly, and he betrayed her easily.
Despite how we last saw them, it's made clear that Lin still has some issues with her sister, insisting she be tested about being The Mole before they've even finished questioning all the guards. And it might be even sadder that Suyin not only saw this coming, she wasn't offended and immediately (willingly) sat through the process.
The Downer Ending: Asami and Korra were captured by the Earth Queen while Mako and Bolin were captured by the Red Lotus.
After being a belligerent, egotistical jerk throught most of the third season, Hou-Ting goes out in quite a depressing Alas, Poor Villain moment, slowly suffocated to death by Zaheer. What seals the moment is how graphic this scene is, showing the just seconds before confident woman teary eyed and in sheer despair.
A "tears of happiness" one, when Ba Sing Se's walls finally crumble, a symbol of the citizenry's freedom after more than a hundred years of unfair tyranny.
At least one of the Earth Queen's prisoners has been there for years, and misses his wife and kids.
The Red Lotus brutalizing Tenzin at the end of the episode after taking out Bumi and Kya when he refuses to give up protecting Korra and the Air Nation, ending the episode on a very chilling cliffhanger.
Korra mentioning to Lord Zuko that she talked to Iroh in the Spirit World, with Zuko looking at her with awe. He most likely really misses his uncle, and now might possibly have a way to speak with him again.
Kai attempting to buy everyone time and getting blasted out of the sky by P'li. He survives, but Jinora's face is that of heartbreak.
The implication that Grandma Yin is growing senile or stuck in the old Earth Kingdom mentality to the point where she cannot quite grasp all of the danger around her.
The Red Lotus attacking the Air Temple. For all that the past couple of episodes demonstrated Zaheer's ideology and potential consequences (the fall of Ba Sing Se), it is especially disturbing to see him attempt to destroy the Air Nation before it has even begun. As if the danger to Tenzin and Pema's young family wasn't bad enough, the majority of the new airbenders seem to be young people. All that hope and potential looks to be ruined in the name of 'freedom'.
Bumi and Kya are knocked off of a balcony several feet, and they fall through several trees and down a cliffside. By the end, they are still alive, but cannot get to their feet.
The fall of Ba Sing Se. While the place always had serious problems it was still one of the grandest cities of the world. There were universities, ancient works of art, and good people who lived there and called it home. Now the whole place is in flames and who knows how many innocent people have been hurt or killed in the chaos.
Enter the Void
Korra and Tonraq's moment before Korra turns herself in to the Red Lotus.
Tenzin watching the Air Temple that he and Aang had worked to rebuild go down in flames.
Zaheer's reaction to P'Li's death. Particularly the look on his face. The man was on the verge of tears. Despite his ruthlessness, he genuinely and clearly loved P'Li and now she was taken from him. And in the most brutal way at that. Never before has an Avatar villainnote Not even Amon in his final moments looked so... human.
Plus, as he recites Guru Laghima's poem before achieving weightlessness, it's implied that P'Li was his earthly tether, and he had to let her go in order to enter the void.
The atmosphere as he steps off the cliff with Korra is strange, it's as if he wouldn't mind if he fell to his death at that point now that P'Li is gone. Been able to fly was good for him but he was ready, perhaps even partly wanting, the alternative.
Which makes for a chilling Call Back to Aang's refusal to let go of Katara back in the original series.
P'Li and Zaheer share a tender moment together. It makes what happens after all the more heartrending.
A Meta-example. Kuvira is voiced by Zelda Williams, the daughter of Robin Williams, who tragically committed suicide less than two weeks before this episode was released. We see Kuvira get introduced as she helps someone's father (Tonraq). It's truly a heartbreaking moment when you think about the grief Zelda was going through at the time of the episode's release.
Venom of the Red Lotus
Korra crying out in pain as the poison is administered and she struggles to stay out of the Avatar State.
Ghazan's demise. Poor guy was so traumatized by his time in prison that he felt dropping an entire molten cave on himself was a better option. Ming-Hua, too, since "Long Live the Queen" gave a nod to them as a cute couple.
Mako's face after he kills Ming-Hua. It's very short, but poignant. He obviously didn't want to do it, or else he would have electrocuted her when he first fought her and been done with it. He killed her because he had no other choice. He had to save himself and help Bolin. And when he kills her he just looks so... stunned. This is, more likely than not, the first time he's ever killed someone.
While funny and somewhat karmic, Zaheer's meltdown at the end becomes a lot less amusing when you consider that he pretty much is grieving his dead lover and friend and basically saw his whole cause fall into ruin.
When Korra finally finally brings down Zaheer, she collapses and is quickly scooped up by Tonraq, who tries to rouse her. Half-conscious and still in the Avatar State, she hesitantly raises her hand to his face in utter disbelief, having thought him dead. Then she faints before she can reach him, and Tonraq looks utterly devastated. Fortunately, she survives thanks to Suyin metalbending the poison out of her system, turning it into a happy tearjerker as Tonraq hugs his daughter.
After the Red Lotus is beaten and it's two weeks later, Korra is confined to a wheelchair, left both physically and emotionally broken. Despite everyone trying to assure her that she'll bounce back, Korra can barely bring herself to smile. Add on top of that her poison-induced hallucinations were all former enemies insisting that the world no longer needed the Avatar, which Korra defines her life by. It's really no wonder she's so depressed. With all that happening around her, the only thing she can still do is cry.◊
To make matters even worse, the metallic poison was mercury, which in real life has horrible and permanent side-effects even if one survives it, and Korra was given a lot of it. The fact that Suyin was able to extract it (this is rather hard to do in real life) will negate that somewhat, but it's still pretty bad.
Adding onto her depression is the fact that Tenzin is Innocently Insensitive without even realizing it. When it's questioned what the world will do with the Avatar out of commission, Tenzin decides to have the Air Nomads follow in Korra's example and help bring balance wherever they go. Not only are Korra's enemies telling her the world has no need for her, her own allies are unintentionally telling her the same. All of Korra's insecurities and self-doubt are becoming validated, while being a sign of joy and happiness for everyone else. Remember, the last time Korra thought she couldn't be the Avatar back in Book 1, she was implicitly thinking about committing suicide.
This scene powerfully encapsulates the severity of psychological trauma that Korra is burdened with. She thought she saw her father fall to his death, was rendered helpless in the face of terrorists who intended to not only kill her but the very essence of her being, was poisoned and tortured into a terrifying fearful state of mind by the distorted hallucinations of her past arch-enemies, endured hits and falls that would have killed any normal human being, was nearly suffocated by Zaheer, and came within seconds of dying. This is a harsh contrast to previous seasons, where Korra could bounce back thanks to one thing or another allowing her to regain her strength and reassert herself. Here, there's nothing, just a long slog back to full health and some sort of normal.
Also seeing Korra utterly broken like that. She was so high strung and free spirited and energetic. Now seeing her in a depressed state...
Note that the worst part of all of this is it isn't some middle-of-episode thing Korra works her way past. This is a cliffhanger for Book 4.
To make matters even more heartwrenching, when Jinora pulls off her hood to reveal her tattoos, she looks so much like Aang. It's a shame he couldn't be there to see it.
In general, it's sad knowing the Red Lotus still won in a manner of speaking. They didn't kill Korra but they still broke her, the Earth Kingdom is still in chaos after the Earth Queen's death, and the world is "becoming a dangerous place" in President Raiko's words.