The Legend of Korra’s Girlfriend Problem Got Worse
Readers, when I wrote about the Legend of Korra’s Ex-Girlfriend Problem, I hoped it would be the last time. Maybe, I thought, maybe the popular Nickelodeon show will stop showcasing toxic relationships built on tired, false stereotypes! Maybe it will stop relying on badly written and unnecessary romance instead of developing compelling characters! Maybe we could all just move on to the friendships, political intrigue, and good ol’ fashioned butt-kicking.
I know, I know. I guess I’m a glass half-full kind of gal.
Somehow, the Legend of Korra fell even farther since my last article, in ways that really put a strain on its mission to provide quality entertainment to younger members of its audience. Let’s take a look at the four main romantic relationships presented in the final four episodes of Book Two.
Spoilers for all of Book Two follow.
GINGER AND BOLIN
Remember when Ginger told Bolin time and again that she wasn’t interested in him and he should leave her alone? Or when he disregarded her request and kissed her while she was tied down? Or when he admitted it was because he couldn’t seem to separate fiction from reality－something he later had trouble with when the Republic City press referred to them as dating but Ginger made it clear again that they were in no way, shape, or form together? And remember how completely obvious it was that Bolin was being really creepy, disrespectful of Ginger’s feelings, and a little delusional?
Right, and remember when Bolin saved the president and suddenly Ginger was proclaiming him her boyfriend and kissing him?
The take away here is that if you harass a woman enough, she’ll eventually come around when she sees what a “great guy” you really are. She just has to be pestered－time and again, forcefully and physically if necessary－but your creepy persistence will be rewarded.
ESKA AND BOLIN
Which, conveniently, works for Bolin and Eska, too. I’ve already talked about the many problems with this relationship, primarily because it’s not only disturbing and abusive, but repeatedly portrays ex-girlfriends as shrews and “crazy.” Well it’s back, and just as creepy.
Much like Bolin’s “affections” for Ginger, Eska repeatedly thrusts her desires and wants on Bolin, ignoring his entirely. But in this iteration, after Eska and her brother Desna capture Bolin and Mako during the big last battle, Bolin “pretends” he loves her in order to convince her to free them.
At first I thought maybe this was just really creepy emotional manipulation on Bolin’s part. But then the narrative assured me no, no, Bolin would never do something like that. Bolin really cares about Eska! He still likes her so much he not only kisses her, he asks her to move to Republic City with him.
Just like Bolin and Ginger, Eska was persistent, even if that meant completely disregarding Bolin’s feelings and wants for her own. And stalking is just a charming hobby! Once again, the narrative applauds a toxic relationship.
But now there’s another victim, too: Ginger.
As far as we know, Bolin and Ginger are still dating during this entire exchange, and my money’s on them still together at the beginning of Book Three (probably with Ginger acting like a “high-maintenance” girlfriend to the much beleaguered Bolin). While their relationship wasn’t explored after their kiss, there’s no reason to believe Bolin didn’t accept her affections after he wanted them for so long. After all, he was already buying their press as a couple. Yet Bolin has no problem not only courting and kissing another girl while he’s dating Ginger, he seems to have completely forgotten she exists.
Then again, maybe that’s because his brother is Mako.
ASAMI AND MAKO
Mako, Mako, Mako.
I’ve had a lot of issues with Mako for a long time. I keep thinking I’ll write an article about him specifically, but I haven’t gathered the strength yet. If anyone would like to take a stab at it the submission page is always open. In the meantime, let’s focus on his two relationships from Book Two.
After Mako and Korra break up, Asami decides to give him another shot. The story never really tells us why, so I can only assume Asami forgot all the events of Book One. Regardless of the reason, Asami and Mako try this whole relationship thing again.
When Korra comes back into the picture, she’s lost a chunk of her memories－including, conveniently, her break-up with Mako. During their big reunion scene, Korra happily kisses him.
As. Asami. Watches.
Confronted with an obvious misunderstanding, not to mention Asami’s clearly hurt feelings, Mako…lies and pretends he and Korra never broke up. He certainly never dated－or is currently dating－Asami, who is standing right there behind Korra looking incredibly hurt.
Mako purposely fools Korra about their relationship－a form of emotional manipulation－while at the same time not bothering to acknowledge Asami and his relationship with her. In fact, for the rest of the season he never formally breaks up with Asami or is broken up with, at least that we’re shown.
Asami is never given the right to confront Mako or even break up with him herself. She simply fades from narrative existence, to the point where she only receives one line in the season finale.
KORRA AND MAKO
Instead, Mako continues fooling Korra until the end of the season finale. He admits he lied about their split, though he still doesn’t admit he was dating Asami when Korra came back. He never, ever takes responsibility for hurting Asami or keeping his relationship with Korra’s friend a secret.
But here’s where I really got confused. Korra admits she now remembers the break-up, but doesn’t seem particularly angry that he lied to her over an extended period of time. In fact, she apologizes for her role in the fight. She also tells him that obviously, despite their love for each other, they just don’t work together.
Wait, so if Korra isn’t breaking up with Mako because he’s a lying jerkbutt, why is she calling it quits?
Honestly, I’m still confused. They had one big fight, and while it definitely showcased their individual stances, it didn’t seem particularly insurmountable, especially in light of more recent plot events. Sure, a break-up is definitely called for, but not necessarily because of one argument. It’s called for because Mako lied to Korra’s face while also disregarding his entire relationship with Asami. So why the extra-dramatic angsty ending if not to put this jerk in his place?
Right. Because Mako never has to take responsibility for his actions, particularly in regard to women.
Many people like to disregard the show’s toxic relationships because “it’s a kids show” and it shouldn’t be taken “seriously”. Of course it won’t deal with “big issues”! Never mind that it routinely tackles subjects like propaganda, war, and assassination, which seem pretty big to me.
But if you want to argue the “kids show” angle, let me enlighten you about something: kids watch The Legend of Korra. As such, it is the duty of the writers to show that respecting others is not optional, and if you don’t there will be ramifications. If you can’t do that, then it doesn’t need to be your plot line. Period.
All the Legend of Korra writers are doing is perpetrating the same stereotypical mess about relationships. It’s okay to cheat－the other person doesn’t deserve to really know, or even confront you about it. In the cases of Ginger and Asami, they’re simply silenced, not allowed to voice their own feelings.
Also, apparently a little emotional manipulation never hurt anybody: Korra still takes part of the break-up blame and never says anything about Mako’s actual gross behavior. The same with Bolin, who just loved Eska more for her creepy possessiveness.
No, no, no. Nothing here sets a good example for anyone, children or adults. The Legend of Korra might be “a kids show”, but that doesn’t absolve it of dealing with the issues it chooses to showcase. If anything, it shoulders a greater responsibility. And it’s time that the writers and Nickelodeon owned up to it.