The Legend of Korra’s Girlfriend Problem Got Worse

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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?

It's so cute how creepy you are!

It’s so cute how creepy you are!

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.

Eska and Bolin

Probably worth mentioning he’s being held captive in a block of ice.

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.

Is this really happening? Really?

Is this really happening? Really?

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?

I'm really going to miss the way you lied to me.

I’m really going to miss the way you lied to me.

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.

IN SUMMARY

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.

Writer, knitter, firebrand. Likes superheroes, cats, and changing the world.

25 Comments

  1. Victoria

    November 18, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    I gave up on LoK’s second season after a few episodes. This is really making me not want to catch up.

  2. Velidra

    November 18, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    To sum up my thoughts on your post: You’ve gone through the final 4 episodes and cherry picked and plain misrepresented various aspects of various relationships so you can hate on LoK. It’s rather annoying.

    • Kelly

      November 18, 2013 at 5:00 PM

      I watched both Books, wrote a previous post about episodes BEFORE these four, and pointed out the parts of the show I didn’t like. In general, I don’t hate the LoK. I don’t like how it portrays relationships. I critique it because I want to see it get better.

      • Velidra

        November 18, 2013 at 5:39 PM

        The relationships certainly aren’t the best, I’ll give you that.

        But what I take issue with is what I feel is your miss representation and cherry picking of events.

        For example, Ginger and Bolin. You have taken the events and drawn the conclusion that if your creepy and stay creepily following the girl you want, you’ll get the girl.

        What if the message we’re meant to take is that if you do something heroic that people will ignore your personality and fall for that?

        You also place all the blame on Mako/Korra’s breakup on Mako, and then go on about how come Korra isn’t angry? Perhaps she recognizes that she was attempting to force Mako to betray his position as a part of the police and realizes she was wrong and isn’t angry because of that?

        (the fact that Mako’s police force then betray him can also be read into)

        But I’ll agree with you, writing and talking about it, critiquing it is good, and will hopefully drive public discourse to help it get better. Maybe.

        Personally I think it portrays people being dumb-asses for the most part, which is somewhat realistic.

        RAH. RANT GOOD.

        • Kelly

          November 18, 2013 at 5:55 PM

          But what about all of Bolin’s previous behaviors toward Ginger, specifically her telling him to drop his attentions? It’s great that he does something good and she acknowledges it. But someone acting bravely also doesn’t mean you should “ignore their personality” (especially when it’s repeatedly him ignoring her requests) or forgive his previous behavior. If the show had Bolin acknowledge this, it wouldn’t be as big of an issue to me. He never apologized for his behavior and learned that he should have respected her wishes for him to not bother her. Instead, he was rewarded.

          I don’t place the break-up blame solely on Mako. I’m not sure it should have ended quite as melodramatically as it did and still not acknowledge he lied to her and also treated Asami poorly. Of course Korra should admit to her part in the fight. But the fact that she isn’t angry seems to play into the larger pattern in the show of Mako not having any real repercussions in his relationships. I have absolutely no problem with Korra taking her share of the blame. But like Bolin and Eska, Mako didn’t seem to learn that he treated both women poorly.

          Ultimately, I think these behaviors needed to be addressed in the show.

          Discussion is really good, and I really love the Avatar/LoK universe. Also, I am the mod and author. And pictures of puppies are always welcome.

        • Velidra

          November 18, 2013 at 6:08 PM

          I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t say should ignore his personality, I said they do. If anything that’s a rather sad message the show is/was sending. Though I can’t remember bolins reaction, didn’t he all but reject her after that? Perhaps a taste of his own medicine was just what he needed.

          As for Mako, you bring up a good point, he hasn’t had any real repercussions for having one really messed up love life. Following on from that, Asami herself isn’t the best character, she seems to exist almost entirely as
          1) A love interest first and foremost, to create a love triangle
          2) The owner (or part owner now?) of some big company

          Very much a one dimensional character, slightly above that at best.

          To be fair to the writers though, LoK is a 4 book long series. They’ve already shown us with Korra’s (hopeful) development now that they are playing the “long” game in that department. Perhaps they have a plan for books 3 and 4 that will feature more development for rest of the cast?

        • Eddy Fettig

          November 24, 2013 at 2:27 AM

          If they are really playing the “long game” then why does each season have a self-contained story that tries to mash too much into too short a period of time to the point in Book 2 where that season just straight up is an identity crisis in how it is written (not just what it is writing about)?

          It’s like they want to have their cake and eat it, too, in so many regards. And that’s weird, and strange, and this season was totally out of balance and alignment not just with Book 1, not just with ATLA, but even within itself.

          And it breaks my Avatar-loving heart (love for the entire franchise) that the very creators of this series seem to be totally ignoring the thought-out and valid criticisms.

        • Velidra

          November 25, 2013 at 1:12 AM

          Korra book 1 wasn’t made with the assurance of even book 2, let alone book 3 and 4. It was a self contained story. As for book 2 being self contained, if leaving the spirit portals open isn’t enough of a lead in to book 3 and 4 then I don’t know what is.

          As for being rushed etc, I’m pretty sure people said the same about tla half way through, but now you sing it’s praises.

          As for them not listening to your thought out critisms, some they have probably taken into consideration I’m sure, and others they will have out right ignored. Why? Because book 3/4 already address’s it.

          People hated Zuko’s story line half way through tla. He was a guy who chased the Avatar and ranted about honor, look how he turned out. Have some faith and assume instead of the writers being morons that they have a plan now.

        • Eddy Fettig

          November 25, 2013 at 1:21 AM

          I can appreciate your defense, but guess what? I was saying all of those same things a year ago. I ALREADY had some faith, I ALREADY trusted them. And they’ve broken that trust with bad writing. They are supposed to be professionals, they should at least learn how to deal with criticism with some decorum instead of taking passive aggressive snipes at their own fans in interviews and blog posts. That said, don’t you think I’ve already consider those possibilities? I will give Books 3 and 4 a chance.

          But ATLA was pretty damn good ALL the way through — not really anything amazing until Book 2, IMO, but still well made. LoK is well-produced but not well WRITTEN. It’s like they care so much about looking cinematic that they’re just writing what they think will be “fun” or “entertaining” (as they themselves put it) and jumping the shark with the Harmonic Convergence nonsense, instead of doing what Legend of Korra as a franchise originally set out to do: continue the legacy, chronology, and standard of writing that the Avatar series built up for itself.

          I am not assuming they are “morons,” I am assuming that they care more about shallow aspects of TV storytelling now rather than the more mature ones that got them the praise they originally received — and now that many fans aren’t tuning in, the ratings plummeted, and they’ve gotten a lot of rational criticism, they are confused and don’t know how to deal with it.

          The weirdest part is that Book 2 HAD parts that seemed very self-aware of what its own writing and narrative problems were, and it acknowledged them — only to change its mind later and ignore that, and in the end that comes across as weird, strange, inconsistent, and disjointed (things the previous series never was, even at its worst).

          All in all, they don’t need your defense. They are big boys. They could stand to face criticism and at least acknowledge it instead of TELLING fans what they want or how they should want it.

        • Eddy Fettig

          November 25, 2013 at 1:29 AM

          PS people only hated Zuko’s storyline in Book 1 because it was undercooked — by Book 2 it was a lot more developed and Zuko and Iroh were treated like side protagonists. Book 2 was the season ATLA really found its identity as a show. Legend of Korra should technically already KNOW its own identity by now because this is was the 5th season of the Avatar franchise, and either way, even now in Book 2 of LoK, it clearly doesn’t know what its identity even is, much like Tenzin lost in the fog or Korra as the new Avatar.

          Thing is, there’s no magical deus ex machina solution to this real problem. And I’m worried not just for LoK at this point but for what cheap tricks and stunts they will pull in the future that retroactively undermine things in ATLA just for “having fun” and “entertainment.” IMO, the Avatar series used to stand for more than just that.

          But I guess, like Star Wars, when you get too popular and try to rebirth your franchise via commercialized storytelling…well…you get what you set out to do.

        • Rachel

          November 18, 2013 at 9:17 PM

          YAY PUPPIES

          I also love discourse on this stuff which is why we started this site and I’ve started posting our articles on Reddit. Cheers!

  3. mils

    November 19, 2013 at 5:27 PM

    I do think Ginger might have been pretending to like Bolin for the press, but unfortunately the show didn’t seem to make any effort to clarify that.

    • Kelly

      November 19, 2013 at 6:35 PM

      That’s an interesting theory that I actually haven’t seen around. Primarily because, like you said, the show didn’t clarify either way. Either outcome is pretty problematic. Thanks for the possible insight!

    • Eddy Fettig

      November 24, 2013 at 2:23 AM

      Wow. That actually might be the case and that thought never crossed my mind AT ALL, which would be just another example of poorly executed writing (either way).

  4. Jazzpha

    November 20, 2013 at 4:25 AM

    Having been someone who wrote this: http://writingfail.tumblr.com/post/30657163771/not-that-im-opinionated-or-anything-mako-jason after watching Korra’s first book (as a caveat, it was written before the finale, hence the lingering shred of foolish optimism at the end), reading this post makes me very glad I didn’t touch the second book of Korra with a ten-foot pole. Christ, can Asami ever get a break for any reason? Of all the people in this series, she deserves one the most.

    • Kelly

      November 20, 2013 at 9:51 AM

      Really interesting article! Thanks for sharing. It really highlighted that not much has changed for Asami since Book 1: she still remains relatively passive and silent about Mako’s indiscretions. I kept expecting a Medea reaction, too, but so far….nothing.

      Honestly, I’d love to see Asami get a plot line that wasn’t ultimately related to a guy (and, inevitably, a love triangle). And more time with Korra, period. I REALLY love Asami, but the writers don’t seem that interested in giving her anything beyond love triangles and flying planes.

      • Jazzpha

        November 20, 2013 at 11:54 AM

        Thanks for reading my rant, and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, I wasn’t feeling particularly charitable when I wrote that piece hahaha. And seeing that Asami’s arc of un-agency continues in Book 2 just makes me feel even *less* charitable, which I didn’t think was possible.

        And I completely agree with your points about Asami just needing more time to shine, period. She’s a complex, potentially rich character, and seeing her get so ruthlessly squandered just makes me sad. She needs to be allowed to just be her awesome self, without– as you put it so nicely– being defined by her romantic entanglements.

  5. Austin

    November 20, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    I decided to make mention of Korra’s romantic criticisms on the “Unfortunate Implications” page on TVtropes. Since that page now requires you to cite an article, I decided to use this and your previous article as examples. Since you linked to a couple of trope pages in them, I thought you’d apperciate knowing.

    • Kelly

      November 20, 2013 at 11:57 AM

      Thank you so much for letting me know!

  6. Eddy Fettig

    November 23, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    Loved this analysis. Thanks for writing this up in a concise manner with specific examples.
    If you haven’t, here’s an interview with Bryan and Michael where they seem to clearly not be listening or comprehending this criticisms (which people had with Book 1, also, BTW).
    http://avatarextras.tumblr.com/post/67771182634/the-legend-of-korra-creators-writing-pretty-much

    • Kelly

      November 23, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      Thanks so much for the link! Wow, it sounds like they’re blaming the fans versus their own writing mistakes. I wish I was surprised.

      “Fans are more interested in imagining relationships between a myriad of
      pairings. But they’re profoundly disinterested in seeing any of those
      things manifest themselves on the show.”

      Or maybe they just want to see them well-written and not problematic??

      Thanks again for the link!

      • Eddy Fettig

        November 24, 2013 at 1:57 AM

        Right? That was exactly my reaction! They seem really out of touch and miss the point! It breaks my heart. I respect their previous work so much, and just…this is all a mess and they don’t even seem to understand WHY people feel that way about it. =_=;

        And it’s not even like they’re doing anything groundbreaking with LoK. It’s MORE predictable and atypical (and disjointed and scattered) as an animated drama than ATLA was.

        • Kelly

          November 24, 2013 at 10:35 AM

          I’m really uncomfortable with how it becomes the fans’ fault here. “We give you something and you complain.” Because what you gave them was really, really problematic and made a lot of people uncomfortable! Maybe you should take that into consideration? Or even say “We felt we told a good story, but a lot of fans didn’t and we respect that.” It just doesn’t seem very respectful or open-minded.

  7. Ikkin

    February 25, 2014 at 5:48 PM

    I kind of feel like the relationship analysis here ignores important context to force a point. =/

    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.

    No, the takeaway is that celebrities don’t necessarily care what sort of person you are if they can catch some reflected fame off of you. Even Bolin knows that Ginger isn’t really attracted to him (“Boyfriend? Wait, stop. I thought you said we weren’t a couple”); he’s just willing to run with Ginger’s posturing for the cameras if it means a free makeout session. That’s a large part of why he’s willing to jump ship to Eska so easily later on, too.

    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.

    This would be a much more effective condemnation of Mako if the breakup that he failed to acknowledge was the result of a normal falling-out, but… it wasn’t. It seems entirely reasonable that someone might be a bit iffy about reminding a significant other of a conflict when it escalated to the point of assault (in the middle of a police station!) the last time it came up. Mako’s behavior was driven by fear (of aggression from Korra, of isolation when Asami started to turn his last healthy relationship romantic whether he wanted that or not), and ignoring that makes him seem much more stereotypical than he actually is.

    Which brings us to this:

    Wait, so if Korra isn’t breaking up with Mako because he’s a lying jerkbutt, why is she calling it quits?

    How about this — she realizes that it’s really unhealthy to be in a relationship with a guy who’s afraid of how she’ll react if he angers her.

    Korra’s not angry with Mako for lying because she understands exactly why he did it, and she’s a good enough person not to blame him for being afraid of her.

    In other words, the whole situation has a lot more to do with Korra’s character development — from someone who lashes out and hurts others when she’s scared to someone who takes responsibility for her own behavior — than it does with romance, and it has to be considered accordingly. Whether or not you think it’d be more satisfying for the show to have “put this jerk in his place,” it’d have been a disservice to Korra to handwave her capacity to engage in violent behavior within a romantic relationship just to make Mako take his share of the blame.

    Eska, by the way, is sort of in the same boat. She’s Korra’s cousin; they both share a family history of all sorts of issues with empathy, recklessness, and violence. And, as with Korra with Mako, the biggest takeaway from her relationship with Bolin is that it can’t work the way it is. They were “caught up in the moment” due to the stress of the end of the world, and she realized that neither of them could pick up and move their entire lives over it. That Bolin did change his mind about her was strange and kind of Stockholm Syndrome-y, but the show doesn’t exactly imply that they’d get a healthy relationship out of it as things stood.

    Most of the relationships in the show are kind of ambiguous and not exactly kid-friendly, but I think they’re a bit more nuanced than you give them credit for.

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