Image: Korra looking super awesome.
I wanted so badly for Legend of Korra to be good. The animated Nickelodeon series follows the adventures of Korra, a magical “Avatar” who has the power to “bend” all elements—earth, water, air, and fire—as well as connect to the spirit world. Legend of Korra is a spinoff of the wildly successful show Avatar: The Last Airbender, which took a few episodes to hit its stride but wound up being an incredibly rich and complex show about young people fighting a war (then came the awful movie, which is a whole other story). I’ve been holding out hope for Korra despite warning signs that the show would revolve entirely around Korra’s love life, but the show keeps getting more and more ridiculous.
Korra is a smart, independent woman of color who loves her magical skills and has been tasked with keeping peace when her world is on the edge of civil war. This is a position of enormous power. She has to make life-and-death calls on how to handle crises and when to use military force versus negotiation. She’s also on her own personal journey—she has to learn the less forceful technique of airbending and how to connect to the spirit world in order to complete her training as the Avatar.
But the show derails itself by filling each episode with pointless, melodramatic romantic plotlines. Avatar: The Last Air Bender was great because it was incredibly thoughtful for a childrens show and gave the avatar Aang a lot of big issues to work through. There were love stories, but they evolved over time and didn’t take up all of the screen time. With Legend of Korra, it feels like the writers decided that now that there’s a girl at the center of the story, the show has to turn a high school gossip session over who-kissed-whom. Instead of spending time on character development, Legend of Korra mires its characters in absurd, round-and-round fights over who gets to date one another.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m down with a good love story. I’ll admit that sometimes love stories are the only reason I continue to watch a TV show (case in point: I watched all five seasons of Angel solely for Buffy cameos). But the love plotlines in Legend of Korra are over the top, detract from the actual plot, and make Korra’s political and world-saving skills seem less important than her powers of seduction.
In its first season last year, Legend of Korra established a pretty annoying love rectangle between Korra, the non-bending character Asami, and brothers Mako and Bolin. Bolin likes Korra, Korra likes Mako, and Mako likes both Asami and Korra. The season one plot can be summed up in one sentence: Mako dates Asami, is kind of a terrible person, and ends up with Korra (the audience is supposed to forget that both Korra and Asami are way too cool for any of this ridiculousness and should go run away and have their own adventures!). Meanwhile, the potential for talking about the conflict between benders and non-benders is underexplored.
Season two starts six months later, seemingly right at the end of Korra and Mako’s honeymoon phase. They spend every scene fighting with each other. That’ll be fun to watch! (It’s not fun to watch.) Eventually, one of their fights ends up in Korra breaking Mako’s desk, and Mako breaking up with Korra. What could possibly happen next? You guessed it—Asami kisses Mako! Why are they bringing this love triangle back? It was not fun to watch the first time, and I don’t think the audience wants to watch it a second time.
Image: Korra and Mako argue. For a change. Ugh.
Then there is Bolin. Bolin does not have luck with the ladies, but the joke that he does not have luck with the ladies is getting really old. First he had a crush on Korra, who chose his brother over him. Then he started dating the character Eska, who is verbally abusive and manipulative (yet it’s supposed to be funny). Now he is crushing on his film co-star Ginger. He keeps on hitting on her, not understanding that Ginger is only into him on screen and not in real life. What? Even socially clueless Bolin should understand that. The writers could be focusing on so many more things than this pointless story. It shows that they have no idea what to do with Bolin so they’ll give him another plotline about unrequited crushes rather than evolve his character past a sidekick who provides comic relief.
Image: Bolin doesn’t understand what acting is.
While the show is focusing on these pretty annoying love stories, they’re missing out on so many more fun plotlines. This season, the audience has barely seen the awesome characters Tenzin, General Iroh, or Chief Beifong. Korra isn’t getting any better at airbending or connecting with the spirit world. They haven’t had any pro-bending (pretty much the best part of the first season). They’re barely focusing on the civil war between the Northern and Southern water tribes. Korra herself was only even in the latest episode for the last twenty seconds.
I think Korra has a lot of potential. She’s not a perfect “Mary Sue” character: She’s stubborn, doesn’t always listen to others, and likes to solve problems by force. She has a lot of trouble connecting to the spirit world, makes mistakes, and often ends up apologizing to people. But the show’s focus on romance is not giving her enough time to work through her issues. Instead, she is only ever working on dating. It seems like the writers feel that a show’s audience—even for a children’s show—can only relate to a woman through her love story. And that’s just not true. So let’s please have Korra and Asami ditch Mako, develop as people, and save the world together. Thank you.