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Still the best song on all of a:tla AND lok.
Have any of you noticed that when Korra’s first found in episode 10, Mako doesn’t immediately go to her like Tenzin or Lin? In fact, he’s the furthest away from her. And he just stands there. The brave, strong, and tough Korra he knows is slumped over on Naga after haven been in the hands of a creepy bloodbender who kidnapped her a good 24 hours earlier. I’m sure he’s kind of in disbelief over the shape she is in. He’s just taking it in awestruck, and he’s somewhat fearful to even move in case she’s in worse shape than she appears from the distance.
But then Tenzin says “Oh. Thank Goodness,” and Mako makes his move because of the reassurance of her state. But as he’s walking, you know he’s not thinking straight. His eyes are all on Korra.
I’m sure he only slightly hears when Lin starts to interrogate Korra, because I honestly don’t think his mind is really taking in what is being said around him. He just knows that it’s not what Korra needs right then. He knows Korra needs to get help and get home and nobody’s making moves to get her there. So as he approaches, he nudges by Tenzin and moves Lin out of the way, telling her to “give [Korra] some space.”
And then he sees Korra up close…
He sees how exhausted, battered, and scarred she is.
And he is so upset.
They could have found Korra strong, vibrant and well, but they found her in this weakened condition so unlike anything he’s ever seen or imagined for her.
And he just wants to hold her and help her. Make sure she’s okay and get her out of there. Because this girl, he’s had a complicated relationship with in the past but he’s come to realize means a hell of a lot to him, has just been through something traumatizing and he needs her to be okay.
So when he reaches out to take Korra off of Naga, it’s not only to comfort her and make her feel “safe now,” it’s a comfort to him too to have her alive and in his arms.
When Mako saw Korra for the first time after her capture, he was seeing her with new eyes for sure: he saw her in a rare vulnerable form that he never wanted to see happen again, and he saw her through his own feelings of realized love and heartfelt concern.
In fandom, Mako tends to be one of those love-them-or-hate-them kind of characters, in large part due to his role in the romantic sub-plot of Book 1 of Legend of Korra. It’s not that hard to see why; whatever you think about Mako himself, having trouble deciding between two beautiful women is hardly the most sympathetic problem. That both women are legitimately awesome only adds fuel to the fire, because audience sympathy for “the other woman” inevitably makes the guy in the center of the love triangle look like the bad guy. Mako’s romantic problems are far less compelling than Korra and Asami’s own issues, which relegates him to the weakest position of the three of them.
But what if Mako’s indecisivenessisn’tprimarily romantic in nature? That would significantly change the dynamic and make Mako’s difficulties easier to understand (if not necessarily forgive).
What kind of hangups could Mako have outside of romance that would affect his relationships with Korra and Asami? In order to see that, we have to go all the way back in Mako’s past to when he was eight years old and forced to become sole guardian of his six-year-old brother.
Now, the point of this particular exercise isn’t to gain pity for Mako by showing how hard he had it, but to explore the foundations of his personality. As a child, Mako was forced to fill in for two parents — he had to be protector, provider, and nurturer for his brother in a dangerous and unforgiving environment. And, in order to do that, he had to stay in survival mode all the time. If Mako even for one moment let his guard down and lost control of the situation, his little family’s fragile existence could come crashing down around him.
This is not, as can be expected, particularly conducive to the creation of a healthy personality. By necessity, Mako became cold, defensive, and something of a control freak; if he didn’t, he might not have been able to protect Bolin.
But, here’s the interesting thing — as much as he can’t exactly turn it off, Mako resents that he has to be like that. There are several lines in 103 that suggest that he’s unsatisfied with his position, especially tone-wise; when he says, “I’ll figure something out. I always do,” one can tell that he’s kind of groaning inside that he has to be the one to handle the situation by himselfagain. A few times throughout the series he sounds frustrated with Bolin for having to bail him out, but that’s just an extension of this same underlying frustration with his own heavy responsibilities.
In a sense, he’s in the position opposite to Korra’s. She’s been raised with little control over her life and therefore subconsciously grabs for whatever control she can take, often at the expense of others. He’s been forced tostayin control constantly, and subconsciously wishes he didn’t have to, even if he’s almost incapable of stopping himself from acting that way.
Andthat’swhere the romance comes in. What Mako’s interested in, deep down, is for someone to come, sweep him off his feet and take the wheel away from him for once.
This is, most likely, the reason why Mako’s first date with Asami goes the way it does, even if the dynamic ends up not being characteristic of the rest of their relationship. Masami is, generally speaking, stable and safe, which is why Mako is perfectly comfortable staying, but, notably, that’snotwhy Mako falls for her in the first place. In fact, their initial meeting is something of a Cinderella fantasy as far as Mako is concerned; she’s a rich, beautiful heiress there to pick him up out of poverty, invite him on a date, have him dolled up to fit in with high society, and pay for everything. Asami has all the agency in that scene, while Mako’s kind of just along for the ride… and not only does he not mind, he actually seems to prefer it that way.
Of course, as we all know, after that initial introduction, the Masami relationship ends up becoming far more traditional as both characters fall back on the roles they’re most familiar with. Both of them desire security, but while Asami is an awesome fighter in her own right, as an heiress she’s probably used to relying on others as her first line of defense, which leaves room for Mako to instinctively take back his position as protector. Their relationship doesn’t really push either one to question their familiar roles, which leads to stagnation; before the love triangle interferes, Masami seems like it could end up safe and stable, but there’s nothing to suggest that it’s particularly exciting, and it kind of locks both characters in stasis in the meantime.
On the other hand, there’s Korra waiting in the wings, being everything that Mako found appealing about his initial interactions with Asami heavily concentrated into a much more forceful, practically inexorable form. Asami might have crashed into him on her moped, but Korra crashes into him like a tidal wave every time they interact. She’s brash, she’s unpredictable, she doesn’t take no for an answer, and she dashes Mako’s sense of control over his life against the rocks merely by existing. Choosing Korra means throwing away that defense mechanism, which is a much more daunting prospect than choosing one love interest over another; he clings to his failing relationship with Asami because she represents the stability he’s not ready to give up yet, and he’s so defensive and desperate to retain that sense of stability that he says and does some questionable and even outright nasty things to keep it from disintegrating before he has a chance to properly make up his mind.
In light of this, it’s interesting to note that Mako’s big romantic decision isn’t a breakup with Asami — the breakup itself is glossed over off-screen, which is kind of weird if romance is actually the point of the love triangle. Instead, his big on-screen decision is the choice tojoin Korra in her attempt to ambush Amon.
And that, more than anything, suggests that Mako’s character arc is more about learning to stop trying to stay in control all the time than it is about romance. As romantically-motivated as his decision to go along with Korra’s plan is, the biggest and most important implication of it is that he’s choosing to do something completely reckless to support Korra even though it means having no control over the outcome whatsoever. And, once he makes that choice, he follows through on it wholeheartedly, to the point that he doesn’t hesitate for a moment to jump in when Korra decides to charge into Amon’s trap to save the air family.
Mako gets a lot of criticism from the fandom for his decision to confess his love to Korra when she’s at her most vulnerable, and I can completely understand where they’re coming from; if Makohasn’tgotten over his control issues, such a thing is rather insidious. But I don’t think that’s really what’s going on there. Instead, it’s a final decision by Mako to give up his sense of security and really put himself on the line emotionally for Korra, even if he’s likely to end up hurt and he knows it. It’s impulsive and stupid and badly-timed, but that’s kind of the point — he’s finally stopped repressing his emotions, even if he doesn’t quite know the best way to properly express them just yet.
And that, I think, is what the love triangle is really about. It’s unsatisfying as a romantic element because it isn’treally all that romantic, just a way to simultaneously deal with both shipping and the main love interest’s character growth (by symbolically linking Korra and Asami to either side of Mako’s inner struggle and showing how Korra’s influence won out). In the end, Mako finally realizes that he can’tkeep trying to stay in control all the time and that he actually prefers not being saddled with all of the responsibility he has to take in his own hands in order to keep that control… and he chooses the one girl who will neverlet him go back to that.
dear god youre a genius