Fantastic essay, guys. Touches on the topics of why Mako is controlling, potentially abusive, and keeps a wonderful, level-headed flavor to the overall commentary. Highly recommended!
There is a lot of Mako hate going on, and frankly I’ve been a part of it. I tend to be really sarcastic, and snarky about these things and that isn’t called for or a particularly good way get my point across so I’m going to organize my thoughts in a serious, non-inflammatory post to explain why this character is seriously, seriously bothering me right now. I’m a nonshipper. I don’t really ship in any show, including Korra, so that alone isn’t my issue. I’ll say it, while I don’t like Mako as a person or as a character; he isn’t some complete monster and card carrying villain who kicks puppies for breakfast. He doesn’t need to be irredeemably evil to be unlikable. His character’s problems run much deeper and I’m going to break down why his character bothers me in chronological order as each event occurs. Strap in folks, this is going to be a long one.
Just a bit of background; I didn’t watch Avatar the Last Airbender until after Legend of Korra came out. I didn’t have cable when it originally aired and when I finally did have access to cable and the internet and was always hearing about it, I never gave it a chance. I suppose that was for a variety of reasons; I love anime, but I tend to be really cautious about American Anime styled shows. I find that the art style often tends to be forced and the use of “super deformed” gags tends to rub me the wrong way.
However, I started hearing news about the Legend of Korra pop up and when I saw the main character, I was immediately intrigued. She seemed so unique compared to what we usually see from female characters in cartoons, and female main characters in action shows are almost unheard of. I gave the show a chance and to my surprise, I really liked it. I absolutely loved the first four episodes. I loved Korra as a main character. I loved the setting. I loved how all the characters were introduced and where it looked like they were developing. I loved Amon and the Equalists and how they could be human, morally ambiguous villains, and how they paralleled the real life communist revolution in Russia. I thought this was a show that truly had potential to be one of my all time favorites. It was smart, it was funny, it was inventive and the characters, art and animation all looked great. How much did I love it? I went back and marathoned the entire three seasons of Avatar: the Last Airbender, and I loved that series so much I immediately went and bought the DVD sets.
When Mako was introduced, I wasn’t too keen on him right away. I wasn’t a fan of his stoic, tsundere type character. Honestly I thought he was a bit dull, but I didn’t feel he particularly detracted from the show. I did think there were a lot of ways he could be fleshed out and developed. They mentioned his history as a gang member, and that could easily create a great arc based on the repercussions that could have had all on its own. I was disappointed with the way his back story was told, however. I mean just having him tell the audience isn’t as emotionally gripping as it could have been, and this is a real problem from a storytelling standpoint. If you don’t show me it, I don’t really believe it and it doesn’t make Mako more sympathetic.
One of my first issues with Mako is during his introduction. He is immediately insulting and dismissive of Korra, calling her a “stupid fan girl” or some variant. Now, I can buy that this is a common inconvenience that Bolin regularly does. However, he only once starts giving her respect once he finds out she’s the Avatar. A lot of people have talked about this scene and how it sets up Mako as a gold digger, intentionally or not. It gives the impression that this guy literally only gives her respect because of her status.
However, everything changed once Episode 5 aired. Immediately, I was off put by it. The intro states that “Mako and Korra have been crushing on each other since they met.” This came as a shock to me. Mako and Korra had some cute, ship tease moments in the past; falling asleep on each other, and staring longingly out the window; nothing was really shown that Mako actually returned Korra’s romantic affections. The episode actually starts contradicting the introduction. Bolin gives Korra a goofy, love struck look. Korra flashes one to Mako and Mako gives a confused look, implying he’s above it all. Later, one of the scenes involves Bolin asking Mako about what he thinks of Korra as girlfriend material. This scene is really more unpleasant in hindsight. Mako states that Korra is “great”, but it “makes more sense” to go for Asami. Now I do have issues with Mako’s sudden romantic feelings for Korra, but what really bothers me is what happens after Bolin corrects him. When Bolin tells Mako that he really likes her, Mako tells Bolin that he shouldn’t date her. Mako is playing keep away with Bolin over a girl they both like. He doesn’t want Bolin and her dating because Mako wants to keep Korra strung along, and most importantly, single should him and Asami fall out. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t notice how awful of a thing this was to do to Bolin, Korra and Asami. I mean this is the guy that is supposed to be the caring, supportive brother? Telling him to not ask a girl out because he secretly wants to keep her single? So he’s also possessive over a girl he isn’t dating. Great.
Throughout the episode Mako just has despicable moment after despicable moment. He turns Korra down when she asks him out. That’s fine. That is actually what I expect him to do. However, after Korra and Bolin’s date, he immediately confronts her. His excuse is that he doesn’t want to see Korra using Bolin, which would be fine if it was true, but Mako has shown he doesn’t care what Bolin thinks about Korra. Mako wants to keep Korra single. A fight happens, they kiss and Bolin has to watch it. I really hate how they portrayed Bolin’s heartbreak; as a joke. What I hate more is how Mako treats Bolin the next morning. He blames Bolin for liking Korra and having his heart broken. At this point, I honestly no longer believe he is the caring, responsible brother the show paints him out to be. The episode ends, Mako never apologizes to Korra, and Mako and Korra allegedly learned nothing.
I have no problems with Episode 6. In fact, Mako hugging Korra after her fight with the Equalists is one of the few, genuine moments I like something his character does.
In Episode 7, Korra overhears a conversation Hiroshi Sato has on the phone and comes to the conclusion that he is working for the Equalists. When Mako is informed, his reaction isn’t something reasonably such as “Look, Hiroshi sponsored our team. He took me and Bolin in after our home was destroyed. He’s a great guy! There is no way he is an Equalist.” No, no, no. That would be realistic and reasonable. Mako’s reaction is to accuse Korra of being so petty, cruel and jealous of his relationship with Asami that she would accuse and innocent man of being a part of a violent terrorist organization just so she can have Mako. Yes, I also think you’re pretty amazing, but also that you’re petty, cruel and envious that I would honestly think you would do such a thing. He then issues her an ultimatum, drop the investigation or their friendship is over. Because that is how friendships work, on conditions. Let’s say I get why Korra started liking Mako. I don’t know why she would still like him after this. I know I wouldn’t. I don’t know anyone that would. In the end, Korra is right and Hiroshi Sato is revealed to be an Equalist. Mako’s response? “I’m sorry, but Hiroshi being an Equalist is a hard sell.” You know, don’t apologize over thinking she is such an awful person she would be willing to send an innocent man to life in prison just so she could date you.
This episode is where a lot of the accusations of Mako being abusive come into play, because I know a lot of people who have been in emotionally and physically abusive relationships where their partner acted like Mako did in this episode. They issue ultimatums such as “If you do this, I’ll break up with you.” They always think the worst of their partner and are accusatory towards them. I am not saying that Mako is abusive. But that his actions can be compared to real life abusive partners I’ve met in my life is just wrong. His treatment of Asami near the end of the episode bothers me as well. I know he might have meant well with his “Stay here. I’ll find out for you” speech, but he comes off as possessive and controlling, especially with how he acted towards Korra earlier in the episode and series. The episode ends with Mako embracing Asami as she cries while giving Korra a longing glance. This is where I officially lost all patience with Mako.
Episode 8 is fairly tame. Mako flirts with Korra right in front of Asami. This is one of the infuriating things about Mako’s character. He is just written so inconsistently. One episode, he thinks so lowly of Korra that he honestly believes she would wrongfully send an innocent man to jail just so she could date him, the next he’s all flirty with her. It’s infuriating.
Episode 9 is when the awful writing affecting Mako spills starts to hurt other characters. Plenty of people have written extensively about this already. Mako is extraordinarily concerned with saving Korra, to the point where he is willing to burn and Equalist’s face off to get information about her. This bothers me for a number of reasons. Mako’s reaction to a loved one in danger has already been shown in episode 3. Mako was informed that Bolin was recruited to fight with the Triple Threat Triads in an all out gang war. This meant that Bolin could and likely would be killed and/or tortured by the rival gang just so they can make an example of him. Mako’s reaction was actually commendable. He was seriously concerned, but he managed to keep his cool. When they approached the Triple Threat Triad’s clearly damaged headquarters, his response wasn’t to barge in and start demanding for his brother or else. Mako kept a cool head and approached the area stealthily. With Korra on the other hand, he is just driven mad with concern for her. It makes no sense and it boggles my mind.
Plus, Mako is the only character who appears to be seriously concerned about the kidnapping. You would think Bolin would be freaking out as well. He knows what it’s like to be kidnapped, and he doesn’t have as good of grasp of his emotions as Mako allegedly does. What about Tenzin? Tenzin is much more aware of how important the Avatar is to the world. He has also spent all but one episode in this season forming a parental bond with her. You would think he’d be as seriously concerned as Mako is here.
By the end of this episode, Korra returns home safe and sound no thanks to him or anyone else and Mako, the petulant little pissant that he is, pushes Lin and Tenzin away from Korra demanding that they give her some space before he takes her in his arms and gently strokes her cheeks. Is no one else bothered by this? I mean, if my girlfriend had been kidnapped and we were 18 and 17 respectively, I don’t think I would push her responsible father figure away just so I could be the one to carry her. I mean this is just weird, whether he likes her or not. And the show expects me to squee and swoon over Mako stroking her cheek. Out of context, it is pretty sweet and romantic looking. In context, with everything we’ve seen of him over the series and what he did to Lin and Tenzin to get that moment, I’m honestly physically repulsed by it.
Also, Bolin had to be the one to tell Asami about Korra and Mako kissing. I’m honestly not surprised, so let’s move on.
Episode 10 beings with Mako waiting by Korra’s bedside, holding her hand while Asami watches. This is awful not just because Mako has a girlfriend. Even if Mako single, this scene would still bother me. Even if he was dating her it would still bother me. I mean you worry about friend and lovers when their in the hospital or bedridden, but even I leave to take care of other things or when hospital hours are over. This creeps me out. This bothers me the same way Edward Cullen does when he tells Bella that he likes to watch her sleep. And why would you be so callous, so insensitive as to do this in front of you girlfriend?
The next major scene Mako is in involves Asami telling him she knows about the kiss. Mako’s immediate response is to get angry and blame Bolin. Yes, what a loving and supportive brother. I would like this scene more if I wasn’t clear the writers meant for me to hate Asami for it. At the end of the episode, Mako wraps Korra in his arm and carries her away while Asami looks on evilly. It comes across as Mako taunting Asami for the argument earlier.
To me, Mako as a character is unsalvageable. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to like him. Not only do I have major, major problems with him in nearly every episode he is in, but I hate what he has done to Legend of Korra. Mako might be all over the place character wise, but he only brings one thing to the table; the love triangle and the drama it brings. It’s awfully written, it’s unwanted and it and the effect is having on the characters is detrimental to the show where I honestly am not sure I like it anymore. I was honestly looking forward to the series about Korra learning that the Equalists aren’t a problem that can just be beaten into submission. I was looking forward to her growing up and living up to the legacy Avatar Aang had left. Mako wavers between being torturously dull and series ruinously awful. I’ve disliked characters in the past. I’ve disliked a lot of them. But I don’t think I’ve hated one in a show I otherwise loved to the point where I am seriously regretting even giving Legend of Korra a chance.
This isn’t about him being evil. There are evil characters that don’t bother me to the extent that Mako does, and much of that is because the show wants me to think of Mako as a good person. It wants me to like him despite all the things listed here that prevent me from doing so. It wants me to love seeing Korra and Mako eventually get together. Mako is just unlikable to me, and he doesn’t need to eat babies and kick kittens to do so. He just needs to be as poorly written as he is.
At this point I’m just sick of Mako. I don’t want him to have a character arch that redeems him. I don’t want his character to end up happy. I don’t want his character to lose his bending. I don’t even want him to die. I just want him to go away. I want him to leave the show and never get mentioned again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this negatively about a character and what they did to a series.
I hope those who like Mako and the Makorra ship will look at things a little differently because of my post. At the very least I hope you at least see where I and many others are coming from when we talk about how much we can’t stand this character. I honestly don’t see how I’m supposed to like him and from what creators on the show have said, they don’t understand why his character is getting this huge backlash and that seriously disturbs me. I honestly did not go into Legend of Korra expecting to come out this disappointed and angry.