I’m just going to drop my theory right here: The Mako-Asami-Korra love triangle was created purely to troll us, nothing more.
Alright, I know the entire “Bryke’s trolling us” argument has taken on many forms and has been reiterated countless times on Tumblr, but hear me out.
[From hereon when I refer to “viewers” I really mean the majority of viewers because there are always going to be exceptions to the shipping fandom who seem immune to what I’m about to say.]
Whom we the viewers sympathize with in the love triangle is dependent upon the frame of reference from which the story is told and emotions are portrayed. This method was applied in order to keep viewers unsatisfied until the very end, no matter which side we chose.
In the pilot episode, we see Korra pining for Mako from her point of view. Literally the vantage point is shot from behind her, glancing across the water to his residence. We are situated in her position and this produces automatic results in heightened empathy.
Then we get all up in her personal space. Awww, so cute! We want what she wants! Go get Zuko II, girl!
Contrast this to when Mako “runs into” Asami and is swept off his feet. None of the shots are taken from Asami’s perspective. Instead, we get practically nothing but face-on shots, or shots that situate us as detached bystanders.
And shortly thereafter…
I could go on. But my point is how are we supposed to care for them, even if we liked them as people? We aren’t. We the viewers are never invited into their space. Masami exists on a stage—a stage for a play called “look at dis bitch stealin’ Korra’s soulmate.” We never see things from Asami’s perspective, so it’s difficult to empathize with her emotions or understand the attraction between her and Mako. The important thing to keep in mind here is that any relationship can seem hollow from the outside, but brim with energy when it’s experienced or seen from the inside. For us viewers, we are put through the experience of the former. #fistshake
This technique effectively made me, along with many others, despise Asami for a good number of episodes. But as I was about to find out, it wasn’t because she was a Mary Sue, or too hair-flippy, or any of the superficial reasons people used in order to defend their disdain towards her. I’ll put that aside for now and get to it later.
So, Korra tells Mako that Asami now “needs” him and he walks away to embrace her in comfort, and we assume that Korra’s been properly friend-zoned. Okay, no big deal, because we know Korra is good and deserves to be with Mako because we’re told to through visual cues, and Asami doesn’t, same reason. Justice is always served to those who are good, so let’s wait this out.
We’re still miffed at Asami, though, and nothing can help it. I mean, after she electrifies her father and sides with Team Avatar 2.0, I still didn’t like her. If anything, the fact that speculative flaws kept subsiding one after another to make way for a perfect human only amplified my dislike towards her. If you viewed the “Travel In Style” clip before episode 8 aired, this would’ve been even more true. Her suave driving, “always knowing how to accessorize”, and flaunting that electric chi glove did nothing but get on my nerves. It felt like the show was trying to justify Mako and Asami’s relationship by piling a laundry list of good traits onto Asami, and they didn’t make her feel any less hollow than she already was. Some of us set our predictions for when Asami would show her “dark” side, lash out in jealousy. How satisfying that would feel…
But when the episode did air, we were able to feel time pass and the characters change. Namely, Korra had no hard feelings over the sunken ship, so neither did we. We were apathetic about Makorra and we just wanted Korra to save the world.
Suddenly, the Ikki thing happens, and we are reminded that Korra still has feelings for Mako.
Two other things occur in this scene as well: 1) For the very first time, we see Asami’s subtle gestures shaping her into a semblance of a thinking, feeling being. And—what do you know, it’s actually not difficult to like her. Why was her eyeshadow EVER a problem? 2) Although we feel awkward along with Korra here, we are more or less told of her feelings for Mako. Her expression here is off-model. We’re told “this is some serious shit” but we’re not meant to feel it, with all the humour that’s injected. Throughout the episode, we are no longer put through Korra’s emotional thoughts by means of lingering facial gestures or strategic camera angles, as we were before. Thus we cease to invest further in Korra’s desire to be with Mako. As a result, we don’t really hate Asami anymore, and a potential reveal of her jealous reactions would no longer provide us with the thrill we’d been craving.
How convenient then, that from precisely hereon, her anxiety and hostility towards Korra and Mako’s interaction begin to seep out.
And notice how Mako and Korra are framed, as if on a stage, removed from us, as Mako and Asami had been previously. At this point, the show has effectively switched the roles of Korra and Asami in our heads. We aren’t cheering at Asami’s glare going “See? An easily threatened bitch as I’d expected!” This wasn’t what we’d been waiting for, because we had already stopped waiting. Asami reacted with jealousy after she’d been humanized and written to be likable and after Korra was made to seem like a block of wood. Our hearts now go out to Asami, and we envy and angst along with her.
Would we feel this way if the same event had been viewed from the backseat, all nestled in Korra’s personal space, with Asami glaring in the background?
Now, let’s rewind a few seconds:
Consider if the romance stuff had never abandoned Korra’s viewpoint. If Mako’s sudden sweet attention to her along with Asami’s jealousy had been presented from Korra’s end, most especially during this moment. We’d be cheering Korra on, and vicariously through her, we would’ve melted at Mako’s feet. Asami would have fulfilled the prophecy of the prissy, insecure girl that we had been led to think she would turn out to be. But no, there was not even the thinnest sliver of window to catch a glimpse of any of this from Korra’s end.
The same notion can be formed in reverse. Let’s skip back a few episodes:
When I first saw this, Asami seemed hollow, and Korra’s reaction was both righteous and hilarious. But if this had been written from Asami’s perspective, Korra’s reaction would’ve seemed rude and immature as hell. In fact, I get annoyed just looking at Korra in that gif. Why? Because Korra in the later episodes was framed as a homewrecker, and that has retroactively tarnished my positive perception of her. It’s hard for me not to see it through Asami’s eyes now.
But you know what? The concept of relative perception is cool. Twists and plays on perception are absolutely necessary in making a great, complex show. Characters do not interact in linear manners, so viewers should feel tugged back and forth by conflict. But that’s not what I take issue with. If Bryke’s intention was to teach us a lesson that it’s wrong to make judgments based on first impressions, and that yes, it’s just as bad to do that to a typical pretty girl who seems to have it all, and okay, we’re going to whip up Asami as a heuristic model of that, I’D APPROVE. If Bryke also intended to teach us that the concept of good, evil, ugly, and beautiful can be distorted through various frames of reference, GOOD HEAVENS THAT’S CLEVER I APPROVE.
But that is not what they did, nor do I feel that is what they set out to do.
Humanizing Asami and making us care for her would’ve been a good opportunity to even out the playing field while still making a powerful statement about reality vs. perception of emotions e.g. when things are shown from Asami’s side, display Korra as the “other” whom we can’t identity with. Then show things from Korra’s end, with Asami as the hollow one.
But instead, from hereon the only intimate shots we get are of Asami—with an overwhelmingly sorrowful face at all times, which eventually becomes canon.
The affection shared between Korra and Mako are shown as if through a microscope. What are we supposed to think here aside from “I observe some jerks doing jerk stuff.”?
And even though this counts as a closeup/personal space shot, it’s from Mako’s viewpoint, and we all know he’s an insensitive, dishonest bastard at this point, so it’s kind of hard to feel the love.
The closest thing we got to empathizing with Korra again was the (terribly written) encounter in the finale, and even then, it wasn’t much. We’d also been sucked into Asami’s vortex of heartbreak for long enough, that the timing of this scene was futile in getting us back on Team Makorra again. It felt more like a nice piece of sushi that had been left out overnight.
A sidenote: What I really can’t stand is that Asami’s growing jealousy after learning of Korra’s feelings for Mako is timed in relation to Mako’s random lurv for Korra after her capture, as if the former is a cause of the latter. But it’s not. Let’s use this analogy: people feel scared to sleep after watching a horror film about bedroom murderers. They can feel the fear, but they know it’s completely irrational, and ultimately no one gets killed in their sleep, because events exist in the framework of logic. In the case of this love triangle, Asami can irrationally feel as though Mako will end up going for Korra. The problem is that it actually happens. And this wasn’t even a self-fulfilled prophecy. Her behavior did not drive Mako to do what he did (or at least, was not shown to), and yet, that is what the coincidental timing is pushing us to assume.
Anyway, at the start of the season, we were given every reason to want Korra to be with Mako, that she deserved him, and that the love there was “true”, based on how she was pictorially presented at particular moments in the series. When we were told that Asami and Mako was the winning pair, it felt unjustified, yet we were supposed to like it even though it was wrong. The odd thing is, Bryke knew we wouldn’t. That it would feel conflicting to us (but not in the good, eye-opening sense). What honest, decent person would sit by and let Makorra play out the way it did? [*hides*] In the second half of the season, Asami is rewritten as the complex, fleshed-out character, the one deserving of Mako’s commitment because of everything she’s sacrificed for him, etc., and her pictorial representation is swapped with Korra’s. Only now we’re told that Korra and Mako are the OTP, which by then feels unjustified because Korra’s emotions had been stripped from her character profile for no good reason.
I used to think I was frustrated because the show kept moving Mako’s target whenever we finally settled into it, but this wasn’t the issue. I could have understood and tolerated the love triangle’s conclusion if Mako’s behavior was tenfold worse than what we witnessed, as long as the show had given him the slightest headshake. Instead, the show chose to underscore Mako’s I-win-it-all, totally-lacking-in-accountability outcome as morally sound and favourable…that is somethin’ else. In short, the show worked against us. Not just the bad dude, but the show—and we could all feel it.
This was not a lesson in “How Do You Think the Other Person Feels 101”. Nor was this “Bad Things Can Happen To Good People, Good Things Can Happen To Bad People, And That Sucks, But It’s Life” or “Sometimes Villains Get What They Want”. Nope, this was “Bad Things Can Happen To Good People, And You Should Immediately Cheer For the Villain, But We Know You Won’t, Because You Actually Shouldn’t, So There’s Something Wrong With You”…? wtmfjc??
For there to be so much evidence that visual manipulation was responsible for leading up to this point, essentially just to leave us unsatisfied no matter what our minds tried to do, is not only frustrating to think about, but bizarre. And these various tricks in framing were no accident. Everything in animation is carefully contrived; hours are pored over the smallest details in direction. This was no accident. So now all I have left to say is: Why Bryke, why?
[This is probably the longest post I’ve ever written about…anything, and I’m sure it’s full of contradictions to nitpick. Feel free to post them in the ask box and I will freely ponder over it.]
[images are from avataraang.tumblr.com, cap-that.com, and avatarspirit.net]