This review contains spoilers.
1.5 The Spirit of Competition
In the fifth episode of The Legend of Korra, things start getting romantic. Unfortunately, this is not to the show’s credit.
I like romance as much as the next girl, but by and large I felt like it was one of the few things that kept the original series from being truly flawless. There’s a right way to handle romance subplots, and there’s a wrong way, and unfortunately, The Legend of Korra followed its predecessor and took the wrong path.
The episode features two intertwining plots: the Fire Ferrets’ progress in the pro-bending tournament and the love square between Bolin, Korra, Mako, and Asami. In the latter case, Korra grows increasingly jealous of Asami and seeks advice from the ladies of air temple island. Pema, Tenzin’s wife, shares the fact that when she met Tenzin, he was with someone else, but she “couldn’t bear to watch her soul mate spend his life with another woman,” and so she finally spoke up. This encourages Korra to do the same, but I can’t help but think back to a few weeks ago when I wondered what could’ve happened between Tenzin and Lin Bei Fong to make such bad blood between them. Is it possible that Lin was the woman Tenzin was dating when he met Pema?
Unfortunately for Korra, speaking up doesn’t help matters. Mako tells her that he doesn’t feel the same and, dejected, Korra accepts a date with Bolin when he flatters her in a way that Mako never does. The two of them have fun together, but Korra simply doesn’t feel for Bolin the way he feels for her. This leads to Mako confronting her about using Bolin to get back at him, and the two of them sharing a kiss. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Bolin witnesses this and runs away, sobbing.
My main problem with this storyline, aside from how quick the ending of it feels, is that Mako and Korra brought out the worst in each other, rather than the best. It does them no favours that their actions hurt Bolin so deeply – I could maybe understand it from Korra, for whom he is just a friend, but as Bolin repeatedly points out while sobbing, Mako is his brother and has betrayed him. It’s not really enjoyable to watch characters choose to hurt each other needlessly.
Elsewhere in the episode, we were introduced to the Wolf-Bats and their leader, Tahno. The Wolf-Bats are a very impressive team, made all the more intimidating given how poorly the Fire Ferrets played in this episode due to their personal conflicts. We’ll see how this plays out in the future.
After four episodes heavy on the main plot with Amon and the Equalists, an episode where they were barely even mentioned feels like filler. At the very least, if the writers needed to dedicate an entire episode to progressing the love square plot, it could’ve been handled much better. Rather than making me feel compelled to root for Korra and Mako’s relationship, it made me disappointed in both at their betrayal of Bolin, and dissatisfied with the resolution of that story. I expect better from The Legend of Korra and this was the first episode of the series where I was let down. Hopefully the next episode will be better.
I’m enjoying your theories and the discussion going on in the comments, so keep it up! What did you think of the episode? Am I being too harsh on Korra and Mako? Did you also think the woman Pema referred to was Lin Bei Fong? Did you love the reference to Katara teaching Korra how to heal with her waterbending as much as I did? Share your thoughts!