In “Out of the Past,” the ninth episode of Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra, supporting character/love interest Mako single-mindedly dedicates himself to rescuing Korra from the clutches of big bad Amon. He personally witnessed Amon’s terrible power back in Episode 3 (“The Revelation”); now, for all he knows, Korra—his Avatar, his teammate, his friend—has been de-bent, tortured, and left to die in a shallow ditch. As he desperately interrogates Amon’s Equalist pawns—partially motivated, perhaps, by his repressed romantic feelings for the young Avatar—he remains blind to girlfriend Asami’s obvious discomfort with his aggressive behavior. We may not agree with his every action, but we can at least understand the forces that drive him.
This is called empathy.
In “And the Winner Is…” the sixth episode of Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra, minor antagonist/bully Tahno bribes some Professional Bending officials to look the other way, then cheats his way to victory against Korra and the Fire Ferrets. Before he can celebrate, however, big bad Amon arrives to take away his bending, read the Equalist manifesto, and blow up the stadium. As Tahno begs and whimpers at the anti-bending extremist’s feet, we feel sorry for him—not even he deserves this fate.
This is called sympathy.
According to, oh, just about every writing class I’ve ever taken, empathy creates a more intimate, meaningful relationship between the character and the viewer/reader/whatever. So why has a significant portion of the LoK fandom (to make a sweeping generalization) condemned Mako for his actions while embracing Tahno in spite of his? Does sympathy actually create a stronger, more visceral bond?
Mako, of course, has his own tragic back story—lost his parents at age eight, grew up too fast raising his little brother on the streets, ran numbers for the local triad just to get by—but it lacks the immediacy of Tahno’s onscreen misfortune—or, more importantly, Asami’s. Episode 7 (“The Aftermath”) saw the spoiled sweet action girl turn on her father after Korra exposed his Equalist ties; did lingering sympathy cause fans to “side with” Asami without considering Mako’s emotional state?
As an aspiring storyteller, I find this whole “Mako situation” educational… and a bit troubling.
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