“The relationships between the centre characters are wonky”
Yeah, and they decide to have even MORE wonky relationships with the side-characters.
Your mileage may vary in what you notice re: female pettiness, but given how much sausage is in this show, I’m paying close attention to how relationships between women are playing out, and it’s not great.
If they decide to pull one with Asami because of her jealousy, I would not be surprised, because it fits in so well with narratives of how women are supposed to emotionally operate.
And it IS possible to be have a 3-dimensional character without them being petty (they’ve managed to do this with Lin and Asami). Again, if you fall back onto some source of conflict just to give your character some personality, you’re doing it wrong. (We’re already seeing this in Mako.) Pema doesn’t HAVE to be petty just to avoid being a bobble-headed doll, but that’s not the route they chose, and that’s deeply annoying, because, again, that’s not a new narrative.
Traditionally in literature, broadly speaking, if a female character has any inclination towards jealousy, she’s a “bitch,” “useless,” or “unworthy” of “her man.” The writers have gone out of their way, however, to show that Asami is a kind, giving person and that Pema is trying her best. They’re certainly not villains, either, their envy is just a trait brought up in this particular situation.
Their jealousy is not unfounded, too, which I think is something I’ve been woefully misguided in not mentioning. Asami is right: Mako and Korra really do have feelings for each other. And while Tenzin and Lin’s relationship is at least a decade in the past at this point (judging by Jinora’s age), I’m surprised Pema isn’t more envious. Due to work, Tenzin and Lin have spent a lot of time together this season while he and Pema have had comparatively little time together. A brief dig on Pema’s part against Lin is logically irrational, yes, but emotionally honest.
I return to the point that making Asami and Pema not jealous would be a disservice to the characters. Being perfect examples of womanhood wouldn’t make sense or make them dynamically written. Women as goddesses? Now THAT’S an old narrative and one that can be potentially insulting. There needs to be some friction between Asami, Pema, and the characters around them.
It WOULD be nice to have seen some hint of why Pema was so irritated with Lin being around; that “maybe she didn’t want to be protected” theory checks out, but I disagree, because that would make Pema STUPID, because she has three bending kids on an island facing an enemy that could well threaten them. Who knows, maybe she’s arrogant enough to assume Air Temple Island doesn’t need Lin to help protect those babies. Maybe she’s stressed out thinking about it. Either way, how this was executed was poor.
Eh, maybe the theory isn’t correct. I concede that. As Tenzin said, though, it’s still very awkward to ask an ex-girlfriend to protect a current spouse and family. Pema’s resentment isn’t logical, certainly not in a crisis, but asking Lin to give Meelo a bath? That’s not a very nice thing to do, but Pema certainly isn’t telling Lin off or trying to force her off the island. I assume Pema understands Lin remaining on the island is the best case scenerio.
And therein lies the larger part of the problem: that for some reason, we needed this jealousy issue colouring the relationships between the characters. Yes, Asami is right; she’s got reason to be jealous, but there actually was no good reason to introduce this love triangle in the first place, except “Makorra is canon!” (and probably “let’s fuck with the shippers!” and god the writers sure are invested in a canon ship that sure as fuck makes no sense except it falls back into familiar expected tropes). As a result, Mako’s characterization falls short, because the writers have to write him mooning all over Korra, and as a result Asami’s character is short-changed because now she has this other thing.
Doesn’t fly with me, not in such a short series, unless we want a plot twist in the future whereby Asami falls in love with someone else, OR turns against Korra (or Mako). Or unless the writer’s idea of romance HAS to involve someone getting jealousy, which is what I’m seeing.
(At this point if there are any shenanigans involving the new character, I will break things.)
And again, pettiness and jealousy OVER MEN don’t HAVE to be the chosen character flaws to prevent female characters from vacillating between goddess and shrew. They managed to avoid this in ATLA, where the female characters found OTHER things to fight about (even better things to fight about, I’d say). You couldn’t call them goddesses, either. Some sort of flaw that doesn’t have to revolve around the romances in their lives would be nice, because I’m so tired to seeing women’s conflict have to be about romance.
(re: Pema not being more jealous; I’d assume that, seeing how they’re a fairly happy couple with three children, Tenzin and Pema would have had conversations over how much time Tenzin has to spend with Lin, AND that Pema’s enough of an adult to recognize that Tenzin has no reason to go back to Lin. Pema doesn’t seem to be the malicious grabby type; she saw that Tenzin wasn’t in a good relationship, shared her feelings, and the two of them worked together from there. She’s a woman whose kids can recognize that Lin is “dad’s ex-girlfriend” without harbouring any malice towards her, because presumably they didn’t pick up any malice towards Lin from their mom. This is the woman who’s said “stop doting!” —she doesn’t need Tenzin to prove his love by hovering— who’s said “Korra just needs some space!” — who’s been characterized by being kind and motherly… and suddenly she’s abrupt with Lin.)
We can talk blue about how it’s expected for these female characters to be jealous but I sure as fuck don’t want “expected”; I want “awesome”. Lin sacrificing herself for someone she’s obviously got conflicts with: awesome. Asami choosing to stick by her principles and give up everything she’s known: awesome. Korra angsting over her failure to be more spiritual, getting angry about it: awesome (I really liked her non-response to her friends calling for her). The kids showing their mettle even though they’ve been painted as super childish all this while: awesome.
If it was just ONE character displaying petty jealousy re: their man, I could probably handle it and let it slide, but this is THREE characters, pretty much a majority of all significant female characters in the show, and all the female characters old enough to have such concerns. Wtf. No.