In this week's episode of the fourth season of Legend of Korra, Mako makes this face and I'm okay with him again.
I was all set to be utterly bored through all of Mako's storyline this season, because how could babysitting the amazingly irritating Prince Wu be anything but some kind of comic relief from pretty heavy stuff? So far, Wu has been nothing but a shallow embodiment of everything that brought the Earth kingdom into chaos in the last season, and honestly I thought that the creative decision to stick Mako with him was yet another way to try to make his character more interesting than he actually is.
But now that Kuvira has openly declared her intention to maintain control of the Earth Kingdom, things really have gotten a lot more interesting. I like this political conflict developing between Mako and Bolin, where both of them realize that neither Kuvira nor Wu are perfect but not being able to accept the other as a viable alternative. There is no clear winner, here. Wu would be nothing but a self-absorbed figurehead, and representative of the rigid class system that put so many Earth Kingdom citizens in poverty. Kuvira is using brute force and coercion to bring the Earth Kingdom states under her control, all the while calling it "protection." And though Bolin doesn't know it yet, she's planning to do the same with Zaofu in her efforts to build a massive Empire.
Wu obviously had the rug pulled out from under him when Kuvira turned his Coronation Day into her own Independence Day, but is there a chance that he can earn his place as ruler of the Earth Kingdom? In this way I think Mako can be a good influence on him, and that the two of them need to go on a Finding Your Own Way field trip very soon - if Wu is humbled and actually learns something, he might actually have a chance at keeping the Earth Kingdom out of Kuvira's hands.
I'M SO GLAD THAT WE STILL HAVE THE SAME ROWDY OLD TOPH. I love that her role as Korra's Yoda is in no way soft or coddling, and that she is reveling in her chance to "torment the Avatar" again. Toph does not hold back when she starts sparring with Korra, and I love that she basically handed Korra her ass with both hands held behind her back. I like the visual symmetry of Toph's old-lady fighting stance and the middle-aged policewoman we've seen in the flashbacks.
And Toph has a very important message for Korra, as well, and that is for Korra to get over herself. I think it's awesome that the show has shown how hard Korra's road to full recovery has been, and that they didn't provide any kind of "easy fix" for her in this episode, either. I like that the show portrayed such a strong character weakened by illness and injury, and I'm in no way saying that people who go through life-changing, traumatic experiences can just "get over it." But if Korra was expecting any sympathy, she has come to the wrong place. If she was expecting Toph to understand the difficulties involved in being a disabled bender, Toph disabused her of that notion without mercy.
Toph recalls her stellar career as chief of police in Republic City, spending years of her life fighting criminals and doing what she could to clean up the streets. But has crime stopped happening? It has not. Korra has defeated a powerful bloodbender, an evil spirit and an anarchist airbender, and has that eliminated all the trouble from the world? It has not. I like that Toph deflates Korra of the feeling that she can somehow "fix" the world, because that's an idea that Korra has had a hard time really internalizing.
And then of course, Toph reveals that Su wasn't able to remove all of the poison from Korra's bloodstream, which might explain not only her continued weakness but also her personal demon-self vision. Although Korra protests that it was Su who saved her, Toph dismisses both Lin and Su as not having really mastered metalbending - which makes me wonder when we get to see Toph show us what a true metalbending master looks like. Will it be during a fight with Kuvira? In teaching her daughters not to get too cocky? I can't wait!
So is Korra subconsciously clinging to her remaining weakness/illness/poison to stay out of the fight this time? I think that between Korra and Aang's journeys, Korra's is the one that has involved the most fear and self-doubt. While Aang was focused on mastering the elements and staying true to his principles while also doing what needed to be done, Korra's identity was poured into her physical talents, and without them she is afraid and alone.
And Toph is right - no one can fix that but Korra.