The third season of The Legend of Korra delivered one of if not the greatest antagonists in the entire Avatar franchise with the debut of the Red Lotus. The anarchist organization of elite benders were considered dangerous enough to threaten the entire world order, and in their grand scheme to plunge civilization into chaos they made assassinating central figures in government their primary focus. So why did they completely neglect to follow through on opportunities to assassinate the Water Tribe's leaders while they were at the North Pole?
The Red Lotus did not have particularly convoluted plans. Their straightforward yet compelling motivations were a refreshing change in The Legend of Korra from the previous season's antagonist. Once their leader Zaheer was freed, he endeavored to free each of his companions from their own prisons. Reunited, they conspired to assassinate world leaders like President Raiko and Earth Queen Hou-Ting in order to further their anarchistic agenda. The Earth Queen's death and the subsequent disorder it caused in Ba Sing Se was possibly one of their greatest achievements, yet they completely neglected a far easier opportunity earlier in the season.
With three of their four members freed, the Red Lotus traveled to the North Pole where their last member, combustionbender P'Li, was imprisoned. Wise to the anarchists' schemes, Korra's father Tonraq and the previous Avatar's companion Zuko ventured to the northern prison where they warned Tonraq's nieces Desna and Eska of the coming threat. Together the four benders tried to resist the Red Lotus but were solidly embarrassed in combat and incapacitated before the Red Lotus escaped. Except... why did the Red Lotus escape at all? Three of those four benders they incapacitated are world leaders just like Raiko and Hou-Ting.
Tonraq isn't just Korra's father; likewise, Desna and Eska aren't just his nieces. Together the three of them form the leadership of the Northern and Southern Water Tribes. Ming-Hua froze Desna and Eska in solid ice all on her own, easily navigating their icy barriers with her watery tendrils before incapacitating them. Although Tonraq stood up to Zaheer for a few moments, a powerful blast from P'Li knocked him out. Zuko was not much help either, as Ghazan knocked him down with a projectile of earth. The former Fire Lord did not recover until the Red Lotus were driving away.
Yes, former Fire Lord. Zuko was previously a leader of the Fire Nation and presumably still holds great symbolic significance to its civic structure. This means that all four combatants the Red Lotus tore through were helpless for at least as long as it takes to pile into a vehicle and make an escape. But rather than take advantage of their situation and finish the world leaders off, they drove off into the winter sunset. Their first priority upon reaching civilization became the assassination of different world leaders who were considerably less vulnerable than the ones they left behind, and their only pressing business at the time seemed to be Zaheer and P'Li catching up.
Even in spite of their mistake, the Red Lotus members remain some of the most compelling and interesting characters throughout the history of the Avatar franchise. On first viewing, the oversight may be hard to spot, given the group's motivations and goals are a mystery at the time. Their escape even comes mere moments after P'Li astonishingly blasted a dragon out of the air with her bending, a feat that doubtless had most fans slack-jawed and blind to any logical errors. But with the Earth Queen's assassination and their general violently anarchistic philosophy becoming such an iconic part of the characters' stories, repeated viewings only make their neglect seem all the more blatant.