Thursday, November 15, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.12, "Lion's Pride, Part 1"

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The penultimate episode of Legendary Defender's seventh season puts one threat to rest--only to show another coming all too soon.

7.12, "Lion's Pride, Part 1"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

Amid the ongoing fracas, Voltron is formed. Shiro welcomes the Paladins back to the fight for Earth and queries the fighting forces for their current status. The cadet pilots rendezvous with the Atlas and prepare to sally forth again. The Galra, meanwhile, regroup, assessing their situation; the siege weapons are moving into position, and all fire is to be directed at Voltron and the Atlas.

The new volleys begin.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As the Galra assault resumes, so does the Earth forces' counterattack. Bolstered by Voltron, matters seem to go better for Earth. But the siege weapons are converging to kill the planet, so Voltron redirects to take out Sendak. Artillery fire from the planet, however, interdicts them, and they are hard put to it. The Atlas is not doing much better, either, and the cadet pilots re-deploy to run further interference for the Atlas and Voltron. The latter is tasked with destroying the siege weapons; the Paladins formulate a plan and work on it as the fracas continues. Shiro and the cadet pilots continue along their work as they do.

Risky, indeed.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The Paladins experience some success; they are able to interdict the siege weapons' beams, though they cannot long do so. Shiro improvises a new plan, putting Coran in command of the Atlas and working to infiltrate Sendak's ship as the Galra assault continues.

Time to enact their plans grows ever shorter as they do so, and the interdiction fails--only to be succeeded by the Atlas interposing herself in the path of the siege weapons' beams. More time bought, the fight continues, and Shiro succeeds at his infiltration, making himself the agent of infiltration and disabling one of the siege weapons--as well as de-powering Sendak's ship.

Meanwhile, the Paldins begin to recover from their exertions, and Lance moves to assail the siege weapons. Allura joins him, followed by the other Paladins. The cadet pilots are also successful, and Sendak's ship is in free-fall towards Earth. Shiro attempts to flee but is confronted by Sendak; a melee begins, and the Paladins work to guide the ship towards an empty area. They succeed, and Shiro and Sendak's duel continues until Keith decisively intervenes, and Sendak falls.

After, Keith tends to Shiro, and the Paladins come to believe that Earth is safe--briefly. An incoming fireball puts the lie to that belief as the episode ends.

Discussion

As a culmination of what has gone before, the episode introduces little if any new medievalism. It does, however, neatly deal with the dark mirror relationship between Shiro and Sendak that has received comment before, doing so in a way that could easily be read either as mimicking Arthuriana or as the kind of theological parallel which medieval minds, by report, would have appreciated.

Sendak is defeated in his person not by Shiro but by Keith, Shiro's clear favorite. As such, the battle mimics the Arthurian chivalric in that it is only through carefully cultivated fellowship that one side prevails, Keith serving Shiro as Lancelot serves Arthur; the parallel is admittedly incomplete, given the character names involved (although the case can be made that the Paladin Lance is more like Gawain than Lancelot), but it is nonetheless close enough to be seen readily.

Keith's entrance into the battle, descending from the very heavens with sword in hand to vanquish a  foe clearly demoniac in both appearance and attitude, is also similar to the intervention of divine might into the human struggle against sin, both in medieval Christian concept and, not uncommonly, more recent ideas. Shiro is unable to defeat his evil counterpart without aid; it is only with assistance from on high that his foe is undone. The reading is similar to some interpretations of the third part of Beowulf, wherein the eponymous hero finds victory only through the aid of his kinsman, Wiglaf, and which has been likened to the need for outside agency to defeat sin.

In both cases, the parallels are not exclusively to the medieval, although they do certainly connect to medieval ideas. Given how much the series has done to connect back to the medieval, however, looking to it for antecedents seems still to be a way to understand better what is going on in the series and why it matters.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.11, "Trial by Fire"

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The fight to save the Earth continues as the seventh season of Legendary Defender comes closer to its end.

7.11, "Trial by Fire"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Michael Chang

Synopsis

The attack with which the previous episode ends leaves Voltron forcibly disarticulated, its component Lions adrift and their Paladins unconscious. The Galra do not relent in their assault, and Earth's forces look on in horror as they begin to realize the treachery that has been perpetrated on them. Shiro begins to plot a retrieval mission.

Not the best thing to wake up to.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Keith, captured by the Galra along with the other Paladins, wakes briefly and sees the traitor admiral exhorting Sendak to release the Paladins to her and depart Earth. He refuses and imprisons the admiral along with them, ordering the assault on the planet to resume as Keith loses consciousness again.

Back on Earth, Shiro and Coran try to activate Earth's defense ship, the Atlas, as the Galra siege weapons align themselves to assail the redoubt. Knowing that their defenses will not hold against the coming assault, the Earth forces decide to reroute power from the defenses to the Atlas, and they rush to enact their plans. The four cadet pilots are dispatched as the last defensive line as the Atlas is brought online.

The cadets are understandably concerned.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Keith wakes aboard the Galra ship again. He is alone in a cell, left isolated from the other Paladins and stripped of his weapons. The other Paladins make radio contact and assess their situation. The traitor admiral is imprisoned nearby and, overhearing, confesses her sins. She relates what she knows of Sendak's plan; the Galra leader means to destroy the planet.

Work to launch the Atlas continues. The Galra note the shifts in power distribution and attack the redoubt, hindering the launch efforts. A counterattack ensues, and the Atlas attempts to launch--unsuccessfully. Holt despairs, and Coran has a sudden realization. Taking the remains of the Castle of Lions, he is able to power the Atlas fully, and the ship successfully launches on her second attempt. Shiro is startled to find himself in command without thinking, the others deferring to him.

Sendak joins the battle as the Atlas launches, seeking to interdict her. The attempt is unsuccessful, and the Atlas joins the fray. Matters improve rapidly for the Earth forces. The Paladins begin to enact escape, exhorted by Hunk. The Lions activate, piloted remotely, and Sendak orders the Paladins killed. The traitor admiral appears to try to buy her life again, using it as a ruse to hinder the execution as the fight continues. She dies from the attempt, but she is successful in allowing enough time to pass for the Paladins to escape. Keith hears her last words and recovers her body.

Discussion

Much of the episode deals with the effects of the admiral's treason against Earth, and it will come as little or no surprise to the audience that the admiral dies as a direct result of her actual and expected betrayal of her home planet. And, though it is hardly unique to the period, the medieval was preoccupied with treason; any time perceived as being as concerned with social strata and "divine" order as the medieval could hardly help but be. Certainly, treason--with admittedly varying definitions--pervades chivalric literature and its surrounding history; Malory is a prime example of it, with his work featuring several cases of treason in several forms and his own life marked by accusations of and denied pardons for treason. As such, the focus of the present episode on treason does not make a definitive link between the series and the medieval, but it does add to links already present by emphasizing something that is emphasized in the earlier materials--a useful reminder as matters progress in the series.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.10, "Heart of the Lion"

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Matters grow more dire for Earth and its defenders as the seventh season of Voltron: Legenday Defender continues.

7.10, "Heart of the Lion"

Written by Rocco Pucillo
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

It's something of a pattern for Shiro.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Shiro wakes once again on a table under bright lights. This time, however, it is because of a medical procedure he has agreed to and which is being conducted by friendly personnel. The procedure is the installation of his new arm; its capabilities are described to him, and he tests it briefly before matters deteriorate. Allura intervenes, restraining the arm and replacing its power source with one of her own. Shiro is eased by the procedure and enriched.

After, Pidge and Allura explicate Sendak's methods. The Galra commander has installed six massive emplacements around the globe, intending them to serve as deterrents and control points. How to proceed against them is debated, and an infiltration mission is decided upon and planned. Teams are assigned, and the mission begins.

The sniper team--consisting of Lance, Hunk, Veronica, and Kincaid--proceeds to its assigned location. The members confer with one another, learning something about each other along the way. They set up in position, overwatching the infiltration team as they proceed into the Galra facility. Infiltration proceeds smoothly at first, using Cosmos' teleportation abilities to enter and evade detection. At length, though, they are detected, and combat ensues, although Keith and Pidge achieve their objective. They find that the bases are, in fact, planetary siege cannons like those they've encountered before.
This does not bode well.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Outside, the fight continues. The Earth forces handle themselves ably, but the numerical superiority of the Galra forces begins to tell. The Earth forces enact their exfiltration plan, departing in haste but with no casualties--and their objective achieved. Debriefing, they report on the circumstances, and a plan to take out the weapons is hatched. A simultaneous strike on all the weapons is called for, and motion to make it happen begins.

The Paladins proceed to their assigned locations and summon their Lions to them. Their unity of purpose allows for the summons to be answered--save for the red Lion, which does not heed Lance before he and Veronica come under Galra attack. Four of the Paladins enter their Lions, and the attack begins--but Lance is taken out of the fight before it can do so.

Convenient.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
He wakes in pain and finds his sister injured. They are still under fire, however, and Lance fights valiantly. The Red Lion belatedly answers his summons, saving him and his sister. So armed, they add themselves to the attack, and the operation proceeds as planned. Battle is joined, although the Galra defenses are more powerful than expected. And the weapons launch, despite the efforts of the Paladins; it is clear that the Galra knew an assault was coming. What is less clear, though not for long, is that the commander of Earth's military is the one responsible for the Galra having that knowledge. Voltron is formed and an attack on Sendak begun as Sendak turns the weapons towards Voltron, forcibly disarticulating the robot.

Discussion

Something of the appeasement noted in the discussion of the previous episode appears to have happened in the present one. What effects it will have are speculative--but not likely to be better than those appeasement had in the audience's world.

Of more immediate moment to the work of the Society, perhaps, is the manner in which Shiro and Sendak more and more closely mirror one another--with Sendak being the darker reflection. The prosthesis Shiro receives in the present episode resembles Sendak's in overall outward form; rather than being a continuous physical object, it is composed of separate pieces joined together by energy, rather than matter. Sendak's remains brutish and belligerent, while Shiro's remains seemingly elegant, and the color schemes of the two push Shiro more obviously to the side of good. So does the fact that it is Shiro's right hand that is replaced (again); he is gifted with the work of others' hands, combining them in himself and so representing the whole in each of his actions. Given his death and return, it makes him something of a messianic figure, one laden also with medievalist parallels (Allura's attire when helping him with the new arm is reminiscent of the Lady of the Lake who awards Excalibur, for instance); he is more and more clearly the white knight who will ride to the rescue of all in the end.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.9, "Know Your Enemy"

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The full force of what has happened on Earth is made clear to the Paladins as they make what should have been a triumphant return to their homeworld.

7.9, "Know Your Enemy"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

Voltron approaches Earth at high speed, trying to make contact with resistance forces--and succeeding. They are warned off and informed of the current situation: Sendak's Galra forces occupy the planet and will leverage it against the Lions. The resistance interferes with Galra efforts to take the robot, and Pidge proposes a plot to make Earthfall covertly, using a seized Galra fighter craft.
It's a classic plan.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

It is a cramped flight in, and there is some tension as the fighter passes the Galra blockade of the planet, but entry is successful, if rough. In its wake, the Paladins, Coran, Romelle, and Cosmo look upon the war-stricken world in horror. Keith pushes them on through the devastation towards the resistance's headquarters, and Galra patrols espy them. They are evaded, in no small part thanks to Lance's marksmanship, but reinforcements attack. Fortunately, resistance forces counterattack, rescuing the Paladins and their companions and taking them back to the resistance's hold-out.

It appears formidable, indeed.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The impressive facility greets the Paladins and their companions. The Paladins mark the changes, and Pidge is overjoyed to be reunited with her parents. Lance is also greeted by his large family, and Hunk reflects on his own family before asking about them; they are not present. Shiro is returned to duty and presents his companions; greetings are exchanged, and Keith receives an apology from his former commander. Shiro also mas only moments to mourn his former lover before being called in for debriefing.

The Paladins are briefed on the straitened circumstances Earth faces. After some strained discussion, Allura asks to see the integration of Altean technology into Earth's defenses; the request is granted. The difficulties previously encountered are noted, and offers to address them are made. How to proceed is discussed, and surrendering the Lions is advanced. Allura reminds them that they have access to information about Sendak, and Pidge and Allura proceed on it as Corran works on the Earth's ship. Hunk rails against the situation in which he finds himself, and, to comfort him, Keith opens himself, as well, commending Hunk.

The two make to retrieve Hunk's family and are interdicted by two of the elite cadets as Pidge and Allura manage to pull up Sendak's information. His primary patterns of attack and occupation are pulled up, unsettling Allura. She ends up refining a new hand for Shiro.

Hunk and Keith's operation proceeds, with Hunk recalling time with his family. Contact with local resistors is made, and the status of the prisoners--inside forced-labor camps--is noted. Hunk sorrows, the more so when he sees his family imprisoned.

Discussion

The present episode calls back less to the medieval and more to the defining conflict of the 20th century: World War II. The Galra, with their insistence upon racial purity and propensity for enslaving populations, figure as the Axis; Earth figures as the Axis-occupied territories in both the European and Pacific theaters. The Paladins, then, figure as the late-entering Allied powers--chiefly the United States, corresponding to that country's propensity to present itself as having "won" the war despite other countries having endured it longer and suffered more greatly from it. There is clear resentment on the part of some resistors for the Paladins, whose work has been largely unknown and has not, to the understanding of local forces, incurred the same costs as their own. And there is some echo of appeasement practice, which did not work in World War II and is rejected as unworkable in the episode. At the same time, there is clear appreciation by no few resistors of the Paladins and the hope of salvation they represent. As such, there is no small amount of material to unpack from the episode--but it seems of much more recent vintage than that which this blog normally partakes.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.8, "The Last Stand, Part 2"

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Timelines return to union as Voltron heads to Earth and Legendary Defender continues.

7.8, "The Last Stand, Part 2"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Michael Chang

Synopsis

Not the most welcome guest...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Following from the previous episode, the Galra besiege Earth, led by Sendak. Resistance ensues, meager as it is against the Galra's military might and genocidal tendencies. There is argument about how best to discharge the military resistance, and that resistance fares poorly.

Sendak demands the surrender of the Voltron Lions. Sendak disbelieves the protestation that the Lions are not present and focuses attention on the military installation where Sam Holt has been at work, and another attempt at resistance begins (one calling back to the 1980s Voltron series). The second wave fares somewhat better than the first, the enhanced technology proving itself in live-fire combat. Sendak withdraws to attack civilian populations, and the situation worsens rapidly. And Sendak determines to settle in to wait for the Paladins to emerge.

This seems somehow familiar...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Sam offers comfort as he can, effectively taking command despite the objections of his superiors. Resistance remains possible, despite the horrors that have been perpetrated. Reports of the resistance's situation follow; they are not good. Attempts to retrieve supplies using a literal underground railroad begin--involving another team of five: the four superior cadets (James Griffin, Rizavi, Kinkaide, and Leifsdottir) and Veronica, assigned to command them.

The retrieval mission begins smoothly, with the group proceeding to a known supply depot quickly and operations going easily. Galra patrols are spotted in time, though, requiring action, and the Earth forces have trouble repelling the higher-technology invaders, exfiltrating under fire as more Galra arrive. Veronica is cut off from retreat, but the retrieval mission must go on.

The materials are delivered back to the remaining military installation--as is news of Veronica's loss. Sam reiterates his faith in the arrival of Voltron and exhorts the others to work on the further enhancement of technology--as the Galra continue their assault on Earth and its defensive capabilities while they enslave the human population to build their own military structure. The military's plan proceeds with difficulty--and Sam is summoned to see the returned Veronica, who reports on the situation of the outside world. A paramilitary resistance is at work against the Galra, as well, and efforts to coordinate begin. Veronica asks after her brother--the Paladin Lance--only to be told that no news has yet come. Efforts will continue, however raggedly, and a warning beacon for Voltron is launched. The beacon is released as a flurry of decoys, allowing for a warning to be passed to Voltron.

The situation remains dire, but hope persists that one final effort can be meaningfully made.
Hope springs eternal...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Discussion

There is something of an elegiac tone in the episode, as is the case with the earlier "Defender of All Universes." The earlier episode has something of the "Þæs ofereode; ðisses swa mæg" of "Deor" about it, and something like it is at work in the present episode; Sam Holt's optimism that Voltron will arrive and put things to rights, even amid admissions that things are bad, rings of it. And it works into messianic tropes, as well; they cannot be called specifically medieval/ist, of course, but they were certainly prevalent in medieval works. Repeated insistence that an ancient salvific power would emerge to vanquish evil is shows up throughout medieval corpora, with seemingly relevant examples in the Chanson de Roland and among the hagiographies, with others appearing in Dream of the Rood and elsewhere. Thus, as in previous episodes, there are evocations of the medieval/ist that become so more in context with the rest of the series than necessarily directly in themselves--but that makes them neither less valid nor less entertaining to seek and find.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.7, "The Last Stand, Part 1"

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The Paladins return home to find that home is not so homely.

7.7, "The Last Stand, Part 1"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

The Paladins make their approach to Earth. Pidge attempts to make contact with her father, finding only an automated message calling for help from Voltron against a Galra force that has besieged Earth.

No, it's not good.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Four years prior, when Sam Holt had returned to Earth, he had been subjected to testing and investigation by the Earth military before being allowed to see his wife, Colleen, and asked to report. Contact with the Paladins is restricted against the concern for Earth's safety. Sam's freedom is curtailed, as well.

Sam's report is presented to the higher military. There are some troubles accepting the report, given its nature and the audience, but it is given, nonetheless, recapping many of the events of the first several seasons of the series and integrating them into the broader context of events. Sam calls for fortification of Earth, which is rejected against a lack of specifics. Sam tries to make contact with Pidge and cannot. The decision is made to keep matters quiet--and to prepare some defenses. Work to that end is demonstrated as in progress, and the potential linchpins of that defense introduced.

Four bright and promising stars...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Work on Earth's defenses continues, assisted greatly by Sam's involvement. His experiences pay off as Earth builds its new fighters, and the four promising officers train. Attempts to contact Voltron also continue, albeit with less success throughout a passing year. but contact comes from Matt, who reports the disappearance of Voltron in the wake of the fight against Lotor. Matt warns him to stop broadcasting against the Galra's efforts to eradicate the allied forces.

Sam calls for an increase in efforts to defend Earth against the Galra, only to have his proposal rejected. Sam and Colleen reveal the truth to the world, imperiling themselves but successfully marshaling the world to the effort against the Galra--who arrive all too soon and begin laying siege to the planet.

Discussion

Given the long-standing Arthurian overtones present in the series, the parallel that suggests itself is Arthur's return to Logres after the abortive siege against Lancelot. In Malory, Arthur, having left Guinevere and Mordred to rule in his absence, is declared dead and his kingdom suborned; he returns to find it in disarray, havoc having been wrought through it. While the parallel is not exact, there is much the same at work in the present episode; the Paladins return to Earth to find what had been a peaceful place in disarray after having been wracked by hardship in their absence. The scale and scope are grander, of course, and the complications of the life left behind less unsavory--but that is not unexpected from what remains a program aimed at a younger United States audience. (Indeed, there are some motions toward dystopic tropes that seem calculated to resonate with such an audience; the military leader verges on an unhealthy despotism.) How matters will play out will be well worth seeing...

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.6, "The Journey Within"

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Matters seem to improve for the Paladins as they progress through the seventh season of Legendary Defender.

7.6, "The Journey Within"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

The Paladins, Coran, Romelle, and Cosmo continue their journey through space, strain clear upon them. Efforts led by Shiro and Pidge continue to try to make contact with others, unsuccessfully, and the estimated remaining time of travel becomes a contested issue--again. Shiro calls for calm, Keith for discipline, and Lance for a backhanded optimism.

You can just barely see them there...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
At length, the Lions enter a darker area of space. Shiro advances an idea for how to re-power the Lions, calling back to the fight against Zarkon. Allura expresses self-doubt, which Shiro sets aside. Emboldened, the Paladins are about to proceed when Pidge spots a strange phenomenon in and lightening of the surrounding darkness. The Lions are enveloped in a radiant energy field and seek unsuccessfully to flee it. They are rendered powerless and adrift once again, waking only later and in some confusion--with their companions frozen. And they are drifting apart.

Keith decides that keeping the group together is their priority; Allura moves to that end, joined by the others. Coordinated action is needed and begins--when the energy emerges again, knocking them further apart. They manage to come together in their persons--but far adrift and out of view from the Lions. Lance's backhanded optimism resumes.

Much easier to see than the Lions.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Some time passes with the Paladins adrift. Keith does what he can to keep the others focused and sharp as more lights appear--luminous space creatures, in the event. The Paladins make to follow--only to have the creatures vanish, calling the Paladins' sanity into question as their ordeal continues. Hunk voices reservations about his worth as a Paladin.Another energy envelops them, actively tearing them away from one another. Keith fights it, experiencing his own break; it was not real.

The isolation tells on them as it continues. Lance, somehow, remains the most optimistic as talk of fathers and old grievances emerges. Hunk works as a peacekeeper, with Keith acting out in anger as another light--a planet--appears. It seems to be Earth, and the Paladins rush toward it--until Hunk voices reservations and tries to stop the others, dispelling the illusion--evidently caused by a massive, hungry space creature.
This might not be in good taste...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The creature attacks, and the Paladins evade as they can. Hunk's manifestation of his weapon is questioned, and he puts it to good use; the extravagance of his display evokes its power. Their team identity is reaffirmed and apologies made for words spoken in anger. And with that, their powers return; the fight goes better for them in the wake thereof. The reactivation and return of the Lions helps, as well, and the re-formation of Voltron enables the Paladins to face another energy wave with aplomb.

After they pass through, their companions awaken--and they find themselves near the Sol system at last and proceed towards home.

Discussion

The idea of visions appearing to the Paladins as an artifact of encroaching insanity voiced in the episode harkens back, if somewhat obliquely and unhappily, to the dream-visions of "The Feud." There is thus a bit more than usual of the continuity of the series's medievalism in the present episode, which is to the good for the kind of work the Society does. After all, if the property will continue to do such a thing, it means that the work of identifying and explicating that medievalism can also continue, giving those of us on this side of things more to do. Working through such puzzles as sources and antecedents present is a source of joy in addition to aiding understanding of the continual construction and reinterpretation of cultural touchstones.

Something else medievalist evoked in the episode is the hellmouth, the gaping opening to the netherworld that appears in much medieval art--suggested in the episode by the maw of the gigantic, illusion-inducing space creature. The use of lures to deceive prey is a natural phenomenon--note the anglerfish--and one commonly deployed by people--as witness fishing tackle sales. But it is also something traditionally associated with medieval conceptions of the underworld; foul spirits seek to lure nobles to their doom through deceit. Indeed, the deliberately medievalist Faerie Queene presents such things assailing the Redcrosse Knight, and Arthurian knights in more traditionally Arthruain works get similar treatment. While there are other possible antecedents for the imagery, the fact of the medieval and medievalist predecessors for the presentation does help to secure the long-established medievalism of Voltron: Legendary Defender as a whole.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.5, "The Ruins"

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Effects of the Paladins' absence are explored as the seventh season of Legendary Defender continues.

7.5, "The Ruins"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Michael Chang

Synopsis

The Lions continue through the cosmos, evidently on autopilot as their pilots and passengers--save for Keith and Krolia--sleep until Keith calls them to wakefulness. He asserts that they cannot allow themselves to lose their edge along their journey and begins battle drills with them. They do not go well, with even Keith falling in it. Krolia notes that the simulation was designed to be unbeatable; the rigged test does not please the Paladins.

He seems to be enjoying himself.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Hunk practices his culinary work, preparing food for the others and sending it via the teleporting wolf. Keith rejects naming the wolf as the others agree to call is Cosmo, and there is some commotion as Hunk explains how he made the food he's served. Amid the meal, though, Pidge picks up a signal, finding it to be a broadcast sitcom. The others, save Coran, are not amused. Hunk hears interferences, which Pidge isolates and Krolia identifies as a Blade of Marmora distress signal. The Paladins move to investigate.

It's never a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As they do, they find ruins but no life signs. The ruins, though, show the result of battle--and there are watchers. Cosmo confronts one such, followed by the Paladins; they take the watcher and question him amid decay. The source of the message is revealed to be on site, and the watcher reveals that the Paladins are thought dead. There is something of a memorial to the Blades of Marmora who fell in battle, and the watcher relates the sequence of events that followed Voltron's disappearance. Galra civil war had allowed Haggar's druids to fight the Blade; a final stand was called for, and the druids attacked in force, taking them at great cost. The watcher's people were slaughtered, as well, and the watcher alone survived. Krolia knows the fallen, including the Blades' leader--but there is suggestion that the leader yet lives.

The watcher reveals himself as one of the druids, using the Blades' base to draw other Blades in and kill them. A trap takes all but Keith, whom Cosmo teleports away. A cat-and-mouse game with the Druid ensues, interspersed with melee between the two. As they fight, Allura's own power begins to work against the Druid's trap, and Keith comes upon the Blade's leader. The Druid's motivation is clear--revenge and return from exile to Haggar--and melee is joined again.

This is usually a better sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Allura frees the others, taking the power from the Druid's trap into herself at some cost and discharging it to move to Keith's aid. Battle is joined and the Blade's leader freed, in the end, by Keith alone.

After, they regroup and learn that the Blade is gone, save for a very few. Krolia returns to the Blade, leaving the Paladins in favor of rebuilding the group. Her parting from Keith is bitter, but necessary. They promise to see one another again, and the Paladins depart.

Discussion

The present episode follows on the exploration begun in earnest in "The Way Forward," doing more to plumb the effects on the universe of the Paladins departure and what they will face as they return. It additionally presents something not unlike the Christianization narratives of the earlier European medieval. In such narratives, there are pockets or holdouts of pagan practice against which knightly forces array themselves in an explicit effort to eradicate the earlier forms of worship. The connection of Haggar's Druids to their medievalist antecedents has already been discussed, as has the connection of the Paladins to medievalist Christian knighthood. (That neither is an "accurate" representation, although both accord with popular conception, has also been addressed.) For the Paladins to fight against a hold-out Druid, then, smacks of some of the less fortunate parts of the medieval, in which perceived-as-always-evil indigenous practices are fought against by outside forces with a different, "good" orientation--and that matters are cast in such a light also speaks to ongoing legacies of medieval European belief that have unfortunate resonances with their own contemporary cultural contexts.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.4, "The Feud!"

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A surreal experience punctuates the ongoing seventh season of Legendary Defender, offering strange retrospectives of the series so far.

7.4, "The Feud!"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

Strange that this would be a common cultural reference...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The episode opens as if a game show, complete with recording irregularities. The Paladins find themselves playing upon it--to their confusion. They appear to have been dislocated from their previous experience, and their progress through the show explicates their circumstances. Keith purposes to leave, and the Paladins find themselves made captive to the suddenly sinister show host.

The contests begin, following  what the audience is likely to recognize as familiar formats, and the Paladins do reasonably well. And they find themselves in opposition to Galra forces they had thought destroyed. The latter are introduced strangely, entirely out of character with their earlier actions--but befitting a game show. Play proceeds, with more recording irregularities showing up.

It is a disturbing disjunction.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
After a strange in-show commercial, Lance is singled out for continued play. It does not go well; Lance is evidently bad with names. The stakes are increased for him, as well, and Lance actually manages to score before the Galra are sent away.

Play continues, still focused on Lance, with still-high stakes. He stumbles into some degree of success, but not enough, and another in-show commercial punctuates the action.

As play resumes, Allura pleads for release but is denied. Pidge is called up to play. As she does, more recording irregularities show up, and she attacks the sinister host, prompting them being called into a choice of who to release in favor of the other four. In the event, each of the Paladins receives a vote for release, with reasoning revealing much about their mutual regard. That all vote for another to leave receives comment--and the Paladins are released before the show is turned off.

Quite the change of setting.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
After it is, the Paladins are revealed to be adrift in space. Hunk wakes from what he perceives as a strange dream--one that is revealed to be shared among all the Paladins. Coran confirms that their sinister host is something of a legendary god-figure, one who judges warriors' worthiness. None of the Paladins look kindly on the experience they had, however.

Another recording irregularity evidences itself, turning to Luxia's kingdom and presenting it as a vacation destination in disturbing game-show fashion as the episode ends.

Discussion

The episode plays with narrative reality, partaking of the "it was only a dream" trope that tends to annoy modern readers but forms a significant portion of medieval literature--and some of the most prominent works thereof--as dream visions. Described by Chris Healy of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as "medieval sci-fi" (which seems particularly apt in the current context), dream vision allows for manipulation of norms with less threat of potential censure; after all, dreams are strange, as all who have them know. And such tend to inform much of the conception of medieval literature, if the persistence of such works as Dream of the Rood and Pearl are to be believed. The knights of the Round Table, after whom the Paladins of Voltron follow, also experience no few dream visions; Malory's depiction of Lancelot's on the Grail Quest come to mind as convenient examples, as does Arthur's in the Alliterative Morte Arthure. (Indeed, Lancelot's dream vision highlights his faults--not unlike Lance's in the episode.)

For the episode to treat in dream vision, then, when the series does so much to invoke and evoke the medieval, reads not so much as a narrative cop-out, as dream-work often does, or as a non-canonical aside, but a callback to perhaps less recognizable medieval antecedents that are not the less valuable for being less familiar. They enrich, rather than detract from, the episode.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.3, "The Way Forward"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

Things grow darker around the Paladins as the seventh season continues.

7.3, "The Way Forward"

Written by Mark Bermesderfer
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

The Lions are held in a Galra ship, de-powered and under guard, with their pilots imprisoned, along with Romelle and Krolia. Lance unsuccessfully seeks a way out of captivity as Krolia plots more effectively. Coran's fate is uncertain, offering some small hope.
Very small.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

For his own part, Coran struggles against inadvertent imprisonment, meeting with limited success but cheering himself before being startled by the Castle mice. They effect the escape he seeks and release him, in turn--along with the teleporting wolf, which is injured. They progress usefully, clearing a way for Coran to make his own exit from the hold where the Lions are held, clad in the uniform of one of the Galra guards.
It's not a bad look for him.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.


Zethrid confers with Ezor, who is worried that Lotor yet lives and will pursue them. Zethrid makes to comfort her, reminding her of their accomplishments to date. Ezor then determines to torture the prisoners.

Coran continues his escape attempt. It does not go well for him. At all. Acxa's intervention saves him. Meanwhile, the Paladins are confronted by Ezor and Zethrid, who have questions about Lotor's disappearance and their own absence. Coran and Axca proceed, with Coran questioning Axca's motivations and noting the situation. Plans are determined and begin to be enacted as the questioning continues. Lance tries to intercede, albeit unsuccessfully. And the Galra become aware of Axca's actions, requiring her to defend herself.
She seems to be doing it well.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.


Coran's own adventures go less well than Axca's, but they offer a useful cover for the mice to make their way forward. Acxa's plans begin to bear fruit, and Ezor and Zethrid leave off their questioning to see to it. The Paladins are subsequently rescued by the mice, who report events to Allura. Exflitration ensues, albeit with some difficulty, and Acxa faces her erstwhile comrades. Keith deputizes Lance to lead and makes to retrieve her; the rest make for their space-borne Lions, doing so under fire as Axca's fight continues, assisted by Keith. A desperate escape plan follows, and Keith and Axca are retrieved.

In the wake of their escape, the Paladins rest on a bleak planet and confer about their diminished status. They find that much more time has passed than they had realized; the universe believes Voltron has been gone, and the Galra have been fractured. Axca expresses contrition for her misdeeds and pledges herself to help Voltron's allies amid the tumult that has surely reigned.

Discussion

If the Arthurian themes that have announced themselves throughout the series are to be followed in the present episode--and there seems to be something of the "did not die, but went into another place" at work--then the current situation seems to be an imagining of Britain after the fall of Arthur. The prophesied legend gone after briefly holding back a period of chaos following imperial rule seems to describe both the presumable aftermath of the legend and the previous seasons of the series, making the current episode something of an interesting bit of medievalist work. Many such works assume a medieval stasis (a term I borrow from TV Tropes, and it fits); Tolkien's works have their heroes in mail and wielding swords across millennia and more, and the many derivatives do much the same. Robin Hobb's Elderlings corpus does, as well, although it does at least work with the idea that technological development is not uniform and shows some developments as the works progress. And Legendary Defender is not immune; the few scenes depicting the pre-Empire Galra show technology not less advanced than what they wield in the main series.

Part of the prevailing medieval stasis inheres in not looking at the medieval/ist that would follow the medieval works being adapted and appropriated. Not much is said about what follows the return of the king (and even Tolkien's appendices are light compared to the rest of the corpus). The current episode suggests a subversion of that--and one very much in line with what is seen of medieval literary practices, which often read as a series of tagged-on "And then he [and it's almost always a he, unfortunately] did this." We are getting to see some of the fallout of the heroic exertions from previous seasons, which is a good thing. Looking at what comes next promises to be worth doing.