Thursday, January 17, 2019

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 8.5, "The Grudge"

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More plotlines resolve as the series continues towards its ending.

8.5, "The Grudge"

Written by Rocco Pucillo
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

She's a fine ship, she is.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The Atlas continues her journey through the cosmos at seeming ease, and her crew confer as they exercise aboard her. In the background, Axca performs her own calisthenics. When she answers a question put to her, it marks her distance from her crewmates.

Soon enough, the Atlas answers a communication from the Paladins that reports the previous episode's exploits and the intelligence acquired. They appear to have identified Oriande as Honerva's base and arrange to rendezvous with the Atlas to confer and regroup.

Seems a strange place for a meet-up.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As the Atlas proceeds, her crew continues to try to integrate Axca. She answers the questions posed to her tersely, and cultural differences emerge as points of tension. More information arrives from the Paladins reporting that they are delayed--even though they make planetfall at the location they had expected to find. It is a trap, and it springs hard upon the Paladins, sending them fleeing in inhospitable conditions. Their pursuers are soon revealed to be led by Zethrid.

Aboard the waiting Atlas, Axca continues to train, and Veronica continues to try to integrate her into the rest of the crew. Axca is resistant, but Veronica persists. Meanwhile, pursuit of the Paladins continues, with Keith acting as a distraction so that the others can proceed; Lance proves a useful guide as the hunt persists and until the Paladins are separated further.

Recognition dawns upon them...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
At length, the Atlas crew recognizes that something is amiss and moves to assist.

Keith continues to lead some of his pursuers away from his comrades, while another pursuer persists in following Pidge to enact revenge for an earlier defeat. With Hunk, she manages to restrain their pursuers and makes to return to the Lions. Lance and Allura also encounter their pursuers, Allura using her abilities to defeat their pursuit in time to see the Atlas arrive and disable the pursuers' ship. Keith's pursuers persist, however, and Zethrid corners him at the precipice of a volcano. She rages at him for having taken Ezor and beats him badly before Axca confronts her and Kinkade subdues her. Keith saves her from a fiery death, and she is reunited with Ezor.

Discussion

Much has been made of the association between the Paladin Lance and the Arthurian Lancelot. Less noted (but still remarked upon) has been the association between Lance and the Arthurian Kay the Seneschal. I've opined about Kay's presence in Malory in another place; in summary, Kay holds a privileged position in which he does occasionally do some good but more frequently offers boasts he cannot match--and that those around him know he cannot often match. While Lance is not abusive with his position as Kay is--and Kay is decidedly abusive with his position--he does work very much to instantiate forms of bullshit recognized by scholars (namely Frankfurt); he works to foster an impression of himself not necessarily consonant with reality. The present episode speaks to the other characters' knowledge that he comports himself in such ways--which is also a common point between Lance and Kay.  It is a small medievalism, to be sure, but one that adds usefully to understanding how Voltron: Legendary Defender carries forward what it has inherited from the medieval European and other places, aiding in understanding how the medieval continues to matter.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 8.4, "Battle Scars"

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The costs of combat continue to confront the Paladins as Voltron: Legendary Defender presses on.

8.4, "Battle Scars"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Michael Chang

Synopsis

I'd be scared.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
One of Honerva's Robeasts makes planetfall on the Alcari homeworld. Panic understandably ensues as the Robeast wreaks havoc.

Elsewhere, the Paladins confer about their circumstances. After some strain, they determine to put in with the Alcari for rest and aid. Pidge, in particular, is eager for the chance to reconnect with the technical wizards, and calls ahead--though no reply is forthcoming, which occasions some concern.

It is a matter of no small concern.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The Paladins proceed, rushing on to find the planet ruined and a weblum on approach. They move on the planet themselves, rushing ahead to find the desolate wasteland the planet has become; its cities are broken, all life drained from it. They look for survivors, hoping to evacuate some from the path of the weblum; there are none, all life reduced to dust in the wind, its vital energy drained. And the Paladins posit reasons for the attack to little avail.

Pidge is stunned by what she finds and reclaims her mental connection to the Alcari in the extremity of her sadness. She sees visions of what had happened, and she begins to follow them. The other Paladins attempt to delay the weblum while she does so; the progress of the attack plays out before her eyes in painful, terrifying detail. The Alcari attempted to defend themselves without success; they are able to evacuate some of their population and send a copy of their data to another site, but only a few scattered remnants of them remain, and none on their homeworld, after the Robeast saps the planet's energy. And Pidge learns that the Robeast is using wormholes to travel, which accounts for much of what they have seen in other places.

You thought your service was bad...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The attempt to delay the weblum goes poorly, even after Allura joins it. A call for aid has no effective result, transmission interrupted by local conditions. But Pidge is able to witness the end of the Alcari homeworld and the purpose of the Robeast's attack: retrieval of Alcari technology. At the last moment, she evacuates the planet, and the Paladins together watch the world be taken by the weblum. They mourn its passing--and they report what they have found of Honerva's machinations.

Discussion

The tone of the episode is deeply elegiac, even more so than earlier episodes of the series that have been mournful in their thrust. Those go back even as far as the first season of the series (here), popping up with more and less effect later (here, here, and here). The comments on those earleir episodes about the manifestation of such concepts as Þæs ofereode; ðisses swa mæg therefore apply to the present episode in like measure. Given the more overtly philosophical content of the episode--Pidge's vision reveals the Alcari leader speaking to a child about the need of the old to give way to the new, something repeated by the Paladin later in the episode--they apply perhaps more fully; the Alcari whose world is taken are to be mourned, certainly, but a remnant of their people and much of their knowledge remain. They, and the Paladins who are strangely witnesses to their final days, look forward to brighter times and endurance amid the changes of the world--a stable ship upon the rough seas of life, to draw close to another bit of Anglo-Saxon verse. One has to wonder about the possibility of foreshadowing in the episodes to come...

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 8.3, "The Prisoner's Dilemma"

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Past deeds come back to haunt the Paladins as the eighth season of Legendary Defender continues.

8.3, "The Prisoner's Dilemma"

Written by Erik Bogh
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

You'd think they'd know better.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
A Galra facility comes under assault; it responds as it is able, but, as it is fighting against the Voltron Coalition, it cannot do much, and it is soon taken. Casualties and collateral damage are minimal; the victory is overwhelming. In its wake, Coalition forces tend to the wounded, and the facility's commander is revealed to be an officer with whom Voltron had worked before--Lan, who is now embittered by circumstance. Evidently, as Sendak raged while Voltron was away, he and his suffered from the internal Galra conflict.

One of many less-than-good things to see...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
An arriving distress signal interrupts the tense discussion. Lan accompanies the Paladins as they go to investigate; the signal is coming from one of Lan's ships. They had been dispatched to salvage weapons from another base; they seem not to have fared well in that task, as Voltron finds the ships in fragments. No life signs are forthcoming, and only one ship remains reasonably intact. The distress signal is automated, and recovery operations begin.

Another such thing...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The ship is ruined inside as the rest are outside. No Galra survive as the Paladins and Lan reconnoiter, and Lan rages against his circumstances to Allura. Hunk and Lance come across the agent of destruction, a bio-engineered superweapon programmed to destroy Galra; it passes them by as it continues its own crusade against the Galra. Keith recalls it, and a fight against it ensues. With difficulty and the emergence of new abilities from Keith's bayard, the weapon is defeated.

The Paladins return to Lan's base, and Lan joins the Coalition. New intelligence suggests that other threats are present and need investigation; Shiro demurs against the stated mission of the Atlas. Keith proposes splitting up to handle the expanded mission--and Hagar continues her own work, sending out more Altean-driven Robeasts to enact her will.

Discussion

It is good that the series is working to address plot points raised in earlier seasons as it draws towards its declared end; while it is to be expected that some threads will not be tied off, each such knot makes for a more durable tapestry. So to see the unintended consequences of earlier actions play out is welcome.

Indeed, such seems to be the dominant thread of the episode, that actions have ramifications that may not be able to be perceived in the moments they are taken. There is ample precedent for it, including among the medieval works that underpin much of what happens in Legendary Defender. Arthuriana offers examples thereof; the conception of Mordred is one. As Malory has it, Margawse takes Arthur, who is unaware that she is his half-sister, into her bed, where he sires Mordred. He commits incest without knowing it, leading ultimately to the downfall of his kingdom of Logres. The unintended consequences of Keith's earlier actions do not lead to the Paladins' downfall, to be sure, but they do wreak ruin that he had not foreseen and for which he has to imperil himself to atone. It is a knightly thing, to be sure, and its occurrence helps tie a loose thread into the warp and weft of the medievalist tapestry that is Voltron: Legendary Defender.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 8.2, "Shadows"

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As the final season of Legendary Defender moves forward, a look back at events seems in order--and the present episode offers just that.

8.2, "Shadows"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

She's seen a lot. It hasn't all been good.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
In an obvious flashback, Acxa attacks Honerva to defend Lotor; she escapes, sending Galra forces out into the cosmos. Her own forces press on, searching for Lotor; it is clear that the memories upon which she reflects are disjointed in time. They and a lack of news of Lotor overwhelm her as she comes across the physical remnants of Lotor's last fight with Voltron and reflects on her long past with Zarkon and Lotor. She rails against the druids and the fracturing Galra empire, bending to the purpose of reclaiming her son as her history becomes clearer.

It does not appear a good time is being had by all.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The commander she had sent out is returned to her, albeit in poor condition. Exercising her powers, she interrogates him, plumbing him for information about Lotor. His answers displease her, and she kills him before summoning a kral zera. Another flashback explicates the manner in which she killed the commander, an exercise of power that literally sucks the life out of those upon whom it is turned and akin to a planet-killing ritual she performs. Yet another leads to her being delivered of Lotor, away from whom her then-ruined-minded self turns, and the following discussion with Zarkon.

The kral zera ensues, with the usual posturing and fighting. Honerva appears, declares herself and her hatred of the Galra, and destroys those there gathered to the last and least, consuming them.

Honerva recalls a further break from Lotor occasioned by Zarkon, and returns to the site of his death, making one last attempt to retrieve him. His latter days are revealed to her, and she reflects on one of the few points of connection she was able to make with Lotor, though it was no pleasant thing for her.

There would seem to be more where that came from...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Soon after, she arrives at the Altean colony Lotor had established, where she assumes control of it in her son's name. She soon converts it into a cult bent on eliminating Voltron and working her will: the resurrection of Lotor. They travel to Oriande to begin effecting that plan, with Honerva using what she finds there to construct the kinds of robeast that assailed Voltron on Earth. She also reflects on one of the points when Lotor's efforts to work peacefully were undone by Zarkon's orders, a point where he had been soured by the constraints of Galra society and where she had had to help sour him. And she sends our the first of her new robeasts to destroy Voltron.

Discussion

The present episode emerges from several earlier episodes, perhaps most notably "White Lion," "Omega Shield" and "The Colony." The earlier episodes make clear that Honerva seeks what Oriande offers; what is less clear then is what Honerva takes with her, which the present episode clarifies. The last makes much of Lotor's messianic persona and Honerva's somewhat frustrated desire to support him. The two tendencies combine in the present episode to make a darkly medievalist gesture; Honerva becomes a twistedly Marian devotional focus, co-opting an already-present cultish structure based on her motherhood and bestowing upon her most devout followers power and puissance deriving from clearly supernatural sources. In some senses, she has touched heaven, and she did bear someone perceived as a savior to an outcast people who might well be called chosen, so there is some resonance with a not often appropriated medieval trope--though, as with much else, that appropriation is made unpleasant, indeed.

That the series as a whole makes use of medieval and medievalist tropes, and that it does so for both protagonists and antagonists, is of interest. The idea embedded therein is different than the commonplace invocations of the medieval by current media, which tend to be either inaccurately nostalgic for a time that was somehow better and more pure (with "pure" being a decidedly fraught term, as is amply attested by a series of articles on The Public Medievalist and elsewhere) or inaccurately condemnatory of practices more modern thinkers like to believe they do not also share--or exceed in barbarity. The invocations remain simplified and adapted, of course, but that they are both to the good and the bad at least gestures towards an understanding of the medieval as a complex, nuanced time, one in which people fit into types no more (or less) than now, and which has something to say to later audiences, even if filtered through many lenses or added onto many times. And that is better than many "more adult" properties that claim to be "really" or "based on the real" medieval, to be sure.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 8.1, "Launch Date"

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The final season of Legendary Defender begins with a bit of relief--and some developments that seem to have been long in coming.

8.1, "Launch Date"

Written by Lauren Montgomery
Directed by Michael Chang

Synopsis

It is a bit meta, isn't it?
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Following up on the events of the previous season (and with an interesting call-back to earlier versions of the series), the episode opens with Pidge watching a television send-up of Voltron's adventures. Meanwhile, the Altean who had been piloting the robeast that landed on Earth continues to convalesce, with Allura and Romelle considering her condition and circumstances. Romelle tries to puzzle out what went wrong with her erstwhile friend. Additionally, Hunk and his family see to the supply of the Atlas in preparation for its journey into space to continue the fight against the Galra threat. He moves to console Lance, who has not been able to make sincere romantic overtures towards Allura, and pushes the Red Lion's Paladin to pursue her.

After, a meeting sees Shiro give a speech summarizing their current circumstances and situation. Reports are made and accepted. Keith voices the urgency of their mission, and Shiro authorizes an evening off in preparation for it. Lance manages to ask Allura out, albeit with some prompting from Hunk. Romelle encourages her to accept, and she does. The two Alteans enlist Pidge to help Allura dress for the date; negotiations with her mother allow it to happen.

It is as silly as it looks.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The captured Altean wakes as Romelle, Allura, Pidge, Nadia, and Ina proceed to shop for clothing. They find at first that they need trade goods to do so, but Pidge's fame is soon enlisted to secure most of what they need. There are limits to what it can do, however, and Pidge relinquishes a prized acquisition in favor of Allura's clothes.

At the same time, Lance confers with Coran regarding the date. Coran stands in loco parentis for her and harangues Lance. And Lance seeks out Keith for counsel about Allura. Although they do exchange barbs, they seem to hold one another in esteem and bond over the discussion.

Allura arrives at Lance's home for their date, a dinner with his family. Introductions are made, and dinner proceeds pleasant, replete with ribbing Lance. Allura is reminded of her own loss of family. After, she and Lance walk together, talking; Allura restores a park about which Lance waxes poetic before confessing his love to her. She responds in kind, the two sharing a kiss at long last.

It's not a face to look forward to.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Meanwhile, Romelle is enlisted to speak with the captured Altean, whom she knew before escaping from Lotor's machinations. She reacts badly to it, raging against Romelle for what she perceives as perfidy before Honerva, whom she reports is involved, kills her from afar.

Allura returns from her date to find a pensive Coran and Romelle waiting for her. They confer with Shiro about events and the resurgence of Honerva, but the mission on the Atlas proceeds as intended, the mighty ship bearing the Paladins back out into the cosmos to conclude their battles.

Discussion

The present episode is another that is minimally medievalist. That is, the common elements of the series that have long been medieval remain so, but little if any of the medieval is added by events in the present episode. The promises of the previous episode seem to be on their way to fulfillment, perhaps, with Haggar/Honerva clearly returning, so there may be some more medievalism to find or some reinforcement of it in the coming episodes.

And there seems to be potential for the culmination of another thread. That Lance stands in for Lancelot in many ways has been made clear. Although she does not hold the formal title, Allura may as well be queen of the Alteans--and the present episode suggests that social concerns will mean Lance and Allura are not looking at a long-term relationship. How Lance mimics or corrects his namesake's actions, if he does, will bear some attention, to be certain.

So will how the final season of Legendary Defender manifests the medieval, generally.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Few Comments about Medievalism in the Non-Medievalist Classroom

've noted elsewhere that my continued engagement in academe is chiefly through the Tales after Tolkien Society, a few other memberships in scholarly organizations, and teaching at a for-profit university. I've also noted that, in the teaching I've done at for-profit and non-profit schools, technical colleges and Big 12 universities and small liberal arts schools, I've rarely been assigned to teach courses with explicit expectations of medieval content. Consequently, I've had to think of ways to incorporate my own work into what I offer my students, and I've had some success; if I may be forgiven a bit of self-promotion, my comments on the matter are available here. But there are some others I might add to them, given recent experiences teaching in the for-profit school; I have hardly exhausted the topic.
The recent experience suggests to me that some of my ideas continue to work in the different environment than existed for me when I wrote the chapter. I am, for example, still apt to use Æ, Ð, and Þ in examples, rather than X, Y, and Z, and I still work to make use of the medieval and medievalist when I put together examples of student work, whether the "major" papers asked for by their assignment sequences or the discussion posts that are the focus of the online and hybrid instruction I am paid to offer. (The medievalist is more common as it takes less explaining to make make sense to students not necessarily well steeped in the medieval--which is a concern with eight-week instructional sessions devoted to non-traditional students who are working full-time jobs for the most part and taught by an instructor who has a different full-time job. The academic expatriate life is real.) But such are only surface issues, amusing me, perhaps, and making my job easier, but not necessarily making it work better for my students.
I am, unfortunately, constrained in my current teaching by institutional demands. As noted, the term is only eight weeks long, and I see students once each week--if that often. As such, there's not much time to work even on the core materials, let alone to supplement them with works five hundred years old and more and that require explication--though I do still trot out some of my more...entertaining Kalamazoo papers for them. And my assignments are rigidly structured by centralized dictate, so I've not got much flexibility in choosing texts or approaches. I have, at times, developed supplements to the course structure, alternatives that fit institutional demands, but students avoid them time and again in favor of the worn-out standard topics that just so happen to have cheating materials readily available to get around the demands of doing the work the class expects. Making them more overtly medievalist is a thing I could do, certainly, but given how little interest students have shown in the other topics I've offered, I'm doubtful as to whether it would do them or me any good for me to do so.
I offer this post not to complain; I am aware that I am in a reasonably decent position, even for one who's not an academic expatriate. Indeed, I adjunct along something not unlike the traditional model for adjuncting--someone pursuing it as a side-venture and more or less for the love of it--rather than the hyper-exploitative horror it readily became. Instead, I offer it because I know I am not alone in facing such challenges, and I had the thought that others might well have insights I do not--and the hope that sharing them would suggest itself as a thing worth doing.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

A Few Comments about a Medievalist Trope: Mead

𝔒n 28 November 2018, Fred Minnick's "Mead: The Return of the Sweet, Ancient Flavor" appeared in the online version of Forbes magazine. In the article, Minnick comments at some length on the resurgence of mead's popularity and focuses on an interview with Jason Phelps of Ancient Fire Mead & Cider. A too-brief gloss of mead's millennia-long history leads into the interview. The interview itself notes reasons for the association of mead with the current craft-brewing movement before explaining what mead is and allowing Phelps to explain his own preferences. Celebrity influences on mead-making are noted, as are entries for drinkers and makers of mead into doing so. A basic recipe for a variety of mead is presented, and final comments on the value of honey for mead-making are offered.
That such a piece would attract some attention for a member of the Society is eminently sensible, of course. Mead is a staple of medievalist works, ranging from the Game of Thrones that Minnick mentions through Katherine Kerr's Deverry novels to invocations of Norse myth in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Tolkien and further afield. It is also a frequent attraction at the International Congress on Medieval Studies where the Society meets, courtesy of the Medieval Brewers's Guild and others. Too, meads themselves make much of their medieval association, as witness such brands as Chaucer's from California; the Thorin's Viking and Knightly Meads made in Marble Falls, Texas; several varieties produced by the Texas Mead Works in Seguin, Texas; and the many varieties of Dansk Mjød--among many others. For an article in a publication normally far removed from the medievalist--Forbes is not noted for its engagement with the deeper past, in keeping with its business orientation--to treat it is therefore welcome and deserving of the Society's attention.
There is another point of interest, aside from the medievalism in a prominent business publication in itself. Minnick makes repeated reference to the Vikings in situating mead as a largely medieval drink. (It is not necessarily so, but that is an argument to be made in another place and time.) That he does so seems to betray a common point of understanding not unlike what Paul Sturtevant observes in The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination (reviewed excellently by Shiloh Carroll here and elsewhere by me) and which Society Founder Helen Young observes in this very webspace (here and elsewhere). Ideas about the medieval are shaped by popular media (in part due to the longstanding association of medievalist works with those intended and appropriate for children), and, for whatever reason (likely the inherent violence and the association of the conquering, raiding, "brave warrior" spirit with cultural conceits in the United States, to which much media responds), Vikings figure prominently in prevailing concepts of the medieval. For Viking to be a shorthand for medieval is not a surprise, though there is much, much more to the medieval than the raiding Norse; while it is good to see the medieval appear in a prominent publication, it is a shame that more richness is not associated with it therein.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Few Comments Inspired by Voltron: Legendary Defender

𝔗here are a few points at which events in Voltron: Legendary Defender seem to be iterations of deus ex machina, a sudden and un-looked-for occurrence of salvation without any real preamble. The humanoid form of the Atlas that emerges in "Lion's Pride, Part 2" is but one example; the far earlier revelation of Allura's special princess powers is another. Others pervade the series, and there is some justification for reading each as a kind of narrative dodge; the device is often used as a means to extricate writers from plot holes of their own making, and it is justly decried in such circumstances. Too, since it occurs in what is, ultimately, a children's program (though one with significant nostalgia value for older viewers), Voltron: Legendary Defender does suffer from some perception that narrative cohesion does not matter for it; kids don't care about that kind of thing, or so perception commonly (and not entirely accurately) holds.
However.
While there may be some truth to such readings, if Voltron: Legendary Defender is viewed as a piece of medievalist fiction, there is some justification for the prevalent deus ex machina in the series. Frankly, medieval chivalric literature makes much use of such devices; for the series to do so, then, becomes an iteration of the medieval within it. And while that may still make for some occasional annoyance for a twenty-first century audience, it does help to keep the series consonant with its medieval predecessors.
For one example, consider Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Considered by no few scholars to be the finest piece of Arthurian romance,1 its narrative action hinges on the occurrence of unexpected events. Early on, the text notes explicitly that the milieu in which it exists relies upon them, noting famously that Arthur would not eat at feast until some wonder happened.2 That is, feasts do not even begin--because eating before the king is a grievous breach of protocol and an insult like to be avenged with violence--until some (somewhat) unlooked-for occurrence comes about. The narrative milieu in which SGGK exists relies on the deus ex machina, which the narrative provides repeatedly, both in the entrance of the eponymous Green Knight and in many of the actions that follow.
The same is true for the more notable Arthurian work, Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, certainly. One of the better-known passages in the work offers an easy example. In Chalmers's influential 1816 edition of Malory,3 for instance, the sword in the stone that is used to assess the worthiness of a claim to England's kingship is a revelation ascribed to a merciful miracle from Jesus (even as it is more likely the machination of Merlin).4 Given the context, in which magic is real and Merlin is a known magician, it may not ring as being as much deus ex machina as might otherwise be the case, but it still smacks of being awfully convenient that such a thing just happens to be present at the exact moment it is needed--much like the emergence of Allura's powers or the Atlas in Legendary Defender.
And, to be fair, there is some similar antecedent or potential antecedent in the series for the sudden emergence of powers. Allura is the daughter of a long-dead alchemist king, on preserved for millennia by strange technologies that ring of the mystical; she inherits and more or less marinates in magic, so it is not a surprise that it would manifest in her in seemingly strange ways at times. Shiro, whose efforts awaken the Atlas, has been dead; it is to be expected that crossing back and forth between life and death would make for some strange abilities, especially since others known to have done so in the series--Zarkon and Haggar/Honerva--also exhibit such. The things in the series that suddenly emerge and evidently jar may not be quite so ex nihilo as they might otherwise seem.
Perhaps, then, there is not so much to decry in the series as might be thought. Even if the strangeness that emerges is strange, it is at least strange in a way that aligns with the medieval and medievalist works to which the series connects. And if the oddities are not so odd, still connect to the series' forebears, and that is something worth consideration.

-Geoffrey B. Elliott

Notes
1. Thomas J. Garbáty, Medieval English Literature (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 1997), 254-55; Jennifer R. Goodman, The Legend of Arthur in British and American Literature (Boston: Twayne, 1988), 44-45; James J. Wilhelm, The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation (New York: Garland, 1994), 399; James Winny, introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. and trans. Winny (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2005), vii, x.

2. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. and trans. Winny (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2005), ll. 85-106.

3. Barry Gaines, Sir Thomas Malory: An Anecdotal Bibliography of Editions, 1485-1985 (New York: AMS Press, 1990), 13-14.

4. Thomas Malory, The History of the Renowned Prince Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, vol. 1, ed. Alexander Chalmers (London: J. Walker, 1816), 7.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.13, "Lion's Pride, Part 2"

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As the seventh season of Legendary Defender closes, the Earth's forces put much to rights--but a new wrong appears that looks like it will need solving.

7.13, "Lion's Pride, Part 2"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

The fireball at the end of the previous episode continues to fall, and the Paladins look at it agog. They recognize it as an imminent threat and brace themselves against it; it soon reveals itself to be a Galra Robeast, and it attacks.

This day just keeps getting better...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The Paladins scramble for cover against the sudden onslaught, and initial counter-attacks fail. Shiro is returned to the Atlas, and battle against the Robeast continues, going poorly for the Paladins as they attack individually. Keith marshals them together, and the Atlas intervenes, as well, faring less than well as Shiro staggers back to duty.

Voltron is formed as the Atlas tries to interdict the Robeast, its success limited. Voltron returns, and combat is rejoined. The Lions themselves call forth new weapons in the fight, which helps, but not for long.

...and better...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.


The other Earth forces rally to Voltron's aid. The cadet pilots have minimal effect, but the Green Lion's enhanced capabilities offer a bit of room to regroup. Only a bit, in the event; the Robeast soon resumes its attack. The fatigued Paladins resume their own efforts, as does the Atlas, but the effectiveness thereof is limited, and a mighty blast rocks the Earth forces' ship. Pidge determines that the Robeast has drained Voltron's energy to power its attacks, and an alternate method of fighting it has to be devised.

The renewed assault fares no better, with Voltron's attacks repelled and collateral damage becoming a concern. Distraction about the latter leads to Voltron being felled by the Robeast's attack; more of its energy is drained. The Atlas looks on helplessly as Voltron is depowered and the Robeast turns its attentions on the ship once again.

Shiro is stymied by the poor progress, and he slips into a sudden realization, calling for a withdrawal from the immediate combat zone. Once away, he communes with the ship much as he once had with the Black Lion, and a humanoid fighting mode for the vessel is revealed.

This seems somehow familiar.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The Atlas returns to combat in force. Its titanic frame dwarfs the threat of the Robeast utterly, and its destructive power outclasses it to the same degree, though its size makes is slower to respond than might be hoped, so the battle is not lopsided. Indeed, the Robeast is able to drain power from the Atlas as Voltron begins to recover. A single strike ends the fight in a massive outflow of power that disarticulates and depowers Voltron again. The Robeast begins to self-destruct, and the Paladins hurry to remove it from where it can harm the planet further. The Robeast is removed from the planet, and the Paladins and their Lions are cast back down, landing roughly and far removed from each other--and in their elemental homes.

Later, a ceremony honors the fallen. Shiro has survived the war, as have the cadet pilots. Earth joins the broader universe. The Paladins, too, have survived, albeit with injuries. Rebulding of Earth begins in earnest, aided by the members of the Coalition. But some questions remain, and the Robeast's power source is revealed: an Altean sits at its heart.

Discussion

For the US Thanksgiving 2018 edition of these commentaries, it must be noted that the episode reads as something of a coda rather than a culmination of storylines as would befit a season finale. Save for the last scene, which is clearly a setup for the season to come, as well as a call-back to Lotor's earlier perfidies. A return of those Galra forces aligned with Haggar seems imminent, which will likely do more to reinforce the medievalism of the science-fantasy series.

It needs some reinforcing, as there is not much of it in the present episode that reveals itself to easy view. The basic medievalism of the series remains present, of course; the Paladins remain so, and their chivlaric overtones still sound. But, as most of the episode is taken up with the fight against the Altean-powered Robeast, there is little room for the introduction or development of new-to-the-series facets of the medieval, whether the actual or the presumed. (Unless I am wrong; comments below would welcome additional insight.)

Finally, as of this writing (well before its publication date, mind), an eighth and "final" season of the series is promised for release in mid-December. I have every intention of watching and commenting on it, too, but there is a bit of time until then. I'll find something else to fill in until then--and, until then, thank you for reading!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

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

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

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.