Sunday, July 24, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.2: "Some Assembly Required"

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here

In a discussion of "The Rise of Voltron", I note that there are more things to say about the medievalism in the Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender. Some of them begin to manifest more overtly in the series's second episode, "Some Assembly Required."

1.2. "Some Assembly Required"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Lauren Montgomery, and Kihyun Ryu


In a standard-length episode (not much over twenty minutes, including opening and end credits), the five Paladins of Voltron work to hone their skills as individuals and as a team. For some time, the work fails; the Paladins are not successful in their exercises, either on their own or in the aggregate; Shiro is the lone exception. Pidge, particularly, fares poorly in group exercises, being unwilling to open up to the other Paladins. Their poor performance vexes Allura, who reminds them of the weight of expectation placed upon them; there is debate as to whether or not the Paladins will remain on Arus or return to Earth, with the former option winning out. Meanwhile, the Galra Emperor, Zarkon, commands Haggar, the chief Druid, to develop a plan to defeat Voltron; she complies, using arcane energies and mechanical insight to transform a creature with a grudge against Shiro into a colossal beast, one subsequently sent towards Arus to defeat the Paladins.


Perhaps the principal bit of medievalism that emerges from "Some Assembly Required" is the identification of Haggar as leading druids, something confirmed by the official series website. Although there are numerous neo-Druidic groups and efforts to re-create ancient Druidic practice, the priesthood in question is one indelibly--if not wholly accurately, as the Druids were largely confined to the Classical--associated with the medieval. Like Alfor's armor in the first episode and the identification of the lions' pilots as Paladins (each of which has, or ought to have, a special weapon), the assertion that Haggar commands druids--that druids are present as a recognized group--lends a medievalist air to a carton series obviously set in the future.

A major implication of the druidism ties back to a comment made in the discussion of "The Rise of Voltron," namely that "the Galra [...] can be taken as reconceptions of the Saracens come into Catholic Europe once again." The identification of Haggar as a druid--indeed, the revelation that there is an organized group of druids--in service to the Galra Empire ascribes a dangerous, mystic religious perspective to the Galra, one evocative of views of Islam held by the Christian West (although the name itself would tend to dislocate the assertion). Colored differently and dominated by a strange faith, the invaders conquer all that stands before them, held off only by a small force of ennobled knights with special weapons--the description fits both the Saracens of medieval European legendry and the Galra Empire. The combination is particularly resonant in a period often described as encompassing a new Crusade and a war by Islam against the West--as witness no small number of newspaper and magazine articles, websites, television and radio commentaries, books, movies, and conversations overheard in entirely too many places. And it is problematic, as well; although, as a cartoon based on what is clearly a children's show from the 1980s, Voltron: Legendary Defender might be forgiven for taking a simplistic view of its evident primary conflict, much of the audience for the show is nostalgia-driven Millennials--who are old enough to know better and to want better. There was more at stake than "They're bad; kill 'em" on both sides of the Crusades and the Islamic expansions into Europe; there was wrong on both sides. A recapitulation of that conflict, even in fantasy cartoon form, should be more responsive to the more nuanced reality.

I will certainly be watching the series further, and not only so that I can write more of my rewatch reports; there is much the show does well, and it is worth watching. But there are problems with it, and I am sad to see them; there is so much more, and so much better, that the show could do.

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