Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.3: "Return of the Gladiator"

The medievalism of the Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender does not end at the second episode, but continues into the third episode, "Return of the Gladiator."

1.3. "Return of the Gladiator"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

As the Robeast Haggar has designed speeds towards Arus and its fight with Voltron, Zarkon is empowered by Haggar's druids and confers with her about expectations. Meanwhile, the Paladins of Voltron continue their training, making progress and exchanging reports with Coran and Allura. After a humorous exchange about lunch, Shiro joins Pidge, who questions those rescued from the Galra ship in the first episode. The rescued prisoners note that Shiro had been known as a bloodthirsty warrior who had attacked Pidge's brother, Matt. The revelation stuns Shiro, and he and Pidge travel to the wrecked ship to retrieve information.

Whle the pilots of the Black and Green Lions are away, an indigenous Arusian approaches the castle. Keith is suspicious, but his suspicions are set aside by Allura, who goes with Coran and the remaining Paladins to the Arusian village. Friendly relations between the Altean forces and the locals begin but are interrupted by a call for help from Shiro; while he and Pidge are investigating the wrecked Galra ship, the Robeast falls to ground and begins to attack. A fight between the Robeast and Voltron soon ensues, and Shiro recalls more of his imprisonment--including details about his fights with the Robeast's antecedent, Myzax. With those details, and the sudden emergence of Voltron's sword from the Red Lion's mouth, the Robeast Myzax is defeated.

Afterwards, Haggar reports her failure to Zarkon and offers to resume her efforts. He notes having issued orders to Sendak, who survived the crash of his ship; he and his remaining forces begin covert operations on Arus. Additionally, Shiro informs Pidge of what happened between him and Matt; Shiro had inflicted a minor injury on Matt to prevent the latter from being forced into gladiatorial combat. Pidge thanks Shiro for the effort and apologizes for earlier anger; Shiro notes that both Matt and his father, Commander Sam Holt, would have been proud of Pidge. Shiro also calls Pidge by her birth name, Katie, and avers that he will maintain the pretense of "Pidge."

Discussion

That "Return of the Gladiator" is not as overt with its medievalism as previous episodes of the series does not mean there is none to be found in it. Standing medievalisms--such as the presence of the Paladins--remain in place. Indeed, the nobility of the Paladins is reinforced throughout the episode. Allura describes Voltron as protector of the innocent, and during the battle against Robeast Myzax, Shiro explicitly notes that the fight has to be taken away from the defenseless-against-the-combatants Arusians. Both seem in line with the kinds of things associated with knights in high fantasy (and, yes, I know Martin is the glaring exception), things that hearken back to the Pentecostal Oath of Malory's Round Table Knights and other places. They help to tie the Paladins to their depicted medieval forebears, affirming the medievalism of the series.

The druidism pointed out before also endures, and it also takes on additional resonance. At the beginning of the episode, Zarkon is empowered by the druids. Since they are at least evocative of religion, and they explicitly invoke supernatural energies in elevating Zarkon, they serve to do something like the papal coronation of Holy Roman Emperors--a distinctly medieval occurrence. Given the specific resonances of druidism, the event also invokes sacral Irish kingship such as Daniel Bray discusses in a contribution to This Immense Panorama: Studies in Honour of Eric J. Sharpe. So that much also helps to support the medievalism of Voltron: Legendary Defender.

The episode also displays other invocations of medieval belief in the supernatural. For one, the descent of Robeast Myzax to Arus seems very much in the spirit of the ill omens perceived as inhering in comets. For another, the indigenous Arusians explicitly note that sacrifice of themselves in fire is part of their accepted religious practice--something commonly associated with "savage" indigenous peoples in medieval and later minds. (Denethor's self-immolation in Lord of the Rings comes to mind as a prominent example of the medievalist approach to such things.) And I have to wonder if there is something Marianic in the veneration of Allura as divine--she is unwed, so far as the series has made known, and seems disinterested in romance or procreation (although how long that will last is uncertain, given that she is one of two known Alteans yet living--but if she is to be the mother of a race, it does not diminish her religious overtones), and she is presented in "maidenly" fashion, so the idea of her as virginal is not far-fetched (although it is not certain). The Arusian religion can thus read as something of a cult of Mary--particularly since it stands in opposition to the suggested-as-Saracen Galra--and therefore mixedly medievalist in thrust.

And on the topic of mixtures: Shiro is, in the series, something of a mixture himself. The chief Paladin of Voltron, he is a human in Altean service and equipped with a synthetic arm of Galra manufacture. He is foremost, and he is hybrid, and the question has to be raised of whether his hybridity is what makes him foremost. If it is, then some of my earlier comments will need revision. But whether it is or is not, there is more to plumb in the series of which he is part; I look forward to doing so.

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