Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.5: "Tears of the Balmera"

After a short break, rewatch commentaries on Voltron: Legendary Defender continue. Unfortunately, there seems to be less of the medieval refigured in the treated episode than in the episodes preceding it.

1.5. "Tears of the Balmera"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

Pidge's work towards retaking the Castle of Lions from the small Galra force that holds it continues from the preceding episode. So do Galra machinations to take the castle--and its contents, the lion components of Voltron--to Zarkon. Meanwhile, Hunk and Coran encounter indigenous inhabitants of the Balmera, including Shay; after a brief debate, the indigenes decide to offer some aid to the Paladin and the Altean, although it stops short of assisting their crystal-recovery mission.

A flashback to the last Holt family meal before the Kerberos mission is presented as Pidge proceeds towards retaking the castle. Reports of the mission and its end spur Katie to infiltrate military facilities in search of truth. Pidge is interrupted by Galra forces, and Allura sends in the mice with which she has a psychic rapport.

Hunk and Coran confer with the Balmera's inhabitants, learning of Galra depredations and oppression. Whether the indigenes will help remains in question; Coran sends Hunk to make repairs to their spacecraft as he reconnoiters. Meanwhile, Pidge continues to experience a flashback--leading up to the presentation of Pidge as Pidge, a young male trainee--and reaffirms commitment to the Voltron mission. The mice, directed by Allura, proceed towards retaking the castle.

As Hunk repairs the craft he and Coran brought to the Balmera, he and Shay converse. Hunk encourages her to rise up, affirming that Voltron will defeat Zarkon. Her brother, approaching, rebukes what he describes as a "shadow-show" and pulls Shay away. At the same time or shortly thereafter, Pidge successfully interdicts Galra efforts to restore their control over the castle, defeating Sendak's second-in-command with aid--but Sendak coerces a surrender by threatening the captive Shiro and Lance.

Coran returns to Hunk and reports having a plan. It is a simple diguise plot, and although the pair are able to get to a Balmera crystal, they are taken captive by the Galra shortly afterwards. While Pidge overhears Sendak gloating, Shay frees Hunk and Coran. Her brother, however, has worked to interdict them, and Shay is taken captive. Hunk and Coran withdraw, Hunk vowing to return to free her.

On Arus, the mice successfully disable the Galra attempts to take the castle to Zarkon. The Paladins attack Sendak, capturing him. Lance is taken in for treatment, and Pidge affirms a decision to remain with the Paladins of Voltron.

Discussion

The standing medievalism of the series continues in part in "Tears of the Balmera." The Paladins remain in force and victorious over their ruthless, invasive foe, their communion enabling their defeat of individually superior foes. But not much new presents itself--unless it is in a kind of quiet conversion narrative taking place between Hunk and Shay. For in the episode, Hunk speaks of a particular kind of freedom to Shay, describing not only a heaven she has never seen and of which she can hardly conceive (itself something of a callback to early missionary work, although that was conducted less by the militant than the work of a paladin must be), but a freedom to relocate to other places. While the Galra are presented as being objectively evil--they are as rapacious of the Balmera as Tolkien's Orcs and forces of Saruman are of the lands they occupy, so that there is another bit of medievalist reference in the episode--there is a casual assumption by Hunk that his perspective is the better one. It is one backed by military might, and it is one that has decidedly religious--it reads in some ways as mimetic of any number of more forceful efforts to bring people to the "right" way of thinking. And that it is routed through a feminine agent--Hunk addresses the matter to Shay primarily, with her brother objecting strenuously--surely has some valence in that regard, as well.

To be fair, however, the series is not setting out to be explicitly medievalist in the way that Game of Thrones is. That an episode of it does not do as much as others to enact and present medieval tropes is therefore not to be chastised--although it does make it harder to discuss the episode here than it might otherwise be.

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