Friday, August 19, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.6: "Taking Flight"

After another break, during which a move and the preliminaries for a new instructional term took place, commentaries on Voltron: Legendary Defender continue.

1.6. "Taking Flight"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

Lance emerges from medical treatment and is briefed on recent developments, namely that the Paladins have captured Galra commander Sendak--they hold him captive in the hopes of extracting information from him--and Hunk pushes to rescue Shay and her people. Pidge reveals being female, which surprises only Lance, and the Castle of Lions makes to launch, the Paladins participating in flight operations.

Meanwhile, the Galra continue to plot to take Voltron. Tensions emerge between Haggar and the conventional military; Zarkon endorses Haggar, and the military begins to plot against her.

As the Castle of Lions travels towards the Balmera, a distress call reaches it. The Castle stops to render aid to the senders, Rolo and Nyma; they claim to have suffered a systems failure in ther ship. Hunk expresses concern at events, and Shiro validates some of his concerns, but he is persuaded to help. Rolo and the others exchange information as Hunk works on the requested repairs; Rolo lays out some of the scope of the Galra Empire and its layout. Hunk continues to bespeak a need to fulfill his vow, and Nyma manipulates Lance through his obvious, adolescent infatuation with her.

Meanwhile, Haggar enacts a powerful ritual, draining a planet of its energy. Zarkon looks on approvingly and notes that it will allow for more focused pursuit of Voltron.

At length, Nyma turns on Lance, restraining him and summoning Rolo to assist her in taking the Blue Lion. They contact the Galra military and offer it in exchange for a payout and a full pardon. The Paladins pursue, belatedly informed by Lance of his quandary; they are able to recover the Blue Lion, and the strand Nyma and Rolo before continuing on their way. The episode ends, though, with the promise of another Robeast to come.

Discussion

Most of the points of medievalism presented in the episode reinforce medievalist threads already woven into the narrative tapestry. For example, part of the argument used to persuade Hunk to assist Rolo and Nyma is a reference to a Paladin Code, one that obliges helping all in need. While it is a commonplace of science fiction that the protagonists are required to answer all distress signals they receive, it is also a commonplace that knights--at least the "worthy" ones--also render aid to them who ask it. (It is an extrapolation of such things as the provision of Malory's Pentecostal Oath that the Round Table Knights must give mercy to those who ask it. And while neither all of Malory's examples nor those of more recent iterations follow through on the obligation, children's programming--and Voltron: Legendary Defender occupies that position at least partially--tends to play such tropes straighter than many other media.) Too, the overt display of magic in the episode--Haggar's ritual sucking the life from a planet--is linked directly with evil, something that lines up reasonably well with many depictions of magic in the medievalist and with what has happened in the series so far.

Other points emerge, as well, which expand upon but do not necessarily align with the earlier medievalisms in the series. There seems a bit more pointed bits of Arthuriana in the episode than I recall from before. Hunk's aversion to "proper" Paladin duties in favor of his personal vow seems somehow like the attitude displayed by Gawain in the wake of the Malorian Lancelot's killing of Gareth and Gaheris; although the Pope intercedes between Arthur and Guinevere, and Gawain accepts that, he remains hateful towards Lancelot--despite his king's preference and the often-demonstrated futility of personal combat against the man. Too, the Paladin Lance is misled into error through lust--and it is obvious that he lusts after Nyma--and ends up chained to a "tree," while his namesake is misled through his own lust and, after his lust is used against him, he also finds himself among the trees. It is perhaps overly subtle, but it still appears to be present.

One other thing calls attention to itself. As Rolo describes the Galra Empire, which has reigned with little hindrance for millennia, something of Imperial Rome seems to be evoked. And while there is a conception that Imperial Rome was held up as something of a golden era, it is also the case in Arthurian legendry that Imperial Rome was problematic. The Alliterative Morte Arthure and its recapitulation in Malory both point to Rome as an illicit, external, conquering force, one vanquished through the valiant efforts of worthy knighthood enabled by magic that works mostly off screen. It seems antecedent to what is suggested in "Taking Flight"; how far such parallels can be taken remains to be seen

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