Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.11: "The Black Paladin"

The first season of Voltron: Legendary Defender draws to a close with what comes as a shock to fans of older iterations of the fighting robot, a clear set-up for future narratives, and at least one more instance of the traditionally medievalist.

1.11. "The Black Paladin"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

Following directly upon the previous episode, "The Black Paladin" opens with the Paladins returning to the Castle of Lions to review intelligence acquired and determine their next course of action. Despite Keith's objections and amid tense talk, the group decides to mount an immediate rescue attempt as Allura is taken to Zarkon's central command structures and given to Haggar. As the Paladins and Coran continue to review their information and Shiro apologizes for his failure, Coran identifies an avenue of approach and Allura is brought before Zarkon, who reveals that he has a trap planned for Voltron.

Shiro and Coran lay out their resuce plans. Zarkon lays out his plans to his commanders, as well. Thus, as the Paladins enact their rescue attempt, Zarkon springs his trap on them; empowered by the Druids, he is able to thwart the advance of Volrton by forcing the robot to separate into the component Lions. The Paladins press on, assisted by Coran in the Castle of Lions, and Zarkon interferes with Shiro's control of the Black Lion. He is able to force it to eject the pilot; Keith moves to assist as the others press on towards Allura.

After Keith liberates the Black Lion from direct control by the Galra, Zarkon personally enters the fray. Matters go badly for Keith as Shiro proceeds towards Allura; Zarkon reveals himself as wielding a Paladin's weapon--because he was a Paladin, the Black Lion's pilot. Matters do not go well for Shiro, either; he encounters Haggar, who assails him successfully.

Meanwhile, rescue efforts continue, with Hunk reaching Allura. They proceed to rescue Shiro, who in turn saves Keith. They make to escape, an agent within the Galra forces and unknown to them assisting them--but Haggar interferes with their egress. The Paladins and the Castle are separated and cast apart across the cosmos, whereupon the episode and the first season of the series end.

Discussion

Much of the episode is taken up by battles, both person-to-person and more general. As such, it does not permit much time for the kind of consideration that fosters much in the way of medievalism. The fights are not the kinds of trial by combat or organized jousting that tend to evoke the Middle Ages in the minds of viewers, and various tactics deployed seem to rely upon technologies wholly other than the medieval.

That noted, and the medievalisms long established as common in the series continuing, there is one thing that emerges for particular consideration: the revelation of Zarkon as a former Paladin--and, indeed, the former leader of the Paladins. Some foreshadowing of it can be found, to be sure; Galra technology tends to pulse with a violet light, as do the eyes of the Galra Emperor, one much like that seen in the cockpit of the Black Lion as Shiro pilots it, and the color congruence is striking in the episode. And it is not an uncommon narrative device to see a former protagonist as an antagonist--TV Tropes describes it as a "Face-Heel Turn," citing no few examples of its occurrence here. But for the leader of knights--presumably the greatest of them--to turn is evocative specifically of Lancelot (already evoked in the series by the plot of the Blue Lion, Lance) and of Mordred (via the associations of "black" in an already-Arthurian-overtoned milieu). Add to that the many iterations of Black Knight that appear in chivlaric literature, and the connection emerges fairly clearly.

Such notes as are available as of this writing (20 September 2016) indicate that 1) a second season of the series is planned and 2) a series of comics, bridging the time between seasons, is in progress and will be gathered together as a single volume. More materials may come, as well. Review and consideration of how they enact and reenact the medieval will hopefully follow.

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