Thursday, September 8, 2016

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 1.8: "Rebirth"

With apologies for the delay in keeping this going...

1.8."Rebirth"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

Immediately after the end of the previous episode, the Robeast sent to the Balmera emerges from its coffin-like pod and attacks. The Paladins, initially thinking it a threat similar to the Robeast Myzax, prepare to make a fight similar to that which felled the gladiator; they find they are wrong and retreat under fire, assisted by the Castle of Lions.

Following the withdrawal, the Paladins confer about tactics to use, and Hunk attempts to marshal the Balmerans to the fight. They demur, and it begins to become clear that the Balmera is dying. Allura determines to make planetfall to help evacuate the Balmerans, and the Paladins screen her approach and initial evacuation efforts.

When Allura arrives, while the Paladins fight the Robeast with limited success, the Balmerans refuse her offer of assistance. Allura refuses the refusal, and her affinity for the Balmera emerges suddenly; she exploits the affinity to make an impassioned plea for escape, which the Balmerans accept. The evacuation begins shortly after, with Coran directing the Castle of Lions to a useful location and noting a ceremony that the Alteans had performed in earlier days, when they had existed in symbiosis with Balmerae. (The plural is conjectural, of course, but it seems apt.) As the evacuation continues, the Balmera showing signs of degradation, Allura and several Balmerans enact the ceremony.

Meanwhile, the Paladins continue their fight. Hunk, piloting the Yellow Lion, is made aware of additional capabilities of his equipment, and the Paladins put it to use, improving their performance against the Robeast. They are able to keep it at bay as Allura and the Balmerans complete the ceremony, restoring the Balmera. In return, the Balmera itself destroys the Robeast, entombing it in crystal.

In the wake of the victory, Hunk and Shae talk under the starry sky. Hunk reaffirms his commitment to the fight against the oppressive Galra--and the Balmera arc concludes.

Discussion

Such medievalisms as the Paladin label and the "knightly" combat with sword and shield--and with a shield looking much like a kite shield--continue in the episode. Less fortunate evocations of the medieval, of a type described by Kathleen Davis and Nadia Altschul in their introduction to Medievalism in the Postcolonial World, with the "advanced" European-analogues coming in and foisting their "right-thinking" ways on those they would "liberate," also persist.

Something else called itself to attention as I watched the episode again, though, and it really ought to have called to me earlier. The ceremony Allura leads to heal the Balmera arranges her at the center of a pentacle of Balmerans; they kneel in a star pattern facing her. In my write-up of "Return of the Gladiator," I note some Marianic overtones that attach themselves to Allura; seeing her at the center of a five-pointed star called to mind the depiction of Gawain's shield in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In the poem--at least in the version edited by Tolkien and E.V. Gordon and hosted on the University of Michigan Corpus of Middle English Verse and Prose--Gawain's shield bears a pentacle reminiscent of the magic of Solomon and evocative of the five senses, the five wounds of Christ, and the five greater parts of the body (two arms, two legs, and head/torso); facing him is an image of the Virgin, according to the second Passus. In what is described by many critics as the finest piece of Middle English Arthuriana, if not the finest piece of Middle English romance (Garbáty comes to mind as a prominent example), the five-pointed star is linked physically with Mary--and "Rebirth" appears to link it to Allura similarly.

The evocation of SGGK also emerges more generally in the composition of the robot Voltron--something I admit should have occurred to me earlier than it did. The five Lions correspond to the five portions of the body referenced by Gawain's shield, and it might be argued that the five pilots are themselves evocative of the four humors of medieval medical thought united under the wisdom and reason represented by the most senior among them: Shiro. (Which is which might be an interesting thing to treat.) How much of such reference is made "on purpose" is, of course, open to debate; even when creators are alive to ask after their motives, they may well not remember in full what they were thinking, and they may not have been aware of all of the mental processes at work as they created. But even if none of it was, that the episode can be read in such a way speaks to the idea that the medieval remains with us even now, arguing in favor of its continued study and enjoyment.

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