Thursday, April 19, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 4.1, "Code of Honor"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry soon!

Following a brief third season, the series begins to take on a more somber tone, and there are hints of the dirty work that must be done to overthrow a multi-millennial empire.

4.1, "Code of Honor"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

Galra forces descend on an aquatic world, coming to berth beneath the waves to make a high-level delivery. The Blade of Marmora has infiltrated the facility and reconnoiters the facility; the Galra have access to more energy reserves than expected, and the Blade investigates. They are revealed and exfiltrate under fire, escaping narrowly--with Keith drawing rebuke despite his performance.

The intelligence collected by the Blade is delivered as Keith returns to the Castle and is dispatched by Shiro--under some protest. His tardiness with the mission is noted by the other Paladins, who also rebuke him. Shiro and Keith confer about how matters stand, Keith still having difficulty with Shiro's having stepped aside and trying to work as both part of the Blade and the Paladins. Morale-building missions are treated, with the Blade summoning aid to investigate an oddity in the Galra movements; Keith is dispatched to aid the Blade--and to return in haste.

The morale-building mission ensues, hindered somewhat by the absence of Keith. Complaints are noted--but Keith's mission proceeds apace, with a daring mission to plant a tracker on a Galra ship turning out to be a trap. One of the Blade falls to the trap, and Keith is cast adrift with a compromised environment suit. As the Paladins parade, Keith strives to recover, again narrowly escaping harm.

When Keith returns to the Castle, Allura confronts him. She seeks to force him to choose: the Blade, or the Legendary Defender. Keith's tension between the two groups continues, with him evidently preferring the work of the Blade to that of the Paladins.

Lotor, meanwhile, is rebuked by Haggar. He rejects her bluntly.

The division of Keith's attention becomes a problem as the Galra attack a convoy and the Paladins move to intercept--without Keith. The attack quickly becomes a trap for the Lions. Shiro approaches the Black Lion again to try to intervene. At length, the Black Lion accepts him again, and battle is joined. Voltron returns, and victory is achieved in short order.

After, Keith returns to face censure. He resigns from the Paladins, noting the progress of the Blade in their investigations and pursuit of Lotor. Shiro accepts it gracefully and asserts his continued friendship.

Discussion

The new season seems to mark a shift in the tone of the narrative, one that seems to go into a darker and less happy place than previous seasons of the series. This is not unexpected, of course; any ongoing narrative arc must at least consider doing so, both in response to outside events and to the presumed development of its primary audience. (The tonal shifts in the Harry Potter books come to mind as a recent predecessor.) And a medievalist work such as Voltron: Legendary Defender often is should be expected to do so, as well; the Arthuran legend from which it borrows extensively does so repeatedly, particularly in Malory as the narrative moves through and past the Grail Quest--although not seldom elsewhere.

Indeed, the present episode seems to borrow the fragmentary nature of the Malorian narrative for a bit, focusing largely on the exploits of one character--the redoubtable Keith--as he grows apart from his comrades, even as they increasingly serve more as symbols than as front-line fighters. There is some parallel to the development and aging of the Round Table Knights in Malory; while some of the more notable continue to go out on their own adventures, not always happily, the group as a whole seems to become more an emblem than a largely active force for good. This does not mean in either case that the group becomes inert or ineffectual, but it does mean that there is less a sense of unified drive as matters progress--and more of individuals striking out from the still-gleaming core to do work that remains needed.

It must be noted that this marks the end of my rewatching in favor of watching. It's not the first time this has happened with series write-ups in this webspace, though my break-off reasons aren't nearly so visceral as Shiloh's (about which more here, and if you've not read her treatment of Game of Thrones, you're missing out). No, with me, it's a matter of having a young daughter and two jobs; finding the time for this is not as easy as I would hope. But I mean to press on, in any event, and what I see in the present season gives me hope that I'll enjoy the ride. I hope y'all will, too.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.7, "The Legend Begins"

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In what amounts to a simultaneous flashback, much of Voltron's early history, the history of the Galra belligerence, is revealed.

3.7, "The Legend Begins"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

Haggar attends upon Zarkon, using magic to enter his mind. When she does, she sees a series of images from his history--and her own.

Meanwhile, the Paladins confer regarding Lotor's location and activities. They encounter difficulties in doing so and ask Corran for background information. He begins to relate the history of Voltron.

The original Paladins were leaders of their respective peoples, entered initially into formal alliance and soon into friendship. Their combined efforts resulted in a spreading peace across their space, and they are meeting to celebrate that peace when the initial comet--the material from which Voltron was made--strikes the Galra homeworld. Investigation of the comet ensues, albeit with some difficulty; initial reports note the emergence of quintessence, and the Altean king, Alfor, summons Honerva to aid in the research.

The research proceeds, and the Paladins grow closer as they continue to work in concert, spreading peace further. Additionally, Zarkon and Honerva wed, and progress on the research continues. Quintessence is revealed as a mighty energy source, and the implications for peace and war are examined. As the research continues, however, Honerva inadvertently summons quintessence beasts; they are contained, although the containment is recognized as temporary. The Lions are built as a response to the threat, and the Paladins assume their roles.

In time, the expected breach of containment happens, and Voltron forms for the first time to defeat it. In the aftermath of the battle, Zarkon and Honerva purpose to press on with research despite Alfor's objections, and Alfor relents. Voltron is used to expand the peace even as Zarkon's world suffers from exposure to the quintessence--and its unnatural effects on life are noted.

Honerva falls ill, and Zarkon engages the Paladins in an attempt to cure her--deceitfully, claiming that they will seal the interdimensional rift through which quintessence is entering their reality. Passing inside the rift, Zarkon exposes himself and Honerva to the quintessence directly, attracting the attention of more quintessence beasts. The latter empower and taint Zarkon and Honerva; Alfor retrieves them and escapes, sealing the rift with the destruction of the Galra homeworld and mourning his friends as evidently dead.

They are not, however, or they return from death, and Zarkon orders war against his former comrades in an attempt to seize control of Voltron and return to the interdimensional space whence quintessence comes. In that revelation, Lotor's plan is made evident--and Haggar remembers who she is.

She calls to her husband, and he wakes...

Discussion

Much is made clear in the in medias res episode, which lays out the underlying tension that informs the series. Zarkon and Haggar are made somewhat sympathetic along the way; Zarkon emerges as a husband who goes too far saving his wife and corrupted by forces he cannot control, while Haggar is a researcher gone too far in what is otherwise a worthy quest. And there are implications that 1) the stuff of which Voltron is made is necessarily related to the terrors of the quintessence beasts and their eldritch-abomination existence and 2) quintessence itself is actually an infernal energy, which would make "life itself," to which Honerva equates it, similarly evil. In all, the episode works well to convey the fraught beginnings of the current conflict, as well as the stakes involved in its resolution.

What is less clear is how the episode makes manifest the medieval, other than the standing tropes of the Paladins and the Druids that Haggar/Honerva leads. Perhaps the subtle yoking of life to inherent evil is such a manifestation, given the typical medieval conceit of the fallen world, but that seems tenuous at best. Too, it is not the case that a series which employs the medieval as source and reference material always remain embedded in that material; the present episode seems to do so less than many other places in the narrative (although I would welcome other opinions on the matter; I would be happy to have my own understanding expanded). It does enough else that the series seems to need that its general separation from the medieval--although not the fantastic, since the "we have to fight evil spirits invading from another realm" plot is a commonplace in medievalist literature--is of no great moment or concern.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.6, "Tailing a Comet"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The ramifications of a once and future leader returning begin to play out as the Paladins continue their fight against the Galra Empire.

3.6, "Tailing a Comet"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

The Paladins launch an assault of a Galra facility. Allura proves herself remarkably adept as they clear the facility for the Blade of Marmora. Later, aboard the Castle of Lions, Shiro debriefs to Keith; the two try to suss out recent events, making their chronologies align. Recovery for Shiro is slow, however, although he does return to the bridge of the Castle and resumes command. Pidge reports on ways to track Lotor, both through tracing his recent appearances and through developing a detector to scan for the comet Lotor had previously acquired.

Shortly afterward, Lance confers with Keith about how to proceed in the wake of Shiro's return. He offers to step aside, citing the superior skills of the other Paladins; Keith reassures him that that will not be needed, at least not in the moment.

Not much later, Pidge's detector goes online, and the Paladins follow a signal to what they believe is Lotor's location. As they advance on it, leadership conflicts emerge between Shiro and Keith, and, as the Paladins move into action--springing a trap--the Black Lion refuses Shiro. He remains on the Castle as Keith leads the operation.

In the event, the Paladins find themselves counter-raiding a Galra installation that is already under attack--by another faction of Galra. The installation stores part of the teleportation device the Paladins had used to thwart Zarkon, and its commander is being used--hard--as a patsy by Lotor, the theft meant to cover Lotor's appropriation of the device. And, to make matters worse, the comet Lotor had stolen has been incorporated into a ship of substantial capability--which is deployed against the Paladins and Voltron. The ship deploys to force a choice for the Paladins: allow the teleporter to escape by engaging the ship, or suffer from the ship while taking out the teleporter. Keith and Shiro come into conflict over the matter as Shiro commands the Castle into the fray. In a moment of clarity, Keith destroys the teleporter--but Lotor's ship and the lieutenants piloting it are able to escape.

In the wake of the battle, the Paladins confer about how they will proceed. And the hapless commander of the Galra facility that was raided suffers for his failures.

Discussion

Of particular note in the episode is the way in which Shiro's foreshadowed return is thwarted. Instead of returning to command of the Paladins in Voltron, he is relegated to the same kind of support and coordination role that Corran has carried throughout the series and that Allura was able to leave behind earlier in the season. While it does make some sense--Shiro is still recovering from his travails, and his seniority means that positioning him outside the main battle affords him the advantages of greater perspective--it also marks another blow to the character and subverts what would otherwise have been the expected course of the narrative. After all, the introductory sequence to each episode continues to show Shiro as pilot of the Black Lion, and children's shows (of which it must be admitted Voltron: Legendary Defender is one) prize the status quo; it would make sense that Shiro return to his former position without trouble.

That he is not able to do so--at least, not at this point--suggests that the promised return of Arthurian figures would be similarly problematic, something conveniently ignored by much of the medieval material that informs popular culture. (It also foreshadows a similarly problematic return to power by Zarkon.) Arthur may be the once and future king, but a future that he could rule well seems a strange place and an inhospitable one; if Shiro could not return to command after the span of a year or less, how much less could the mighty leaders of old to now--or even later? While the problem presented is something that other works have considered, to see it appear in a show directed at the audience Voltron addresses is an interesting shift and one that reminds us that, even though we may well prize what has gone before, we do not well to cleave too closely to it.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.5, "The Journey"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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Shiro features once again in a story of return as Voltron: Legendary Defender presses on.

3.5, "The Journey"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Steve In Chang Anh

Synopsis

Shiro wakes uneasily in Galra captivity, some time having passed for him since his last appearance in the series; he is weak as he attempts to leave his cell. He sees himself subjected to more Galra experimentation and comes under attack, which he is able to successfully repel, escaping the Galra ship that holds him--but he does so under fire and is forced down on an ice world as part of what appears a Galra plan.

On the planet, Shiro wanders in peril. He narrowly escapes it, but matters bode ill for him--as they bode ill for the Galra themselves, where Haggar charges General Rott to oversee the affairs of Prince Lotor.

Matters do not improve for Shiro as he continues to search across the ice planet, finding an oasis and the predators in it. Rebel watchers save him--but take him prisoner, and he wakes from a nightmare of the Galra's attentions to find himself again restrained. His captors interrogate him but disbelieve his answers. Lotor, meanwhile, traps his own tracker.

As Shiro's captors attend to their assigned surveillance duties, Shiro enacts another escape. He is pursued and forced to fight again, but his clear dominance of the fight and non-lethal tactics convince the captors that he is who he claims to be--and they help him escape not only the planet but the Galra, by way of infiltrating the Galra ship and hijacking a fighter to escape it as it is diverted to confront Voltron. Shiro himself cannot catch up to the Legendary Defender, and soon finds himself adrift in space, logging events and dreaming of his comrades until he is found by a still-searching Keith in the Black Lion.

Meanwhile, Lotor confronts Haggar about her surveillance of him, revealing filial tensions in the Galra royal house, and Shiro's ice-bound erstwhile captors endure.

Discussion

Capture and return from it seems to be a prevailing theme for Shiro; his character is introduced as having been a prisoner, one who escapes from captivity, and his initial flight from the Galra factors into the Blade of Marmora component of the overall narrative. Too, his occasional bouts of PTSD resulting from his captivity mark him as deeply affected by the carceral experience. And that serves to link Shiro clearly to a long narrative tradition, of which medieval literature makes much, for many of the knights in Arthurian legend find themselves as prisoners and free prisoners, and Malory composed and compiled Le Morte d'Arthur as a "knyght presoner," so that the whole work is itself necessarily associated with captivity. Shiro, already long identified as a knightly figure, thus corresponds even more closely with his forebears in being so often a captive.

Notable also is Shiro's escape, with aid, through a descent into ice. The plot evokes Dante, although it does not follow the Italian poet closely. Still, the association offers another link, if tenuous, to the medieval in the series, marking it once again as a piece of medievalist fiction.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Call for Nominations

As noted here, the Tales after Tolkien Society will be electing a slate of officers at the 2018 Annual General Meeting at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan. To remind readers, the following offices will be up for a vote:
  • President, term 2018-2021
  • Vice-president (At-large), term 2018-2020
  • Vice-president (USA), term 2018-2019
  • Secretary, term 2018-2020
As such, we need nominations! So, if you're a member and would like a leadership role, or you know someone who is a member and might do well in one, please send an email through this link. Please include your name in the email so your membership status can be verified.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.4, "Hole in the Sky"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The series continues with another example of dark mirroring--and what is reflected is the beginning of a back-story.

3.4, "Hole in the Sky"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

An alarm sounds on the Castle of Lions, noting to the Paladins a distress signal sent in an old Altean code. Despite Keith's misgivings, Allura determines to press ahead and enact a rescue; as they approach the source of the signal, they find an Altean ship caught in a rift of unusual type, identified by Corran as quintessence. Allura demands more action, cajoling the other Paladins into investigating, and, as they breach the rift, they lost contact with Corran, who grows worried.

On the other side of the rift, the Paladins begin a search-and-rescue operation, finding long-dead Alteans and the source of the ship's fate--a comet familiar from Alfor. They also find violent opposition in the form of an alternate Slav (the multiverse-perceiving researcher rescued from Beta Traz) and a look-alike of Shiro--one Sven. It is their appearance that allows the Paladins to realize that they have stumbled into an alternate reality not long before other Alteans arrive. They recognize Allura and the divergences in the universes' histories begin to be explicated.

Meanwhile, it is revealed that Lotor has conspired to bring about events and waits to steal the comet from the ship--a comet composed of the same stuff as Voltron.

Pidge, through study, arrives at the same realization--the comet is the same stuff from which Voltron is made. Slav and Sven continue their sabotage work, and the commander of the native Alteans lures Allura with promises of a utopian empire while the other Paladins come to recognize the dark nature of the alternate Altea--it relies on mind-wiped slave labor. A fight breaks out, as is wont to happen, and the Paladins depart under fire--with Sven dying along the way.

While Voltron is able to take the comet from the alternate Alteans and escape--and though Corran is happy to see the Paladins returned--victory is not ultimately theirs. Lotor, having been watching, sweeps in to steal the material, spiriting it away to some other end, one about which the Paladins must fret.

Discussion

Followers of the franchise will be pleased to see Sven in the episode. The call-out to the 1980s cartoon is a welcome inside joke.

The episode returns to the idea of mirroring that presents itself in "Red Paladin," doing so far more forcefully than the earlier episode. In that earlier episode, Lotor and his followers mimic the Paladins; the present episode follows the long-standing science-fiction trope of the dark mirror universe (most notable in that genre perhaps for its permeation of the Star Trek franchise), presenting an almost-inverted image of an Altea that might have been. Again, the idea of dark mirroring was one eminent in the medieval mind--insofar as there can be said to be "the medieval mind"--largely due to 1 Corinthians 13:12 and its presentation of the view of the world as occluded by bad glass. So in that, the episode seems strongly to echo the medieval.

It is only a seeming, though; the episode is far more medievalist than medieval. (Clearly not a problem for this webspace.) "The" medieval mind tended to view the "real" world as the dark version, the impure and imperfect iteration of how things ought to be; more contemporary "dark world" depictions, of which the episode is one, view the other world as the dark one, with the "real" world as the best of all possible realities. So while the episode does partake of tropes that partake of the medieval, those tropes are not medieval in themselves, and the episode bears only a tenuous connection to its more remote forebears as a result.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.3, "The Hunted"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender focuses on concerns of leadership--with the Paladins learning a lesson their foe already knows.


3.3, "The Hunted"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

Following Keith, the Paladins pursue Lotor. The approach is uncertain, as some Paladins are yet familiarizing themselves with their Lions. Hunk observes as such, seconded by Lance; Keith determines that they must press on. Lotor, however, is pressing for time and information; he goes out personally to test them; the unfamiliarity of the Paladins with their Lions shows, as Lotor easily surpasses their abilities, Allura's pronounced determination, and Keith's bravado. An attempt to form Voltron fails laughably, and Lotor withdraws. Keith determines to continue pursuit, and Lotor plots to lead them into a trap, sussing out that the Paladins are in disarray.

The Paladins follow into Lotor's prepared trap, faring as poorly as might be expected as they lose sensor capacity and are forced to navigate blindly amid Keith's blind determination. The Lions are separated amid the strange environs, and Lotor attacks them. Lance manages to convince Keith to work to rejoin the group, despite his mission focus--but he still presses on, forcing the others to follow despite their misgivings and the environmental problems. Lotor follows them, and his lieutenants summon assistance as he leads them on a merry chase into the full trap. Hunk realizes that it is a trap, and the Lions assume a defensive posture to no avail.

Lotor then engages Allura, chasing her as she panics. At length, she evades him--and Lance confronts Keith, who is experiencing a crisis of faith in himself. Lance cajoles Keith into action, and they collect the other isolated Paladins. Allura tries to call out while Lotor searches for her, the stress of it forcing her into connection with the Blue Lion--just in time to fall under attack again. She has more success evading this time, the Lion giving her guidance about how to proceed. Following it, she successfully defends herself against Lotor, who withdraws. She then collects her colleagues, and the group finds itself faced by Galra forces. They successfully form Voltron and effect their escape; Keith allows Lotor to escape, in turn, and Lotor plots his next moves.

Discussion

As I watched the episode again, it occurred to me that the pilots of the left side of Voltron, Pidge and Hunk in the Green and Yellow Lions, respectively, are the most stable and reliable of the Paladins. They do not shift around as the others do, and they reliably fulfill their non-pilot roles without much strife or angst. It seems an interesting inversion of the long association of the left and the unpleasant.

More overtly medievalist is the episode's musing on the nature of leadership. Throughout, Keith fares poorly as a leader, while Lotor does quite well--although there are common points between them. Both engage their foes directly and personally, not asking others to do what they are not willing to do. And both do acknowledge that there are times when leadership must give way, although the revelation comes relatively late for the Red Paladin. (Of course, that he is impetuous makes Keith more like Arthur, who is depicted in the words of the Gawain-poet as "sumquat childgered" and described in many other sources as often being rash.)

But Lotor does not push his lieutenants in the episode, restraining them, rather--and Keith does exactly the opposite, forcing his fellow Paladins into battle before they are ready. And they need not join a fight so soon, though his comments about needing to track Lotor closely carry some merit; they could follow in the Castle and use the time to practice rather than charging in without looking, as Keith has them do.

It is easy to read Keith's failure as an indictment of too much marital aggression, a comment that the right hand that holds the sword should not govern the head--and it is not wrong to do so. Just as it is easy to read Lance's actions in the episode--disagreeing with and outright rebuking Keith--as being something of a perfected version of Lancelot's relationship with Arthur. For Lancelot served most often as Arthur's enforcer--when he did not cuckold him--but Lance serves as a useful foil for Keith, not undermining him but ultimately pushing him to be a better leader. It makes of him an excellent right-hand man (I do not apologize for the pun), and, along with Keith and Lotor make the episode a study in effective leadership, the which was a preoccupation of many medieval European writers no less than among their contemporary American counterparts.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.2, "Red Paladin"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender continues with the matter of succession--and strange mirroring.

3.2, "Red Paladin"

Written by May Chan
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

A planet whose people are rebuilding their civilization--with Voltron iconography on display--is assailed by Lotor's four lieutenants: Axca, Ezor, Narti, and Sethrid. The lieutenants display their exceptional prowess by subduing the locals without having to kill any, and before Voltron can be summoned to aid. Lotor takes control of the planet, showing an unexpected mercy to the inhabitants.

Meanwhile, at the Castle of Lions, the Paladins, Allura, and Corran confer about who would succeed Shiro. Team roles are discussed, somewhat facetiously, and Keith reveals in an outburst that Shiro named him successor. There is tension about who will take the Black Lion--and Corran reminds all that the Black Lion will choose its own pilot. Allura affirms that she will participate, as well, and the Paladins present themselves. Allura fails to awaken the Lion, as do Pidge, Hunk, and Lance. Keith presents himself reluctantly, and the Lion responds to him. Allura commends him, followed by the others; Keith continues to reject the choice. Lance ultimately convinces him of the rightness of the decision.

The Paladins then address the question of who will succeed Keith in the Red Lion. Allura presents herself, thinking to succeed her father, who had piloted it before; the Lion does not accept her.

Lotor and his lieutenants confer about current circumstances. The lack of the Black Lion and of the coherent Voltron is noted. Narti is dispatched to gather information.

The Paladins discuss who to bring into Voltron until they are summoned to aid the suborned people.It is a trap, although they do not know it. Keith, again reluctantly, pilots the Black Lion, accompanied by Hunk and Pidge. Lance falls behind, the Blue Lion not answering his commands. Battle is joined, Lotor announcing himself and engaging them. Amid the battle, which goes poorly for Keith, Pidge, and Hunk, Lance and Allura determine what is the matter; Lance is now to pilot the Red Lion, and Allura the Blue. Once they join the fight, along with the Castle, matters improve for the Paladins--because Lotor withdraws. The need to learn more is noted, and the new Paladins begin to settle into their new roles--which includes Keith leading aggressively, pursuing Lotor.

Discussion

A matter of particular note in the episode, and one that emerges only across the entirety, is that the Paladins as they become and Lotor's personal forces are mirrors of one another. Both consist of five primary operatives--the five Paladins, Lotor and his lieutenants--each possessed of complementary skills and attitudes. Both are ostensibly headed by princely rank--neither Allura nor Lotor has fully succeeded the previous monarch, although both are ranking members of their people. The gender-balance of the groups does not quite match--the Paladins are more evenly distributed than Lotor's group--but Lotor's are more unified in purpose, even so. They thus constitute a speculum obscurum for each other--although, given the clear situation of the Paladins as the progatonists, Lotor's group is meant to be the "dark" version (as their clothes convey, though their skins are more diversely colored than the Paladins').

That they are a clearer counterpart to the Paladins than Zarkon is made manifest in their seemingly gentler methods. What Zarkon sought to do with force and could not sustain against determined resistance, Lotor and his lieutenants accomplish with guile--and successfully. They are a thinking enemy, and therefore more dangerous--not only because of Evil Overlord List concerns, although those apply, but also because they are more than a brute against whom rallying is easy. Like the Paladins, they are not so easily misdirected--and with the shift in leadership among the Paladins, there is some suggestion of greater danger.

For Keith has assumed Shiro's station, and if he is like Arthur--even to having Lance at his right hand, along with his special sword--then he is also, as the Gawain-poet puts is, "sumquat childgered," and it shows in his inept leadership in the fight against Lotor. And a hot-headed, impulsive leader is not the kind to put against cold, cunning calculation.

A Note of Congratulations

On the off chance that these haven't already been noted, congratulations are in order for Shiloh Carroll and Carol Jamison, both of whom have new books out!

Shiloh's is here: https://boydellandbrewer.com/medievalism-in-i-a-song-of-ice-and-fire-i-and-i-game-of-thrones-i-hb.html

Carol's is here: https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/Chivalry-in-Westeros/

Buy them! Read them! Let us know how awesome they are!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 3.1, "Changing of the Guard"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender deals with successions--for good and for ill.

3.1, "Changing of the Guard"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Steve In Chang Ahn

Synopsis

In the wake of the climactic battle with Zarkon, Keith searches through the debris left by the fight, reflecting upon the combat and the loss of Shiro. He acknowledges that Shiro is not to be found and returns to the Castle of Lions. There, Corran and Allura confer about diplomatic matters. She worries about whether the newly-freed worlds can effectively unite and fight the still-mighty Galra Empire. Additionally, actions against the Empire continue, spearheaded by the Paladins and assisted by the Blade of Marmora. Although the actions are successful, there is tension associated with the Galra fighters, despite their resistance to the Empire.

Pidge follows up on the search for her family, conferring with Corran. They tumble to the idea that a loosely organized resistance is forming organically. Corran checks up on other Paladins and the unification efforts--and the inability to form Voltron in the absence of Shiro. Keith rejects the idea of finding a new Paladin.

Meanwhile, Zarkon lives, attended by Haggar. Zarkon's commanders seek audience, but they are dissuaded by Haggar. Lotor's agent marks the tension.

A diplomatic meeting begins on the Castle of Lions. It proceeds poorly despite the promise of effective resistance; the lack of Voltron is a sticking point for many, and Keith's repeated outbursts do not help.

Lotor attends and competes in gladiatorial combat among the Galra, stifling talk of dissent against his regency. His unorthodox methods occasion significant comment. His personal agents also prompt concern. Still, he is clearly effective, and he garners support thereby--although he still deals harshly with those who oppose him.

At the Castle of Lions, the Paladins, Allura, and Corran comfort Keith as he determines to succeed Shiro--as was intended.

Discussion

Notably, the introductory animation continues to feature Shiro as the pilot of the Black Lion, despite his disappearance from it in the previous episode. As noted in the write-up thereof, the idea of Shiro as an Arthurian "once and future" leader is present in the series--his return is like to spur celebration.

Aside from that, however, the issue of succession to power is one that emerges frequently in medieval and medievalist work. In the medieval European, particularly, with its oft-reported emphasis on the divine right of kings to rule, it would seem that fighting over who would take over after the death or incapacitation of a ruler would be unnecessary--but that does not mean it was not often engaged in and used as an ad baculum argument for legitimacy. (Admittedly, there would generally be attempts to legitimize the rule in other ways, but it was violence that secured it.) Such is the case with Lotor, whose parentage should have made him an incontestable successor but who nonetheless had to defeat a potential rival in public combat before being able to assume command.

It is of some interest that the "typical" medieval succession--"legitimacy" covering violent accession--is associated with the antagonists in the series, rather than with the protagonists that mark earlier treatments. The Malorian Arthur, after all, had to fight battles against no few kings to secure his rule--despite Merlin's machinations and the complicity of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The War of the Roses was a succession struggle, the Hundred Years War was fought in part over succession, and the Norman Invasion was conducted similarly. And while it is the case that victors write histories, so that the protagonists in the narratives of those events are generally those who successfully concluded wars, the pattern of "good guys" fighting their way into power remains a long one; its subversion therefore attracts attention. Consideration of it would be welcome.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.13, "Blackout"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The second season of Voltron: Legendary Defender ends with the expected, climactic battle--and motion towards a new enemy to come.

2.13, "Blackout"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

Voltron assails Zarkon's vessel to disable or destroy it utterly. Against Haggar's recommendation, however, and the concerns of his own technicians, Zarkon dons the armor that had been in preparation for him--a mimicry of Voltron--and makes to engage the Legendary Defender personally. Haggar enacts a ritual to drain power from Voltron, and the mighty robot is incapacitated as Zarkon enters the fray.

The Castle of Lions is able to interdict Zarkon's attack briefly, buying Voltron enough time to reactivate and join the battle. Agents of the Blade of Marmora escort Allura to Zarkon's ship to prevent Haggar from performing the ritual again, and more fighting ensues.

Amid the conflict with Zarkon, Voltron is forced to separate back into the five component Lions, and Shiro suffers from it. The other Paladins press Zarkon to buy him more time, and he wakes amid their efforts. Directing himself toward Zarkon, he engages him in a new manner, the Black Lion passing through Zarkon's armor and retrieving at long last the Black Paladin's bayard. Voltron reforms in the wake of it--as Allura faces and bests Haggar, recognizing her for an Altean.

The Castle of Lions and Zarkon's ship come back online nearly as one, and Voltron makes one final blow against Zarkon, defeating him--although he survives, if only barely. The Castle recovers the Lions, only to discover that Shiro is gone, somehow--and Haggar calls for the summons of Prince Lotor.

Discussion

The series has had some Arthurian overtones throughout, and they continue in the present episode. For if the Paladins are in some ways mimetic of the Round Table, then Shiro is in some ways evocative of Arthur--and particularly so in the present episode. For he is able to recover a weapon that was illicitly acquired or retained, much as the Malorian Arthur is able to recover Excalibur from Accolon (who had it by aid of a witch, not unlike how Zarkon is empowered by aid of Haggar). And although he gravely wounds his foe in the final battle and himself falls, he is not dead--he leaves no corpse that would confirm his death. Rather, like Arthur, who "is not deed / But had by the wylle of our lord Ihesu in to another place," Shiro is simply gone, somewhere other than he would be expected to be after a confrontation that left the Black Lion wholly intact.

The episode is the end of the second season, so the maneuver works to set up the next one--particularly in conjunction with the announcement of Lotor's summons. Those who watched the 80s iteration of the series were no doubt waiting for him to appear; it seems they will now be able to do so, and what the reimagined series does with him will be something worth investigating.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender 2.12, "Best Laid Plans"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The Paladins' plans hasten toward their conclusion in the penultimate episode of the season.

2.12, "Best Laid Plans"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

Following a motivational speech that re-explains the plan against Zarkon, and as Thace endures more interrogation, the Paladins and their allies set out to enact that plan. Shiro offers himself as bait; Zarkon enlists Haggar's aid in his search and takes that bait, and, despite the Blade or Marmora's recommendation that the mission be aborted in the absence of communication from Thace, the plan proceeds.

Keith offers himself as an infiltrator to spur the plan ahead; Allura takes a moment to apologize to him for her treatment of him. He launches, and the mission continues, with Shiro cutting a path through the Galra onslaught to allow Keith access to Zarkon's own ship. Meanwhile, Thace makes an escape and proceeds along his part of the mission, long since assigned him.

Shiro begins to falter in his lone battle, but receives aid from the other Paladins as Thace is pursued and Keith rendezvous with him. Struggles to keep the Galra at bay and enact the plan to disable Zarkon's ship ensue, but, with a self-sacrifice by Thace, the plan succeeds. The Galra are thwarted, Zarkon's ship sent far away--and the Castle follows, with Voltron forming to enact a final end to the Galra Emperor.

Discussion

The episode, focusing on a daring strike against the Galra leader, is primarily taken up with intense action. But this is not discordant with medieval chivalric literature--or its own predecessors, such as the Classical epics. Individual and group combats receive substantial attention in such works as Malory's, as witness such occasions as Gawain's first fight after being knighted, or the battles in which Arthur consolidates his kingship, Lancelot's judicial combats on Guinevere's behalf, or the final battle between Arthur and his nephew-son, Mordred. Neither, however, is it necessarily so restricted, although whether because of the strength of tradition or from some underlying other cause is not clear, at least to my eye. So, while what happens in the episode is not, in overall form, out of line with what the medieval the series largely evokes does, neither is it straitly bound to it--but the medieval is polyvalent, so it makes sense that the medievalist would be, as well, and there may well be more to see in the episode.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Bit Less TaT at Kalamazoo 2018

In a bit of unfortunate news, both panelists for the 2018 Tales after Tolkien Society paper session at the International Congress on Medieval Studies have withdrawn; unforeseen complications seem to have afflicted both. As such, there will be no paper session for us this time around--although the business meeting is, at this time, slated to proceed as normal. So if you're in the area at the appropriate time, come on by and see us!

Thank you for your continued support.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.11, "Stayin' Alive"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The Paladins' plans approach their enactment in a straightforward episode of the series.

2.11, "Stayin' Alive"

Written by May Chan
Directed by Steve In Cheng Ahn

Synopsis

Allura proceeds to the Balmera to collect a particularly large crystal with which to enact the plan to defeat Zarkon. As she does, Coran contacts her, and they exchange updates on their progress. Allura also confesses some of her concerns, which Coran allays. And when she arrives at the Balmera, she is welcomed by the locals, although the Robeast that had been defeated there receives some attention.

Meanwhile, a druid reports continues espionage to Haggar. She orders specific surveillance.

At the Balmera, Allura is able to retrieve the crystal and get it to the Castle of Lions. Not long after, however, the beaten Robeast re-emerges and attacks; a fight ensues, and the Castle of Lions is hard put to defend itself.

Haggar's orders yield results. Thace, retrieving stolen data, is taken and sent to Haggar for her special attentions.

Allura, under attack, calls for the Paladins to return to the Castle. They do so, form Voltron, and defeat the Robeast. In the wake of the victory, they reunite again, with Allura continuing to hold her hatred for all Galra--including Keith--and the rest looking ahead to the fight to come. Coran confers with Allura about the coming events, as do the Paladins; all look forward to a universe in which Zarkon is no longer a threat--all while Haggar interrogates Thace, upon whom their plans depend.

Discussion

The episode is fairly straightforward, seeming more to serve as notice of what Allura and Coran are about than as offering any particular character development (as the preceding episode does for Lance) or making much of any given trope. There is something of the magical princess about Allura yet, although that had already been treated at some length in the earlier Balmera episodes, and her racism remains as problematic as it had previously been.

One thing it does well, however, is to remind viewers that Allura is not the kind of princess depicted in much chivalric literature; she is active and engaged, and if she is not the fearsome combatant that, say, Shiro or Keith is, she is nonetheless capable in her own right. And even if she has some less fortunate aspects to her character, she is, at least, an equal character, rather than merely an object of veneration, in whose name deeds are done.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Tales after Tolkien at Kalamazoo 2018

As many of you will know, the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has opened registration and published its "sneak peek" schedule. The Society has two functions on the schedule this time:
  • Business Meeting, Friday, 11 May 2018, 5:15p local time, Bernhard 213
  • Panel, Reclaiming the Dead and the Undead, Saturday, 12 May 2018, 10:00a local time, Schneider 1140
Most of the business meeting will be taken up with the election of new officers, following the Society Constitution 4.2.2. As a reminder, this means we'll be voting for the following:
  • President, 2018-2021
  • Vice-President (At-large), 2018-2020
  • Vice-President (USA), 2018-2019
  • Secretary, 2018-2020
Both the Vice-President (USA) and Social Media Officer will be up for election at the 2019 AGM. And we'll be working out some logistics for the election, so stay tuned for details.

We'll also be setting the agenda for the Society for the next year, particularly what sessions we mean to propose for the 2019 Congress and other conferences. Again, logistics are forthcoming, so check back for details.

The panel has two participants, both of which have awesome-looking papers. If you're at the Congress, please attend. I look forward to seeing all of you there.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.10, "Escape from Beta Traz"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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The Paladins of Voltron enact a prison break, hearkening back to one of the more prevalent tropes of chivlaric literature and helping one of their own find his place.

2.10, "Escape from Beta Traz"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

In the Blue Lion, Lance, Pidge, and Shiro approach the prison site that is their assigned objective--and from which they are to free the scientist, Slav. That he is a high-priority target is indicated by their explication of the prison as they infiltrate it with some difficulty and begin to reconnoiter it.

Meanwhile, Zarkon continues his psychic search for the Black Lion--without success. His obsession with the matter attracts comment as it continues.

The Paladins identify two holding cells in the prison and split up to find their target. As they do, Slav is tortured, his mind ransacked for information about weapons and other military and related technologies. Pidge, operating as something like mission control, also searches out data on her missing brother as Shiro and Lance advance.

Shiro achieves his objective, reaching Slav and beginning to extract him. He is confronted by the excessive strangeness of Slav's personality, however, and they proceed only with difficulty. Lance, meanwhile, reaches what he thinks, wrongly, is his objective, and frees from confinement a large creature that soon proves remarkably combat-capable. Lance also begins to puzzle over his place among the Paladins, becoming dispirited as he does so--and Shiro continues to struggle with Slav.

Both Lance and Pidge find themselves discovered, and prison defenses begin to activate as Lance and Shiro reunite and race to the Blue Lion for extraction. They are interdicted by the prison's warden, who personally intervenes in their escape, augmenting his abilities to do so. Lance shows himself to be of value and to have a particular role on the team, making a skilled shot to enable their escape--and in its wake, the Galra warden shows himself to have something of a soft side, as Lance's putative objective was, in fact, the warden's pet.

All the while, Zarkon continues his search to no avail, and hints of a weapon to come are offered.

Discussion

The episode centers on the carceral, on imprisonment and the prospect of release from it. That it is is highlighted in the very name of the episode and the eponymous facility. "Beta Traz" evokes Alcatraz, one of the archetypes of The Prison in the American imagination toward which the series seems to be directed--and suggests that the facility is impregnable save for the peculiar circumstances represented by the Legendary Defender.

The carceral factors mightily into chivalric literature. One of the most poignant passages in Malory, for example, centers on Tristan's imprisonment and Malory's self-insertion into the narrative, giving an editorial aside that likely stems from his comments at the very end of the text, bewailing his own imprisonment. And Shiro and Allura have both been prisoners of the Galra, so it is not as if the carceral is previously unknown in the series, offering a point of correspondence between the two. And if it is not the case that the present episode bemoans imprisonment the way Malory does, editorially or directly in the text, Shiro's repeated instances of PTSD and the torture scenes--slightly elided against the rating of the series--that do appear, as well as possibly Slav's own fragmented perception, all speak to the horrors of being a prisoner, something with which the chivlaric engages and with which contemporary viewership would do well to be concerned.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.9, "The Belly of the Weblum"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry in the series soon!

As the Voltron Force, now with allies, prepares to assault Zarkon again, two of the Paladins undertake a mission with Biblical overtones.

2.9. "The Belly of the Weblum"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

As the Paladins and the Blade of Marmora plan a coordinated attack against Zarkon's forces (which plan is explicated by Lance), Allura remains skeptical of the Galra fighters, and Keith sadly contemplates his own situation. Of importance will be a large wormhole device, components for which have to be harvested; Keith and Hunk are dispatched to that end, while the other Paladins, Coran, and the Blade head off to enact their own parts of the plan. Allura is left alone on the Castle of Lions again.

Meanwhile, Zarkon continues to try to scry out the Black Lion, empowered by Haggar and the druids. He is unsuccessful, but he persists in the attempt.

As they progress to their stated goal, Hunk broaches the issue of Keith's mixed ancestry, noting Allura's hatred of the Galra. Keith tries to deflect the questions with a focus on old recordings provided as part of their mission briefing. The recordings are corrupted with time, however, so the scope of the Paladins' task is clear, although the details are anything but. This becomes an issue as Keith and Hunk encounter their target, a planet-eating beast called a weblum. After several close approaches to death, they manage to land upon and enter the beast.

As they do, Thace, working within the Galra command structure, continues his activities with difficulty. Haggar has assigned him security, which inhibits his freedom of movement.

Hunk and Keith proceed through the beast, navigating its strange, gargantuan biology with difficulty. They are separated in its gullet, with Hunk being pulled into the creature's bloodstream and Keith proceeding along the digestive tract. The latter encounters a Galra pilot and rescues the same; the two fare well as they approach the end of the weblum's alimentary canal, where Hunk rejoins them. Hunk puzzles out how to provoke the weblum into generating the materials needed for the Paladins' mission and acts on that revelation; Keith retrieves most of the material, although the Galra he freed turns on him and absconds with a supply of the material.

Discussion

While it may be the case that the Biblical Jonah narrative is the most obvious literary precedent for the episode, there is something of Jörmungandr about the weblum. A world-destroying serpentine creature (although one that seems more grub-like than snake-like) can hardly but invite the comparison (acknowledging again that Scripture offers another precedent: Leviathan). Framing the episode in such terms presents Keith as something of a Jesus-figure, as well; entry into the whale is often understood as a descent into hell--and the conditions inside the weblum are hardly hospitable to the Paladins--and Keith effects the rescue of one trapped within, mimicking the Harrowing detailed in the Gospel of Nicodemus and refigured abundantly in such Old and Middle English sources as Cynewulf, Ælfric of Eynsham, and the Auchinleck MS. And, in rescuing the Galra caught in the weblum, Keith reiterates part of the Paladins' code of behavior, long since identified as mimetic of the Malorian Round Table.

The medievalism is perhaps oblique in the episode, but it remains in place and worth consideration.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.8: "The Blade of Marmora"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
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Plots thicken around the Paladins and the Blade of Marmora as they meet at last, and Keith shows something of his own history and his title's.

2.8. "The Blade of Marmora"

Written by Mark Bermesderfer
Directed by Steve In Chang Anh

Synopsis

As Keith contemplates matters, Shiro asks Coran about their approach to the base of the Blade of Marmora, coordinates to which had been given the Paladins before. They arrive amid the exclamations of delight by the other Paladins, while Keith grows angry at their flippancy, and Allura warns of a trap after seeing that the base is cleverly situated amid cosmic phenomena.

The base queries the Paladins and, after Shiro responds, admits two; Shiro and Keith enter. As they approach, Shiro chides Keith for his earlier outburst and reconfirms him as his successor. After a difficult passage, they enter the Blade's base.

Meanwhile, Haggar interrogates a Galra in the matter of the Paladins' earlier escape.

In the base, the Blade test both Shiro and Keith, focusing their attention on the latter for having a knife they claim belongs to them. He challenges their assertions and begins combat trials to prove his right to it. Contemporaneously, Allura grows impatient and tasks Hunk with finding out what has transpired--and the Galra spy, Thace, continues to act clandestinely until summoned to Haggar.

At length, Keith figures out an end to the combat trials, only to collapse into a series of visions that promise him knowledge but do not deliver. Shiro seeks to intervene in his ordeal, and the Red Lion acts of its own accord to save him.

Meanwhile, Haggar interrogates Thace, who manages to deflect her attentions. She tasks him with the continued pursuit of the infiltration into Galra ranks.

Shiro reaches Keith as the Paladins make to enact their own approach. A brief fight ensues, only to be ended when Keith offers to surrender his knife. As he does, it awakens, and Keith is confirmed as having Galra ancestry. In the wake of the revelation, negotiations between the Blade and the Paladins commence.

Discussion

The obvious bits of the medievalist in the episode are in the trials by combat and the awakening of the magic weapon--although, to be fair, both tropes extend far further back. Both are inextricably bound to typical conceptions of knighthood, however, so they bear some mention and attention.

Knights--or paladins, as the case may be--are often tested by ritual combat, both in the jousts that pervade such works as Malory's or, in some iterations, in their ascent to the dignity of knighthood. Indeed, the dubbing evokes a fight endured and survived, being a non-lethal contact from a blade. That Keith undergoes such is therefore to be expected; indeed, it is to be wondered at that more of the Paladins do not endure such testing. (Shiro's gladiatorial experience would seem to do for him, to be sure--and, as he is senior to Keith, it is sensible that his trial would take a seemingly older form than Keith's, with the gladiators associated with Rome and the knights with the later medieval.) There is a bit of a subversion in the test, however, since Keith does not succeed through force of arms, but through circumventing the obvious terms of the test--albeit after a fair bit of knightly stubbornness in pursuing those terms.

Keith's knife has been a key point throughout the second season of Voltron: Legendary Defender, so its central position in the current episode is not a surprise. Nor, truly, is it a surprise that it would awaken in his hands; alone of the Paladins, he wields a sword as his "special" weapon, and his hand has been what has produced Voltron's sword. Too, the Voltron of decades past was noted most for its deployment of the Blazing Sword, so the idea of a particularly eminent bladed weapon wielded by the right hand of Voltron--or its Paladin--is not at all far-fetched.

And it coincides neatly with the reassertion that Keith is Shiro's chosen successor. The wielder of a magic weapon--usually a sword--is most frequently figured as a sort of chosen one, an heir to the mighty powers that are available to wield. Arthur is one such, of course, as are any number of others. Again, the trope is one that extends far back into the past, but that Keith--the designated leader-to-be, right hand of the leader, indeed the one who was the leader in older versions of the narrative--wields a sword that only someone of his blood can awaken does just a bit more to tie Legendary Defender to the medieval and medievalist past.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.7: "Space Mall"

Read the previous entry in the series here!
Read the next entry in the series here!

Most of the Voltron Force gets a break from the action, while Shiro works out some problems--and less fortunate overtones emerge.

2.7. "Space Mall"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

The episode opens with Shiro's note that he and the Black Lion are what draw Zarkon's attention and pursuit, so he commits to forging a deeper bond with the machine. As he does so, Coran and the other Paladins make for a nearby trade center to acquire the necessary materials to repair the Castle of Lions. Allura is left alone on the Castle--under protest--and the mice with whom she had been in stasis entertain her throughout much of the episode.

Coran, Keith, Lance, Pidge, and Hunk make for the trade station. Coran briefs them--incorrectly, in the event--on what to expect and provides them disguises; the Paladins set the costumes aside, but they attract the attention of local low-level security in doing so. The security officer pursues them haphazardly throughout their stay in the station--and the Paladins find themselves drawn into hijinks. Hunk, for example, mistakes sold plates for samples and is forced to work off his debt--but he shows himself a gourmand master chef and impresses the locals. Keith investigates his strange knife, drawing attention to himself in the process. Pidge finds problems with toilet facilities before being drawn away by Lance to a shop selling Earth products; they make a notable purchase. Coran, meanwhile, after some bumbling succeeds in the central mission of the day, acquiring the materials to repair the Castle. The security guard pursues the lot of them unsuccessfully, and they escape back to the Castle of Lions.

As the episode progresses, Shiro is shown some of the history of Voltron, the Black Lion, and the Galra. As he learns of them, he attracts the attention of Zarkon, who assails him psychically. They fight for control of the Black Lion; Zarkon claims that dominance is needed, and Shiro that mutual trust and respect are key. The Lion chooses Shiro and rejects Zarkon with some force, striking him astrally on his command ship.

At the end of the episode, with the Paladins, Coran, and Allura gathered together on the Castle, Shiro purposes to approach the Blade of Marmora. The Voltron Force proceeds with a new sense of purpose and confidence into what will soon come.

Discussion

The episode is for the most part a lighter one, a largely humorous side-story that serves to break narrative tension. As part of that, "Space Mall" makes a number of references to pop culture properties likely to be familiar to the expected audience; Dragon Ball Z and other anime receive attention, and an oblique reference to the first episode of South Park appears--along with a joke involving the name of the episode's writer. So that much is to the good.

Additionally, several of the medievalist motifs continue from previous episodes, such as the interleaving of narratives and the cycles of departure and return. Too, Shiro's psychic battle with Zarkon seems in some ways to partake of the medieval dream-vision, evoking the visions had by the Round Table Knights during the Grail Quest. That much is also to the good.

Less fortunate are some of the racist overtones that emerge in the episode. Race has been an issue in other episodes, to be sure, with Allura's vehement rejection of the idea that any Galra can be other than evil--and that matter does receive some attention in Shiro's dream-vision, in which even Zarkon receives some gesture towards sympathetic characterization. Yet the presentation of the Unilu in the episode, both in Coran's recollection and in the characters of multiple vendors, comes off as even more problematic. (Allura has at least the excuse of having seen her people destroyed by the Galra and being actively engaged in a fight against their dictatorial majority government.) Their description by Coran echoes those derogatorily applied to the Romani beginning in the late medieval and early modern periods (as typically construed). The depiction of two of them--the knife vendor and shopkeeper in the mall--also contribute to the negative depiction, the latter overtly, the former through association with the (admittedly modern) sleazy figure of the television huckster. While there are for less helpful overtones that could have been invoked--at least the episode avoids motion toward the blood libel--that the series does make the references it does in the current episode is not to its credit.

Perpetuating the wrong-headed ideas that previous eras have held and that too many still hold is not to be praised.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.6: "The Ark of Taujeer"

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here!

As the Voltron Force continues its quest across the cosmos, they return to one vision of the Arthurian chivalric, saving a forlorn people.

2.6. "The Ark of Taujeer"

Written by Mark Bemesderfer
Directed by Chris Palmer

Synopsis

The Galra have stripped a planet of its resources and forced the full population to retreat to a single ship with a single engine, described as an ark by the natives. Meanwhile, Allura asserts that Zarkon is tracking the Paladins through her; Keith retorts that he is the tracking agency. Pidge claims that the Black Lion itself is the issue, and Shiro asserts that the Paladins will be going on the attack.

Pidge presents a mechanistic means of finding targets, noting Taujeer is the nearest likely target. After, Keith and Shiro talk briefly; Keith makes to rest, but considers his strange dagger until interrupted by a seeming call to arms. The Red Lion rejects him, and he finds himself among the Galra--but only in dream.

Keith makes to leave, but is happened upon by Allura about the same business. They confer about the need to isolate tracking factors and decide to leave together. The other Paladins note the absence of Keith and Allura. Lance jumps to romantic conclusions, and Allura and Keith note their plan. Shiro rejects the plan, but Keith and Allura assert their continued intent--as the Castle of Lions enters a debris field emanating from Taujeer.

The Paladins deploy to investigate, and the Taujeer natives relate their plight. The Paladins agree to help as the gravity of the situation becomes clear. The lack of one Paladin and the accompanying Lion is noted, and work to assist proceeds apace.

Meanwhile, Keith and Allura confer about their own situation, and Keith broaches the idea of some few Galra, at least, as allies. Allura rejects the idea--and Zarkon continues his search, dispatching the nearest Galra commander back to Taujeer under duress.

Work to save the Taujeerians proceeds, and progress is made. Keith and Allura continue to confer. The situation on Taujeer becomes more urgent--for the Galra attack. The Paladins make to interdict the attack and support the Taujeerians. Keith and Allura make to return to action, but their small craft explodes, stranding them in space as the fight against the Galra continues.

The Red Lion launches itself to retrieve Keith and Allura amid the ongoing battle. The Yellow Lion manifests a new power, keeping the Taujeerians from falling to their doom. The Red Lion returns in time to save the lot. The Galra are repulsed and the Taujeerians saved--and Keith and Allura apologize for their departure, so Shiro puzzles out that the Black Lion is attracting the Galra.

Discussion

Early in the episode, the Galra commander comments that if the natives "are strong enough to survive, they will; that is the Galra way." The comment, an iteration of ad baculum or "might makes right," is an easy shorthand for evil or badness. It is also the kind of ethic that Arthurian knighthood, as often conceived by Victorian and later thinkers, explicitly rejects; White's take on the Round Table, underpinning many people's conceptions of chivalry, offers one example. While more formal students of Arthuriana will be aware that the Round Table Knights are not quite so noble--as modern thought conceives of the noble--as all that, the Pentecostal Oath to which the Round Table swears annually does at least move away from a flatly might-makes-right dynamic. And, again, more prevalent ideas of knighthood as a motion towards sainthood--the kind of ethos that Tolkien's knight-like protagonists display and against which Martin poses most of his own knighthood--align against force-as-justification.

Or they do so nominally. In the event, of course, the "good guys" do have more military might on their side than their opposition. Lancelot wins his fights because he is stronger and more skilled. Aragorn has a divine lineage, decades of experience, and a motley assortment of peculiarly capable companions. The Paladins have Voltron, described repeatedly as the ultimate weapon in the cosmos. Their rejection of might-makes-right becomes ironic or hypocritical in the event--but they are not the less correspondent to their medieval and medievalist forebears in being so.