Thursday, January 18, 2018

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

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

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.