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


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.


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.

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