Thursday, February 22, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender Rewatch 2.13, "Blackout"

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

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


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.


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!
Read the next entry in the series here!

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


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.


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!
Read the next entry in the series here!

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


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.


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!
Read the next entry in the series here!

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


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.


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.