Thursday, May 31, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 5.1, "The Prisoner"

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Following a short fourth season, the series presses on with the continued fight against the Galra--and the promise of a difficult decision to come.

5.1, "The Prisoner"

Written by Eugene Son
Directed by Chris Palmer


The Paladins of Voltron assail a sinister-seeming Galra installation in orbit around a dark world, one manufacturing new matériel; success will hinder Galra efforts for months to come. Initial stages of the assault proceed well until a piloting error occasions problems and alerts the facility to the Paladins' presence. The Paladins improvise and successfully complete their mission, destroying the facility in spectacular fashion.

After, during debriefing, the Paladins question their good fortune and propose pressing their advantage. Doing so involves interrogating Lotor, taken at the end of the previous season, who works towards manipulating the Paladins--Allura, particularly. He lays out his grand plans for reorganizing the Galra Empire along the lines of clean energy--in Machiavellian fashion. It is not a pleasant conversation, and Lotor sues for fair judgment.

Is this the face of a penitent?
Image taken from the episode, used for critique.
Later, Lance comes in on Allura preparing for a meeting. After a brief exchange, Allura proceeds to the meeting, updating the coalition on current affairs. Bonds are reaffirmed, and, afterwards, the Blade of Marmora reports on its own progress. Pidge notes the impending changes to Galra procedures, and Allura notes the possibility that Lotor plots against them--something seemingly confirmed when Lotor offers additional information, data noting Pidge's father's location.

Pidge and Matt confer with another member of the coalition about updates to their technology. They are reached there by the Paladins, who note the information to them. The two rush off before they can be assisted by the other Paladins; others of the coalition accompany them as they proceed to their father's last known location and reconnoiter the facility--attracting attention as they do. A fight ensues, with the Green Lion acquitting itself well and dropping Matt and the coalition forces onto the facility. Matt has equipment trouble, from which he is extracted as infiltration continues.

The infiltrators find the ground forces of the facility quiescent--although air forces are not, as Pidge continues having to fight them. They find workers toiling over machines and are discovered; the workers are fearful and note a "scary lady" who had threatened them; the presence of other prisoners is noted, and Matt investigates, searching for his father. Extraction is delayed by continuing air action, and an alternate egress is found--which is delayed by Matt, who returns without his father. Escape is treacherous, especially given the continued aerial fighting, but it is accomplished successfully. In its wake, Matt reports his failure to Pidge, and the two sorrow over their continued loss.

Amid the Galra, Lotor's erstwhile lieutenants begin to plot their return to the Galra. Soon after, Zarkon sends the Paladins a message, offering to trade Matt and Pidge's father for Lotor.


There is something medievalist in Lotor's situation. The decree of outlawry that attends on him rings of the medieval, and connections could be drawn between him and various heretical movements that sought to reform and reinvigorate medieval Europe, particularly those that sought to foster diverse coalitions rather than those that worked with disaffected nobles. Similarly, his imprisonment in the Castle of Lions has a medievalist feel to it; Shiro and Allura are depicted as descending--insofar as such a term has meaning in space--to speak with him, and his cell is isolated amid darkness, alone.

Deep and dark, indeed.
Image taken from the episode, used for critique.
As has been remarked in many other places, the carceral experience looms large in medieval European thought. The ostensible grounding of the European medieval in Christian holy texts demands it; the Epistles are, themselves, carceral writing. Too, major works of the European medieval thought are products of incarceration--Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur is an easy example, but far from the only one. And many such works make much of imprisonment--again, Malory offers an easy, but not an exclusive, example. (My training's in Malory, in case you were wondering.) The expectation for such things, fueled by the kind of pop culture background Paul B. Sturtevant discusses in The Middle Ages in Popular Imagination: Memory, Film , and Medievalism, is that noble prisoners will be held in deep, dark dungeons, waiting either to extricate themselves or to be extricated by their fellows--and while Lotor is in something like a deep, dark dungeon, and his carriage is one that bespeaks a certain nobility (albeit one tempered by his Machiavellian speech and earlier actions), but there are no comrades to extract him. (Escaping on his own is far from out of the question.) The situation is itself something that he would not be wrong to lament--the more so if his protestations of intent are sincere.

That he looks to face a return to the unmerciful hands of his father does not improve matters for him. Indeed, it may well put the lie to Malory's contention that sickness is the worst of a prisoner's travails...

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