Thursday, July 26, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 6.3, "Monsters & Mana"

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Something of a diversion presents itself as the Legendary Defender presses on in the quest to save the universe.

6.3, "Monsters & Mana"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Steven In Chang Ahn


Pidge and hunk run through a fog-shrouded forest, arrayed strangely and chased by what appears to be an ogre. After a fraught chase, they are able to defeat their pursuer, gaining a reward and continuing on a quest to save Hunk's village. They come to an inn, finding it full of fantasy medievalist tropes.
This scene looks familiar...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The Paladins confer with the innkeeper, finding information about an evil wizard, Daken, whom they must defeat. And they find a dark stranger who seems willing to help: Shiro, a Paladin. They confer about their circumstances and backgrounds, with Shiro explicating his instruction in a knightly code and mission for revenge. He joins them in a bit of a rush, only to have an attack from a giant rodent follow immediately.
It does seem to be of an unusual size...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

A fight ensues, and the scene shifts to the players rather than their character--and discussion of the game itself. Coran explicates his history with the game, bringing the other Paladins into the experience as he explains the concept of the role-playing game. The circumstances allowing them to play are explicated, and play resumes with an expanding party.

New characters are introduced, with Allura saving her compatriots and introducing herself in a dramatic monologue. Lance follows similarly, with Pidge's character background emerging, as well. The quest continues, with no few role-playing game tropes (arguments over equipment, puzzle-solving, out-of-character references, metagaming, and game-master hijinks) pervading the continued action.

After an adventuring montage, the characters come across a treasure hoard that offers them much of use.
Among the offerings is a strangely familiar sword...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

But it is at that point that the party is attacked--by the putative innkeeper, who reveals himself as Daken. Battle is joined in fine role-playing game style, with the players facing great difficulty in their efforts but ultimately prevailing--and realizing solutions to their immediate circumstances in the resolution to the game.


Medievalist, not medieval, to be sure.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As a loving and evidently well informed call-out to Dungeons & Dragons, the episode is inherently medievalist; the game referenced is itself noted for its medievalist origins, borrowing extensively from Tolkien and from various military and political histories of the Middle Ages. Borrowing from it, in turn, is a continuation of the trope it embodies--one that itself pervades medieval literature and art, with the frequent appropriation and refiguring of characters and whole stories by other creators in other times and places. (The retelling of Chaucer's Miller's Tale in Heile van Beersele, per Frederick M. Biggs's 2005 Review of English Studies piece, "The Miller's Tale and Heile van Beersele," offers one example. The accretion of myth around King Arthur, beginning in Gildas and Nennius and extending through Geoffrey of Monmouth through Malory, offers another and more extensive. There are any number of others.) And that medievalism is evident even from the beginning of the episode, with Pidge's armor and Hunk's monk-like attire (and tonsure!), as well as in no few other touches throughout the episode. Shiro's seven-fold knightly code is an obvious one, evoking Malory's Pentecostal Oath (which can, itself, be read as offering seven commands).

Older guy, hooded and in the dark. Looks like Aragorn to me...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Similarly, like Dungeons and Dragons, the episode borrows tropes from Tolkien--in this case, from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. The oversized innkeeper and the shadowy introduction of Shiro both call back to the Prancing Pony in Bree. And they, themselves, call to mind an idea, admittedly romanticized and with some anachronism, of the tap-rooms and taverns that inform not only medieval literature (Chaucer's Tabard comes to mind), but also medieval (and later!) histories. In so doing, the episode connects itself to long narrative traditions, situating itself and the series in which it exists within them, linking a fictional story of the far future to a historical and legendary past that continues to enrich all who would attend to it.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 6.2, "Razor's Edge"

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Love looms large as the Legendary Defender continues its sixth season.

6.2, "Razor's Edge"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Eugene Lee


In the wake of their previous adventure, Keith and Krolia continue to travel through the cosmos, Keith barraging his mother with questions. She defers answering against current exigencies--and over Keith's objections. She has intelligence on a fuel source for a superweapon--and the "quantum abyss" that seems to give rise to it--and directs them thither.

Aren't they sweet?
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.
Aboard the main Galra ship, Lotor confers with Allura again, prevailing upon her to replicate her father's work for his Empire. She believes his stated hope for peace, and there is some romantic tension between them broken by the arrival of Lance, Pidge, and Hunk. Lance views the situation amiss.

Keith and Krolia proceed to the abyss. The initial foray into it goes as smoothly as could be expected until local fauna makes itself known. Evasive maneuvers ensue, but the fauna continue to prove problematic--and the two abandon their ship. They are stranded amid the field, but they proceed--only to encounter more trouble as an energy wave approaches and envelops them.

It does seem strange.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.
Keith finds himself alone amid an energy field--and in civilian clothes. He sees his parents and confers with a distorted Shiro before returning to himself and asking Krolia about what he saw. She explains his visions as effects of the local distortions.

Lance, Pidge, and Hunk continue their work to integrate Galra technology into Altean. Lance remains disturbed, and the others tease him for it.

Keith and Krolia continue to navigate the abyss. It does not go well, and another vision presents itself to him. He sees Krolia's approach to Earth and her betrayal of her then-commander prior to her arrival on-planet. The Blade of Marmora's interference in the early search for Voltron's component lions is noted, and another energy wave reveals the continued secrecy of the lions, as well as the burgeoning involvement of Keith's parents. Krolia notes her regrets.

Lance continues to fret about Allura and Lotor. He considers his own emotions and his own inadequacy (along with his Cuban origins).

Keith and Krolia continue their progress toward the abyss. Difficulties are noted, and more local fauna presents itself--benignly. Another energy wave recalls the time after Keith's birth to him--and Krolia's return to service. Keith's father is injured amid a sabotage attempt, and Krolia interdicts the other Galra. The incident spurs her to return to the Galra to halt their progress toward Earth. After, the two of them use the local fauna to navigate toward the abyss, finding that the local fauna offer enough biosphere to sustain life. And more visions of the past present themselves as the two proceed, their time strangely dilated.

Allura continues her work, exhausting herself in it. The romantic tension between them emerges again, and Allura is advised by the Castle mice of Lance's feelings.

Keith and Krolia emerge to find a Galra base, which they investigate. It reveals a strangely bucolic scene, in which they find an Altean woman.

*insert dramatic music here*
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.


While the dominant narrative thread of the episode is that between Keith and Krolia--and it deserves more explication and analysis than can be readily applied to it here--that with what seems the most obvious medievalist overtones is the romantic triangle among Allura, Lance, and Lotor. Lotor demonstrates romantic longings for Allura, in no small part because she is the heir of the magic Altean kingdom, not unlike his antecedent Mordred's covetousness of Guinevere (although without the overt incestuous overtones in play). Lance has long been infatuated with Allura, although much of that infatuation has been adolescent (generously) and/or partaking of the kinds of toxic masculinity that are rightly decried. For Lotor to act as though he has romantic feelings for her has the predictable results shown in the episode; Lance grows angst-ridden and acts out of sorts. And in doing so, he mimics his medieval Arthurian antecedent, Lancelot.

To a modern reader of Malory, Lancelot acts as a moody teenager writ large with regards to Guinevere. He does outsized deeds in the hopes of impressing her, despite the social mores that ought to bind them both (and the violation of which effectively enables the downfall of Logres), and when she expresses displeasure with him, he mopes and swoons in ways that far too closely echo those I recall from my own adolescence to be anything like comfortable reading. (I wonder how widely shared the sensation is of being embarrassed by the reminder of teenage folly offered by a book.) This is particularly pronounced at the end of Malory's text, when Guinevere rejects Lancelot's advances in favor of atonement for their misdeeds; in essence, Lancelot whines himself to death. And while Voltron's Lance is more comedic and less "heroic" than his medieval antecedent, he is clearly following the same pattern--and with possibly similar results, since a romance gone awry could imperil the continuing function of the Legendary Defender itself.

Given the context, it is not likely that Lance will lead Voltron to ruin--at least, not from thwarted lust. It can be hoped that the showrunners have learned from what has come before and will offer more satisfying endings for the characters than that.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 6.1, "Omega Shield"

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The Paladins of Voltron begin their work to unite the Galra as the sixth season of Voltron: Legendary Defender begins.

6.1, "Omega Shield"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Chris Palmer


This sort of thing never bodes well.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.
With the Castle of Lions still near the Galra mothership, Lotor reaffirms his peaceful intentions to the Paladins, citing Allura's role. She commends him in turn, prompting sour expressions from Lance. As they continue to confer, returning to the Galra ship, they are confronted by a Galra disciplinarian, Lotor's former governess, Dayak. Lotor makes introductions all around, and Daia notes spread of news of Lotor's ascent through the Empire, exulting in the triumph of her former charge. Lotor commends her to the Paladins for instruction about the Galra--and she reveals the intensity of her belief. Hunk is tasked with undertaking the instruction, and the rest proceed to a briefing on the current state of affairs among the Galra. Sendak is noted as leading the most threatening splinter group, and Lotor purposes to address the issue of the splintering Empire via providing unlimited quintessence.

This also does not bode well.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.
Meanwhile, Hunk's instruction proceeds. The methods are much as one would expect for a people who were, even before their former leader's descent into evil, rigidly stratified and bellicose. He does, however, learn about the Galra history of conquest and genocide. Their combat-centric society is explicated amid the beginning stages of his training.

Lotor and Allura continue to confer about the need for her to follow her father's work. She is unclear of how to proceed, and is left to work as Lotor makes a speech to his people, claiming his throne openly and calling for their loyalty in exchange for receiving unlimited energy. There is resistance among the various Galra groups, and Sendak works to capitalize upon it, attacking those who would pledge to Lotor.

Hunk progresses in his training as Sendak's attack progresses. The Paladins intervene in the attack, expressing concern over Sendak's return. Shiro experiences some distress amid the conversation, which is noted by the others as their intervention proceeds.

It's a kind of magic.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.
Elsewhere, Haggar proceeds along the path to Oriande that Allura and Lotor had followed--and the interferes with Shiro as Voltron forms and joins battle with Sendak's forces. Sendak strikes at the civilian population and flees; Shiro continues to suffer from Hagar as efforts to protect the planet from natural phenomena begin. Voltron separates so that the individual Paladins can work to their strengths simultaneously, and repairs commence--as does a mutiny. Hunk's training emerges, and the Galra fall into line, averting the conflict. Hunk also awakens new abilities in the Yellow Lion, speeding progress. But Shiro's connection to Haggar also continues to cause problems; he experiences the assault of the White Lion, and the shield fails. Lance is injured, and Allura and Hunk respond. Allura heals Lance as Hunk tries to make a stopgap repair--that narrowly succeeds.

In the wake of the event, matters are eased, and the Paladins return to the Castle--with Shiro yet suffering. And Haggar emerges from Oriande greatly empowered and restored to her Altean self.


There is not necessarily much of the medieval in the present episode, aside from the long-established patterns the Paladins. A bit may emerge in the (admittedly brief) cross-training program Hunk undertakes (reluctantly, it must be admitted--but then, yellow is associated with cowardice, and Hunk has frequently been described as fearful). There is something that echoes, if quietly, the practice of fosterage--the exchange of children across households, done as a lesser peacemaking gesture than marriage and in the interest of easing feudal succession. The cultural competency Hunk displays--which suggests that his training went on for some time; spans between scenes are not always clear--and that results from his training becomes useful to him in carrying out his work int he episode.

It also, by explicating some of the Galra history, serves to depict them as having been nobler warriors than they now are. That depiction is complicated, however, as are all warrior ethics, by the necessity of violence to them, and further complicates through the open admission of early genocidal practices among the Galra. That is, Dayak openly asserts that the Galra homeworld hosted multiple sentient species early in the Galra history--but those species do not seem to appear in the series, evidently wiped out long before. But that necessary, even horrific violence is not without its medieval--and earlier--antecedents; the knights of old were necessarily killers, and if the best of them pretended to be restrained by such codes as Malory's Pentecostal Oath, the pretense was thing and not engaged in by many.

Perhaps more fortunate a medievalism is in the interactions between Lance and Allura in the episode. While he still remains a lecherous adolescent, his unthinking, headlong rush to get her clear of an energy discharge bespeaks the best parts of the chivalric idea his name evokes--Lancelot readily and repeatedly entered into seeming danger, doing so because he knew at an intuitive level that it was his place to do so. Similarly, Allura's evidently magical healing of Lance's injuries speaks to the wondrous fantastic so often couched in medievalist settings. As the putatively virginal monarch, and one who has been empowered through a journey into a paradisaical realm, she is an amalgamation of no few tropes prevalent in medieval art and literature--Marian overtones abound in her, and the royal ability to heal is evident, as well.

As such, the sixth season of Voltron: Legenday Defender seems poised to continue to deploy the medievalisms that have populated the series previously. What will happen with them will be interesting to see.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 5.6, "White Lion"

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As the fifth season of Voltron: Legendary Defender ends, Allura seems to have found what she has needed--even as another threat looms.

5.6, "White Lion"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Steve In Chang Ahn


The Castle of Lions is again in transit through space, carrying Lotor along with it as the group seeks to follow the compass stone--found previously amid Haggar's apparatus--to Oriande, the legendary font of Altean alchemy. Some doubts are raised as to the veracity of the information involved, but Allura sets them aside. Lotor lays out the general idea of Allura traveling to Oriande to master Altean alchemy so that she can enable his ships to tap raw quintessence--his plan to stave off conflict amind the Galra and between them and others.

It does seem to fit in nicely.
Image taken from the episode, used for critique.
Allura activates the compass stone in coordination with the Castle's star charts to plot a course. Coran notes the dangers of the surrounding space, and Allura orders a cautious approach--to Coran's chagrin. As they do so, they find a plethora of ruined, wrecked ships, the Castle threading its way among them to a massive upswelling of power--a white hole, the inverse of a black hole, that makes the surrounding space dangerous. Lotor quotes from an old Altean poem, explicating it as their current route--and that the course sends them into the white hole. Amid more expressions of doubt, Allura bids them continue in, taking Voltron as the sole means of being able to enter with any sense of safety.

They clearly need it.
Image taken from the episode, used for critique.
Entry is difficult, taxing Voltron's systems and the Paladins themselves, but they are able to make some progress--until an ethereal white lion assails them. Battle is joined, to no avail--and Lotor recognizes that the lion is a guardian, inhibiting the progress of non-Alteans. Voltron retreats and is broken into the component Lions, powerless and set adrift with the Castle. Shiro calls for a manual evacuation back to the Castle to regroup and confer. Coran restores power temporarily, and changes to Lotor's appearance are noted--as are those to Allura. They share the "mark of the chosen," bespeaking a peculiar Altean ancestry that should allow them access to Oriande. The two proceed alone via the Castle's personal craft--despite objections.

It's pretty...
Image taken from the episode, used for critique.
Their progress is easier, and the ethereal lion appears again. They are allowed to pass and emerge into something like a pocket dimension. They survey it, marveling at its beauty, and make landfall.

Meanwhile, the Paladins and Coran seek to restore full power to the Castle. Work proceeds slowly, and Lance frets about Allura. Shiro takes him into another room, confessing that he recalls little from an earlier experience. Lance reports what he can, expressing concern about Shiro; Shiro himself notes feeling confused and distracted.

Among the Galra, Lotor's former lieutenants explicate circumstances and discuss the possibility of carving out a piece of Galra space for themselves. Exor and Zethrid stalk off to amuse themselves, while Acxa ponders.

Clearly, a site to investigate.
Image taken from the episode, used for critique.
Allura and Lotor proceed, conferring about their fathers as they go. Lotor notes his regrets and some of Zarkon's atrocities, as well as his own heritage. Allura commends him, the two seeming to bond over the experience as they come upon a shining beacon in the wilderness. They make their way there, finding it a massive pyramid--guarded by another ethereal white lion. It leads them in, guiding them towards their intended goal and through images of their mighty forebears--that prove to be another test for them. Allura holds them at bay, and they are allowed to proceed yet further. Another test greets them, and Allura passes it. Lotor finds himself alone, confronted by the white lion. Allura does, as well. Both are obliged to fight, and Lotor is beaten, while Allura succeeds; his pride overtakes him, while Allura's humility prevails.

This seems to be something of a trope this episode.
Image taken from the episode, used for critique.

Following the test, Allura finds herself in yet another alternate realm. A voice speaks to her, saying she is home and knows what she needs to know; she is embraced by the power.

Outside, the Castle remains depowered and adrift. Pidge and Hunk falter, and Lance marks the return of Allura and Lotor to the Castle. She reeengages the ship's systems, and she commends a slightly embittered Lotor. Shiro looks on, Haggar looking on through him before ordering her own ship to the Paladins' location.


Some of the Edenic implications of the previous episode are realized in the present one; a guardian wielding something not unlike flame bars entry to a largely empty paradise from which a people claim an origin. Similarly, as a passage into a place not unlike "the Orient" and in which mystical power inheres, entry into Oriande seems to align with the medieval European (and later) tropes of a hidden magical kingdom; that the entry is associate both with racial purity and particular class status serves to deepen the unfortunate overtones thereof, however, even if it does seem to align with medieval/ist ideas about who gets to get shiny magical objects. Malory's Galahad, as a virginal descendant of Joseph of Arimathea, is the one to achieve the Grail, after all, just as Allura, the virginal, pure-blooded descendant of the Altean royal line is able to achieve the knowledge in Oriande.

There is also something of an inversion of Dante to be found in the episode. In Dante's Purgatorio, Beatrice leads the protagonist Dante through the eponymous corporeal-but-otherworldly region to a paradise on high; in the episode, Lotor leads Allura though a corporeal-but-otherworldly region to a paradise that, being in space, has to be considered on high--but the guide cannot go the whole way with the protagonist, as is the case in Dante. Still, through trials that display the allaying of putative sins, Allura is able to advance much as those who labor in dante's Purgatory are, and there is reward at the end, so there is some connection to be found, for those who would look. There is, then, another link to the medieval European in the episode and the series--one of many to be found.