Thursday, August 30, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.1, "A Little Adventure"

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The seventh season of Voltron: Legendary Defender opens with useful background explication and a diverting secondary narrative that helps its new arc start afresh.

7.1, "A Little Adventure"

Written by May Chan and Mitch Iverson
Directed by Eugene Lee


In an evident flashback, a young Shiro gives a guest talk at the school Keith attends. Keith is unimpressed and inattentive at first, attracting Shiro's attention. Shiro runs a recruitment drive involving a flight simulator, at which Keith excels once he is persuaded to try. Keith continues to impress through his exercise of delinquency, and Shiro takes an obvious liking to the young man, offering him a chance to sign on with the Earth's space force.

Clearly, if Shiro is willing to bail Keith out of kiddie jail.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting and critique.

In the narrative present, with the Lions on a strangely lit world, the Paladins, Coran, Krolia, and Romelle confer about what to do with the rescued clone of Shiro. They are incommunicado and short on resources after the fight against Lotor, and matters are grim though not hopeless. Coran outlines a plan, and Keith and Allura make to resume aiding Shiro as best they can--and they are interrupted by Romelle recapitulating the events of the previous few episodes of the series. They proceed as best they can.

Some challenges are more easily surmounted than others.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting and critique.
The flashback resumes with Keith following up on Shiro's offer to him. The two confer about Keith's future. Meanwhile, Coran and the others search out the materials they need to get off of the strange world where they find themselves. It is a place of beauty, to be sure, and it offers them what they need--though not without challenges. As they face them, Keith resumes remembering his instruction by Shiro as a pilot--alongside Lance and Hunk, among others. His exultation in his proficiency lands him in trouble, however--as does his rancor over his parentage. And Shiro once again steps in to assist him, counseling him as he can--while Coran and his group continue to face their own difficulties, and Hunk and Romelle find points of wholehearted agreement. Lance ends up saving the group from their immediate peril--but they still have troubles to face.

Keith continues to recall earlier times with Shiro and their shared camaraderie. Some of Keith's history is noted--including his previously-understood orphanage. And the others work against their predicament as more of Shiro's background and experience emerges--as do his romantic life and his medical difficulties. At length, the extravagance of Keith's emotions reaches Shiro, who returns to them as the others rejoin--and matters look much improved.


When I wrote the previous entry, I had not known that the series was set for another season. I am not saddened to see that it got one--or, indeed, that it got a fuller run than any season since the first. And when I sat down to watch the present episode, I did so with some hope; I was not disappointed.

Experience reading the Arthurian literature from which Legendary Defender has borrowed and teaching it to students has shown the heavily homoerotic overtones of the work--and the present episode presents those overtones strongly, both in Shiro's recalled relationship and in the close bond between him and Keith. So, while there will doubtless be reactions to the episode complaining of the "forcing" of "social justice" issues, the episode but expands upon tendencies already present in its antecedents--and, indeed, foregrounded in Pidge's trans presentation. (The potential arguments that Shiro's illness and his close relationship with Keith have problematic implications have some merit, however.) Nor yet does it stray far from its antecedents in the secondary plot, which rings of fairy tales in its particulars and has something of the smart-alecky Maledisant about it in Romelle's comments. So the series returns to its medievalism as its seventh season begins; how much it continues to do so will be good to examine.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 6.7, "Defender of All Universes"

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The Paladins conclude a battle and find a new purpose as the sixth season of Voltron: Legendary Defender comes to an end.

6.7, "Defender of All Universes"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Rie Koga and Chris Palmer


The battle from the previous episode continues, Lotor and Voltron facing off as a shuttle arrives at the Castle of Lions. The Paladins are hard-put to it, with Lotor's evident skill showing. The difficulty of coordinating five fighters against one is clear, as well, and the Paladins seek to strategize, using their surroundings to advantage. The attempt is successful, at least in part, but Lotor displays additional, surprising abilities.
No, Voltron does not have an easy time of it.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Meanwhile, Coran and Krolia tend to the retrieved Shiro clone. And the battle continues to go poorly for Voltron. Allura explains his strange abilities, accepting responsibility for them. Lotor exults in his triumph and presses his attack, and Voltron is disabled, temporarily. The Paladins follow Lotor into the quintessence field, guided by Allura.

In the field, the Paladins face Lotor again. Battle is joined, and the effects of the quintessence begin to manifest in increased capabilities for Voltron. Increased aggression also begins to manifest; Allura recognizes psychosis as an effect of the field. They make to escape while under attack by Lotor; Allura determines to overwhelm Lotor with energy; to all appearances, it works, and Lotor is defeated. The Paladins must flee before being destroyed by the field; they leave Lotor behind them as they return to normal space.
For varying definitions of "normal"
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

After, Allura explains what she knows of events. The others thank Allura for her efforts, and Coran notes the destabilization of local space in the wake of their battle. Work to repair the damage begins under great pressure. Coran notes that the Castle will need to be sacrificed against the rifts, and work to use it in such wise proceeds. The Paladins retrieve what they can and evacuate, and Coran bids his family's handiwork goodbye--but not in vain, as the efforts to rebuild reality succeed. A single crystal remains of the Castle; Hunk retrieves it.
Appropriate that the Lion associated with earth retrieve a stone.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The Paladins proceed to find a safe haven where they can tend to Shiro. Allura is able to retrieve his spirit from the Black Lion and return it to the cloned body. Shiro returns, although he is somewhat changed by the experience. And the Paladins purpose to return to Earth.


There is much going on in the episode, and no small part of it partakes of the medieval and medievalist. Lotor's resonance with Mordred is one such thing. He describes himself in the episode as offering a "new Altean defender" as he assails the old one--Voltron--that has done much to bring freedom from Galra tyranny to the universe; in so doing, he continues to refigure Malory's Mordred, who presents himself as offering a new order to supplant that of Arthur. And his actions do result in the final ruin of the Altean kingdom, though, as in the late medieval work, hope remains for the Paladins.

Allura continues, too, to exhibit saintly qualities--not so much in beatific patience, as contemporary usage often associates with the term, as in the miracle-working depicted throughout medieval hagiography. She effects a transition into and return from what might well be called heaven; the quintessence field is a luminous realm that fills people with power that mortal flesh cannot endure, and Dante's Paradiso comes to mind as one of many antecedents. Too, it is through her that Lotor--in demonic guise--is defeated, with clear parallels to the stories of holy people that were popular in what we now call the Middle Ages. And Allura brings Shiro back from the dead, corresponding to what has often been regarded as among the holiest of works.

There is also an echo of an earlier medieval in the episode, an elegiac thread that brings to mind Old English poetry. Allura is clearly saddened at having to leave Lotor in the quintessence field; it is clear that, despite his perfidy, she has some feeling for him. Coran must destroy the work of his forebears, work in which he takes no small pride. The Paladins have to give up what has been their home. Each is ample cause for sadness, and it is evident that the Paladins feel that sadness. But they also look to hope to come as they propose to return to Earth, and "Deor" comes to mind: "Þæs ofereode; ðisses swa mæg."

As a special note, this appears to be the 250th post to the Tales after Tolkien Society blog. Thank you for reading! We hope you'll keep doing so!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 6.6, "All Good Things"

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As the sixth season of the series nears its end, matters appear to worsen for the Paladins, although some things begin to become clear.

6.6, "All Good Things"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Steve In Chang Ahn


In an astral experience, Keith hears Shiro. Keith calls out in confusion, and Shiro appears. He reports that matters are well with the other Paladins and that he, himself, has been in another realm--not alive as had been thought. The Black Lion retains his essence, Shiro explains, and he has tried to warn others against the impostor, but he has not the strength, and he cannot maintain his current projection, fading away.
Better to burn out?
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.

Keith wakes on the damaged Black Lion, his impostor opponent unconscious nearby. And the Paladins and Coran slowly work to restore power to the Castle of Lions. Allura is downcast as she begins to restart the Castle, and Lance looks on with some concern. Krolia and Romelle move to assist Coran, and Lance voices his concerns to Allura. She rebukes herself for not stopping Lotor and Shiro. He works to ease her conscience--and Keith returns with news. Lotor's ships are on their way back.

Allura briefs the other Paladins as they make for their Lions and seek to destroy the access to the quintessence field. And as Lotor and his lieutenants approach, he briefs them on his plans. Efforts to hinder Lotor ensue despite problems--including those Coran faces with the Castle.

Lotor and his lieutenants attack after Lotor makes a plea for understanding. The Paladins resist. It does not go well. And Coran fares little better, though his plan succeeds.
Setting off bombs in castles is usually not a good thing.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.

The Castle enters the fight to some effect, but the repairs made to it prove insufficient to turn the fight. And Lotor rages as he continues to fight Allura directly. Madness is in him, and his lieutenants abandon him. Lotor moves against them, taking control of their craft and ejecting them into open space. The ships combine into what amounts to an anti-Voltron, and prospects are poor, indeed.
The tail is almost as good as a goatee for indicating evil.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting.

Melee continues, with the Paladins faring badly, and Lotor's lieutenants flee. Coran tries to help, but his intervention has little effect. Lotor's retaliatory stroke is telling. Keith continues to rush to aid, hearing the travail of his comrades and pleading for aid; his extravagance puts him back into communion with Shiro amid the astral. The older Paladin coaches the younger into more effective use of the Black Lion, and his progress is accelerated greatly. He arrives to aid his colleagues, who are left adrift by Lotor in advance of the final blow.

Voltron is formed, and battle re-joined.


There seems little overtly medievalist about the episode, as has been the case more than once throughout the series. But there may be something of note in looking at the numerology at work; the Paladins, being five working as one in an avowedly defensive position, call to mind the blazon of Gawain's shield in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (as the University of Michigan's Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse has it, with some layout changed for ease of reading):
THEN þay schewed hym þe schelde, þat was of schyr goulez
Wyth þe pentangel depaynt of pure golde hwez.
He braydez hit by þe bauderyk, aboute þe hals kestes,
Þat bisemed þe segge semlyly fayre.
And quy þe pentangel apendez to þat prynce noble
I am in tent yow to telle, þof tary hyt me schulde:
Hit is a syngne þat Salamon set sumquyle
In bytoknyng of trawþe, bi tytle þat hit habbez,
For hit is a figure þat haldez fyue poyntez,
And vche lyne vmbelappez and loukez in oþer,
And ayquere hit is endelez; and Englych hit callen
Oueral, as I here, þe endeles knot.
Forþy hit acordez to þis knyȝt and to his cler armez,
For ay faythful in fyue and sere fyue syþez
Gawan watz for gode knawen, and as golde pured,
Voyded of vche vylany, wyth vertuez ennourned
in mote;
Forþy þe pentangel nwe
He ber in schelde and cote,
As tulk of tale most trwe
And gentylest knyȝt of lote.

Fyrst he watz funden fautlez in his fyue wyttez,
And efte fayled neuer þe freke in his fyue fyngres,
And alle his afyaunce vpon folde watz in þe fyue woundez
Þat Cryst kaȝt on þe croys, as þe crede tellez;
And quere-so-euer þys mon in melly watz stad,
His þro þoȝt watz in þat, þurȝ alle oþer þyngez,
Þat alle his forsnes he feng at þe fyue joyez
Þat þe hende heuen-quene had of hir chylde;
At þis cause þe knyȝt comlyche hade
In þe inore half of his schelde hir ymage depaynted,
Þat quen he blusched þerto his belde neuer payred.
Þe fyft fyue þat I finde þat þe frek vsed
Watz fraunchyse and felaȝschyp forbe al þyng,
His clannes and his cortaysye croked were neuer,
And pité, þat passez alle poyntez, þyse pure fyue
Were harder happed on þat haþel þen on any oþer.
Now alle þese fyue syþez, for soþe, were fetled on þis knyȝt,
And vchone halched in oþer, þat non ende hade,
And fyched vpon fyue poyntez, þat fayld neuer,
Ne samned neuer in no syde, ne sundred nouþer,
Withouten ende at any noke I oquere fynde,
Whereeuer þe gomen bygan, or glod to an ende.
Þerfore on his schene schelde schapen watz þe knot
Ryally wyth red golde vpon rede gowlez,
Þat is þe pure pentaungel wyth þe peple called
with lore.
Now grayþed is Gawan gay,
And laȝt his launce ryȝt þore,
And gef hem alle goud day,
He wende for euermore.
It is possible, given the already-noted elemental resonances of the Lions and the long associations of the classical elements with temperaments, to read them as being in much the same mode as the multiple resonances identified with the multi-colored five-fold emblem on Gawain's shield. And, against the long-established Arthurian overtones of the series, it might well be useful to read them in such a way, tying each of the Paladins to one or another of the classical elements, Galenic humors, or traditional attitudes.

How they would interact, then, with the interestingly trinitarian anti-Voltron that Lotor pilots becomes a point of interest. Formed from three ships that Lotor can commandeer rather than from five that are independently but collaboratively piloted, and partaking of extra-natural energies, it does seem to have something trinitarian about it--but inverted, with the craft taking on an appearance that reads as demonic (in opposition to the pseudo-angelic Voltron). As such, the craft reinforces the notion of bastardization that it actually is--as a product of having perpetrated fraud on Allura--and presents trinitarian ideas as devolved darkenings of prior, fuller patterns of behavior. The religious overtones invite attention--hopefully from those more thoroughly versed in matters of faith.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 6.5, "The Black Paladins"

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More revelations shake the Paladins as the sixth season of Voltron: Legendary Defender approaches its end.

6.5, "The Black Paladins"

Written by Joaquim Dos Santos
Directed by Eugene Lee


Not good.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
The fight between Voltron and Lotor's lieutenants continues, with Voltron faring less well than could be hoped. Shiro continues to flee with Lotor. The Castle intervenes, helping Voltron, and the battle continues, with the Galra seizing Voltron and permitting Shiro to escape through a wormhole created by Haggar. Voltron breaks, and Keith leaps to pursue his former leader, following narrowly. the other Paladins are left behind.

Keith emerges into a Galra fleet, which opens fire on him. He evades the attacks and continues his pursuit--until Acxa intervenes. They fight, and Shiro delivers Lotor to his lieutenants. They deliver him to Haggar, who orders Shiro to lead Keith away from the fleet.
The plan seems to be working.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary

The other Paladins confer on the Castle until its systems begin to shut down as a result of being hacked. Pidge tries to intervene, isolating the problem--temporarily. Pidge realizes the source of the problem and moves to make repairs.

Lotor is brought before Haggar, who claims him as her son. He rejects the claim again as she tries to explain herself. She orders him confined, and Axca attacks Haggar, who flees. The conspiracy between them is noted, and Lotor and his lieutenants flee, making to return to the Castle.

This kind of thing rarely leads to a good place.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
Keith continues to pursue Shiro, following him into a cave that leads to a Galra facility. Entering, he finds it full of clones of his former leader--with the one he had pursued ready to fight. Melee ensues between them, and it goes badly for Keith for the most part--until his Galra heritage begins to become visible. Keith pleads with Shiro, to no avail. And the facility begins to collapse around them, pushed by Shiro's artificial arm.

Meanwhile, Pidge explicates the nature of the problem afflicting the Castle and works to correct it. She succeeds, narrowly, and remarks on having planned for Shiro's betrayal--sadly.

At length, Keith disarms Shiro. As the facility continues to collapse, Keith recalls his earlier interactions with Shiro and finds strength in sudden purpose.


The title of the episode calls back to the first-season finale, "The Black Paladin." The episode reveals that Zarkon had been the Black Paladin earlier in the show-universe's history, a wicked black knight from whose grasp and twisted minions more noble warriors must rescue an imprisoned princess. And it sends the Paladins drifting apart, cast across the cosmos--from which separation they reunite in the succeeding episodes, to be sure. But it is a decidedly medievalist piece within a series that makes much use of the medieval, and recalling it in the name of the present episode sets up an expectation that it will, in turn, be heavily medievalist.

In the event, the episode does not meet that expectation (which is not an indictment; the episode was entertaining). It does seem to echo parts of Return of the Jedi, to be sure, but how much of that resonance speaks to the medieval in anything other than the most oblique ways is not at all clear. Of course, not every episode need make much of the medieval, and there are other sources that are well worth pursuing in any wide-spread media item.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 6.4, "The Colony"

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A revelation returns the Paladins and the Galra to their former tension--and more is added on--as the sixth season of Voltron: Legendary Defender continues.

6.4, "The Colony"

Written by Mark Bemesderfer
Directed by Chris Palmer


Not an auspicious opening...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary

The Castle of Lions approaches the ruined Daibazaal, carrying with it the ships made from the interdimensional comet Lotor had purloined. Lotor and Allura confer about current circumstances and purpose to harness immense energies from the interdimensional rift that had ruined the planet. The two pilot a craft to begin efforts to that end, the other Paladins and Coran looking on with skepticism and voicing concerns.

There's no doubt when that door opens.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
The pilots breach the gate between Daibazaal and an energy realm, vanishing from sight of the Castle and emerging into a seemingly endless sea of light. Subtle structures reveal themselves--and an alert sounds on the Castle as a craft approaches--an Altean shuttlepod carrying Keith. Keith asks after Lotor and expresses angst that the latter is amid the energy field.

Allura and Lotor confer about their findings, Allura voicing concern as Lotor collects samples. Keith returns to the Castle of Lions and is challenged--briefly. Keith claims Lotor has been lying--with Krolia and the Altean woman they found--Romelle--confirming his claim. Shiro stalls for time as Allura and Lotor continue in the field, taking in power--and Haggar watches from afar, through Shiro. News is exchanged, with Coran noting his own doubts as Romelle explicates the history of her people; they are something of a pet project of Lotor's, collected by him and hidden on a colony in the quantum abyss.

It seems too good to be true.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary
A second colony was spun off from the first, one selecting Alteans with particular characteristics and isolated utterly from it. Doubts of Lotor soon emerged, and Romelle learned that the second colony was, in fact, meant only to harvest quinetessence from the taken Alteans. The arrival of Keith and Krolia allowed her to prove her allegations and to escape from the colony. And the revelation stuns the Paladins, who cannot act against him until Allura is secured.

Lotor is changed as he and Allura return to the Castle and kiss. The Paladins confront him, and his perfidy is revealed. He tries to explain himself, but Allura rejects him. His erstwhile lieutenants take the chance to attack, and Haggar psychically assails Shiro, turning him against the other Paladins. A melee ensues, with Shiro absconding with Lotor and damage being inflicted on the Castle. In its wake, Keith resumes both command and the Black Lion, and the Paladins move with dire purpose against their suborned comrade.

Battle resumes, and Keith tries to restore Shiro--to no avail--as the latter seeks to escape with Lotor to Haggar. Voltron is formed, and the battle rages on.


That Lotor is revealed to be perfidious is not a surprise, nor yet is it a surprise that Haggar's machinations conduce to him. Given the long-established Arthurian resonances of the story, it is easy to read the two--Lotor and Haggar--as Mordred and the Morgan/Morgause amalgamation that pervades late 20th and later Arthurian presentations, but that is also not a surprise. That the revelations in the episode and the readings they suggest are not surprises does not mean they are not interesting, however, or that the Arthurian reading does not reinforce the prevailing medievalism of the series.

And there is some interest in the specific form of Lotor's perfidy. He is described as exhibiting a messianic figure to the scattered Alteans, offering a great many who would otherwise be adrift in a diaspora a chance at a new home and offering a select few an even more reified one. That he is so described--and that the promises made are as patently false as they are--evokes ideas of heretical religious movements springing up, something with which orthodox institutions were necessarily concerned. Since, in Voltron: Legendary Defender, the Paladins are as close to an orthodox institution as seems to exist, that they would swiftly align themselves against the perpetrators of such heretical acts makes sense. Whether they will act to free those led badly remains to be seen--but it would be very much in line with their knightly forebears for them to do so.