Thursday, September 27, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.5, "The Ruins"

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Effects of the Paladins' absence are explored as the seventh season of Legendary Defender continues.

7.5, "The Ruins"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Michael Chang


The Lions continue through the cosmos, evidently on autopilot as their pilots and passengers--save for Keith and Krolia--sleep until Keith calls them to wakefulness. He asserts that they cannot allow themselves to lose their edge along their journey and begins battle drills with them. They do not go well, with even Keith falling in it. Krolia notes that the simulation was designed to be unbeatable; the rigged test does not please the Paladins.

He seems to be enjoying himself.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Hunk practices his culinary work, preparing food for the others and sending it via the teleporting wolf. Keith rejects naming the wolf as the others agree to call is Cosmo, and there is some commotion as Hunk explains how he made the food he's served. Amid the meal, though, Pidge picks up a signal, finding it to be a broadcast sitcom. The others, save Coran, are not amused. Hunk hears interferences, which Pidge isolates and Krolia identifies as a Blade of Marmora distress signal. The Paladins move to investigate.

It's never a good sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As they do, they find ruins but no life signs. The ruins, though, show the result of battle--and there are watchers. Cosmo confronts one such, followed by the Paladins; they take the watcher and question him amid decay. The source of the message is revealed to be on site, and the watcher reveals that the Paladins are thought dead. There is something of a memorial to the Blades of Marmora who fell in battle, and the watcher relates the sequence of events that followed Voltron's disappearance. Galra civil war had allowed Haggar's druids to fight the Blade; a final stand was called for, and the druids attacked in force, taking them at great cost. The watcher's people were slaughtered, as well, and the watcher alone survived. Krolia knows the fallen, including the Blades' leader--but there is suggestion that the leader yet lives.

The watcher reveals himself as one of the druids, using the Blades' base to draw other Blades in and kill them. A trap takes all but Keith, whom Cosmo teleports away. A cat-and-mouse game with the Druid ensues, interspersed with melee between the two. As they fight, Allura's own power begins to work against the Druid's trap, and Keith comes upon the Blade's leader. The Druid's motivation is clear--revenge and return from exile to Haggar--and melee is joined again.

This is usually a better sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Allura frees the others, taking the power from the Druid's trap into herself at some cost and discharging it to move to Keith's aid. Battle is joined and the Blade's leader freed, in the end, by Keith alone.

After, they regroup and learn that the Blade is gone, save for a very few. Krolia returns to the Blade, leaving the Paladins in favor of rebuilding the group. Her parting from Keith is bitter, but necessary. They promise to see one another again, and the Paladins depart.


The present episode follows on the exploration begun in earnest in "The Way Forward," doing more to plumb the effects on the universe of the Paladins departure and what they will face as they return. It additionally presents something not unlike the Christianization narratives of the earlier European medieval. In such narratives, there are pockets or holdouts of pagan practice against which knightly forces array themselves in an explicit effort to eradicate the earlier forms of worship. The connection of Haggar's Druids to their medievalist antecedents has already been discussed, as has the connection of the Paladins to medievalist Christian knighthood. (That neither is an "accurate" representation, although both accord with popular conception, has also been addressed.) For the Paladins to fight against a hold-out Druid, then, smacks of some of the less fortunate parts of the medieval, in which perceived-as-always-evil indigenous practices are fought against by outside forces with a different, "good" orientation--and that matters are cast in such a light also speaks to ongoing legacies of medieval European belief that have unfortunate resonances with their own contemporary cultural contexts.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.4, "The Feud!"

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A surreal experience punctuates the ongoing seventh season of Legendary Defender, offering strange retrospectives of the series so far.

7.4, "The Feud!"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee


Strange that this would be a common cultural reference...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The episode opens as if a game show, complete with recording irregularities. The Paladins find themselves playing upon it--to their confusion. They appear to have been dislocated from their previous experience, and their progress through the show explicates their circumstances. Keith purposes to leave, and the Paladins find themselves made captive to the suddenly sinister show host.

The contests begin, following  what the audience is likely to recognize as familiar formats, and the Paladins do reasonably well. And they find themselves in opposition to Galra forces they had thought destroyed. The latter are introduced strangely, entirely out of character with their earlier actions--but befitting a game show. Play proceeds, with more recording irregularities showing up.

It is a disturbing disjunction.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
After a strange in-show commercial, Lance is singled out for continued play. It does not go well; Lance is evidently bad with names. The stakes are increased for him, as well, and Lance actually manages to score before the Galra are sent away.

Play continues, still focused on Lance, with still-high stakes. He stumbles into some degree of success, but not enough, and another in-show commercial punctuates the action.

As play resumes, Allura pleads for release but is denied. Pidge is called up to play. As she does, more recording irregularities show up, and she attacks the sinister host, prompting them being called into a choice of who to release in favor of the other four. In the event, each of the Paladins receives a vote for release, with reasoning revealing much about their mutual regard. That all vote for another to leave receives comment--and the Paladins are released before the show is turned off.

Quite the change of setting.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
After it is, the Paladins are revealed to be adrift in space. Hunk wakes from what he perceives as a strange dream--one that is revealed to be shared among all the Paladins. Coran confirms that their sinister host is something of a legendary god-figure, one who judges warriors' worthiness. None of the Paladins look kindly on the experience they had, however.

Another recording irregularity evidences itself, turning to Luxia's kingdom and presenting it as a vacation destination in disturbing game-show fashion as the episode ends.


The episode plays with narrative reality, partaking of the "it was only a dream" trope that tends to annoy modern readers but forms a significant portion of medieval literature--and some of the most prominent works thereof--as dream visions. Described by Chris Healy of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as "medieval sci-fi" (which seems particularly apt in the current context), dream vision allows for manipulation of norms with less threat of potential censure; after all, dreams are strange, as all who have them know. And such tend to inform much of the conception of medieval literature, if the persistence of such works as Dream of the Rood and Pearl are to be believed. The knights of the Round Table, after whom the Paladins of Voltron follow, also experience no few dream visions; Malory's depiction of Lancelot's on the Grail Quest come to mind as convenient examples, as does Arthur's in the Alliterative Morte Arthure. (Indeed, Lancelot's dream vision highlights his faults--not unlike Lance's in the episode.)

For the episode to treat in dream vision, then, when the series does so much to invoke and evoke the medieval, reads not so much as a narrative cop-out, as dream-work often does, or as a non-canonical aside, but a callback to perhaps less recognizable medieval antecedents that are not the less valuable for being less familiar. They enrich, rather than detract from, the episode.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.3, "The Way Forward"

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Things grow darker around the Paladins as the seventh season continues.

7.3, "The Way Forward"

Written by Mark Bermesderfer
Directed by Rie Koga


The Lions are held in a Galra ship, de-powered and under guard, with their pilots imprisoned, along with Romelle and Krolia. Lance unsuccessfully seeks a way out of captivity as Krolia plots more effectively. Coran's fate is uncertain, offering some small hope.
Very small.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

For his own part, Coran struggles against inadvertent imprisonment, meeting with limited success but cheering himself before being startled by the Castle mice. They effect the escape he seeks and release him, in turn--along with the teleporting wolf, which is injured. They progress usefully, clearing a way for Coran to make his own exit from the hold where the Lions are held, clad in the uniform of one of the Galra guards.
It's not a bad look for him.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Zethrid confers with Ezor, who is worried that Lotor yet lives and will pursue them. Zethrid makes to comfort her, reminding her of their accomplishments to date. Ezor then determines to torture the prisoners.

Coran continues his escape attempt. It does not go well for him. At all. Acxa's intervention saves him. Meanwhile, the Paladins are confronted by Ezor and Zethrid, who have questions about Lotor's disappearance and their own absence. Coran and Axca proceed, with Coran questioning Axca's motivations and noting the situation. Plans are determined and begin to be enacted as the questioning continues. Lance tries to intercede, albeit unsuccessfully. And the Galra become aware of Axca's actions, requiring her to defend herself.
She seems to be doing it well.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Coran's own adventures go less well than Axca's, but they offer a useful cover for the mice to make their way forward. Acxa's plans begin to bear fruit, and Ezor and Zethrid leave off their questioning to see to it. The Paladins are subsequently rescued by the mice, who report events to Allura. Exflitration ensues, albeit with some difficulty, and Acxa faces her erstwhile comrades. Keith deputizes Lance to lead and makes to retrieve her; the rest make for their space-borne Lions, doing so under fire as Axca's fight continues, assisted by Keith. A desperate escape plan follows, and Keith and Axca are retrieved.

In the wake of their escape, the Paladins rest on a bleak planet and confer about their diminished status. They find that much more time has passed than they had realized; the universe believes Voltron has been gone, and the Galra have been fractured. Axca expresses contrition for her misdeeds and pledges herself to help Voltron's allies amid the tumult that has surely reigned.


If the Arthurian themes that have announced themselves throughout the series are to be followed in the present episode--and there seems to be something of the "did not die, but went into another place" at work--then the current situation seems to be an imagining of Britain after the fall of Arthur. The prophesied legend gone after briefly holding back a period of chaos following imperial rule seems to describe both the presumable aftermath of the legend and the previous seasons of the series, making the current episode something of an interesting bit of medievalist work. Many such works assume a medieval stasis (a term I borrow from TV Tropes, and it fits); Tolkien's works have their heroes in mail and wielding swords across millennia and more, and the many derivatives do much the same. Robin Hobb's Elderlings corpus does, as well, although it does at least work with the idea that technological development is not uniform and shows some developments as the works progress. And Legendary Defender is not immune; the few scenes depicting the pre-Empire Galra show technology not less advanced than what they wield in the main series.

Part of the prevailing medieval stasis inheres in not looking at the medieval/ist that would follow the medieval works being adapted and appropriated. Not much is said about what follows the return of the king (and even Tolkien's appendices are light compared to the rest of the corpus). The current episode suggests a subversion of that--and one very much in line with what is seen of medieval literary practices, which often read as a series of tagged-on "And then he [and it's almost always a he, unfortunately] did this." We are getting to see some of the fallout of the heroic exertions from previous seasons, which is a good thing. Looking at what comes next promises to be worth doing.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.2, "The Road Home"

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Matters grow more serious as the Paladins of Voltron attempt to return to Earth.

7.2, "The Road Home"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Michael Chang.


Pidge attempts to make contact with Earth from the planet where the Paladins have been in the wake of the Castle of Lions' destruction; she is not successful. Hunk considers the Yellow Lion, and Romelle asks about his connection to it before Pidge reports on their current limitations. The Paladins confer about the return to Earth. The difficulties in effecting that return are noted.

Enumeration of difficulties in progress.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting and commentary.
Among the challenges is that of transportation. The few animals present have difficulties traveling together by nature, and the Lions are not designed to be passenger vehicles. Lance offers a solution that seems to work--for most--and the Paladins set out, if slowly. The trip gets off to a mixed start, with some of the Paladins having an easier time than others. Passenger changes are effected, and travel continues.

As they proceed, Krolia suggests a layover at a Blade of Marmora holding. As they approach, they find the redoubt silent and empty of life; it has obviously been attacked and reduced--and it comes under attack again, Galra forces presenting a problem to the understrength Lions. Keith's wolf teleports among the Lions amid the battle, redistributing passengers again. And ships seeming to be of Lotor's design begin to take the Lions captive; the Paladins attempt to form Voltron in response, but they cannot do so, and they seek to retreat. It does not go well for them; they are clearly facing an unorthodox, superior commander.

Lime green is never a good color in these.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting and commentary.
The Paladins seek to regroup amid a more dangerous area of space. Galra forces follow, continuing their harassment of the Lions; Keith leads them along a merry chase through geysers, thinning their numbers, though there is retaliation. He and Lance enact a dangerous plan to secure their escape; it is successful, though there is still pursuit, and the Paladins split up to evade it. Another attempt to take the Lions ensues, and Krolia makes to repel it from the Black Lion--successfully, in the event. Hunk has his own difficulties, unlocking a new ability in his personal weapon as he faces them. Romelle assists Allura in keeping the Blue Lion secure. Pidge and Lance are saved by Keith's wolf, which teleports again but is injured in the fight.

As the Paladins proceed, they are hit with a gravity weapon and knocked to the ground. Their attacker is revealed: Lotor's erstwhile lieutenants, Ezor and Zethrid, have led the assault against them.
It is a decidedly bad sign.
Image taken from the episode, used for reporting and commentary.


The present episode does not do much to introduce new medievalisms into the series; those that have been part of the show throughout its run remain in place, of course. There may be something of an oblique gesture towards the Anglo-Saxon elegiac in the episode, however, with the enumeration of troubles, the vagaries of travel, and the inability of the now-more-itinerant Paladins to deploy their strongest weapons as a result of their loss of home, but if there is, it is not a strong one. So while the episode is an enjoyable watch and a useful piece of the overall narrative, it is not one that appears to offer much to medievalist study.

As has been noted before, though, not every episode need offer a new piece of medievalism to ready view. The underlying elements remain in place, and there are other episodes to come that might have more of such showing in them.