Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Few Comments Inspired by Voltron: Legendary Defender

𝔗here are a few points at which events in Voltron: Legendary Defender seem to be iterations of deus ex machina, a sudden and un-looked-for occurrence of salvation without any real preamble. The humanoid form of the Atlas that emerges in "Lion's Pride, Part 2" is but one example; the far earlier revelation of Allura's special princess powers is another. Others pervade the series, and there is some justification for reading each as a kind of narrative dodge; the device is often used as a means to extricate writers from plot holes of their own making, and it is justly decried in such circumstances. Too, since it occurs in what is, ultimately, a children's program (though one with significant nostalgia value for older viewers), Voltron: Legendary Defender does suffer from some perception that narrative cohesion does not matter for it; kids don't care about that kind of thing, or so perception commonly (and not entirely accurately) holds.
However.
While there may be some truth to such readings, if Voltron: Legendary Defender is viewed as a piece of medievalist fiction, there is some justification for the prevalent deus ex machina in the series. Frankly, medieval chivalric literature makes much use of such devices; for the series to do so, then, becomes an iteration of the medieval within it. And while that may still make for some occasional annoyance for a twenty-first century audience, it does help to keep the series consonant with its medieval predecessors.
For one example, consider Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Considered by no few scholars to be the finest piece of Arthurian romance,1 its narrative action hinges on the occurrence of unexpected events. Early on, the text notes explicitly that the milieu in which it exists relies upon them, noting famously that Arthur would not eat at feast until some wonder happened.2 That is, feasts do not even begin--because eating before the king is a grievous breach of protocol and an insult like to be avenged with violence--until some (somewhat) unlooked-for occurrence comes about. The narrative milieu in which SGGK exists relies on the deus ex machina, which the narrative provides repeatedly, both in the entrance of the eponymous Green Knight and in many of the actions that follow.
The same is true for the more notable Arthurian work, Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, certainly. One of the better-known passages in the work offers an easy example. In Chalmers's influential 1816 edition of Malory,3 for instance, the sword in the stone that is used to assess the worthiness of a claim to England's kingship is a revelation ascribed to a merciful miracle from Jesus (even as it is more likely the machination of Merlin).4 Given the context, in which magic is real and Merlin is a known magician, it may not ring as being as much deus ex machina as might otherwise be the case, but it still smacks of being awfully convenient that such a thing just happens to be present at the exact moment it is needed--much like the emergence of Allura's powers or the Atlas in Legendary Defender.
And, to be fair, there is some similar antecedent or potential antecedent in the series for the sudden emergence of powers. Allura is the daughter of a long-dead alchemist king, on preserved for millennia by strange technologies that ring of the mystical; she inherits and more or less marinates in magic, so it is not a surprise that it would manifest in her in seemingly strange ways at times. Shiro, whose efforts awaken the Atlas, has been dead; it is to be expected that crossing back and forth between life and death would make for some strange abilities, especially since others known to have done so in the series--Zarkon and Haggar/Honerva--also exhibit such. The things in the series that suddenly emerge and evidently jar may not be quite so ex nihilo as they might otherwise seem.
Perhaps, then, there is not so much to decry in the series as might be thought. Even if the strangeness that emerges is strange, it is at least strange in a way that aligns with the medieval and medievalist works to which the series connects. And if the oddities are not so odd, still connect to the series' forebears, and that is something worth consideration.

-Geoffrey B. Elliott

Notes
1. Thomas J. Garbáty, Medieval English Literature (Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 1997), 254-55; Jennifer R. Goodman, The Legend of Arthur in British and American Literature (Boston: Twayne, 1988), 44-45; James J. Wilhelm, The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation (New York: Garland, 1994), 399; James Winny, introduction to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. and trans. Winny (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2005), vii, x.

2. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. and trans. Winny (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview, 2005), ll. 85-106.

3. Barry Gaines, Sir Thomas Malory: An Anecdotal Bibliography of Editions, 1485-1985 (New York: AMS Press, 1990), 13-14.

4. Thomas Malory, The History of the Renowned Prince Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, vol. 1, ed. Alexander Chalmers (London: J. Walker, 1816), 7.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.13, "Lion's Pride, Part 2"

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As the seventh season of Legendary Defender closes, the Earth's forces put much to rights--but a new wrong appears that looks like it will need solving.

7.13, "Lion's Pride, Part 2"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

The fireball at the end of the previous episode continues to fall, and the Paladins look at it agog. They recognize it as an imminent threat and brace themselves against it; it soon reveals itself to be a Galra Robeast, and it attacks.

This day just keeps getting better...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The Paladins scramble for cover against the sudden onslaught, and initial counter-attacks fail. Shiro is returned to the Atlas, and battle against the Robeast continues, going poorly for the Paladins as they attack individually. Keith marshals them together, and the Atlas intervenes, as well, faring less than well as Shiro staggers back to duty.

Voltron is formed as the Atlas tries to interdict the Robeast, its success limited. Voltron returns, and combat is rejoined. The Lions themselves call forth new weapons in the fight, which helps, but not for long.

...and better...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.


The other Earth forces rally to Voltron's aid. The cadet pilots have minimal effect, but the Green Lion's enhanced capabilities offer a bit of room to regroup. Only a bit, in the event; the Robeast soon resumes its attack. The fatigued Paladins resume their own efforts, as does the Atlas, but the effectiveness thereof is limited, and a mighty blast rocks the Earth forces' ship. Pidge determines that the Robeast has drained Voltron's energy to power its attacks, and an alternate method of fighting it has to be devised.

The renewed assault fares no better, with Voltron's attacks repelled and collateral damage becoming a concern. Distraction about the latter leads to Voltron being felled by the Robeast's attack; more of its energy is drained. The Atlas looks on helplessly as Voltron is depowered and the Robeast turns its attentions on the ship once again.

Shiro is stymied by the poor progress, and he slips into a sudden realization, calling for a withdrawal from the immediate combat zone. Once away, he communes with the ship much as he once had with the Black Lion, and a humanoid fighting mode for the vessel is revealed.

This seems somehow familiar.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The Atlas returns to combat in force. Its titanic frame dwarfs the threat of the Robeast utterly, and its destructive power outclasses it to the same degree, though its size makes is slower to respond than might be hoped, so the battle is not lopsided. Indeed, the Robeast is able to drain power from the Atlas as Voltron begins to recover. A single strike ends the fight in a massive outflow of power that disarticulates and depowers Voltron again. The Robeast begins to self-destruct, and the Paladins hurry to remove it from where it can harm the planet further. The Robeast is removed from the planet, and the Paladins and their Lions are cast back down, landing roughly and far removed from each other--and in their elemental homes.

Later, a ceremony honors the fallen. Shiro has survived the war, as have the cadet pilots. Earth joins the broader universe. The Paladins, too, have survived, albeit with injuries. Rebulding of Earth begins in earnest, aided by the members of the Coalition. But some questions remain, and the Robeast's power source is revealed: an Altean sits at its heart.

Discussion

For the US Thanksgiving 2018 edition of these commentaries, it must be noted that the episode reads as something of a coda rather than a culmination of storylines as would befit a season finale. Save for the last scene, which is clearly a setup for the season to come, as well as a call-back to Lotor's earlier perfidies. A return of those Galra forces aligned with Haggar seems imminent, which will likely do more to reinforce the medievalism of the science-fantasy series.

It needs some reinforcing, as there is not much of it in the present episode that reveals itself to easy view. The basic medievalism of the series remains present, of course; the Paladins remain so, and their chivlaric overtones still sound. But, as most of the episode is taken up with the fight against the Altean-powered Robeast, there is little room for the introduction or development of new-to-the-series facets of the medieval, whether the actual or the presumed. (Unless I am wrong; comments below would welcome additional insight.)

Finally, as of this writing (well before its publication date, mind), an eighth and "final" season of the series is promised for release in mid-December. I have every intention of watching and commenting on it, too, but there is a bit of time until then. I'll find something else to fill in until then--and, until then, thank you for reading!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.12, "Lion's Pride, Part 1"

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The penultimate episode of Legendary Defender's seventh season puts one threat to rest--only to show another coming all too soon.

7.12, "Lion's Pride, Part 1"

Written by Mitch Iverson
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

Amid the ongoing fracas, Voltron is formed. Shiro welcomes the Paladins back to the fight for Earth and queries the fighting forces for their current status. The cadet pilots rendezvous with the Atlas and prepare to sally forth again. The Galra, meanwhile, regroup, assessing their situation; the siege weapons are moving into position, and all fire is to be directed at Voltron and the Atlas.

The new volleys begin.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
As the Galra assault resumes, so does the Earth forces' counterattack. Bolstered by Voltron, matters seem to go better for Earth. But the siege weapons are converging to kill the planet, so Voltron redirects to take out Sendak. Artillery fire from the planet, however, interdicts them, and they are hard put to it. The Atlas is not doing much better, either, and the cadet pilots re-deploy to run further interference for the Atlas and Voltron. The latter is tasked with destroying the siege weapons; the Paladins formulate a plan and work on it as the fracas continues. Shiro and the cadet pilots continue along their work as they do.

Risky, indeed.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
The Paladins experience some success; they are able to interdict the siege weapons' beams, though they cannot long do so. Shiro improvises a new plan, putting Coran in command of the Atlas and working to infiltrate Sendak's ship as the Galra assault continues.

Time to enact their plans grows ever shorter as they do so, and the interdiction fails--only to be succeeded by the Atlas interposing herself in the path of the siege weapons' beams. More time bought, the fight continues, and Shiro succeeds at his infiltration, making himself the agent of infiltration and disabling one of the siege weapons--as well as de-powering Sendak's ship.

Meanwhile, the Paldins begin to recover from their exertions, and Lance moves to assail the siege weapons. Allura joins him, followed by the other Paladins. The cadet pilots are also successful, and Sendak's ship is in free-fall towards Earth. Shiro attempts to flee but is confronted by Sendak; a melee begins, and the Paladins work to guide the ship towards an empty area. They succeed, and Shiro and Sendak's duel continues until Keith decisively intervenes, and Sendak falls.

After, Keith tends to Shiro, and the Paladins come to believe that Earth is safe--briefly. An incoming fireball puts the lie to that belief as the episode ends.

Discussion

As a culmination of what has gone before, the episode introduces little if any new medievalism. It does, however, neatly deal with the dark mirror relationship between Shiro and Sendak that has received comment before, doing so in a way that could easily be read either as mimicking Arthuriana or as the kind of theological parallel which medieval minds, by report, would have appreciated.

Sendak is defeated in his person not by Shiro but by Keith, Shiro's clear favorite. As such, the battle mimics the Arthurian chivalric in that it is only through carefully cultivated fellowship that one side prevails, Keith serving Shiro as Lancelot serves Arthur; the parallel is admittedly incomplete, given the character names involved (although the case can be made that the Paladin Lance is more like Gawain than Lancelot), but it is nonetheless close enough to be seen readily.

Keith's entrance into the battle, descending from the very heavens with sword in hand to vanquish a  foe clearly demoniac in both appearance and attitude, is also similar to the intervention of divine might into the human struggle against sin, both in medieval Christian concept and, not uncommonly, more recent ideas. Shiro is unable to defeat his evil counterpart without aid; it is only with assistance from on high that his foe is undone. The reading is similar to some interpretations of the third part of Beowulf, wherein the eponymous hero finds victory only through the aid of his kinsman, Wiglaf, and which has been likened to the need for outside agency to defeat sin.

In both cases, the parallels are not exclusively to the medieval, although they do certainly connect to medieval ideas. Given how much the series has done to connect back to the medieval, however, looking to it for antecedents seems still to be a way to understand better what is going on in the series and why it matters.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.11, "Trial by Fire"

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The fight to save the Earth continues as the seventh season of Legendary Defender comes closer to its end.

7.11, "Trial by Fire"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Michael Chang

Synopsis

The attack with which the previous episode ends leaves Voltron forcibly disarticulated, its component Lions adrift and their Paladins unconscious. The Galra do not relent in their assault, and Earth's forces look on in horror as they begin to realize the treachery that has been perpetrated on them. Shiro begins to plot a retrieval mission.

Not the best thing to wake up to.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Keith, captured by the Galra along with the other Paladins, wakes briefly and sees the traitor admiral exhorting Sendak to release the Paladins to her and depart Earth. He refuses and imprisons the admiral along with them, ordering the assault on the planet to resume as Keith loses consciousness again.

Back on Earth, Shiro and Coran try to activate Earth's defense ship, the Atlas, as the Galra siege weapons align themselves to assail the redoubt. Knowing that their defenses will not hold against the coming assault, the Earth forces decide to reroute power from the defenses to the Atlas, and they rush to enact their plans. The four cadet pilots are dispatched as the last defensive line as the Atlas is brought online.

The cadets are understandably concerned.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Keith wakes aboard the Galra ship again. He is alone in a cell, left isolated from the other Paladins and stripped of his weapons. The other Paladins make radio contact and assess their situation. The traitor admiral is imprisoned nearby and, overhearing, confesses her sins. She relates what she knows of Sendak's plan; the Galra leader means to destroy the planet.

Work to launch the Atlas continues. The Galra note the shifts in power distribution and attack the redoubt, hindering the launch efforts. A counterattack ensues, and the Atlas attempts to launch--unsuccessfully. Holt despairs, and Coran has a sudden realization. Taking the remains of the Castle of Lions, he is able to power the Atlas fully, and the ship successfully launches on her second attempt. Shiro is startled to find himself in command without thinking, the others deferring to him.

Sendak joins the battle as the Atlas launches, seeking to interdict her. The attempt is unsuccessful, and the Atlas joins the fray. Matters improve rapidly for the Earth forces. The Paladins begin to enact escape, exhorted by Hunk. The Lions activate, piloted remotely, and Sendak orders the Paladins killed. The traitor admiral appears to try to buy her life again, using it as a ruse to hinder the execution as the fight continues. She dies from the attempt, but she is successful in allowing enough time to pass for the Paladins to escape. Keith hears her last words and recovers her body.

Discussion

Much of the episode deals with the effects of the admiral's treason against Earth, and it will come as little or no surprise to the audience that the admiral dies as a direct result of her actual and expected betrayal of her home planet. And, though it is hardly unique to the period, the medieval was preoccupied with treason; any time perceived as being as concerned with social strata and "divine" order as the medieval could hardly help but be. Certainly, treason--with admittedly varying definitions--pervades chivalric literature and its surrounding history; Malory is a prime example of it, with his work featuring several cases of treason in several forms and his own life marked by accusations of and denied pardons for treason. As such, the focus of the present episode on treason does not make a definitive link between the series and the medieval, but it does add to links already present by emphasizing something that is emphasized in the earlier materials--a useful reminder as matters progress in the series.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.10, "Heart of the Lion"

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Matters grow more dire for Earth and its defenders as the seventh season of Voltron: Legenday Defender continues.

7.10, "Heart of the Lion"

Written by Rocco Pucillo
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

It's something of a pattern for Shiro.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Shiro wakes once again on a table under bright lights. This time, however, it is because of a medical procedure he has agreed to and which is being conducted by friendly personnel. The procedure is the installation of his new arm; its capabilities are described to him, and he tests it briefly before matters deteriorate. Allura intervenes, restraining the arm and replacing its power source with one of her own. Shiro is eased by the procedure and enriched.

After, Pidge and Allura explicate Sendak's methods. The Galra commander has installed six massive emplacements around the globe, intending them to serve as deterrents and control points. How to proceed against them is debated, and an infiltration mission is decided upon and planned. Teams are assigned, and the mission begins.

The sniper team--consisting of Lance, Hunk, Veronica, and Kincaid--proceeds to its assigned location. The members confer with one another, learning something about each other along the way. They set up in position, overwatching the infiltration team as they proceed into the Galra facility. Infiltration proceeds smoothly at first, using Cosmos' teleportation abilities to enter and evade detection. At length, though, they are detected, and combat ensues, although Keith and Pidge achieve their objective. They find that the bases are, in fact, planetary siege cannons like those they've encountered before.
This does not bode well.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Outside, the fight continues. The Earth forces handle themselves ably, but the numerical superiority of the Galra forces begins to tell. The Earth forces enact their exfiltration plan, departing in haste but with no casualties--and their objective achieved. Debriefing, they report on the circumstances, and a plan to take out the weapons is hatched. A simultaneous strike on all the weapons is called for, and motion to make it happen begins.

The Paladins proceed to their assigned locations and summon their Lions to them. Their unity of purpose allows for the summons to be answered--save for the red Lion, which does not heed Lance before he and Veronica come under Galra attack. Four of the Paladins enter their Lions, and the attack begins--but Lance is taken out of the fight before it can do so.

Convenient.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
He wakes in pain and finds his sister injured. They are still under fire, however, and Lance fights valiantly. The Red Lion belatedly answers his summons, saving him and his sister. So armed, they add themselves to the attack, and the operation proceeds as planned. Battle is joined, although the Galra defenses are more powerful than expected. And the weapons launch, despite the efforts of the Paladins; it is clear that the Galra knew an assault was coming. What is less clear, though not for long, is that the commander of Earth's military is the one responsible for the Galra having that knowledge. Voltron is formed and an attack on Sendak begun as Sendak turns the weapons towards Voltron, forcibly disarticulating the robot.

Discussion

Something of the appeasement noted in the discussion of the previous episode appears to have happened in the present one. What effects it will have are speculative--but not likely to be better than those appeasement had in the audience's world.

Of more immediate moment to the work of the Society, perhaps, is the manner in which Shiro and Sendak more and more closely mirror one another--with Sendak being the darker reflection. The prosthesis Shiro receives in the present episode resembles Sendak's in overall outward form; rather than being a continuous physical object, it is composed of separate pieces joined together by energy, rather than matter. Sendak's remains brutish and belligerent, while Shiro's remains seemingly elegant, and the color schemes of the two push Shiro more obviously to the side of good. So does the fact that it is Shiro's right hand that is replaced (again); he is gifted with the work of others' hands, combining them in himself and so representing the whole in each of his actions. Given his death and return, it makes him something of a messianic figure, one laden also with medievalist parallels (Allura's attire when helping him with the new arm is reminiscent of the Lady of the Lake who awards Excalibur, for instance); he is more and more clearly the white knight who will ride to the rescue of all in the end.