Thursday, October 11, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.7, "The Last Stand, Part 1"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry soon!

The Paladins return home to find that home is not so homely.

7.7, "The Last Stand, Part 1"

Written by Joshua Hamilton
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

The Paladins make their approach to Earth. Pidge attempts to make contact with her father, finding only an automated message calling for help from Voltron against a Galra force that has besieged Earth.

No, it's not good.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Four years prior, when Sam Holt had returned to Earth, he had been subjected to testing and investigation by the Earth military before being allowed to see his wife, Colleen, and asked to report. Contact with the Paladins is restricted against the concern for Earth's safety. Sam's freedom is curtailed, as well.

Sam's report is presented to the higher military. There are some troubles accepting the report, given its nature and the audience, but it is given, nonetheless, recapping many of the events of the first several seasons of the series and integrating them into the broader context of events. Sam calls for fortification of Earth, which is rejected against a lack of specifics. Sam tries to make contact with Pidge and cannot. The decision is made to keep matters quiet--and to prepare some defenses. Work to that end is demonstrated as in progress, and the potential linchpins of that defense introduced.

Four bright and promising stars...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

Work on Earth's defenses continues, assisted greatly by Sam's involvement. His experiences pay off as Earth builds its new fighters, and the four promising officers train. Attempts to contact Voltron also continue, albeit with less success throughout a passing year. but contact comes from Matt, who reports the disappearance of Voltron in the wake of the fight against Lotor. Matt warns him to stop broadcasting against the Galra's efforts to eradicate the allied forces.

Sam calls for an increase in efforts to defend Earth against the Galra, only to have his proposal rejected. Sam and Colleen reveal the truth to the world, imperiling themselves but successfully marshaling the world to the effort against the Galra--who arrive all too soon and begin laying siege to the planet.

Discussion

Given the long-standing Arthurian overtones present in the series, the parallel that suggests itself is Arthur's return to Logres after the abortive siege against Lancelot. In Malory, Arthur, having left Guinevere and Mordred to rule in his absence, is declared dead and his kingdom suborned; he returns to find it in disarray, havoc having been wrought through it. While the parallel is not exact, there is much the same at work in the present episode; the Paladins return to Earth to find what had been a peaceful place in disarray after having been wracked by hardship in their absence. The scale and scope are grander, of course, and the complications of the life left behind less unsavory--but that is not unexpected from what remains a program aimed at a younger United States audience. (Indeed, there are some motions toward dystopic tropes that seem calculated to resonate with such an audience; the military leader verges on an unhealthy despotism.) How matters will play out will be well worth seeing...

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Voltron: Legendary Defender (Re)Watch 7.6, "The Journey Within"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

Matters seem to improve for the Paladins as they progress through the seventh season of Legendary Defender.

7.6, "The Journey Within"

Written by Tim Hedrick
Directed by Eugene Lee

Synopsis

The Paladins, Coran, Romelle, and Cosmo continue their journey through space, strain clear upon them. Efforts led by Shiro and Pidge continue to try to make contact with others, unsuccessfully, and the estimated remaining time of travel becomes a contested issue--again. Shiro calls for calm, Keith for discipline, and Lance for a backhanded optimism.

You can just barely see them there...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
At length, the Lions enter a darker area of space. Shiro advances an idea for how to re-power the Lions, calling back to the fight against Zarkon. Allura expresses self-doubt, which Shiro sets aside. Emboldened, the Paladins are about to proceed when Pidge spots a strange phenomenon in and lightening of the surrounding darkness. The Lions are enveloped in a radiant energy field and seek unsuccessfully to flee it. They are rendered powerless and adrift once again, waking only later and in some confusion--with their companions frozen. And they are drifting apart.

Keith decides that keeping the group together is their priority; Allura moves to that end, joined by the others. Coordinated action is needed and begins--when the energy emerges again, knocking them further apart. They manage to come together in their persons--but far adrift and out of view from the Lions. Lance's backhanded optimism resumes.

Much easier to see than the Lions.
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.
Some time passes with the Paladins adrift. Keith does what he can to keep the others focused and sharp as more lights appear--luminous space creatures, in the event. The Paladins make to follow--only to have the creatures vanish, calling the Paladins' sanity into question as their ordeal continues. Hunk voices reservations about his worth as a Paladin.Another energy envelops them, actively tearing them away from one another. Keith fights it, experiencing his own break; it was not real.

The isolation tells on them as it continues. Lance, somehow, remains the most optimistic as talk of fathers and old grievances emerges. Hunk works as a peacekeeper, with Keith acting out in anger as another light--a planet--appears. It seems to be Earth, and the Paladins rush toward it--until Hunk voices reservations and tries to stop the others, dispelling the illusion--evidently caused by a massive, hungry space creature.
This might not be in good taste...
Image taken from the episode, used for commentary.

The creature attacks, and the Paladins evade as they can. Hunk's manifestation of his weapon is questioned, and he puts it to good use; the extravagance of his display evokes its power. Their team identity is reaffirmed and apologies made for words spoken in anger. And with that, their powers return; the fight goes better for them in the wake thereof. The reactivation and return of the Lions helps, as well, and the re-formation of Voltron enables the Paladins to face another energy wave with aplomb.

After they pass through, their companions awaken--and they find themselves near the Sol system at last and proceed towards home.

Discussion

The idea of visions appearing to the Paladins as an artifact of encroaching insanity voiced in the episode harkens back, if somewhat obliquely and unhappily, to the dream-visions of "The Feud." There is thus a bit more than usual of the continuity of the series's medievalism in the present episode, which is to the good for the kind of work the Society does. After all, if the property will continue to do such a thing, it means that the work of identifying and explicating that medievalism can also continue, giving those of us on this side of things more to do. Working through such puzzles as sources and antecedents present is a source of joy in addition to aiding understanding of the continual construction and reinterpretation of cultural touchstones.

Something else medievalist evoked in the episode is the hellmouth, the gaping opening to the netherworld that appears in much medieval art--suggested in the episode by the maw of the gigantic, illusion-inducing space creature. The use of lures to deceive prey is a natural phenomenon--note the anglerfish--and one commonly deployed by people--as witness fishing tackle sales. But it is also something traditionally associated with medieval conceptions of the underworld; foul spirits seek to lure nobles to their doom through deceit. Indeed, the deliberately medievalist Faerie Queene presents such things assailing the Redcrosse Knight, and Arthurian knights in more traditionally Arthruain works get similar treatment. While there are other possible antecedents for the imagery, the fact of the medieval and medievalist predecessors for the presentation does help to secure the long-established medievalism of Voltron: Legendary Defender as a whole.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

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

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

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

Synopsis

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.

Discussion

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!"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

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

Synopsis

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.

Discussion

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"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

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

7.3, "The Way Forward"

Written by Mark Bermesderfer
Directed by Rie Koga

Synopsis

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.

Discussion

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"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

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.

Synopsis

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.


Discussion

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.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

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

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

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

Synopsis

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.

Discussion

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"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

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

Synopsis

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.

Discussion

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"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

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

Synopsis

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.


Discussion

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"

Read the previous entry here!
Read the next entry here!

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

Synopsis

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.

Discussion

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.