As is often our wont, we ended up reccing a fic for something before we actually reviewed the thing. Ah well; such is fandom. Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 3 was, as I mentioned in my fic rec, a bit, uh, brief; only seven episodes long, to be precise. On the upside, there will be more story in October when Season 4 drops; on the downside, S4 will only be six episodes long, which makes it kind of feel like it’s just the second half of Season 3 gussied up to look like its own season. While it was nice to finally get a continuation of the story that ended on such a cliffhanger in Season 2, and while this mini-season did give us some character development and history, it didn’t really feel like a complete story, and I’m worried too much got left by the wayside.
Spoilers below the jump!
Last season ended on Shiro getting zapped out of his Lion through some sort of magic, and this season centers largely around that loss. The first few episodes follow the team restructuring, with Keith stepping up reluctantly to man the Black Lion, and the rest of the team shuffling around to compensate. Lance takes over the Red Lion, and Allura forms a connection with the Blue Lion, much to my delight. Their first fights together are frustrating to watch, as gung-ho loner Keith fails to make decisions that are best for the team versus just what he wants to do, but they eventually get the hang of things. On top of that, our new villain Lotor is able to manipulate the team into finding him some rare ore of the same material Voltron is made of, which allows him to build a much faster and more powerful ship to counter Voltron in battle.
Then we switch to Shiro’s POV: he escapes a Galra prison ship and makes his way back to the castle, nearly dying along the way. The season ends on a flashback episode, where we learn (along with Haggar) that the magical force that Haggar depends on is a remnant of an old taint that the original Paladins accidentally let into their universe while they were researching the Voltron source material. Haggar herself was once known as Honerva, and was an Altean scientist who married Zarkon before they broke the seal between the universes. This dark power is what has let Zarkon and Haggar live for so long, but it’s also corrupted both of them.
This was an interesting bit of backstory to get, but it felt like a bit of a whimper versus a bang to end the season on — especially compared to last season’s gangbusters ending. While there was some casual fandom speculation as to who would have got it on with Zarkon to create Lotor (and why Lotor was so bishounen compared to his dad), I didn’t really expect to get the probable answer in canon. That said, this origin story does give us some character background in that it furthers last season’s shades-of-grey themes, showing us that none of these characters were necessarily cast from pure evil and that people should be judged on their merits rather than their race or species. (Plus, it reminds me of the origin story of the Dark One in my longtime problematic fave fantasy series The Wheel of Time, so points for vague crossover nostalgia feelings for yours truly.)
The flashback episode did push that theme, but the main story somewhat abandoned the same narrative for Keith and the Blade of Marmora from last season. Now the Paladins are happily working alongside the Blade (although the people they save aren’t super excited to be rescued by Galra) and all of the tension surrounding Keith’s heritage has completely settled. Thankfully, this was offset to some extent by some high points of characterization for the other Paladins: Lance, for one, got some good screentime that wasn’t entirely centered around his flirtatiousness. Hunk got to do mechanical stuff rather than just constantly being that fat guy who eats stuff — a low bar, but not one that Voltron always surmounts. And of course, Allura got to be a Paladin! I was so excited to see Allura piloting the Blue Lion and was actually kind of glad that the Black Lion rejected Shiro when he came back, because it meant my girl got to keep her spot in the big cat robot lineup.
Oh yeah, so, the Black Lion rejected Shiro when he came back. I mentioned this plot twist in my fic rec, but I’ll dig in here too: as Shiro is escaping the Galra vessel, he has some flashes of memory that suggest that he may be a clone of the real Shiro, or at least that the Galra have been making clones of him somehow. These memories and the words ‘Operation Kuron’ (kuron meaning, possibly red-herringly, clone in Japanese) haunt Shiro as he escapes. This, the ease of his escape from the Galra ship, the length of his hair when we first see him, and the fact that the Black Lion doesn’t want him anymore seem like arrows pointing toward a larger conspiracy; that said, upon returning to the castle, Shiro doesn’t really act any differently or give off any behavioral cues that would suggest he’s a sleeper Blade Runner of the real Takashi Shirogane.
But while sleeper Shiro may be a future threat, the main threat this season was Prince Lotor and his squad of generals. Lotor is introduced as a more open-minded Galra conqueror; that is, rather than completely subjugating everyone else, he’s willing to let people serve the Galra Empire in their own way using their particular skills. Still, just because he may be a less racist dictator-in-training doesn’t make him less of a threatening villain. Rather, it proves he’s more intelligent and therefore more dangerous than other Galra leaders, because he’s not willing to dismiss other species out of hand as just “less than” the Galra. And the traps that he and his generals lay are cunning and devious, designed so that he wins even if he loses, and they’re a far cry from the frontal assaults we’ve seen in previous battles. Basically, he’s the MCU Loki of this universe, right down to the daddy issues and pretty hair. His generals, assembled from a broad spread of alien species, seem custom-designed to appeal to fans of Steven Universe (as if there wasn’t already crossover there): they’re a group of mostly women who are badass fighters, physically diverse in size and appearance, and vaguely butch-coded.
But even though these new characters do seem intended to appeal to a queer-friendly audience, the show itself continues to lack any kind of meaningful queer representation. Even something as small as the one gender-confusion moment in the last season, where Pidge briefly struggles with which bathroom to go into, is lacking in this season, and the vague, hamfisted kind of UST that I was reading into Keith and Shiro’s relationship last season seems to have disappeared in this one. Hopefully something starts to bloom in the next season; if they’re determined to codify S3 and 4 as separate seasons, I’m going to hold them to that and call them out on four seasons of no queer representation rather than just three.
Thankfully, we’ll only have to wait two months to find out what happens next. Aside from better (read: any) queer representation, I’m also hoping to get more Pidge storyline–maybe we’ll finally find Matt!–and some payoff for the plots they’ve suggested at this season, as well as more of a deep dive into characterization for the show as a whole. It’s something I’ve been futilely wishing for since Season 1; maybe they’ll eventually deliver three seasons later. See you in October, fellow Legendary Defenders!
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!