It’s no secret that I wasn’t particularly wowed by the third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t still binge the fourth season — all… six… episodes of it — as soon as they dropped last Friday. I went into this season hoping for a lot more meaty character development after the setup and plot heavy last season, but did I get it?
The short answer is: no. Season 4 continued to barrel along at a breakneck pace without ever giving us any meaty character background-support that would help justify or strengthen the sweeping actions the characters took.
Or, well, it mostly failed to. Spoilers after the jump.
The first episode was a bizarre one, in which we see Keith, as the supposed new leader of Voltron, shirking his responsibilities so consistently in favor of Blade of Marmora recon and subterfuge missions that it eventually puts the team in mortal danger. This threat ends up being so great that Shiro, in desperation, attempts to connect with the Black Lion again, and thankfully succeeds in time to help rescue the others. Keith, no longer necessary to the team, cheerfully fucks off to do more Blade stuff and doesn’t show up again for several episodes.
The next episode is the only one with real heft to its character arc vs its plotline -in the tellingly-titled “Reunion”, Pidge goes off to find her brother Matt, and in a flashback-heavy ep featuring a totally heartbreaking red herring in a massive graveyard, finally, finally finds him. Their titular reunion is as exciting and touching as I was hoping it would be, and makes the lack of character-heavy writing in the other episodes/seasons all the more frustrating because it shows that the writers are able to do it when they want to.
The focus over the remaining four episodes is on building up the hype for Team Voltron across the galaxy, both through actual battles, recon, and infrastructural support as well as through propaganda, parades, and the ever-turning hype machine. The end result of this is that the Voltron Coalition finally has enough strength to attempt a major frontal attack against the Galra, which, if they succeed, will reclaim a full third of the Galra Empire from Zarkon. In a final battle that takes a lot of cues from Star Wars and which is admittedly pretty dang epic, the final decisive blow is struck by Lotor – but not for the Galra. After being betrayed and abandoned by his Generals and branded a traitor by Zarkon, Lotor rescues the beset Voltron and disables Haggar’s ship in the also tellingly-titled “The New Defender”.
So let’s get into it. First and foremost, I’m honestly kind of pissed about Keith. After two seasons of his character being at the front of a lot of character development or at least the subject of a lot of screentime, it feels like a betrayal for him to completely disappear this season. While it may be the case that he’s better suited to the calculating style of the Blade of Marmora versus the co-op based strategies of Voltron, having him get an easy out from facing his responsibilities as a Paladin in the form of Shiro reconnecting with the Black Lion feels like a total cop-out. By doing this, we don’t get to see Keith learn or grow as a person – either metaphorically or literally, because his joining the BoM full-time doesn’t lead to a broadening of the POVs we see in the show. Rather than showing us more than just the perspective of the Voltron crew, he just basically disappears from the plot. In addition to this, we still haven’t seen the show reckon in any meaningful way with his Galra heritage; we haven’t learned anything about his family and at this point it looks like we never will. And on top of all that, this means we spent two seasons developing Keith’s character while Lance and Hunk remained effectively static, and now we’re left with two static characters because the one they put any time into doesn’t work there anymore.
And then there’s Matt, against whom I have almost nothing personally, but who I was hoping could be a kickstarter for more openness about gender and sexuality in the show. Instead, nothing about Pidge’s gender, whether related to her new more butch/male-coded presentation or her actual gender identity, is discussed at all in the slightest. Rather, in a bizarre departure from the general sexlessness of the show as a whole, Matt falls head over heels in love with Allura at first sight, and is silently rebuffed by Lance when his dramatic heart-eyes are noticed, as if Lance has any claim to her either. Given the constant cries to the void for any scrap of queer rep on this show, Matt showing up as some kind of aggressively heterosexual Luke Skywalker seems almost like a slap in the face that all the butch-lady Galra generals in the world can’t soothe. It seems more and more like the “I’ll just let that play out as we go” comment the writers made about LGBTQ+ relationships on the show back around Season 1 was just an empty diversionary phrase to avoid saying “no, there won’t be any queers here”. Because, honestly, if they were remotely invested in queer representation at this point, we would at least be seeing the groundwork at this point, three seasons and well over a year later.
On top of that, the search for Dad Holt seems weirdly sidelined by Matt’s appearance, almost like finding one Holt guy was good enough. Tracking down Dad is mentioned once and never brought up again. And Shiro seems oddly reserved when he sees Matt again – it would have been nice to see him break out of his Calm Paternal Mold even a little bit at the sight of someone he could consider a peer vs. a responsibility. Of course, if Season 3’s Operation Kuron had been referenced even once in this season, maybe I could place his reaction at the feet of some kind of brainwashing or flawed memory implantation, but instead, like many other things, that weird little nugget from S3 went completely unmentioned.
At the beginning of this season, Zarkon is awakened through a lot of Bane-esque quintessence implants and retakes control of the empire from Lotor, and as mentioned above, disowns him so hard that Lotor decides to side with the Voltron Coalition. The injury added to this insult is the betrayal of his general squad after all of them decide they’d rather cut their losses and be seen as loyal to the Galra rather than throwing in with what they see as the losing side. However, this whole plot twist lacks teeth because we never spent enough time with these characters or learned enough about their motivations for their decisions to mean anything to us as the audience.
More exciting is the decision for Lotor to side with Voltron, but this still doesn’t have as much weight as it could have because it took less than 13 episodes for Lotor to go from being introduced to being a far more dangerous adversary than Zarkon (with a mysterious Voltron-esque ship on his side) to being a redeemed Zuko-esque character, albeit with more questionable motivations than the Fire Nation prince. So while I love the character trope of the enemy-turned-ally-with-questionable-morals/loyalty, the writing team rushed through it without giving us enough background to justify this arc. That said, I am definitely looking forward to seeing how this all plays out in the next season. Maybe if I am very lucky, we’ll get some good character moments surrounding Lotor’s interactions with the Coalition and the Blade especially now that he’s nominally on their side. (I’m especially interested to see if they get further into his relationship with Haggar, as it’s made clear here that he knows that Honerva was his mother, but not that Haggar and Honerva are one and the same.)
All that said, I did honestly enjoy watching this season, for the most part. While the storytelling sometimes seemed too fast and too slow simultaneously, there were a lot of genuinely funny jokes, and when the action sequences were good, they were great. I do plan to keep on watching Voltron: Legendary Defender when the next season – which will, god willing, not be any shorter – drops, but I find myself more and more disappointed with the show as it goes on.
Hear more from Lady Saika on Character Reveal, the podcast she cohosts with BrothaDom!