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The Ups And Downs Of Studio Mir’s Voltron Season 2

Season two of Neflix’s Voltron: Legendary Defenders dropped on January 20th, much to the joy of many of it’s fans. Picking up where season one left off, season two develops the cast further and brings the conflict with Zarkon to a head, while maintaining the wisecracking humor and witty banter that defined season one. Season two moved the series into bigger, better things overall, though did fall short on a few fronts. Be warned: there are spoilers ahead.

The Good

There are many things to celebrate in season two, from the narrative scope to the character development, combat animation, and even social commentary. The second season made great strides for the series as a whole, and set up a wider scope of conflict for viewers to be invested in, while also further developing the cast we know and love.

Season one ended with the lions scattered and the castle caught in a deteriorating wormhole after Voltron and friends narrowly escaped capture while rescuing Alura from Zarkon’s central command. Viewers were left wondering what was going to happen to the cast, as well as who within Zarkon’s forces had aided in their escape by dropping the solar barrier. The end of Season One truly ran home that Voltron could not take Zarkon and the Galra empire on alone, and allowed for Season Two to focus on gathering allies and for team Voltron to further bond with each other and their lions. The narrative arc of the season focuses on these points, dedicating episodes to each pilot finding their strengths with their lions, as well as meeting and garnering allies as they go. From the reluctant Blade of Marmora to the brilliant Olkari, team Voltron continues to fight and improve, but ends up losing more battles and only winning those where their allies offer assistance. This comes to a head when, with the Blade of Marmora’s inside help and the Olkari’s engineering expertise, Voltron is able to take Zarkon head-on in a final battle that would decide the fate of the known universe. By removing Zarkon, the Galra Empire would be left leaderless, and the universe would be free to push back and restore order out from under Galra rule. Yet, their final strike doesn’t go to plan as Hagar, leader of the mystical Druids, strikes and absorbs Voltron’s quintesence (the show equivalent to life force), showing that Zarkon also has allies to assist him. The season ends with the Voltron team leaderless, Zarkon in critical condition, and Hagar calling for Prince Lotor–the assumed heir apparent.

The narrative scope of season two continues the arc of the first season, building a wider, more diverse galaxy and taking the time to show just what team Voltron is up against. The team can’t fight Zarkon alone, and the story shows that Voltron may be a symbol of hope to many, but that they aren’t the only ones fighting for a future. The Olkari, the Blade of Marmora, the Merpeople in episode 2–the galaxy is full of allies, if only Voltron knows where to look. The emphasis on teamwork helps drive the overarching story home, and leaves the viewer on the edge of their seat through the end.

 

Team Voltron also received some strong character development, as this season examined some of the relationships between the paladins more closely, delved into Keith’s history, and provided the viewers with some insight to the paladins’ connection with their respective lions. Keith’s relationships took center stage this season, as his history became a central piece of the larger narrative. His connection with Shiro developed into a more comfortable, familial bond as Keith first saved Shiro’s life, then as Keith faced the Trials of Marmora and his suit summoned a likeness of Shiro, whom he said was, “like a brother to [him].” We also got to see the playful teamwork of Hunk and Keith as they traversed into the belly of the Weblum to collect the rare Skultrite, as Hunk teased and worked to normalize Keith’s Galra heritage. Hunk even went so far as to call our Alura afterwards who, even though she and Keith had bonded over their own fears of putting the team at risk, refused to acknowledge Keith given his Galra blood. Keith’s heritage was another big reveal this season, as we met his Texan-sounding father during the Trials of Mamora and it came to light that someone in his family line was Galra. The most common theory is that it was his mother, but we’ve yet to see her, and we don’t know how much Galra blood runs in Keith’s veins. This doesn’t impact his connection with his lion, however, which is stronger than ever as the Red Lion saves his life multiple times over. Each Paladin gets some screentime bonding with their Lion and unlocking new abilities, like the Blue Lion’s sonic cannon, or the Green Lion’s tree gun. The most satisfying connection comes in the final episode, when Shiro unlocks the Black Lion’s wings to phase through and reclaim the black bayard from Zarkon. It’s such a wonderful high before the end of the episode, which leaves Shiro missing from the Black Lion and Zarkon down for the foreseeable count.

 

Season two also had a number of understated moments of social commentary, from addressing racism to gender identity. The conflict with the Galra is in the forefront of the narrative, even as team Voltron runs into the Blade of Mamora and their insurgents. Alura is unable to move past her own hatred for the race that was responsible for her family’s death, and is openly hostile with their Galra allies–Keith included, once his linage comes to light. Hunk goes as far to call her out on her rejection of Keith in “The Belly of the Weblum”, and she eventually apologizes to Keith before the final battle. Her apology, however, was lackluster: it felt more like her apologizing for solely mistreating Keith, rather than actively acknowledging her own bias.

 

There were also a great moment with Pidge who, canonically in season one, was outed as female-identifying. In “Space Mall,” there is a short scene with Pidge in front of the bathrooms, glancing between two bathroom markers. Ultimately, Pidge decides to hold it, and the narrative continues. The scene seemed innocuous at the time,–it’s an alien mall, so who knows which one is the ‘female’ bathroom’–but there is a second bathroom scene when Hunk and Keith reunite, and Keith is seen coming out of the blue bathroom: the ‘male’ bathroom. This scene pairing implies that Pidge didn’t want to have to chose between two gendered bathrooms when they have access to non-gendered facilities on the ship, which is run home when Keith appears, obviously unperturbed by the decision. This feels like a nod towards Pidge identifying as non-binary, which has been a fan theory and hope since season one. These two topical issues feel additionally on point given the current political climate, and it’s good to see them brought up in a show targeted at a younger generation.

Season two improved on many of season one’s strengths, developing a larger narrative arc and providing the cast with more depth. It was delightful to see the cast grow, both as individuals and as a team, as well as to see the show address some more nuanced social issues. The second season was a great addition, and definitely brought good progress for the series.

The Not So Good

For all the growth of the second season, there were a few things upon which they did not improve. Season one fell flat in that the villains were underdeveloped and predictable, lacking nuance and more than black and white motivations. Season two unfortunately didn’t improve on that front, and also reduced Hunk and Lance to their tropes while also cutting their screen time. Also, like it’s first season, season two took almost half a season to find it’s stride, keeping viewers at a distance until five episodes in.

 

Zarkon felt like a cliche power villain in season one. He was your typical evil overlord: eager for power, and willing to stop at nothing to get it. The end of season one revealed that Zarkon had been the previous Black Lion Paladin, the rest of his backstory shrouded in mystery. Season two focused on Zarkon’s desire to reclaim the Black Lion for himself, but failed to provide his motivation or any more on his history with the Black Lion. He throws everything at recovering the Black Lion, even against the advice of Hagar, his right hand, growing more and more obsessed with his failing connection to it. His only motivator seems to be power, and it falls to Hagar to hold the empire together in the face of his loss of sense. Hagar herself is unclear as a character, leading the Druids and heading the search for the traitor who allowed Voltron to escape. She is seen demonstrating a great deal of power, but nothing is known about who she is or her history until the final episode. She turns out to be Altean and capable of speaking for Zarkon, but her motivation for supporting the Galra Empire is also unknown. Even the small, one off enemies are mindless or tropey, showing a breadth of Galra leadership, but nothing unique to the genre. It’s a weak point that wasn’t corrected in the second season, and leaves something to be desired in the narrative overall.

 

The reduced screen time for Lance and Hunk also hurt their character development, as well as the narrative arc overall. Lance and Hunk both hold promise as individual characters, Lance for his insecurities covered by his bravado and Hunk for his intelligence and unique body type. Unfortunately, Lance was reduced to his bravado in season two, and Hunk was reduced to his love for food. Each had a few bright moments, but they were few and far between, lost in the wider swaths of narrative and focus on the other team members. It was disappointing, as both have a lot to give to the narrative and the Voltron team both, and seeing them reduced to their fundamental tropes was hard to watch.

 

Both seasons of Voltron struggled to find their stride, as they each took five or six episodes to draw the viewer in and build empathy. Season two spent much of the first half of the season playing catch up, getting the team back together and establishing new powers. It felt procedural, hitting story beats for the sake of getting to the next plot point, rather than following the natural flow of the story. By episode six, they got back into the meat of the plot, raising the stakes with a Battlestar Galactica-esque series of attacks by Zarkon and backing team Voltron into a corner. Once they hit their stride, they kept it, but it was almost too long and lost a few viewers along the way.

The pro’s of season two ultimately outweigh the cons, but the cons leave much to be desired going into (hopefully) season three. Providing a more nuanced villain would help draw viewers in, and hopefully assist in finding the narrative flow out the gate at the beginning of the season. More screen time has also been promised for Hunk and Lance, as they hope to delve into Lance’s Cuban family and expand more on Hunk’s character overall.

Season two strengthens the Voltron series, building the cast both as individuals and as a team. The series feels more mature throughout, branching into a broader narrative arc and building out their pre-established relationships in a way that is empathetic and feels natural to the characters we know and love. Season two leaves you wanting more, and we hope that a season three is not far behind.

 

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