RAZZLE DAZZLE! A Review of "Voltron: Legendary Defender" Season Four
This post was originally published at Speculative Chic on May 28,2020 and has been slightly updated. You can read the original here.
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DreamWorks’ Voltron Legendary Defender picks up immediately following the events of Zarkon’s defeat as the Paladins struggle to recover with one of their own missing, leaving them unable to form Voltron. The team must quickly devise a plan as the ascension of Prince Lotor threatens to bring chaos to the entire universe. Only by coming together, not just as Paladins but with the freedom fighters liberated from Galra occupation, will they be able bring the fight to their most formidable enemies yet?
Discussion: We’re hot on the tail end of Season Three, where the season closer revealed the backstory behind the original Team Voltron, how Zarkon and Honerva went bad, the mistakes of King Alfor and why the Galra want to subdue the galaxy… and we learned more about the nature of quintessence and why it’s long been hunted by the Galra. We also learned that Lotor is following in his parents’ footsteps and planning on entering alternate realities to harvest pure quintessence (the ultimate power source and “life itself”). Got all that? So after some mind-blowing revelations, let’s deep dive into Season Four!
Story: Wow. The execution of story this season is top-notch. Every character has a purpose; every scene (even played for humor) reveals or builds to something more important. We’ve got some compelling, emotional character moments, high-risk action, and a dramatic close to the season. We’ve got double-crossings and conflict, self-sacrifice and loss, and incredible character development that makes this the best season of Voltron thus far.
I think one of the most important things this season has stressed is how high the stakes are to everyone — everything is do-or-die, and we’ve never quite had it spelled out so clearly for us until this season. True, in earlier seasons we’ve had warnings from Coran to Allura that she could die trying to use her Altean powers to save the day, and we’ve lost members of the Blade of Marmora before, but somehow the threat of loss and death has never seemed tangible until now.
On a lighter, perhaps more metaphorical level, the reputation of Team Voltron (and maybe even the Paladins’ pride) is completely on the line whenever they go out and do their publicity stunts to secure the admiration of the public. While it may feel demeaning at times, the truth is that the success of “The Voltron Show” is pivotal in recruiting people — entirely based on hype — to join the coalition to take back the universe from the Galra.
Then we have more literal moments of life-or-death struggle. We get a heartbreaking scene in Episode 2 (“Reunion”) where Pidge sees Matt’s grave, along with the grave of tens of thousands of others who lost their lives in battle against the Galra. Then we get two big whoppers in Episode 6 (“A New Defender”) where we see Lotor being suicidally risky as his father’s men chase him down, and then Keith literally on the trajectory to blow himself up until Lotor saves the day (yes, you read that right, the villain has saved the heroes). Both characters almost die horrible deaths, and they are doing it for what they believe in, because that’s what’s at stake — the right to live or die.
Characters: It’s getting harder and harder to select character MVPs because every season we get served up more and more awesome development. Plus, I have my biases (Keith, Lotor, and Shiro) to contend with, too. So here are an assortment of shout-outs: despite Keith stepping down from Voltron and completely embracing the Blade of Marmora, he showed incredible leadership this season that I think makes his character all the more interesting. It was painful to see him say goodbye to the team (the animators who did his face, especially his eyes, get a lot of credit), and even more painful when he was ready to kill himself to stop Haggar…it’s so interesting that Keith had to step down as a leader of Voltron in order to really to come into his own with qualities that prove Shiro’s assessment of Keith’s leadership skills correct.
Lotor is still a bit of a mystery but we get to see more of him and his role as a charismatic villain. He is incredibly duplicitous — more so than I remember him being upon first watch — and he betrays others who equally betray him. The twist with his team’s mutiny, especially Acxa being the turncoat, seems fitting considering how many times Lotor has said one thing only to turn around and do another. Is Lotor good? Is he bad? He does things that indicate both. As for whose side he’s on, I can’t help but think of what he says to his team who has turned on him before he escapes them: “Do as you must, and I’ll do what I must” — clearly Lotor is on Team Lotor.
Pidge also dominated this season thanks to the second episode, which I’m definitely going to talk about more than once, so keep reading to see why.
Animation: There’s a particular moment in Episode 2 (“Reunion”) that I want to point out where the animation shines. It’s the heartbreaking scene where Pidge discover’s Matt’s grave and believes him to be dead. It’s all in the details. Look at these screenshots:
Look at how the animators play with lighting to emphasize Pidge’s emotion. Tears upon tears upon tears! This was so well done. While there are moments of gorgeous animation involving planet design, backgrounds, and action sequences, it’s small moments like these where the animators make the decision to heighten the emotional impact of a scene that really stand out to me.
Voice Acting: There’s lots of impressive screaming from Haggar and Lotor this season, but the MVP for voice acting goes to Bex Taylor-Klaus for aaaaaall the range of emotion Pidge experiences this season, particularly in the second episode when she loses — then reunites with — her brother Matt.
Low Points of the Season: Honestly, these seasons are damn-near perfect, so every time I try to find a low point, it’s a bit of a reach. However, if I’m going to be super picky, I’m going to focus on weird voices again that kinda take me out of the story. While I could focus on the odd choice for Coran to sound like a slightly Southern jive-talking used car salesman for Episode 4 (“The Voltron Show”) I think I’m going to pick on the Burrowman alien, who apparently is a disgruntled MTA worker. I honestly flashed back to my NYC days, expecting him to say, “Stand clear of the closing doors,” before the 7 train takes off.
And maybe one other complaint — there’s a recurring setup where Team Voltron — minus a Paladin or two — is fighting and the situation is desperate, and someone asks the team, “How are we gonna ________ ?” and then the missing Voltron member flies in, shouting a triumphant, “YOU DON’T HAVE TO!” Pidge has done this, Shiro has done this, and I know there’s been a third version of this gag (maybe Lance?) and it’s getting oooooold. Is this a deliberate inside joke from the original series, or is this lazy writing? 🤔
High Points of the Season: Thank you, THANK YOU for introducing the most adorable alien ever in the form of Bii-Boh-Bi. His species is never given a name, but they look like literal stick people (or maybe thin packages of string cheese?). They’re just so off-the-wall that they’re funny, and then when you hear Bii-Boh-Bi speak, you can’t prepare for the cuteness explosion. The only vocabulary Bii-Boh-Bi possesses is “bii boh bi,” and his voice sounds like it would belong to a tiny fuzzy stuffed animal (and I can do a pretty dead-on impression of it). He also makes the cutest facial expressions. Fun fact: He’s voiced by Dave Coulier of Full House and The Real Ghostbusters fame!
Another high point of the season is Matt and Pidge’s relationship. It’s so refreshing to see siblings who are not in an unhealthy rivalry with each other. Pidge has clearly looked up to Matt for ages, and now that she has reunited with Matt, the two get to geek wholeheartedly and get caught up on all of the amazing things that have happened. It’s so great, and important to me as a viewer, to see Matt not get jealous of Pidge for being a Paladin of Voltron. He actually says, beaming with pride, “My little sister.” This makes for one of the best relationships in all of Voltron for certain, as well as one of the sweetest sibling relationships I’ve ever seen on TV.
Other light moments of the season include the whole Kaltenecker/milkshakes sequence, Matt completely crushing on Allura and Lance shooting him dagger eyes for it, and what I swear is a shout-out to the old school Nintendo game Star Fox. What a fun season!
Final Thoughts: With great loss, we’ve got Team Voltron liberating 1/3 of the Galra Empire — a huge feat with enormous stakes — and the surprise player who made it all happen is Prince Lotor, who, for the second season in a row, gets the last word in: “I think it’s time we have a discussion.” BAM! End of season. Is Lotor the “New Defender” as the final episode is titled? Is Lotor an ally, or does he simply hate Haggar enough that he doesn’t care who he aligns himself with? Soooo many questions about him, but we can see what’s coming: Lotor and Voltron will be coming together next season, and I can’t wait.