Kristina Elyse Butke
The End is the Beginning: A Review of "Voltron Legendary Defender" Season Eight
This post was published on Speculative Chic on September 17, 2020. It has been slightly updated. You can read the original here.
»»————- ⚜ ————-««
We’ve reached the end of our journey with the eighth and final season of Voltron: Legendary Defender, and what an emotional, fulfilling ride it’s been. I’ve braved (with ease) every episode and compiled for you detailed season reviews covering everything from acting and animation to the very elements of storytelling — plot and character. As always, you can read all my previous reviews: Season One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven.
Now let’s hop into our lions and form Voltron for one last time.
After saving the Earth, the Paladins embark to prevent Honerva from setting into motion her deadliest plan yet. It’s a race against the clock as the Voltron Coalition gathers from the corners of the galaxy to defend the universe once and for all.
Discussion: There was so much going on this season, and this is the series-ender, so I’m going to run a little on the long side this time…forgive me! I’m also cutting categories in the interest of focusing on the story and its important moments.
Major spoilers below!
Story and Characters: We’ve seen immense character growth this season, and plots that veer from typical action sci-fi to downright dark and fantastical.
The big bad driving the plot of the season is Honerva, who has finally “recovered” from her quintessence poisoning and gotten rid of the version of herself she called “Haggar.” But Honerva is still a villain. Once she realizes everything that has happened to Lotor, plus all the things that have been done to him, she becomes obsessed with revenge and bringing him back. When she finds out she can’t, she decides to journey through multiple realities until she can find the one where she can exist with Lotor and Zarkon as if nothing has happened. But in doing so, she destroys all the realities she has passed through in her wake, which means she is essentially eradicating billions of people and every world within it in order to pull off her selfish plan.
It’s a mother’s love gone twisted and horribly wrong.
Once Honerva reaches her ultimate goal — the reality that contains her happy ending — she discovers that not is all as it seems. Zarkon accepts her with some trepidation, but Lotor outright refuses her, realizing something is wrong: “You’re not my mother” (Episode 12, “Zenith”). Honerva loses it:
Countless worlds have fallen in the wake of my efforts to return to you, and this is how you welcome me? My own child, my own husband, to question who I am? […] If there is no place in this universe for me, then there will be no universe at all.
And thus Honerva starts on her path to absolute, incomprehensible destruction. The Paladins lose, and win, and lose again, until it takes a great sacrifice to restore everything that’s been lost.
Heartbreaking Points of the Season: Normally I have a “low points” section here for things that didn’t work out quite so well. But I have a controversial opinion: I thought we had another excellent season, and I didn’t really find fault with anything. So instead, I’m going to talk about low points in terms of the moments that hurt my heart.
First off, we’ve got the life and death of Prince Lotor. Since the battle between Voltron and Lotor’s Sincline ship in the quintessence field, we know that Voltron left Lotor behind and Keith said very bluntly after that battle: “Lotor is dead.” And the fandom (myself included, especially upon my first watch of the series) did not want this to be true. Even Honerva admits that Lotor is gone in the earlier episodes but later refers to him as still alive. It’s easy to believe he’s back when we see Honerva summon his Sincline ship and it actually goes into battle. Yet during the battle, Altean Acolyte Merla realizes, “something is wrong.” As always, when it comes to Lotor, we shouldn’t trust what we see.
In Episode 10 (“The Knights of Light Part Two”), we see in Honerva’s thoughts and memories that she discovered Lotor is in fact dead — and boy, did he die in a horrible way.
Lotor’s life and death was entirely tragic. He did not live perfectly — in fact, his way of life was very, very flawed — but we see that his childhood was awful, full of neglect and punishment. We see that Honerva and Zarkon, once they were poisoned by quintessence, could not be parents to their child.
Most of Lotor’s childhood and his life right before Zarkon expelled him from the Galra Empire is seen in Episode 2 (“Shadows”). One of the most interesting details that I did not catch in my first viewing is about the nature of Honerva’s (by then Haggar’s) pregnancy. Zarkon and Honerva are still dealing with the quintessence poisoning — neither of them are themselves, and they need quintessence in order to function after they were hit with it. Lotor, just born, has “strange readings” coming off of him that are similar to what’s coming off of Honerva and Zarkon. This means that the quintessence poisoning affected the pregnancy and could’ve gotten into Lotor in some way. This further means that maybe, just maybe, Lotor’s moments of craziness are bolstered by quintessence overdose from the very beginning. The odds seemed stacked against him from the start in a multitude of ways.
And yet Allura is able to tell Honerva in Episode 13 (“The End is the Beginning”) that “Lotor may have been misguided, but ultimately he wanted to preserve life.” We saw this in bits and pieces over the series and especially in Episode 2 of this season. Lotor was a villain given what he did to the Alteans, but I do believe he had elements of goodness in him that were ultimately poisoned by his upbringing and by quintessence itself. It makes sense he died from the very quintessence that plagued him his entire life…I just wish his end wasn’t so gruesome.
And in terms of another tragic ending, we come to the whopper: in the final episode of the series, Allura sacrifices herself along with Honerva to restore all of the realities that have collapsed due to Honerva’s demented plans. All this time, the main theme throughout Voltron has been family: losing it, gaining it, living without it, living with it, and creating a new family along the way. What’s so devastating is that Allura gives up her newfound family in order to save the lives of others. Even Lance protests her decision, saying he can’t live without her, but the group accepts that this needs to happen in order for all of the destroyed realities to return. In the episode where Lance and Allura go on their first date, he tells her, “I love you. I want to be your family.” And now Allura has to leave.
I’m just bummed that Allura and Lance and Team Voltron didn’t get their happily ever after together. There is definitely a kind of happy ending at the conclusion of the series, but it came at great cost, and one that hurt me as a viewer who truly enjoyed Allura as a character.
However, there’s a lot of ambiguity to Allura’s ending that makes me think she isn’t totally gone, just gone from the universe of this story and its heroes.
Allura says, “This is where I must leave you,” in Episode 13 and explains that she and Honerva are the ones needed to restore the universe. But we don’t know how. We don’t know if it leads to death. Honerva says to Allura, “But that would take –” and Allura says, “I know the risks.” We never learn what specifically was done to restore the multiple realities; the only cost we know is that Allura has to say farewell. All we know is that it takes two of the most powerful beings left in the universe — two Alteans and their magic — to fix the destruction Honerva unleashed.
I don’t think Allura is alone. The ending clearly shows Allura leaving her found family, Team Voltron, to return to her father King Alfor and the original Paladins. It’s like she’s returning to the start of all of this happening, and it makes me wonder if this is one of the “end is the beginning” elements that pervade this episode.
It’s kind of a lovely thought, that in the end, you find your family again. Even Lotor, Zarkon, and Honerva are reunited in the “place where it all began.”
There’s a part of the many-worlds theory in quantum physics that we should look at, since Voltron is all about multiple realities:
[…] we live in a near-infinity of universes, all superimposed in the same physical space but mutually isolated and evolving independently. In many of these universes there exist replicas of you and me, all but indistinguishable yet leading other lives. […] it’s our concept of reality that’s at fault. We only think that there’s a single outcome of a measurement. But in fact all of them occur. We only see one of those realities, but the others have a separate physical existence too. — Phillip Ball, Quanta Magazine
It’s a romantic and deeply philosophical part of science here. Imagine that every possible outcome that could exist does. In the Voltron universe, especially after Allura has restored all of the realities in existence, how can there not be a reality with Allura and Lance living out their days together along with the rest of the Paladins? As a fan of this show, this is something I choose to believe as a part of the ending.
Plus, the final after-credits image of the last episode, the lions leave Team Voltron, since the universe no longer needs defending. They fly off into space, and we see this:
Without a doubt, this is Princess Allura. So what does this mean? She isn’t entirely gone…she just…transcended. That’s the best way I can explain it, but I’m still going to fly with my fan theory that there’s a reality where Allura exists with the ones she loves, and that includes Lance and Voltron. That’s a hope I keep that’s bittersweet…I just wish we were able to see the kind of ending where we know Allura is safe with the Paladins. *Sigh*
Despite these things that broke my heart, and despite what I wished as a fan I could see happen, I’m not disappointed with these endings. I enjoyed this season all the same, no matter how painful some of these moments were.
High Points of the Season: There were quite a few things I enjoyed that were a good balance against the dark, more esoteric aspects of this season.
Episode 1 (“Launch Date”) has a clip of the original Voltron series from the 80s opening the season, and throughout the episode Pidge pays homage to the original Pidge, complete with geeky impersonations.
You’ve got Episode 7 (“Day 47”) where we actually have Kinkade leading this one, shooting a documentary of everyone’s time on the IGF Atlas. It’s nice that he’s got an entire episode because up until this season, Kinkade has been the silent, stoic type, which he acknowledges while he talks to the camera. I enjoyed the bit where the camera bounces around during the alien battle, the moments where Hunk talks about the value of a meal, and the sneak peek into Lance and Allura’s continually growing relationship. It was nice to see a little more of the MFE pilots, too.
Following that up is Episode 8 (“Clear Day”), which has dual stories going on. First you’ve got the lighthearted carnival-like atmosphere that is Clear Day, and it’s great to see the Paladins and the rest of the Atlas crew have their moments at the festival to boost team morale. Keith and Hunk being trapped on the “It’s a Small World” knock-off ride, Lance and Pidge trying to find a great prize for Allura, the Yalmor-screaming contest with Coran, and then the arm-wrestling contest with Shiro were all fun side stories during the episode. Added bonus points for Curtis cheering Shiro on during the contest!
What else makes Episode 8 a standout? You get into some dark territory with the brainwashed Alteans serving Honerva and the mysterious dark entity that calls to Allura through visions of her mother, Lotor, and Lance. Of course it’s Honerva operating the strings behind these puppets, choosing people she believes Allura loves in order to convince her to embrace the dark entity — the same smoky blob that has been controlling the Alteans. But Allura buys it, and lets the primordial dark entity make its home inside her, later justifying it as a way to connect to Honerva and something powerful enough to defeat her. It’s a huge risk that Coran calls “the path to darkness” (Episode 9, “Knights of Light Part 1”). This episode was a great mix of lightheartedness and frankly some creepiness going on, too.
My last high moment in the series is a controversial one, but I am overjoyed that Shiro — Shiro, who has been pummeled by tragedy after tragedy — fell in love and got married. I do understand the fan criticism that we didn’t see enough of Shiro and Curtis’s relationship come to pass. For almost the entirety of the series, Curtis is a background character on the bridge, and I can think of multiple instances where they could have added him in without taking away from the episodes’ plot and projection. Curtis and Shiro could have been seen together during the “Day 47” documentary. They could be seen walking the halls together, or interacting as copilot and captain of the Atlas more often. Small things add up, and I get that to many fans, where Shiro meant so much to them in a multitude of ways, found their relationship a bit flat.
Nonetheless, I think of all the episodes collectively and of everything that’s happened to Shiro over the season. This man has been put through the ringer, dealing with love and loss, life and death, experiments and torture…and through it all (as I’ve mentioned in previous season reviews), Shiro is someone who did not have a family waiting at home for him outside of the Paladins of Voltron. Well, now he does. And I choose to see this moment as a happy one and a great moment for Shiro. Congratulations on your marriage!
Final Thoughts: What an ending to a near-perfect science fantasy series. Beautiful animation, talented voice acting, compelling characters, and a vast plot with an enormous cast, all giving homage to (and rising above) its source material. It’s been a long, amazing journey and I’m glad you’ve been with me all the way. I hope you’ve enjoyed Voltron: Legendary Defender as much as I have, and I hope you look back on the series with fond memories, as I do. Thanks for reading!