Victory or Death: A Review of "Voltron: Legendary Defender" Season Five
This post was originally published at Speculative Chic on June 18, 2020. It has been slightly updated. You can read the original here.
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I can’t believe we’re already at Season Five! After this, we only have three seasons left! As always, if you want a refresher of what’s happened so far, take a look at my breakdowns of Seasons One, Two, Three, and Four.
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 left Season Four with Lotor getting the last word (again!): “It’s time we had a discussion.” This came right after he saved Voltron and made the mission to recapture 1/3 of the Galra Empire possible. To quote Hunk, “The tables have turned!” Someone we’ve understood to be a villain has done something incredibly heroic and beneficial to the Voltron Coalition. Do we get to doubt Lotor’s intentions, or is he really a good guy after all? Join me as I discuss what works out to be the Season of Lotor!
Story: The undercurrent running through this season is all about family — bloodlines, relationships, and how one may or may not have bearing on the other. So many pivotal moments this season come from these types of relationships. We have Lotor’s utterly toxic relationship with his father and Haggar, who Lotor refuses to acknowledge as his mother Honerva. Then we have Pidge and Matt’s absolutely wholesome, supportive relationship with their father Sam Holt. Next, we’ve got the huge reveal of Krolia being Keith’s mother, although that’s teased at the end of the season, meaning we’ll find out more about that in Season Six. In terms of that relationship, we’ve got the absentee mother figure and the mystery as to why Krolia abandoned Keith coming up, so until we know more, it’s safe to count that as an unhealthy dynamic that may be on the mend. There’s also Allura trying to live up to her father King Alfor’s legacy, particularly with his incredible magical abilities.
In other words, this season is all about bloodlines and legacy. But the question is, what matters more: bloodlines, legacy, or family?
Characters: Yup, spoiler-not-spoiler: this season is Lotor’s time to shine. But there’s room for plenty of other character development happening, too. We get to see Lance grow as a character and become even more of a leader; we see Shiro — good ol’ golden boy Shiro — become a source of conflict for his devotion to Lotor (one could argue he’s double-crossing the team!) and he’s pretty much acting out of character for this season as well. My poor boy, what is up with you? I can’t believe you let Lotor use the Black Bayard on his father! In Episode 6 (“The White Lion”) we do see that Shiro is realizing something is not quite right, and describes it as not feeling like himself.
We see Haggar flitting between memories of herself as Honerva and then totally dissociating from that identity, so this crisis (and what comes off a bit like madness, to be honest) is compelling as we continue to wonder what happened to her and what the heck is going on with her simultaneous fixation on and aversion to her son, Lotor.
Zarkon and Lotor’s relationship is at a literal end when Lotor kills his father in battle, and reader, I felt it when I heard Zarkon describe Lotor as his “greatest shame.” In the aftermath, when Allura is checking on Lotor to see how he’s coping with Zarkon’s death and Lotor says he’s fine, the animation of his facial expression clearly shows that underneath his stoicism, Lotor is in fact not fine.
Despite all of these different character dynamics going on, and multiple spots where we saw great character development, the MVP, of course, this time around is Lotor. This season is all about his development, his mystery (do we trust him or not?), his reasoning, his backstory, and his motivation. He proves himself to be a major player in the story in Season Five, and I can’t wait to see (again) how his role develops for Season Six.
Animation: There’s a lot of hand-to-hand combat this season. Keith and Krolia fighting the Galra, the Galra fighting each other, Lotor’s generals fighting the Holts, etc. All look great. But let’s talk about the two big battles that really mattered this season. The fight between Zarkon and Lotor is impressive in terms of all that happens during the fight. That particular animation is slowed down a bit to center more on emotion and dialogue. The movements with Lotor versus Sendak are a bit more refined and sped up, because that fight is more of a means to an end in terms of plot, as opposed to a major character conflict with emotional heft with Zarkon and Lotor. There are a lot of gems with animation this season — Lotor’s perfect white hair blowing in the wind could be its own character — but there are moments during fighting that look really great.
I also have to commend Studio Mir for the backgrounds this season, especially with planetary design, because some of the most beautiful images come from the White Hole in the Patrulian Zone (essentially a space Bermuda Triangle), and then the mythical land of Oriande, home to the secrets of Altean alchemy. Just look at this artwork from Episode 6 (“The White Lion”)!
Voice Acting: It’s hard to choose a standout this season because there was a lot of good stuff going on, but I think the four major players are Lotor (A. J. Locascio), Zarkon (Neil Kaplan), Shiro (Josh Keaton), and Pidge (Bex Taylor-Klaus). I know Lotor and Zarkon did a lot of shouting this season, but I still felt all of the emotion in their words, and even Lotor’s quieter moments were impressive. Shiro flitting between his emotions (disappointment, confusion, anger) and being downright off this season also gets a shout-out. And lastly, Pidge, whose determination to save her father and her mistrust of Lotor really comes out in her voice.
Low Points of the Season: Was…was there a low point this season?
High Points of the Season: To contrast with the absolute toxic family dynamic between Lotor, Zarkon, and Haggar/Honerva, we have a lot of sweet family moments. The Holts — Pidge, Matt, and father Sam — are just so supportive and kind to each other, and I really love the way Sam Holt understood that this children have matured and taken on important roles that require them to stay away from Earth. Of course it’s painful to be further separated from your children (especially after just reuniting with them!) but Sam is allowing his kids to make decisions independently, which lets them grow up. It was a really well done sequence.
We’ve also got a quick check-in with Lance and Hunk to see how they feel about their families, and a cute, touching moment where Lance cries (a second time this season!) thinking of his family, especially his brothers and sisters.
Then we’ve got a HUGE family reveal with Keith in Episode 5 (“Bloodlines”). It’s not quite a “Luke, I am your father,” but the show pretty much spells it out for you — Krolia is Keith’s mother and the source of his Galra heritage. She is able to activate Keith’s special blade, and she reveals it used to belong to her.
And check out how similar Keith and Krolia look to each other, too! As a fun aside, I love that both have hair stuck in a timewarp — Keith and his mullet, and Krolia and her rattail. Long live the ’90s! (And no, I’m not hating on these styles. I actually had a girly mullet back in the day).
Anyway, the loving moments between actual family and then adopted family (hey hey, that’s Team Voltron!) really shine this season.
Final Thoughts: We’ve got another awesome season closer in Episode 6 (“The White Lion”) that journeys into mystical mumbo-jumbo territory — Altean alchemy! — but it still makes sense because if quintessence is a thing in this world, then alchemy for certain is a thing. Alchemically, quintessence is the fifth element, or aether, which was believed to compose the heavenly bodies, and the substance from which the four classical elements come (if you want to get lost down a rabbit hole, jump in here).
We’ve got a very Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade type of booby trap that tests the content of a person’s character in the form of the titular white lion, who only allows Alteans with the “mark of the chosen” to Oriande, and then, once you’re there, if you want any alchemical secrets, you have to go through other guardians to get to the answers. Of course, the white lion appears again, and Lotor, despite valuing his Altean heritage and being marked as chosen, chooses “Victory or death” — he goes full-on Galra, believing he has to conquer the white lion in order to gain its secrets, and thus he fails the test.
I admit, this behavior pivot was a shock to me. Why would he do a 180 considering the progress he seemed to have been making — striving for peace and yearning to understand his Altean ancestry, which he always saw as a strength. So the fact that he reverted to Galran teachings says SO MUCH about Lotor and how complex he is. In hindsight, kiddos, (since this is a rewatch after all), this has so much foreshadowing and explains so much later about what’s going on with his character. Despite his initial fury at being barred the path to knowledge, Lotor seems to be humble with his loss here, telling Allura that Oriande was meant for her, and not for him. It’s true — Allura decides to submit to the lion, rather than fight it, and that’s how she gains access to its secrets.
Meanwhile, the season ends on the cliffhanger that Haggar — who somehow has a window into Team Voltron, as we’ve seen her watching them several times — has been pursuing Oriande and its secrets for most of her life, and thanks to her spying on the Paladins, she knows how to get there. Big uh-oh; end scene. After that, I can’t wait to get into Season Six, so I look forward to seeing you next time for my colossal recap and breakdown. Carry on, fellow Paladins!