(some spoilers ahead)
Despite the fact the third season of Voltron: Legendary Defender is remarkably brief (at four episodes), there are more shakeups to the status quo this time in terms of storyline variety. While one aspect does get reversed back not before long, the events that occur will easily have repercussions for the upcoming fourth, both in terms of piloting the titular ship and the relationships amongst the characters.
Zarkon (Neil Kaplan) has been badly wounded after a failed attempt to capture the Black Lion, and its main pilot is lost in a Galra ship. Prince Lotor (AJ Locascio) takes command of the Galra forces in his place, and on top of showing some impressive sway over the public, he’s more meticulous and far more patient than his father in many instances. He’s often more content to fire a warning shot at an opponent to gauge what their tendencies are in battle as opposed to blasting them out of the stars outright.
In Shiro’s (Josh Keaton) absence, the team is left disorganized, and Keith’s (Stephen Yuen) first attempt at leading the team is far more aggressive and proactive than his predecessor’s. Lance (Jeremy Shada) replaces Keith in the Red Lion, while Allura (Kimberly Brooks) takes control of the Blue Lion (and fails to sweet-talk to it as effectively as Lance could).
Shiro does get an episode to himself that chronicles his journey back towards team Voltron, which turned out to be one of my favorite episodes this season. Some of the scenes in which his hope of finding his friends is tested are unexpectedly gut-wrenching at points, and Keaton does a nice job with the material he’s given.
When Shiro eventually does make it back to the team, it disrupts the chemistry developed while he was away, leaving Lance concerned that Allura deserves to pilot his old lion more because of her powers.
From numerous versions of Star Trek to Red Dwarf’s various subversions of the trope, I’ve always been a fan of “alternate universe” episodes, and Defender gives us a pretty good one. The paladins stumble onto a world with a mirror version of Shiro named Sven, who is essentially one big memetic reference to the character of the same name from the 1984 Voltron.
Here, the Alteans have defeated the Galra, but now they’re enslaving other species through mind-control- continuing the theme of moral ambiguity in how the various species are portrayed on this show.
The real enemies in Voltron are senseless cruelty and oppression- it’s a show that has a nice moral center and a mature worldview in spite of how aggressive its action is. The battles, much like the character interactions, never feel chaotic, everything has consequences.
I’ve complained about Zarkon coming off a bit like a one-note villain at points, but this season we finally get a look into his background as one of the original paladins. The showrunners can’t help themselves but to draw parallels between the current pilots both in design in personality (Blaytz comes off like an alien version of Lance as he pilots the blue lion, Gyrgan is Hunk and green lion Trigel resembles Pidge).
Zarkon’s experiments in the Daibazaal fissure fractures the relationship between him and Alfor, who tries in vain to keep him from going overboard with his quintessence research. The revelations that Coral reveal to the team, while they certainly don’t excuse the horrific deeds Zarkon himself committed, do make it understandable why he descended into madness.
My one complaint would be the lack of focus on Pidge (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and Hunk (Tyler Labine), but overall this season of Defender is primarily focused on universe building more than anything. Hopefully in the fourth season that’s upcoming soon, there’ll be more emphasis on character development. I’m confident the writing staff can combine that with the usual thrills we’ve come to expect over the previous three.