Season 3 Premiere Plot Summary:
Following Shiro’s (Josh Keaton) mysterious disappearance after Voltron’s climactic battle with Zarkon (Neil Kaplan), the Paladins must cope with the loss of their leader and inability to form Voltron. Meanwhile, dissension rises amongst the ranks of the Galra Empire as Prince Lotor (A.J. Locascio) begins to rule in his father’s absence.
In my review of last season’s finale, I suggested that the previous season could potentially be a reasonable place to end the series. Having now watched this season’s premiere, I am happy to say that the series appears to have found plenty of promising ground to cover.
Essentially, the season answers an important question often addressed in stories featuring a rebellion: what happens when the evil emperor is defeated but the mechanisms of the empire remain intact? In stories like Star Wars and Avatar: The Last Airbender, the answer appears to be that the empire immediately falls apart (though spinoff comics, books, you name it, challenge this idea). Voltron: Legendary Defender, on the other hand, is wisely exploring the fallout of Zarkon’s defeat and illustrating that total victory is more illusive than our heroes may have initially thought. Taking the show in this direction should distinguish Voltron from similar narratives and lead to some exciting developments.
One such development that is already on display is the introduction of Lotor. Rarely do the villains overshadow the Paladins’ adventures, but we certainly experience this dynamic in the premiere. While the Black Lion’s connection to Zarkon added some intrigue to the emperor, he still lacked the depths or dimensions needed to set him apart from other overtly evil dictators in fiction. Lotor, on the other hand, immediately establishes himself as a complex and compelling villain. Charismatic yet manipulative, gracious but severe, Lotor has the potential to be a truly memorable character and a dramatic foil for the Paladins; alongside his team of Anti-Paladins, Lotor’s presence gives me hope we’ll see a more personal, less black-and-white conflict moving forward.
Of course, the bad guys are not the only group coming to terms with their leader’s absence. Having both the Paladins and Galra struggle filling a leadership void makes “Changing of the Guard” one of the thematically tightest episodes in recent memory. As perhaps the most fleshed out Paladin, Shiro is certainly missed in this episode, but the effect his disappearnace has on the team is an excellent source of tension, drama, and character exploration. Unsurprisingly, Keith (Steven Yeun) and Allura (Kimberly Brooks) experience the strongest reactions; their scenes give the audience a clear sense of their relationship with Shiro and how prepared they are to lead in his absence. Some of their reactions may be a bit over-the-top and uncharacteristic given the circumstances, but they generally behave in a believable, compelling fashion.
Unfortunately, the rest of Team Voltron isn’t given the same amount of care. While the inability to form Voltron clearly weighs on the remaining Paladins, seeing how easily they’re able to move on is somewhat shocking. This disappointing characterization is especially true for Lance (Jeremy Shada), Hunk (Tyler Labine), and Coran (Rhys Darby); these three have always been the show’s greatest source of comic relief and least fleshed out heroes, but I would have liked to have seen their humorous sides toned a bit in this episode. Here’s hoping that this season will give Hunk and Lance an opportunity to prove themselves to be more than the team’s foodie and wannabe ladies’ man.
After the end of last season, I was excited for the next but not entirely convinced another arc was necessary. “Changing of the Guard” proves, however, that Voltron: Legendary Defender is Netflix’s premier animated show and won’t be slowing down any time soon.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
VOLTRON: LEGENDARY DEFENDER IS STREAMING ON NETFLIX