Voltron: Legendary Defender season 3 fills its final episodes with stirring action, strong character development, and an intriguing peek into Voltron's past.
Warning: SPOILERS for Voltron: Legendary Defender season 3 ahead!
The first half of Voltron: Legendary Defender dealt heavily with the fallout surrounding Shiro's mysterious disappearance in the season 2 finale. Without their leader, the Paladins not only needed to adjust to a new dynamic among themselves but, for a few, readjust to piloting new Lions. On top of that, there's a new villain to contend with -- Prince Lotor, Zarkon's son and heir. And unlike his maniacal father, Lotor is calculating and a shrewd tactician, making him a different sort of adversary for this new Team Voltron.
Season 3 is also a shortened season, totaling at only seven episodes. We previously reviewed the first four, which focused on the adjustment period for the Paladins and Princess Allura as well introducing Lotor and his generals. In these final three episodes, Legendary Defender begins to unveil the scope of Lotor's schemes and dives into the true origin of Voltron.
Episode 5 - The Journey
Shiro is gone, but can you recall how he disappeared? No, you can't, not really, because it wasn't actually explained. In the finale, the other Paladins race to the Black Lion after their battle with Zarkon, only to discover the cockpit is empty. That cliffhanger left a lot of questions and season 3 hasn't given any answers, not yet anyhow.
Then comes 'The Journey', an episode which opens with Shiro waking up inside a Galra facility. His hair is long, there's stubble on his chin, and it's clear some time has passed since we last saw him. As Shiro finds his bearings and begins escaping, he experiences flashbacks to his first stint as a prisoner of the Galra Empire, reliving the experiments they did on him. Eventually, Shiro is able to steal a ship and escape, crash landing on the planet below. There, he comes across two alien rebels who, in addition to giving him a shuttle to escape the planet, provide 'The Journey' with a little humor, breaking up the more serious subject matter at hand.
After learning of Voltron's most recently spotted location, Shiro takes off in pursuit. He manages to sneak onto a Galra ship and actually arrives at the moment in episode 3 where the team have just formed Voltron again for the first time. Shiro steals another ship and flies after them, but he isn't fast enough. For seven days he travels along that same trajectory, and just as he's about to pass out from starvation, dehydration, and just pure exhaustion, the Black Lion senses him. Keith comes to his rescue and brings Shiro back home.
It's a powerful and poignant scene, speaking to Shiro's determination and the strong bond that still remains between him and the Black Lion, not too mention Keith. Except, the whole thing just doesn't feel right; as if we're meant to think this is Shiro, safely returned, but it isn't really. To begin with, if this episode was meant to explain what happened to Shiro, it didn't do that at all. There was zero explanation for how he disappeared or what's been happening to him while on that ship. The only new information we have comes while Shiro is hallucinating/reliving bad memories and hears a Galran scientist say, "Operation: Kuron stage one successful. Begin stage two." Then later, when he's escaping the second Galra ship, a commander notes that "stage three" is now in effect.
So, what is Operation: Kuron? No idea, but it sure isn't good. Chances are that this Shiro is either a clone or has in some way been compromised and sent back to Team Voltron like a Trojan horse. Making the situation all the more complicated, it's doubtful that Shiro knows, instead believing he's the real deal. This is only speculation after all, but the relative ease of his escape and the miraculous return to Team Votlron is suspect. And narratively, it's an odd choice to bring the character back so quickly, only right after establishing the new dynamics of Team Voltron.
Episode 6 - Tailing a Comet
With Shiro back among his friends, it doesn't take long before the giant elephant (er, Lion?) in the room is addressed -- who pilots what? And it's Lance, actually, who brings it up to Keith, feeling unsure of his place on the team. He believes Shiro will retake the Black Lion, Keith the Red, and in a wholly unexpected move, admits that Allura should keep the Blue Lion and that he will step down instead, revealing the deep insecurities Lance harbors about his own abilities. It's a wise decision considering how quickly Allura has progressed, outshining her teammates and becoming a capable Paladin in less time than anyone, but Lance is selling himself short.
'Tailing a Comet' opens with Team Voltron engaged in a fire fight with some Galra soldiers in where Lance gets to actually be the sharpshooter, and he's really good at it. In fact, what this fight demonstrates is that the whole team has grown and their chemistry has greatly improved. So while Shiro's return at first suggests it's time for Team Voltron to revert to the way things were, what this episode is actually showing us is that Voltron 2.0 is the stronger team. Plus, when it comes time for them to suit up and engage with Lotor's generals, the Black Lion refuses Shiro, signalling that it either no longer trusts him (which, considering the suspicious nature of his return, not a bad call) or its bond with Keith has eclipsed the one with Shiro.
Either way, it's Keith and not Shiro who leads the Paladins into battle against Lotor and his generals as they attempt to steal the teludav from a Galra facility. And, yes, it's very strange that Lotor is attacking a Galra facility -- the same one, in fact, where he sent that disgraced commander in episode 1, making for a great callback -- but as Legendary Defender has begun making clear: Lotor has an agenda all his own. The fighting on the ground between the Paladins and Lotor's generals is fantastic, though for as skilled as the Paladins have become, Lotor's crew are definitely superior. Once the fighting is moved outside, however, and they form Voltorn, the conflict becomes a little more evenly matched. We see the ship Lotor had created from the comet's trans-dimensional alloy, and while it's neat looking and flies beautifully, it is a tad disappointing he didn't just go for broke and craft his own evil Voltron. Guess there's still time.
'Tailing a Comet' puts Team Voltron in an unusual position -- fighting two separate Galra factions without any understanding why they're opposed, and with two leaders (Keith and Shiro) relaying orders. It's a tricky situation, but at least so far, Keith seems to be learning when to let cooler heads prevail and heed Shiro's advice, as well as when to rely on his own intuition. His gamble, in where he pilots Voltron to dodge the shot from Lotor's new vessel, allowing it to hit the ship escaping with the teladuv, is super clever and indicative that he may have what it takes to challenge Lotor.
Episode 7 - The Legend Begins
For its season 3 finale, Legendary Defender goes deep into Voltron's history -- explaining how the giant robot and the first team of Paladins came to be, in addition to how Zarkon and Haggar turned so evil. Yes, turned, because it's soon revealed it wasn't entirely by choice that the emperor and witch became such villains.
Coran shares with Allura and the Paladins the tale of Voltron's origin in the hope they can possibly piece together what Lotor might be planning. It begins with Alfor and Zarkon back when they were friends, teaming up to fight evil with Lady Trigel of the Dalterion Belt, Blaytz of Nalquod and Gyrgan of Rygnirath -- the original Team Voltron. While back on Daibazaal, the Galra homeworld, the group is celebrating their latest victory when a massive comet crashes into the planet. This is the same comet the current Voltron team discovered in episode 4, and it's what Alfor -- revealed to be an Altean alchemist as well as a king -- uses to create Voltron. To further study the comet and the quintessence which had pooled in the crater it left behind, another Altean alchemist is called in -- Honerva.
Over time, Zarkon develops a crush on Honerva and the two eventually wed. For a period, all is rather peaceful, as Zarkon leads Team Voltron from the Black Lion while Honerva studies quintessence. But her study of the quintessence soon becomes an obsession, which alarms Alfor. Zarkon and Honerva ignore Alfor's concerns, and we see the very first signs of a rift forming between the two old friends. Honerva then becomes ill from her exposure to the quintessence, becoming infected by a dark, contaminated version of the substance.
To save his wife's life, Zarkon tricks Alfor and the rest of the Paladins to become Voltron and enter the crater, using it as a portal to a reality made entirely of pure, white quintessence. Once there, Zarkon exits his Lion, bringing Honverva with him in the hopes it will cure her. Instead, they are killed by the exposure and, after escaping the portal, Alfor destroys the entire Galra planet to ensure that no one will ever find it again. But it doesn't end there, as Zarkon and Honerva are later resurrected by the dark quintessence, transforming them into the evil Emperor Zarkon and Witch Haggar. Upon learning what Alfor did to Daibazaal, Zarkon destroys Altea and kills Alfor, setting in to motion the events which lead to the current series.
As backstories go, Voltron's is certainly tinged with more tragedy than we may have initially thought. It also puts an interesting spin on Zarkon and Haggar's relationship, making them more of an ill-fated romance than simply conspiring villains. We're also left wondering if Lotor is their son -- something that seems plausible, almost obvious given his Altean-looking features, but the episode never goes so far as to confirm this. What it does seemingly confirm, however, is that reaching that dimension of pure quintessence is Lotor's ultimate plan, and given how powerful the substance is, that's a dangerous possibility.
Voltron: Legendary Defender season 3 is a great season for the show. Its characters -- most notably, Keith, Lance, Allura -- receive greater focus and development, highlighting their insecurities and their strengths. Shiro is given a mysterious story line, and one that hints at further mysteries to be unraveled. By far, though, the best addition this season is that of Lotor. He's a very different flavor of villain and his inclusion promises to really shake up the show's dynamic -- especially with his father, Zarkon, reawakening in the final moments of the season 3 finale.
Voltron: Legendary Defender returns for season 4 on October 13, 2017. Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are all available to stream on Netflix.