Voltron’s fourth season contains some of the best character vignettes and development yet, but much like the equally short third season, it doesn’t lend a great deal to the over-arching narrative.
The action picks up in a way that’s vaguely reminiscent of the beginning of Empire Strikes Back. We begin with masked figures, immediately recognisable as members from the Blade of Mamora, on a covert mission to take out a Galra cruiser. It, of course, comes as no surprise that the man in the mask is Red Paladin Keith, heroically sneaking around only to be discovered and just barely making his escape with an injured fellow operative.
This scene reminds us that the stakes are still high and, while Keith may have grown as a soldier, he is torn between his responsibilities to the Blade of Mamora and team Voltron. Meanwhile, the gang are doing a bit of PR by helping out other planets and alien races that have joined the fight against the Galra. These intergalactic USO shows provide some much-needed levity to proceedings, otherwise Keith’s journey could come across a bit Twilight in a space helmet.
Serving as a nice narrative parallel is the thread from last season, which sees Prince Lotor struggling against Altaen dissenter Hagar’s efforts to get despot Emperor Zarkon back on the throne. Lotor is an intriguing character, he projects liberal sensibilities on the outside, while hiding insidious self-interest within – remind you of anyone? Once again, the writers have done what they did on Avatar with their villains, where they feel like the heroes of their own story. However, it would have been nice to get a bit more on Lotor’s compatriots: why do they follow him when they know his true nature? This question doesn’t really feel like it is answered effectively.
The standout episode of the season has to be “Reunion”, where Pidge resumes her search for her brother, Matt, who was abducted by the Galra with Shiro. This is an integral part of Pidge’s character, as it was her brother’s abduction that prompted her to change her identity, which resulted in her becoming a Paladin. What makes this episode so interesting is that it’s a good demonstration of the difficulties that women of intelligence face when they expose their abilities. But she doesn’t give up and there are two occasions where Pidge and Matt both reveal to one another life-changing accomplishments and their reaction in both cases is elation. There’s no jealously, condescension or competition; this is a gender-removed relationship. The two siblings just see each other as individuals who are passionate about science. It’s also an emotional rollercoaster: as Pidge is put through despair and trepidation and, eventually, triumph, it’s a great way to flesh out her character and it’s handled in a thoughtful manner.
There’s a lot of interesting moments this season: Hagar looking at herself in the mirror, almost horrified at what she’s become compared to her flashback from last season and the reunion between Matt and Shiro are very touching, if a little straight-forward. Of course, none of these moments would be possible without the superb animation and art direction. The DreamWorks animation team have done an excellent job; they show us bombastic space battles in the same breath as subtle facial expressions. The space-age synth and string hybrid that makes up the soundtrack is still a brilliant accompaniment to the action. The voice acting is still on point and Rhys Darby steals the show again with a Coran-focused episode that sees him possessed by some kind of brain leech. It’s also in this episode we’re introduced to the Beebos, an alien race that’s essentially Beaker from the Muppets.
However, when the dust settles, this season’s end feels a little anti-climactic. There are leaps in logic that are too convenient and story beats from previous seasons go to waste to make room for further exposition. While it will be interesting to see where the series goes, it’s hard not to question the longevity of Voltron’s narrative. New alliances made at the show’s climax will most likely be compelling, if they are explored effectively, but the over-arching narrative of this season feels a little sluggish. The individual character arcs are compelling but they almost feel removed from the main story and a lot of the developments seem to be safe decisions made by the writers.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is still a compelling prospect for both young and old, but it has a ways to go before it can occupy the same conversation of illustrious action cartoons, such as the Avatar saga or Adventure Time. More is certainly looked for in the latest season of Voltron but hopefully, the narrative in Season 4 will serve as an appropriate set-up for a more consequential Season 5.
Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 1 to 4 are now available on Netflix UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription.