Voltron: Legendary Defender

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Team Voltron has to rebuild.

Note: this is a spoiler-free review for all seven episodes of Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 3, now available on Netflix. For those who have finished the season and want to read my thoughts on the ending and some of the other major story developments, head over to our Voltron: Season 3 Spoiler Discussion. Netflix is trying something a little different with the latest season of Voltron: Legendary Defender, which has helped it step up to be the best season of the show to date. Season 3[2] clocks in at a trim seven episodes (barely half that of the previous two seasons), but with the promise that another short season will follow in October.

I don’t get the impression Netflix has done anything more than chop a normal-length season in half, but when is there ever a reason to complain about having more Voltron? Season 3 opens with Team Voltron facing a grim, uncertain future despite their hard-won victory over Emperor Zarkon (Neil Kaplan) at the end of Season 2. The Galra Empire may be reeling and new worlds may be rising up in resistance, but with Shiro (Josh Keaton) now MIA, the Paladins find themselves without a leader and with no way of re-forming Voltron.

The new season establishes a two parallel conflicts right away, as Princess Allura (Kimberly Brooks) leads the Paladins on a quest to find a new pilot for the Black Lion while a new enemy arises to unite the divided Galra in the form of Zarkon’s son, Prince Lotor (AJ Locascio). The introduction of Lotor is one of several inspired storytelling choices this season, and one that immediately begins to pay off for the show. As strong as the previous two seasons were in most respects, the villains have never seemed to be a high priority for executive producers Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery.

Yes, the Paladins and their allies have grown into complex, nuanced characters, and the show features a pretty robust cast of supporting characters caught in the middle of Zarkon’s war. But neither Zarkon nor Witch Haggar have benefited from that character-driven approach. At least, not until now.

Lotor quickly proves to be a much different sort of antagonist. Outwardly, he’s a far more benevolent leader than his father, one who values strength and honesty and seeks to inspire loyalty rather than fear. Inwardly, he’s a ruthless schemer who has his own plans for how best to take advantage of the current power vacuum in the Galra Empire.

That dichotomy makes for a much more compelling and well-rounded villain. His colorful entourage of minions doesn’t hurt, either. Lotor’s lieutenants are memorable more for their eclectic character designs and combat skills than personalities, but they at least give the Paladins something more interesting to battle than faceless, robotic goons.

Even the old recurring villains benefit from having Lotor in the mix. The back-and-forth subterfuge between Lotor and Haggar adds a nice dash of political intrigue. Even better, the show makes huge strides as far as fleshing out the Galra, the shared history between Zarkon and King Alfor (Keith Ferguson) and the origins of Voltron itself.

In general, the show’s mythology becomes more complex and layered in Season 3. Considering that the writers only had seven episodes to carry out that process, that shift is all the more impressive. This is easily the most tightly paced Voltron season to date, with each episode making clear, tangible contributions to the larger conflict.

None of this world-building comes at the expense of the Paladins themselves. Season 3 is very much Keith’s (Steven Yeun) time to shine, as he’s reluctantly thrust into the spotlight in Shiro’s absence. Keith undergoes a very memorable character arc as he tries to live up to the man Shiro saw in him and make that transition from dedicated soldier to decisive leader.

Allura also has a number of strong moments this season, particularly as the show explores the conflict between her political responsibilities and her latent desire to take a more active role in Voltron’s missions. They’re the two standout characters of the season in many ways. That said, the general team dynamic actually improves quite a bit with Shiro being out of the spotlight.

It should also be said that Voltron looks and sounds every bit as fantastic as it did in the first two seasons. The animation quality on this series is really top-notch, particularly during the fluid hand-to-hand combat scenes and the epic space battles. Composer Brad Breeck’s score excels in heightening the mood and tension of the series while also giving the show a nicely ’80s throwback quality.

The series shows a particular knack for recreating the feeling of being a kid and watching cartoons again, but with enough character drama and nuance to satisfy the more discerning parts of the brain. Only two flaws really weigh on the season at all, and neither is enough to prevent Season 3 from emerging as the strongest of the bunch. One, as I already mentioned, is the annoyingly short length and the sense that Netflix really just trimmed one standard-length season in half.

The season doesn’t end in a particularly ideal place, especially with the flashback-heavy nature of the finale, “The Legend Begins.” But neither of the previous two seasons wrapped up on a very conclusive note either, so this is almost par for the course for Voltron. The fact that the next batch of episodes is barely two months away helps mitigate that particular problem. The other complaint is that the show’s sense of humor feels a bit more restrained this time around.

There are still moments of comedy, especially in the fourth episode, “Hole in the Sky.” But the jokes and slapstick moments don’t flow quite as freely this time. Part of this stems from the fact that Coran (Rhys Darby) takes more of a background role this time. Given how much Coran stood out in Season 2 (especially in the premiere, “Across the Universe”), it’s hard not to be slightly disappointed in his reduced role.

Season 2 still seems to have struck the best balance between humor and drama. Voltron Legendary Defender: Season 3 The Verdict

Voltron was already one of the strongest animated series in Netflix’s lineup, and the series gets a little bit better in Season 3[3].

Despite the shorter length, Season 3 manages to cover a great deal of ground, introducing compelling new villains, adding new depth to familiar characters and generally enriching the mythology of this sci-fi universe.

And best of all, the wait for Season 4 won’t be long.

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