Major spoilers ahead if you aren’t caught up with the latest season of Netflix’s Voltron Legendary Defender.
The showrunners of DreamWorks Animation Television’s hit Netflix series Voltron Legendary Defender have just delivered an epic seventh season that managed to wrap up the overall story so far, tie off just about every major plot point, and even introduce the beginning of all new adventures. But despite Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery‘s inclusion of characters from throughout the LGBTQ+ spectrum in the series–which has come to be a hallmark of their writing–there’s a serious mishandling of a major character in Season 7 that has the otherwise supportive and passionate fandom understandably upset.
In order to suss out just what happened in Season 7, we’ll be revisiting the finale to offer up an explainer of how that two-part episode closed out the story so far and teased the eighth and final season, which blissfully arrives later this year. And we’ll be paying special attention to the character of Shiro and the story arc mishandling that could potentially derail an otherwise remarkable run when it comes to minority representation. Here’s your last spoiler warning!
Focusing on space drama rather than character drama for a moment, the story of Voltron Legendary Defender so far can be summed up thusly: A team of pilots from Earth are swept up into an intergalactic battle against the evil Galra Empire and their cruel ruler Zarkon. The Earthlings, known as Paladins, pilot mighty robot lions that combine into the even mightier defender, Voltron. They fight alongside various alien species who are also in rebellion against torture, death and enslavement by the empire. The Voltron Force has managed to defeat Zarkon, his heir apparent Lotor (or so we think) and his generals, and as of Season 7, even the splinter faction “The Fire of Purification” led by General Sendak in his attempted takeover of Earth. That’s an impressive run over seven seasons of intense, high-stakes, and well-crafted storytelling … but there’s one season left in the flagship series, so where dos Voltron go from here?
Well, Season 7 also teases that. The very Robotech/Star Blazers-inspired Earth-based plot introduces a team of, essentially, new Paladins. The new cadets–Griffin, Rizavi, Kinkade, and Leifsdottir–get varying levels of character development, with Griffin emerging as the Keith-like, hot-headed leader while Kinkade provides the muscle (and little else in this introduction), Rizavi as an ace pilot, and Leifsdottir as an almost robotic analyst. And if you were wondering where the fifth corollary for the Paladins comes in, that’d be Veronica, Lance’s own sister. They pilot the MFE (Mega-Flex Exofighters) Ares Fighters, short-range jets powered by an alchemy of Altean tech merged with Earth engineering, courtesy of Samuel Holt. They also play a pivotal role in not only getting the Paladins where they need to be during Earth’s defense (whether it’s on the ground doing recon missions or in their Lions battling it out with Sendak’s fleet), but in taking out Galra fighters on their own.
And while we didn’t get to see the MFEs transform, we were treated to the biggest, most epic transformation on the series yet, one that oddly puts even Voltron to shame. Yes, the massive flying battle-base known as the IGF Atlas may hold the entirety of the remaining Galaxy Garrison’s forces, but it also transforms into an enormous mecha that dwarfs Voltron and RoBeast alike. (It kind of reminded me of Metroplex.) The transformed mecha is powered by the condensed crystal that used to be the Castle of Lions and activated by a super-powered Shiro and his finally fully functional cybernetic arm, one that’s meant for creation rather than destruction, to paraphrase Princess Allura. A good thing, too, since the new, mysterious RoBeast that arrives at season’s end was more than a match for Voltron.
The secret to that villain’s incredible power was the fact that it was both piloted and powered by an Altean, the mystery of which will likely be solved in Season 8, but my bet is that Lotor is probably behind it. My only concern here is that Atlas out-muscles Voltron and the MFE fighters can conceivably outmaneuver and outrun it, while the new RoBeasts clearly out-match it; even though Voltron sports new “angel wings” on occasion, I’m worried that it’s going to be be passed by or even retired, perhaps paving the way for … Vehicle Voltron? Maybe not, but Dos Santos did say there may be possibilities for novels exploring the Blade of Marmora and the Galaxy Garrison; sign me up to read and write these, please.
On the character side of things, there’s been a lot of drama both on and off-screen. I want to make it clear that satisfying a fandom is a very different concern from satisfactorily providing representation. With any fandom, especially one as committed and passionate as the one Voltron enjoys, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone. Personally, I’d love to see Keith and Acxa get together (yeah, it’s probably going to be revealed that they’re related somehow, blowing up that ship, which is fine), but I can already hear the moans and groans from Klance, Sheith, Kallura, Kidge, Shklance shippers and the like. That doesn’t mean that, if it doesn’t happen, I’m going to flip out and harass the show’s creative team and cast; that’s never acceptable. However, outcry over the treatment of Shiro is more understandable.
In the very first episode of Season 7, it was revealed that Shiro is gay and that he was living with his partner/fiancé Adam before signing on to go on the ill-fated Kerberos Mission. That’s a reveal that the showrunners have had in mind pretty much since the beginning, and it was handled in a way that wasn’t overly dramatic, didn’t call attention to itself, and wasn’t sensationalized; it simply was, and it was perfect. It dovetailed in with earlier reveals like the fact that Pidge wasn’t a boy, but Katie Holt in disguise, or the all-female team of Lotor’s generals whose relationships extended beyond the battlefield. But what started as a promising example of representation–a prototypically strong, male, heroic leader revealed to be gay–seemingly ended in a stereotypical “Bury Your Gays” trope.
On Earth, there were a lot of casualties and missing persons courtesy of the Galra invasion. Hunk’s family was enslaved in a work camp, Lance’s sister was presumably killed in action only to be found alive later on (remember this fact since it’s potential foreshadowing), and both Pidge and Keith’s family have been fighting the rebellion against the Galra at least as long as the Paladins themselves. These four Paladins were reunited with their family after the fall of Sendak; even Allura and Coran got to reunite with long-lost Altean, Romelle (and this has so far been pretty much the only purpose the character has served). Only Shiro actually lost someone he loved and was planning to marry, and without ever getting a chance to see him or speak to him (or have the showrunners give any meaningful development to the relationship). That is the major gripe that LGBTQ+ critics rightfully hold over the show and the creative team, regardless of their respective ship.
But while anger and frustration are totally valid reactions to this plot point, I’m going to reserve final judgment until the series’ end, or at least a Season 8 episode that brings closure to Shiro and Adam’s relationship, be it through flashback or surprise appearance of a not-so-dead Adam himself. (Imagine how sweet that reunion would be?) I have faith that Dos Santos and Montgomery know what they’re doing with these characters, especially when considering their work on previous series. Voltron gives them a chance to be even more progressive with their character work and I can’t see this obvious oversight being the final act for a character they’ve crafted so well over the years. I may be disappointed in the end, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt; I hope you’ll do the same.