Four seasons into Dreamworks and Netflix’s excellent reboot of Voltron means we’re pretty established with the basic premise: Even as characters shuffle about and villains develop, it’s still all Voltron vs. the Galra Empire, forming robots and saving the day. The recently released season five, however, changes that up in some major—intriguing—ways.
While some things have stayed the same (like the consistently excellent action, both in and out of the Voltron Lions themselves), season five can be split into two smaller story arcs that seemingly conclude some major ongoing plot elements while introducing a big new adventure for the team. The first sees Lotor—now attempting to be a trusted ally to Voltron and the galaxy-wide resistance against his father’s empire—kill his father Zarkon and bring the Galra Empire into civil war in the process. The second, meanwhile, tries to explore the new status quo of a galaxy where the Galra are fighting among themselves and Lotor is on the throne of an Empire hoping for peace rather than conquest. But it also begins an even more intriguing journey than that: Princess Allura and Lotor bonding over their shared Altean heritage, and using that bond to explore the long lost art of Altean Alchemy, the techno-magic Allura’s father used to create the Voltron Force in the first place.
The show has briefly flirted with the lore behind Voltron in the past, but Lotor and Allura’s journey feels like a step into a much more fantastical world beyond the traditional space opera Legendary Defender has trafficked in up until now. That’s both tonally, with a mythical episode revolving around a gorgeous “White Hole” (complete with a very out-there giant spirit Lion-head as its gatekeeper, itself a likely reference to an episode of the classic show) that Allura and Lotor have to pass through as sanctified, “chosen” Alteans; and literally, with the revelation of Oriande, a hidden realm that’s apparently the birthplace of Altean magic. Although we barely get a taste of it, it feels almost a little more Star Wars-y—even more so than being a story about ragtag rebels fighting an evil empire already was. Having spent so long with the status quo, it could be a refreshing change for the series now that it’s started becoming more and more focused on its overarching plot and mythos, while bringing Allura as a character back to the fore of Team Voltron.
One area that’s not benefited from this sea change, however, is the show’s pacing. At just six episodes long—six good episodes, overall!—season five didn’t feel like it had nearly enough time to really explore some of the headier things the show was trying to cover. The first three episodes felt like they awkwardly threw out a few overarching plotlines that had simmered on the show for multiple seasons, just to get them out the way. Zarkon’s death is so sudden and anticlimactic it feels like such a waste of a character the show already struggled to adequately contextualize in the first place, and Pidge’s reunion with her missing father is an emotional arc handled much more poorly than her reunion with her brother. Meanwhile the last three episodes feel like they’re in such a rush to establish Lotor’s new status quo as the head of what’s left of the Galra Empire, while also breathlessly info-dumping the new mystical elements like Oriande and Altean Alchemy, that there’s rarely time to let these big new concepts actually sink in.
It doesn’t help that the minute the back half diverges from those new elements—like a goofy aside with Pidge, Hunk, and Lance going on a prank-filled bender with a reprogrammed Galra robot, or a briefly-touched-on subplot with Keith learning more about his Galra lineage—feel like distractions rather than supporting stories. It’s a shame, because there’s some fascinating story threads left open for exploration this season, but the show just doesn’t have the number of episodes to deal with them. Voltron’s condensed runtime and the exploration of bigger story are coming at the expense of losing some of the threads and elements beyond it that made the show so fun in the first place.
After entering this strange new territory, however, it’s hard not to feel like Legendary Defender is barreling towards some really exciting. Zarkon is dead (although I’m sure there’s a way he could be brought back at some point), his villainous empire fractured and slowly being reforged into something new and hopefully more amicable. Even our Paladins have reached a point where it feels like they’re on the precipice of the victory they’ve been waiting for—and with Allura beginning to learn more about the ancient abilities of her people, a chance to build a better universe alongside the reformed Galra feels incredibly close.
There’s still plenty to do, however. Questions linger about whether or not Lotor can be trusted, given both his hasty turn against his father and his overly-eager move to push Allura towards researching their shared Altean lineage. Then there’s whatever Haggar’s deal is, especially with the revelation of her ability to spy on our heroes through Shiro, who’s increasingly aware that something has been off with him since his return to the team. But even as season five burned though some pretty big turning points for the show, it’s still left Voltron: Legendary Defender as a whole in a very interesting place—one we’ll learn about pretty soon, given that the show has been officially set for a return this June.
Even with the pacing quibbles, Legendary Defender is standing on the cusp of some pretty fantastical plot elements just waiting to unfold that could evolve the show even further, and that’s an exciting prospect. But I can’t help but hope the show doesn’t forget some of those smaller, lighter moments along the road too.