10:00 am EST, December 14, 2018

‘Voltron’ season 8 review: An emotional and bittersweet goodbye

Over the last few years, Voltron has been slowly building to its eventual culmination. And, on December 14, lo’ it arrived.

Warning: Major spoilers for Voltron season 8 ahead.

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I’ll admit that even before pressing play on the final season, I still didn’t feel ready to say goodbye. Voltron has been preparing us for this moment — through the cast and crew, through convention appearances, and through trailers — for this inevitability. But still. Voltron has been such a huge part of my life here at Hypable, and it is difficult to place that aside. The experience was always going to be an emotional one, not least because of that, but also because there is no promise of “more” once the credits roll that one last time.

This review will, quite likely, be far more raw than most I have written over the course of covering this show. As I begin to put down my thoughts, I’m barely five minutes removed from ending the season itself — whereas, typically, I’d have at least a few days, if not weeks, after watching a season to react, rewatch, and untangle that initial surge of emotion.

So I will be absolutely honest, as I always am in my reviews, and start with just this: I am conflicted.

That confliction comes from so many sources. Not least that, once again, this was a very different season than those that came before it. Though the threat of Honerva felt, at times, insurmountable, there was less of the immediate, physical danger, and more of a psychological one. At turns, Voltron season 8 came across more like a thriller, which was an interesting deviation for the show, but took some adjustment to really get into the groove.

The other conflict is in Voltron season 8’s finale episode, and the loss of a character so central, so instrumental to the entire show, that I’m still struggling to put down into words exactly how I feel. At this moment, that grief that I feel — alongside the other characters, and the rest of the universe — is still fresh. But, I will return to that, and attempt to break it down a little later in this review.

On the whole, I felt that season 8 was a strong finish to a show that has certainly had its ups and downs. There were standout episodes that will, undoubtedly, make it to the top of my favorites list, and a few that allowed the characters the space to breathe and just be for a little while. It wasn’t a breakneck pace through to the end, which was the right choice, in my eyes, because it allowed us to drink in the last few moments, and episodes, that we would get to spend with Voltron and all of the characters we’ve come to know, love, and feel so very deeply for.

The first episode alone was a culmination of how far so many of Team Voltron, and their relationships have come. The slow burn of Lance and Allura’s relationship was achingly sweet, and came at exactly the right time. The Allura and Lance that we met, all the way back in the first season, were not right for each other — that much is abundantly clear — but they have each grown, as individuals, and grown together, and it made their first fledgling moments together a balm to a season that was quite bleak in places.

(Their stolen moments, across the rest of the season, the hand holding, the kisses, the hugs, and just being with each other was everything that I could have hoped for, with how it all came together. They took their time to get there, but it was time that they needed.)

Equally, Lance and Keith also had several moments showcasing how far they’ve each come. Their friendship here is so far removed from how they started — brash, explosive and just a shade under hostile — and has morphed instead to one of mutual respect. My heart could barely handle Keith’s pep-talking Lance, before he went on his date with Allura, but it was exactly what Lance needed in that moment. Hunk, for all that he is Lance’s best friend, and gave him the much-needed nudge to finally do what he needed to, was too invested to be able to remove himself for that kind of advice. Keith was the perfect candidate for it, and it highlighted what I had always hoped we’d eventually see from the two of them — a relationship of equal footing, that had them supporting each other. It took the longest, winding road, but it got there in the end.

Other relationships that got to share in the spotlight a little more were Pidge and her family, as well as Hunk and Keith (which I am never, ever going to be over as a friendship, and absolutely adore, to this very second), the MFE pilots, Pidge and Lance, Allura and Romelle, and so many other combinations that I lost count. Keith and Shiro’s friendship, which was a significant driving force through the middle seasons, took more of a backseat in this final one, though there were small glimpses at it throughout. I can’t say that that was entirely surprising, with how much of the focus was on them heading into the final season, especially considering how much needed to be wrapped up in just 13 episodes.

Voltron season 8 also spent time calling back to the versions of the franchise that came before it — as well as its own internal mythology. Getting an in-universe version of the classic Voltron, as well as Pidge playing her “alter-ego,” the brief glimpse at some of the Vehicle Voltron characters as the future defenders of the universe, and the current Paladins meeting the first Paladins of Voltron, showcased how much love the creators had for where the show came from, and that really gave it a sense of finality.

Everything, after all, has been building to this conclusion. Honerva played the longest game as a villain — though I’m not entirely convinced by her quick about-face in the finale — and she felt the most fitting to end with. Her desire was simple, wanting to live on the Altea she knew, with her son and her husband, but it got twisted up in her willingness to do anything to achieve that — including destroying multiple realities, travelling to the one perfect reality in which she could make it happen.

In fact, the glimpse that we finally got into her relationship with Zarkon, and with Lotor, was eye opening — and also provided some much needed context for how, and why, Lotor ended up the way that he did. Taking that knowledge, and watching Voltron through from start to finish, will prove to be a much different experience. (Like it was following the discovery that Shiro was both queer, and had an illness that was slowly killing him. The early seasons, and Shiro’s decisions, gained all-new context after that reveal.)

I want to, before I dive into the final section of this review, to give a particular shoutout to episode 7, “Day Forty-Seven.” It was incredibly framed, and dynamic. I found myself laughing out loud at several moments, and my heart in my throat when they went into battle. More than any other episode, it really gave a deep insight into the characters, how they interact, and what life was like on the Atlas, as they tried to find ways to fight back and win against Honerva. When I mentioned episodes from the season would find their way into my favorites, this was, specifically, the one that came to mind.

So, with all of that out of the way, I was to talk about the ending. Specifically, the death of Allura. (Or, what we assume is her death, and not just her being trapped in-between all realities.)

When Allura took the dark entity inside herself, her death felt inevitable. I tried to tamp down that gut feeling, and push it away, but it kept coming back. Voltron has always dealt with loss and sacrifice as a theme. It was woven into the fabric of the show as far back as season 1. But when it cames to losing Allura, I’m still not sure how I feel. Ultimately, her sacrifice was an active choice made by the character, knowing the consequences of what she had done, and was about to do, to save multiple realities. But, even now, after writing down as many of my thoughts as possible, I’m still utterly conflicted.

Because after everything, the battles they fought together, and especially everything that the Paladins and their allies fought for in season 8, after all of the loss, and pain, and the desperation to keep going, having Allura be the only piece sacrificed at the end doesn’t sit well with me. She deserved, as they all did, to find that happiness at the end of their story — whatever form that took — but we will never get the chance to see what that might have looked like.

Sacrifice, at the end of Voltron, could have looked like a great many things. And, while I understand that not everything can come up roses, all tied up neatly with a bow — life doesn’t work that way, and Voltron has never turned away from showing the absolute unfairness of life, at times — I still wasn’t prepared for Allura’s death. I had been expecting, perhaps, like the Castleship, for the Lions to be given up to knit the fabric of the realities back together, but alas, it wasn’t to be, and cast something of a pall over the rest of the season.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey that Voltron took myself, and the audience on, over the course of its run. I may not have agreed with every narrative decision — particularly in that final episode, and the post-credits epilogue, which felt more of an after-thought, than a planned conclusion — but I can always appreciate that a lot of hard work, love, and dedication went into bringing this show to life. There are a lot of experiences tangled up in Voltron that I wouldn’t trade for the world, and it did give me Shiro, for which I will always be grateful.

So, my goodbye to Voltron is more than a little emotional and bittersweet. Mileage is, as always, going to vary on how people feel about the final season as a whole — and I can understand, and genuinely sympathise, with the range of strong emotions that will be flying around as people wrap up the last ever episode. I am, after all, feeling a great many of those same emotions.

Ultimately, Voltron had its ups and downs, but it still holds a dear place in my heart. Season 8 is, perhaps, the most indicative of that sensation, but if pressed, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had watching and covering this show over the last couple of years. I will always remain thankful to Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos for what they created in Voltron, and am sad to see it go, even if I didn’t agree with, or love, every moment of its final outing.

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