The Red Pen Series VLDS8 E2: “Shadows”
Episode written by: Mitch Iverson
This piece is a continuation of #TeamPurpleLion’s Red Pen series, in which Dragon of Yang, Felix, and myself grade each episode of Voltron: Legendary Defender Season 8 as though we were grading the creative writing project of a student.
One special thing to note is that this episode, while it fills in many blanks of where Lotor is during season 7 and what became of him, it also expands on the backstory he told Allura, and how Zarkon and Honerva/Haggar became the villains we know so well. That said, the episode shows a very sympathetic backstory to Lotor, as being explicitly shown as a victim of abuse and violence, and sets up Honerva as the final villain of the 8 season series, raising many questions about Lotor’s position in the narrative once more.
Honerva: Commander Mar, the emperor has been taken. The Voltron Paladins have betrayed him. Track him down and return him to me.
Mar: Vrepit Sa.
Honerva: Have you any word from Commander Mar?
Druid: Nothing, High Priestess. Communication with Commander Mar has been lost.
Honerva: What of Emperor Lotor’s whereabouts?
Druid: Still unknown.
[This is establishing dramatic tension toward finding Lotor — personally I would have started this in late S7 for narrative flow but this spot works if you’re using it to set up dramatic tension.] [If anything, this should have been part of the previous episode to help the audience understand the flow]
Young Zarkon [not played by Neil Kaplan]: I don’t see anything. Can it be true? I am to be a father?
Young Honerva: Yes.
Young Zarkon: And you, my queen will be the mother to the heir of the Galra throne.
Young Honerva: Yes. There is much to do. First, we must continue to harvest the Quintessence. It will be needed for your son’s empire.
Young Zarkon: He will be the best of both our people.
[This is dark irony after the events of S6. However, putting a line like this at the beginning of your season suggests it is foreshadowing of thematic material that will come up again later. We’ll see how this plays out.] [It’s also interesting that this is the original position Zarkon and Honerva had about their son, it raises questions about how this changed. I’m curious to see how you bring this about and the narrative significance of such a 180.]
Honerva: I will find you, my son.
[So of course she will, concrete foreshadowing]
Druid: High Priestess, I am sorry to disturb you.
Honerva: Have you located Emperor Lotor?
Druid: We still have not been able to ascertain any information regarding Emperor Lotor, Commander Mar, or Voltron. It has been phoebs since Emperor Lotor disappeared. The empire is in a state of chaos. The Blade of Marmora still challenges. We need a strong leader. The Druids look to you, High Priestess.
Honerva: Tell them to look elsewhere. The Druids are but ash in the winds of infinity. Let them be led by someone of equal esteem.
[The Druids have been on Honerva’s side since the beginning of the series. We have even seen them fight alongside Honerva in her first battle against Allura. We learned last season that she cast them aside, but we never learned why. Why the sudden change? Will we see more of what made her throw aside her arguably trusted aids?]
Druid: Priestess –
Honerva: Depart my presence.
Young Zarkon:What shall we name the boy?
Young Honerva: I was thinking a name that has deep Altean history. Lotarious.
Young Zarkon: Lotarious?
Young Honerva: He was one of the ancient Alteans believed to have established much of the foundation of the engineering that built our world.
Young Zarkon: Interesting. I was considering a name from mythology. Kaltor. But he did not build the worlds, he conquered them.
Young Honerva: Perhaps we can honor both traditions.
[This exchange suggests you want your audience to recall Lotor’s dual nature. I wonder why we are being asked to remember Lotor’s joint Altean Galra heritage and his dual nature in general — I hope to see this answered later in your story]
Galra Soldier: High Priestess, apologies. I was ordered to notify you when Commander Mar returned.
Honerva: What happened to him?
Drick: I found him like this, near death.
Honerva: What does he know? –
Drick: His vitals are weak. He has yet to regain consciousness. We may never find out what he knows.
Honerva: There may be a way. Leave. Do you have news of the emperor?
Mar: Yes.I located Lotor’s generals.
Honerva: Where are they?
Mar: They they attacked me and took over my ship, leaving me stranded.
Honerva: And what of the emperor? And what of the emperor?
Mar: The generals said Emperor Lotor accessed the Quintessence Field.
Honerva: – He pierced the veil.
[This idiom means to uncover something hidden or break through something difficult. It is also used as a euphemism for discovering the mystery of life after death. So this makes me wonder what Lotor uncovered that was hidden or broke through (besides the quintessence field). Is he a death god like Osiris now? It also makes me wonder what veil we the audience are intended to pierce.]
Mar: But then Voltron attacked. The fight ended. There was an explosion. Lotor and Voltron perished.
Honerva: No. No. I must find him. Call forth the Kral Zera.
Honerva: Who who are you?
Zarkon: You do not recognize your emperor?
Honerva: Who am I?
[So Zarkon has his memories, but Honerva does not. Is there an explanation for this that we receive later? Why would one keep their memories over the other?]
Zarkon: Where am I?
Glara Soldier: Aboard your ship, sir.
Zarkon: Take us home.
Soldier: I can’t, sir. Daibazaal has been destroyed.
Zarkon: Get a doctor to this room immediately.
Doctor: Excuse me, my empress. I just need to What are you doing? I need you to let go of me.
Please! Let go!
Galra Soldier: Haggar! Haggar, can you hear me? Haggar, answer me! Oh, no. Help! Send help now!
Doctor [played by AJ LoCascio]: Sire, the birth was difficult but successful. Your son is healthy and in good shape, though we seem to be getting some strange readings coming from him directly. Similar to those that, well Similar to those of the empress and yourself.
[Omgosh, so baby Lotor had Rift creatures inside him as well? Poor kid! Going back to your metaphor of drug addiction in the parents, this suggests Lotor was also born addicted.]
Doctor: Your son, sire.
Zarkon: Take him away.
Doctor: But –
Zarkon: I said take him away!
[That poor baby! You are really pulling at your audience’s heartstrings here. It’s hard to hate a character who had such a lonely and difficult start in life.] [This is where the abuse/hate for Lotor started for his parents. To have this much upset over this character, there will have to be some form of catharsis later in your story].
Zarkon: And what of her?
Doctor: I’m sorry, sire. We have her under constant watch, but she remains in this state. She only seems to become aware when we administer her Quintessence. I’m hopeful her condition will improve with time, but Sire, we’re gonna have to face the fact that our Quintessence supplies are finite. The empire cannot continue to run on what we have. And you and the Empress without it, you’ll
[So this is our first look into the fact that Quintessence is finite for the Glara empire, and needs to be replenished for not only the Empire, but also for Zarkon and Honerva to survive.]
Zarkon: Give me the room. Do you know who I am?
Honerva: You are emperor.
Zarkon: And you?
Honerva: Ha Haggar?
Zarkon: Do you know of Quintessence?
Zarkon: Can you find me Quintessence?
Honerva: Yes, my emperor.
[This flashback is so dark and heavy. Zarkon and Honerva are starting to resemble the abusive dynamic present in many drug and alcohol addicted homes. Tread cautiously here as some of your audience will have first hand experience.]
Drick: I am lighting the flame. Bow now, and your allegiance will be remembered.
Unknown Galra General: My fleet would crush yours in an instant, raining fire and death upon you and your clansmen. What makes you think I would ever bow to you?
Drick: Because I have the witch’s favor.
Unknown Galra General: It matters not. Power rules absolute.
Drick: I invite you to challenge me once the ceremony has begun. A display of the witch’s magic will bolster my claim as nothing else could.
Unknown Galra General: The Archivist! And your witch is nowhere to be found.
Honerva: This flame represents Lotor, son of Zarkon, prince turned emperor, emperor that pierced the veil.
[This phrase again — you are drawing our attention to it. FYI when you’re using the phrase “pierced the veil” in reference to death, it’s usually used to describe someone discovering the mysteries of life after death. It is mysterious yet inherently hopeful because it suggests the person has discovered the mystery of the afterlife, so it’s an interesting choice of words for such a dark episode.] [“Pierced the veil” being used the way Honerva keeps saying it insinuates that Lotor is dead, but your storyline pushes that he is alive.]
And my Altean blood coursed through his veins. But the Galra Empire failed him. It was the Galra blood, deeply boiled in traditions of evil, that tainted him.
[His Galra blood “tainted” him? You have drawn specific attention to this character’s mixed race background in the past. It is an important part of his identity, and much of your audience will relate to this. It would be a wise narrative choice in the future to see Honerva specifically proven wrong about one of her son’s races being “tainted”.] [It’s interesting you call attention to Honerva/Haggar doing the exact same thing that Zarkon, Allura, and the rest of the protagonists did in seasons prior, but while Zarkon blamed his Altean blood, Allura and the rest preemptively judged him for his Galra blood, which seems to further set up an alchemist vs. alchemist battle, not just in ideology of right and wrong but in who Lotor seems to be at his core.]
Your ways weakened a god.
Drick: That treacherous witch!
Honerva; The empire is weak. And now, I will end it.
Unknown Galra General: What’s this?
[Well then.] [So we can see that Honerva is willing to go to any lengths to get her son back.]
Zarkon: Dayak, update me on the prince’s progress.
Dayak: Yes, sire. Prince Lotor completed the Agotian Trials as you requested. He was successful, even though they were advanced for his age.
Zarkon: What else?
Dayak: His physical stature is below expectation for the blood lineage of the Galra royalty, but his tactical scores are the highest we’ve ever measured.
[So Lotor has never been good enough for either of his parents, and this line shows us that from the beginning. He’s “below expectations” compared to Honerva, just the scene prior, stating that his blood was tainted and failed him. There is a lot of emotional loading here, which is fine as long as you give catharsis at the end. Many people in your audience will relate to this and may find it hard to watch if there’s no future for this character.]
Young Lotor: All I do, I do in the name of Galra. Father, there’s a question I’ve been wanting to ask you.
Dayak: Greatest apologies, sire. This one should not be speaking out of place.
Young Lotor: I would like to know about my mother.
[Ouch. This is in reference to GoLion’s Sincline and Robotech Voltron’s addition of “Lora”. Poor Lotor has mother issues across universes. And your child Lotor here is so precious. You are really tugging at your audience’s heart strings. Again, be cautious and treat this story with dignity. Children especially see themselves reflected in other children, and since this child wants to please his father and know his mother, your child audience especially will want this character to have a happy ending.]
Please, Father, what happened to her?
Zarkon: I will tell you this and no more. She was my only weakness. But now she is gone.
Young Lotor: What was her name? What was she like?
Young Lotor: Please, Father, I must know who I come from.
Zarkon: I said enough! If you do not remove his impurities, then I will find a Dayak that can.
[His “impurities” referenced earlier being his small size, his feelings, and anything to do with his mother. His father wanted to eradicate his feminine half. Very nice social commentary.]
Dayak: He will be punished accordingly. We will sear him down to his inner fire so that he may burn the universe. Vrepit Sa!
[Which is what we saw in S6. Therefore, at this point we have all we need to know in order to understand how this character got to the point he did when he had his mental breakdown.]
Honerva: My son.
[So she sacrificed the last connection to her pre-Quintessence life, Kova, in order to find what she hopes will become a new life, Lotor, but rather than focusing on a future, she seems set to recreate a past different from the one we see in the flashbacks.]
Galra Soldier: Sire, your audience is requested in the Kandar Wing.
Teen Lotor: Father, may I accompany you?
[Dear lord, there’s more?!]
Zarkon: You will stay here.
Teen Lotor: But I want to join you.- I have learned much of our –
Zarkon: You are an insolent boy. You may be the prince, but I am your emperor.
Honerva: Do not touch him. He will hurt you.
[Heh, at this point I am assuming you are making check marks down a list of sympathy cards. Showing your villain as a child showing compassion toward animals = heart clencher. Also, Child Lotor being encouraged not to seek companionship because it will hurt — no wonder he was aloof and standoffish as an adult. And seeking out Allura’s companionship certainly did end up hurting him. Indirect characterization]
Teen Lotor: What is his name?
[Indirect characterization: The first thing taken from prisoners of war is their name — it is a way of dehumanizing them. Asking someone or something’s name is a way of showing us the character has respect for that person/animal as a living creature. This is an interesting side we’re seeing of Lotor. A very good side. I notice you seem to juxtapose the way Lotor treats the cat with how Zarkon treats Lotor. His father using name calling (insolent boy) rather than calling him by his given name is a way to dehumanize his son. I can’t help but think of Lotor and Honerva — both of whom have had their names stripped from them — as prisoners of war here]
Honerva: He has no name.
Teen Lotor: Then I shall name it.
[Interesting how “a named thing is a tamed thing” plays in here, and how this line characterizes Lotor as being a person who creates. He gives a name and reality to things that did not or lost theirs, especially in Zarkon’s environment of stripping identities by calling his son “insolent boy” and the Rift stripping Honerva’s memories. It immediately juxtaposes Lotor and Zarkon’s thinking against each other and shows his potential, which has been demonstrated before in prior seasons, both as a physical fighter and as a tactician and diplomat.]
Your name will be
Honerva: It is only Kova.
[So she has some of her memories?]
[The cat responding positively to him is a good sign about his character too.]
His name is Kova.
Teen Lotor: This creature pleases me. It shall be mine.
[Ope. There’s some duality creeping in. So we’re seeing subtle ways his upbringing is influencing him for the negative. ]
Honerva: My lord
Teen Lotor: You may be the high priestess, but I am your prince, and you will do as I say.
Honerva: Isn’t that right, Kova?
[Ah, and there’s the father’s influence. This repetition of the controlling line from the father to the son and then the son to the mother is representative of the abuse dynamics that go on in many real life households, so please use care here.]
Honerva: Yes, my lord.
Merla: What are you doing here? Answer me!
Honerva: I am Honerva of the planet Altea.
Merla: That is impossible. Altea was destroyed over 10,000 years ago.
Honerva: A powerful portent that is shared with the birth of my son Lotor.
[I like this word choice. Portent connotes an event that could be either very good or very bad — so more dual nature stuff surrounding Lotor’s birth. He’s really sounding like a stand-in for the dual nature of man.]
Merla: Lotor’s mother?
Honerva; Lotor is gone.
Merla: How did he die?
[Okay, so his death is confirmed here. But why keep it mysterious through S7?]
Honerva: Voltron. To all of you who believed in my son so justly, your faith will be rewarded. I have come here today to continue my son’s mission. And for that, I need you all.
Luka: We are your humble servants, as will be the members of our sister colony once we inform them of the news. Do you know of their whereabouts?
Honerva: Unfortunately, they have also fallen to the evils of Voltron.
[This is confusing. I thought this was Romelle’s colony. So is the sister colony the moon base and Honerva is lying about what’s happened to them? Or is this a separate colony from Romelle’s and the pod people on the moon are a different thing?]
Voltron and the Galra will pay for what they have done.
With your help, I will resurrect my son’s dream.
[Not sure what she thinks her son’s dream is at this point, but we do know Lotor says he wanted to bring peace and prosperity to the Empire. Also, “resurrect” means to revive or bring back from the dead, and since we’ve established Lotor as dead, it seems resurrection might also apply as something Honerva wants for her son literally as well.]
Merla: We pledge our allegiance to you, Honerva, mother of Lotor.
Honerva: This ancient land was created through powerful magic. Alteans would travel here to learn the secrets of our race. We have a long and difficult road ahead of us, but our path is true.
[Oh goodness, I know she’s up to no good, but it really seems she’s using some of Lotor’s more idealistic speech in a twisted way. Lotor’s line to Allura in S6 was “my feelings for you are true”.]
Merla: We will do anything to bring Lotor back.
[OMG that is her goal! She wants to bring him back from the dead!]
Honerva: I know.
[She really means anything.] [It’s also interesting that in order to bring Lotor back, Honerva destroys the statues that guarded Oriande, the temple guardians of a sacred land to Alteans. She’s disrespectful of the Galra and the Galra blood in her son’s blood, but also irreverent to Altea and its culture.]
Merla: The acolytes have worked tirelessly. The prototype is ready.
Honerva: Excellent work. Find me the most faithful amongst us.
[And this brings us to where we are currently — Luca in the Robeast. Again, probably would have put this toward the end of S7 rather than here for future reference.]
Merla: Yes, my queen.
Ven’tar Are you nervous? –
Lotor: No, Ven’tar. This is my chance to finally make a difference, to show my father what we are capable of.
[Music here is lovely — like a hopeful lullaby. And of course this must be Lotor’s planet he told Allura about. This is a lush planet with a female leader who stands at an equal height to Lotor. This is going to cue your audience we are supposed to see them as equals.]
Zarkon: Update me on your progress.
Lotor: Our Quintessence yields are some of the highest in the empire, and we’ve been more efficient than any other. By working alongside the denizens of this planet, like Ven’tar here, we’ve outsourced
Zarkon: You dare work with this pitiful race as if they are your equals?
[“Equals” 😉 — nice job. Also, this is lovely indirect characterization that tells us something impressive about Lotor — in spite of his horrific upbringing, he has managed to grow into a man who is determined to treat others better than he was treated.]
[Interesting that Zarkon cares about Lotor seeing “others” as “equal” when he does not see his own son as “equal”]
Lotor: It is working. We have outpaced even the most generous projections.
Zarkon: The heir to the Galra throne should not sully our honor by working with his subjects!
Lotor: It is the way my mother’s people would have done things. You thought I couldn’t find out about my own mother? About her people? You thought you destroyed every remnant of Altea, but you cannot unless you destroy your own son as well!
[Once again, the connection to mother and the feminine. You seem to have a strong feminist commentary in mind here.]
Zarkon: Enough! You are to crush this planet beneath your heel!
[GO LOTOR!!! Okay so not only was he telling Allura the truth on Oriande, the version he told her did not make him seem as brave as he actually was in this situation — he told her the humble version. Indirect characterization: Lotor is being re-established as an honest (and therefore trustworthy) character and one who will stand up for those who are weaker than him.]
[This is an instance when we see that Lotor is telling the truth, and that he has consistently told Allura the truth. We as the audience are led to believe that Lotor has always been telling the truth, which, when the scene of the colony is just before this, leads us to believe he had a different, more accurate truth about the colony]
Zarkon: Then I will!
Lotor: You wouldn’t. You can’t! Father, wait! No, please do not do this, Father. Do not make these people suffer for my actions.
Zarkon: It is already done.
Lotor: I will do as you ask. The people will serve the Galra.
[Many of your audience members will be able to relate to this character’s back story or be inspired by him standing up to his abuser to try and protect someone else, especially given the apparent coding that has been put in. It is noticeable that Lotor, who is abused by his father for being “weak”, is defending a feminine coded planet with a female leader. Please continue to treat this subject with care.]
[And now we get the full punch, the part he really watered down to Allura. Not only did his father destroy the people he befriended, he forced him to watch them burn.] [This is a decidedly feminine violence, a feminine-coded planet, people, and the similarly feminine-coded Lotor being destroyed at the order of a male in power. Were Lotor a woman, the violence almost certainly would have been done to him directly, given the misogynistic bent of the violence. I sincerely hope there’s a payoff against Zarkon for this, because this is a very dangerous line to tread, with framing Lotor as the victim of not only abuse but a very gendered violence.]
Zarkon: You are hereby banished from the empire. Forced to live out the remainder of your days remembering your failure here.
[His face. His father intends to teach him a lesson, but it obviously wasn’t the lesson he learned. Lotor certainly did seem to remember his “failure” to save his friends. Here is where your audience will begin to conclude his mysterious “master plan” was not sinister.]
Lotor: Have you nothing to say, witch? Surely even you can see the folly of your master’s actions.
[So after all this, he still has a distinct moral compass in tact. This is important characterization.]
Honerva: Commander Sendak.
Sendak: The Lions of Voltron have arrived as you suspected. Shall I capture them for you, High Priestess?
Honerva: No. Destroy them.
Sendak: Vrepit Sa.
Honerva: Voltron has been found. It is time to test our first Altean acolyte. Today, the light of the universe shines inside our most brave. The dream of life is realized through her actions.
For Luca, the first acolyte, we shine in Lotor’s bright luminescence!
Luca: Voltron will pay for what they have done.
Honerva: May the light guide you. Rise and avenge my son.
[Oo, yeah Honerva has taken this high and right. Definitely not what her son would have truly wanted.]
[This episode seems to have three primary functions. 1. It brings the audience up to speed with what happened behind the scenes last season. 2. It gets your audience on Lotor’s side by creating intense empathy and reestablishing him as a trustworthy character. 3. It sets up dramatic tension toward Honerva’s attempt to resurrect him. With this in mind, your audience is going to want to know what was/is going on with that other colony since A) it was set up as a mystery that “they disappeared” in S7 and is directly mentioned again in this episode and B) We need to have a reason to be on Lotor’s side beyond feeling sorry for him, and since he’s been re established as a truth teller, your audience will infer they have more truth to learn from him, so if that is not your intent you might want to rework this on all fronts.]
[It’s also worth noting that this episode you’ve written is very subversive by nature of the narrative. A lot of this emotionally-charged and explicitly abusive backstory tends to get attributed to women and female characters, especially when men inflict direct violence against them such as through an assault, or in this episode’s case, the destruction of a planet. Were Lotor a woman, this would merely be perpetuating the voyeurism of the violence against women, but instead he is a man and it demonstrates how Zarkon–an allegory of toxic masculinity–harms everybody under its control, not simply the women. Lotor, despite it all, showed he still had his morals after watching Ven’tar’s planet get destroyed, further juxtapositioning him against his father in a decidedly sympathetic way. This entire episode sets up for some good to come Lotor’s way, and frankly it all but commands that Zarkon receive a narratively-appropriate punishment for his violence.]