heartbreak over space lions

⚠️ This contains spoilers for Season 6 of Voltron: Legendary Defender.

Hyperfixation is a newly learned term. 

I dismissed my tendency to default to them as a character trait—that I happen to be flaky at best, or that I am easily bored and even more easily attached. All these points are true, to be fair, but while I’ve drawn the correlation between when these hyperfixations tend to arrive and how my mental health is doing at the time, I never bothered taking a moment to really dissect what exactly about them makes them so reliable as coping mechanisms. 

It doesn’t really need dissection; the distraction a hyperfixation provides goes without saying. But it’s the redistribution of energy, too, I guess, that makes a hyperfixation such a relief to have even when it’s taking up time and attention that could be going into more productive things. No matter how fervent the sudden love might be, hyperfixations are still low-maintenance—they demand energy on my part in a way that doesn’t have to have real-life consequences, because they’re really only there for endorphin secretion’s sake. It’s fun, it’s simple, and if I churn through a trilogy of books in one night instead of sleeping, or learn a whole K-Pop group’s roster, discography and variety show history instead of memorizing Ancient Greek vocab lists, it’s fine. Welcome, even. No one ordered me to do it. There are no preordained rules to abide by, no criteria like there is for important real-life responsibilities. There’s no wrong way to become an avid lover, overnight, of something that makes me irrationally happy. (Or—there is, technically, but I’ll play the fool for these particular purposes.) 

It surprises me every time how much emotional energy I’m capable of putting into new, sudden interests despite knowing for a fact I’ll have moved on in a couple months’ time. There’s no rhyme or rhythm to what I end up latching onto whenever I have the time to do so, and I’ve long stopped trying to find a pattern in it. French-dubbed kids cartoons? Sure. Attempting to learn the violin just so I can play the rendition of “Country Roads” from Whisper of the Heart? Why the hell not.

Hyperfixations have become a cycle I know how to work around, because regardless of how much I resent myself for it when it’s all out of my system, having a phase to pour blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights into is still better than not having anything at all. I’m constantly aware it’s temporary, sure, but it doesn’t make me any less happy to have something more concrete so I can stop pawing listlessly at whatever Netflix is recommending or staring down a leaning pile of books that I genuinely want to read but don’t have the attention span for. 

My entire life history can probably be summarized in bullet points by my many, many hyperfixations, all of which haunt me to this day in some capacity, and all of which demanded an amount of attention and devotion from me that I struggle to understand now. I barely have the energy to go about everything I need to on an hour-to-hour, day-to-day basis; that I find it in me to pore through Wiki page after Wiki page and absorb information with hunger and attachment that I have to remind myself to feel around most other things in my life is a mystery I can’t figure out. Especially after, when I’ve moved on and can look back at the period of time I spent on that phase and wonder what on Earth I saw in it that made me feel so emotionally overwhelmed to the point of absolute dedication. 

Still, I am hard-pressed to find a former phase that’s as deeply mood-altering as Voltron: Legendary Defender has been in the two weeks I’ve spent at its mercy. 

This show now has the power to drag me from peak good mood to an actual depressive episode, a full spectrum of emotions much more than what I am usually capable of on a good day. That’s the great thing about hyperfixations: they make you feel. And usually it’s all fun and games—until suddenly someone pulls bullshit they really should know better than to do, or, in this particular case, a new season disappoints you so completely and so badly that you spend the whole weekend curled up in bed close to heartbroken tears. 

It’s one thing to drift naturally out of a hyperfixation and let it fall away as that thing I used to be ready to die for but I kinda got over it. It’s another when it grabs you by the hair and makes you wish you’d chosen anything—literally anything—else than this thing that is now giving you more grief than it is distraction. 

Hyperbole, maybe, but not really by that much. 

It’s been a bleak, bleak spring, and even worse if my mental health is used as a gauge. I never do well with breaks and vacations; I can’t function without work and stress and the routine that sort of thing provides, and I don’t know what to do with myself when I have free time. I don’t want it. I vehemently don’t want quality bonding time with my thoughts and emotions. But trying to churn through books that I can’t read past the first half is not doing wonders in terms of distraction, and really, it was inevitable that I would have fallen into something before the first day of summer even arrived. 

Voltron, though, I did not expect. I tried the first season back in 2016, jumping onto the pop culture train that occasionally passes you by when you have a Tumblr account, however passively you maintain it. I had no clear memories of its older iterations to compare it to, but I’m always game for people piloting giant robots. While I didn’t dislike it, though, it didn’t pull me in the way I wanted it to. There was vague affection for it, as well as hope that I would tune in again for the following seasons if only because it shared staff members with the Avatar series teams, but it wasn’t enough for me to be attached. Not even the unprecedented rise to fame of a potential pairing on the show appealed to me, and I was content to check the show off one of my catch-up lists, à la Captain America: Winter Soldier, and continue on to the next podcast that people told me I needed to enlighten myself about. 

Two years later and here I am, two months into my break from school, chin-deep in Voltron. There’s a way to track how I got here, I’m sure, but mostly I’m upset with myself for choosing this show, of all things, to imprint on. I spent the first week of June binge-watching Seasons 2 to 5, caught myself up with the general state of things in the fandom without interacting with it, and in the days leading up to the trailer drop, I had read countless prediction posts, churned through potential spoilers from the show’s voice actors, and even marathon-watched Fictional Crystals. My trust in these collective expectations, I blame most, because I’m certain that Voltron reeled me in through a violently intense attachment to Lance (the only character that left a mark on me from Season 1, and whom, after catching myself up, I now care about more than any other character, more than my own self, and possibly even more than the very show) and kept me hooked where I was with the promise of a character arc for him. Hell, one early review claimed Lance stans would cry from his arc this season. I believed it. Like the rookie dumbass that I am. 

By June 13, two days before the new season arrived, I was a bundle of stress and excitement and undying love for Lance, for once thankful for my insomnia if only since it meant that staying up until 3 A.M. EST would be no trouble. 

So I did. Parked myself in front of my TV and, to my great mistake, hoped for the best.

Any Voltron stan that has been here longer than me—that is to say, a good majority of its audience, who’s been chained to this show since 2016 sometimes against their own rational will—would say they’re not surprised. People were cynical, skeptical, and I should have taken that as my sign. But I’m new here, and the profound disappointment I felt about Voltron's Season 6 took me completely by surprise. I’m new to the anger and resentment that Voltron fans seem to take with resignation, having experienced it before and to a degree expected it again this time. I didn’t. I was so excited for the new season. Then it took my heart, sent it free-floating out of a spaceship, and watched on as it boiled and contracted and fizzled in the heat of the sun in space.

Yeah, it’s a goddamn show. I don’t really need to take it this personally if it's just hurting me to do so. I’m well aware. The intense betrayal surprised me precisely because of how intense it was. I didn’t even realize I was expecting so much from this show, relying on it so blindly to maybe improve my emotional state, until they didn’t pull through where I needed them to. 

I was so hurt. It’s so ridiculous it should be hilarious.

Let it be said that I have a lot of respect for the labour that goes into the show—the music is wonderful, the voice-acting even more musical, and the animation is heart-stoppingly stellar in Season 6, which deserves a rewatch when I am hopefully less bitter about where it went wrong. But whether or not I appreciate its writing is another story. It’s not airtight. It would be naive in itself to even expect the quality of writing that many Voltron fan analyses suppose the show will deliver on. It leaves multiple narratives hanging, goes about character arcs and plot direction like they’d been decided by a roulette wheel, and half the time the voice actors seem to know the characters better than the people writing them. It’s made me bitter on more than one occasion—mostly because the show that the Voltron staff thinks it’s making sounds so at odds with what the audience has been having to deal with for six seasons now that you have to wonder whether they even watch their own finished product. 

(I know I’m being uncharitable, and it’s conceited to even think I can do a better job in their shoes; however, it’s difficult to excuse this show for its mistakes when Avatar: The Last Airbender has succeeded on every single beat Voltron has failed on. It’s even more difficult to digest the producers claiming it’s hard to juggle an ensemble cast when that’s exactly what A:TLA did—seamlessly, too, from secondary and tertiary characters to both full-time and part-time villains. And it’s like salt to the already irritated wound when the same producers, while talking about Season 6’s villain in an interview, reference narrative arcs of two of my favourite characters from A:TLA. It had me in a laughing fit for two long, incredulous minutes. The thought of Lotor even being written in a way close to Zuko and Azula sounded like a poorly-worded punchline.) 

All this considered, I should have known better. Or at least I should have expected nothing. 

I should have, but things got rather personal this time around. 

When you’re a brown bisexual person primed to expect something good for the brown, potentially-bisexual-if-God-is-still-up-there character after whole seasons of unfair treatment, and then there’s no delivery on that promise—at that point, it kind of stops feeling like a side-hustle. 

At that point, it stops being exclusively about escapism. 

At that point, you do kind of have to take it straight to heart. 

The thing about high-profile fandoms like Voltron’s is that it’s so easy for outsiders to assume that all the attachment is fuelled by fangirling hysteria and not more personal motivations. I worry the producers and voice actors believe that the things fans demand of the show are motivated by superficial purpose—indiscriminate m/m shipping frenzy, fetishization, or whatever other thing that comes part and parcel with any mainstream fandom. It’s easy to assume that, in the same vein that fandom as a word comes with the connotation of shallow, girlish-the-way-misogynists-mean-it-when-they-say-girlish devotion, and because that side to fandom does exist more prominently. People don’t want to take it seriously because it’s easier to compact everything into the same easily dismissed, easily laughed-at scenarios, and because it’s very rare that someone who hasn’t been part of a fandom comprehends its nuances the way that anyone who has a dark fandom past can do intuitively. The bigger the fandom, as in Voltron’s case, the bigger the chances that it has its unfortunate moments spurred on by a quarter that doesn’t speak for the whole group, and the bigger the likelihood that it’s viewed through that unfortunate lens without regard for the fans that are attached for more critical reasons. 

I can’t speak for the entire Voltron community, but I’ve only been here for two weeks, sitting on the outskirts, and I already know that it would be doing its audience a great disservice to assume that its devotion is anything remotely shallow. 

I can speak for myself, however, and I know the bare truth is that I imprinted on Lance because he feels representative of who I am, if only by half, and sometimes you have to take the scraps you’re able to get. But that sort of desperation doesn’t mean it won’t sting, when you have to watch a character you’re cheering on for all these personal reasons be excessively used for comic relief to the point where it's no longer even half-funny and without the pay-off A:TLA at least gave with their own comic relief character—and then be sidelined into a confusing love triangle after seasons-long isolation. It’s hard not to take that whiplash personally, temporary phase or not, even more so when the previous seasons set him up for what would have been catharsis for an overdue character-driven arc, and only to strip him down into the version of Lance we see in Season 6. 

It might be for the sake of pathos; in that case, then, the Voltron team’s idea of well-written heartbreak and conflict isn’t necessarily something I agree with. It could also be that this is all a setup for a better future for Lance’s character, at which point I will happily eat shit as karma for not being patient. But I doubt it. There’s no completely salvaging characterization when it’s the way it is right now given the ratio of how many episodes have passed and how many are left. Sure, A:TLA’s Sokka didn’t get the chance to truly shine in a solo episode until the last season of the show, but Sokka also had his own fulfilled mini-arcs since Book 1 that paved the way for the Sokka we see in Book 3. I fail to see that same stable foundation with Lance from the past six seasons. Constant interaction with the rest of the cast and screen-time by virtue of that doesn't always mean that character is given personal characterization to work with. And every time you think roots have been planted, the subsequent season proves you wrong in that it forgets what it established in the previous episodes. (Case in point: Lance seemingly being instrumental to the fake Shiro storyline after Season 5, only for absolutely nothing to come out of it, and only for Voltron to commit what is, to me, an even bigger blunder in using that situation to get tears out of Lance in the Season 6 finale. At that point in the season, it just feels a little lackadaisical. Or like an unwanted kick in the balls after a season of nothing.) 

Voltron had the chance to subvert something with Lance. What’s most upsetting is that it seemed to take steps towards that, knowing full well what it was doing, and ultimately still didn’t take that chance. 

It’s unfair, probably, to expect so much from Voltron. And I know it’s not always the producers that’s behind every writing choice, nor that it’s done the way it is with deliberate negligence or malintent. But that’s the issue. These feelings are not exclusive to me. There are many more people out there who have done this routine a lot more times before—with Hunk, too, with Shiro, with Allura, with the possibility of Keith-and-Lance as endgame. If its audience’s attachment was superficial, Voltron’s fans wouldn’t be this critical, wouldn’t hold the show to the standards that it does. If it was, people wouldn’t still be here, six seasons in, swinging between optimism and pessimism, torn between dropping the show and still believing in it despite disappointment after disappointment. If people didn’t need to believe in Voltron, either, they wouldn’t keep expecting their happy ending from it, dissecting interviews and hunting design parallels and writing scene analysis posts just to keep fuelling their hope that maybe this show would still come through for them. 

And they should hold it to high standards, especially in this climate, especially when children’s shows no longer have excuses not to include LGBTQ representation, especially when the severity of queerbaiting as a crime has not aged well, and especially when characters like Lance, Hunk, Allura and Shiro, who all have one important, glaring thing in common, deserve to be treated with a lot more delicacy than what a contemporary show has bothered to give them. It’s either they’re thrown into the metaphorical grinder, narrative-wise, and then not given what they’re due after all that—or they're given the barest minimum in hopes that would be enough to appease the complaints. It frequently isn't. 

Sure, you can argue that these have nothing to do with them being non-white characters, that even a white character would have gone through the same narrative. To a degree, I can believe that. It’s just hard not to think this way when there are at least three other ways of going about the narratives that these characters received that don’t involve sacrificing their characterization. And sure, you can also argue that it’s a kids’ show. They don’t have to take it that seriously. Yet this is the same show that attempts to tackle themes involving poorly veiled race relations, a colonizing empire, and, in this last season, even genocide. I’m sure the children can handle actually well-written character narratives they can see themselves in. 

So let Shiro rest and recover from all that built-up PTSD. He’s been dead for several seasons, and had gone through worse before that. Give Hunk more than a brief chance at the spotlight. The Holts got multiple seasons. Take advantage of all the wonderful things Allura is instead of constantly taking things from her or forcing her into storylines that don’t do her individual characterization a favour. Even Keith would benefit from less screen-time if that means he'll stop having to go through plotlines that don't help someone with his character history. Further isolating the boy who lost a father and never knew his mother until Season 5—then having him fight his brother—is just a bit overkill when there are five other paladins. Not to mention forcing a leadership arc that has not and probably won't ever make sense with the abrupt execution it received and the degree of just-don't-question-it-and-move-on required. Angst and conflict for the sake of shock value rarely equals a good narrative, character-driven or not. There are probably more creative ways to move both plot and character arcs forward. And if you’re not going to give Lance a concrete arc focused around him, maybe stop acting you will and/or already have. Contrary to what you might believe, you’re dragging around more than just blind fangirling stans with nothing else to do—you’re baiting people who genuinely want to see a Cuban boy have a complete, fulfilling arc that treats his insecurities and strengths as a character with grace, maybe be confirmed bisexual somewhere along the way, and maybe, maybe, maybe, end the series in a loving, well-established relationship. 

Not that I know what I'm talking about, I guess. I'd say it's maybe not that deep, but it’s the very fact that it’s not that deep to some people that’s also part of the problem. The producers don’t get to say that Lance is Cuban and then make that part of his identity only relevant for a romance plotline. They don’t get to say that it’s not a relevant aspect of who Lance is, when for so many people, representation is necessary exactly because we want to see aspects of our identity reflected in characters we love. Yeah, Lance being Cuban isn’t all of him, but it is most definitely not an inessential part of his identity either. The same way that the identity traits that TV shows, novels and movies portray when representation is done right is not simple and inessential—well-done representation goes a long, long way, and much, much farther back down to the bottom when butchered. 

It stops being about the show and the escapism it provides as a hyperfixation when a show toys with things that shouldn’t be toyed with. It stops being the shallow thing people want to believe it is when it reaches this level of personal, this level of impactful. There’s a reason people were genuinely upset about Lance’s treatment in Season 6, and by extension, Allura’s. That’s not superficiality. That’s betrayal you can expect in the real world, but want to believe you don’t have to put up with from this thing you love and devote yourself to. 

As much as Voltron is capable of disappointing, people do need it. People need it to give them the happy ever after they expect. No one else is going to. Except at this point it might be too late.

Those that have come this far with the show and are just waiting for the inevitable final season to tell them whether or not the past two years have been worth all the stress and speculation and fear and anger—they probably don’t want to be here anymore, either. I’ve been here mere weeks and I don’t want to be in this uncertain, dread-filled limbo. Still, you want to believe in this show, against all rational thought. You want to believe this can at least give you what you’re looking for. You’d much rather be positive about #klance being canon king than negative, despite what evidence or lack thereof there might be. You want, more than anything, for this show to prove you wrong about Lance and LGBTQ rep and deliver something good with its last few seasons. You want it to be worth it, even when you don’t believe that it is. You’re stuck here, simultaneously loving and hating a show that’s the only thing standing between you and a hyperfixation-less, depression-filled existence.

Not to be dramatic.

I know that Voltron has saved my summer from being a void of meaningless routine. For that, I owe a lot to it. It’s odd to feel this intensely, even when I know my hyperfixations are always intense for the two months it’s around. Maybe I’m going to laugh at myself when I’ve moved on from Voltron and look back at this. Maybe I'll even look at this next week, once I'm past this hysterical haze of dramatic distress, and take it back. Maybe.

That still won't make my complaints any less bona fide, though, methinks. But god, no one wants me to be proven wrong about all of this more than I do. Please, Voltron. Make me eat shit.