At this year's San Diego Comic-Con in July, the executive producers of the Netflix show Voltron: Legendary Defender, confirmed that one of the main characters is gay, and that fans would see him with his fiancé on screen together in the show's seventh season. But when the new season premiered on August 10, fans were disappointed. What promised to be an important moment for queer representation ultimately came down to a case of queerbaiting.
During SDCC, the panel confirmed that Shiro—one of the Voltron paladins (or warrior-pilots)—is a gay man. The decision to include this reveal within the seventh season was meaningful for many reasons but was particularly anticipated by a notable portion of the fandom who had been advocating for more queer representation on the show. But this reveal was something that almost didn't make it into the show at all.
From the season premiere, we learn that Shiro (below) left his fiancé, Adam, on Earth before taking off into space with the other Voltron paladins. Through a series of flashbacks, viewers are given only one scene in which the two are together, despite allusions within the episode that they have been a couple for some time. Though Adam and Shiro were both members of the Galaxy Garrison, the military-like force that protects Earth, the two argue (and break up) over Shiro's decision to go on one final mission into space. The only other scene that Adam appears in during the show's entirety (which comes later in season 7) is of him dying in the line of duty when the Earth is attacked before Shiro and the Voltron paladins can return to Earth. There is no scene in which either character explicitly comes out, nor does either man engage in affection or action that would help readers understand the context of their relationship.
Fans' disappointment with the depiction of Shiro's sexuality and the death of Adam was hard to avoid in fan spaces for the show on social media, particularly on geek Twitter. Fans were so upset by the way this storyline was handled that it almost tore the fandom apart. The way that Adam died appears to be yet another example of the "Kill Your Gays" trope trope, in which queer characters are introduced only to be killed off to advance the overall storyline.
The situation became so coarse that Joaquin Dos Santos, one of the show's executive producers, took to Twitter to issue an apology to fans on the events of the show. In the four-page letter, Dos Santos explains that it was "never [his intention] to hurt the fandom, but rather to tell a story about war and grief."
Intentions aside, this queerbaiting has had a drastic impact on the those who have supported the show from the beginning, leaving them feeling increasingly frustrated. Voltron: Legendary Defender has already confirmed that the eighth season will be its final one, so there are few opportunities to rectify the show's approach to queerness.
It's hard to see if the show can recover from this misstep. And despite the public apology from Dos Santos, many who have supported the show from the beginning are left feeling frustrated and used. If anything, this controversy highlights the ways queerbaiting is still a harmful plot device within entertainment, affecting fans and the future success of the show more than a production team may anticipate.