[Warning - SPOILERS ahead for Voltron: Legendary Defender season 4!]
Voltron: Legendary Defender is one of the hottest animated series around, adapting the familiar story of 1980s cartoon with just enough new material that it avoids coming across like a rehash of the past. Season 3 served as an evolution for the series, introducing a new adversary in Prince Lotor and further developing the roles for key characters: Keith, Shiro, and Allura. It introduced new mysteries (is Shiro a mole? maybe a clone?) while also delivering a deeper look into the creation of Voltron.
One major arc from Voltron: Legendary Defender season 3 was Keith bonding with the Black Lion and taking Shiro's place as leader. It was a period of growth for the team as a whole as they adjusted to the new dynamic and had to find their place within it. Then Shiro returned, creating some tension over just who would pilot which Lion. Graciously, Shiro recognized that the Black Lion had chosen Keith as its new Paladin - just as the Red opened itself to Lance and the Blue to Allura - and he stepped into more of an advisory role for the whole team. It was yet again a new and different dynamic for the team, giving them some growing pains as they all adjusted to the new working order.
However, in its season 4 premiere - 'Code of Honor' - Voltron goes and changes up the team again. It's established early on in the episode that Keith has been spending more time among the ranks of the Blade of Malmora, training and joining them on covert missions. He's having less and less time for his fellow Paladins and it's beginning to cause friction in the team. As Allura rightly points out, the Blades of Malmora have been operating just fine without Keith for years and years, while Voltron is now the rallying symbol for a growing coalition of recently freed planets; Team Voltron needs Keith far more than the Blades do.
But Keith believes the work the Blades are doing is more important, tracking down a new strain of Quintessence that might lead them to Lotor. And sure, it's one thing for Keith to be absent when the Paladins are performing at a victory celebration (in what are some pretty hilarious sequences of the team flying around information like they're the Blue Angels), but when he's unavailable during a rescue mission and the other Lions are soon overwhelmed, it's a real problem.
With Team Voltron in dire need of the Black Lion, Shiro must again take his place at the head of the team - literally, in this case, piloting the Black Lion so that they can form Voltron and escape. Shiro begs for the Black Lion to trust him, again teasing that there may secretly be something wrong with Shiro and it's only because the others are in danger that the Black Lion agrees to accept him. Then again, the scene may only hang in suspense for that moment to build tension, eventually presenting this as Shiro's chance to reclaim what has always been his true place within Team Voltron.
When Keith returns from his (failed) mission with the Blades, he and the rest of Team Voltron are forced to accept what's really happening. In the end, Keith chooses to continue his work with the Blades, believing that is where he can do the most good. He even shares with them that he has been purposefully pulling away just so Shiro would again attempt to pilot the Black Lion. And though this at first feels like a regression for the character, his decision to step down as team leader is very much in line with where Keith was for so much of season 3 - that is, uncomfortable having that responsibility thrust upon him. Clearly, Keith's time as a Paladin - specifically as the Paladin of the Black Lion - isn't over, but his journey with the Blades will be a crucial step in his developing the skills and the maturity necessary to be that leader.
Still, it is a strange decision to have Shiro back in the Black Lion and one that doesn't necessarily feel like the right move even if everyone seems to agree it's for the best. There are lingering questions about what actually happened to Shiro while he was a Galra prisoner, making his being back with the team and now in the Black Lion at least a little suspicious. Voltron: Legendary Defender season 4 doesn't address Shiro's earlier imprisonment, keeping the focus more on Voltron's role as the rallying center for a growing rebellion. But if there is to be a time when Keith re-assumes the mantle of leadership, it will almost certainly come at Shiro's expense - either as another heroic sacrifice or this time, an agonizing betrayal.
- Voltron: Legendary Defender release date: Sep 20, 2018