I love color theory unapologetically and in re-watching VLD [for the 1023rd time] I decided to pay closer attention to how they use color, particularly where Keith is concerned thanks to this post.
So without further adieu,
How Color is Used to Illustrate Keith’s Phoenix Arc
Keith is interesting because he doesn’t follow the standard development for a character his age- someone who starts out lost / unsure and develops into a confident, mature person. My suspicion is that Keith is going to have what I’m calling a Phoenix Arc: He was introduced as [seemingly] mature / self-confident, is devolving and questioning his sense of self, and will rebuild himself into a stronger well-rounded character. And color is used to indicate his path of travel.
Keith was introduced with an explosion of red light, on a red hoverbike, clad in red attire. In his first scene, he demonstrates an ability to set and achieve goals and to handle tricky situations, setting him apart from his 3 former classmates and leaving viewers with a sense of maturity. However a few scenes later, Keith describes himself as lost and wandering indicating he still has room to grow. Growth that is directly tied to a knife with a violet symbol, the only thing he takes ownership of which isn’t red.
S1E10 Collection and Extraction, is probably the most foreshadowing episode as it includes all the colors heavily associated with Keith- In his scenes, the Red Paladin is investigating the Galra’s quintessence use, injures his hand on purple quintessence, fights with a druid who shoots violent purple lightning at him, is rescued by his fellow paladins, and his wounded hand is healed by yellow quintessence. From this we know Keith is directly linked to the Galra, his story arc is going to have a great deal to do with quintessence, his identity and quest for information is going to be challenged by the Galra, and in the end it’s going to be his team, his family- not his quest for knowledge- which brings him to a better understanding of himself.
In season 2 Keith starts learning about his knife, gathering more questions than answers, progressively surrounded by more and more violet hues; and he becomes less sure of himself. This character who started off strong and determined starts to falter. It becomes clear this violet knife is leading Keith to the Galra- something he spends time grappling with. When he crosses blades with Ulaz in S2E3, Keith holds his own well enough until he sees the matching symbol on Ulaz’s sword. Keith is so disarmed that Ulaz literally wipes the floor with Keith. From this point on we see Keith questioning himself and moving away from traits he held true to in season 1. [See S2E7 Space Mall: he goes on a personal inquisition rather than focusing on the team’s mission; and S2E8 The Blade of Marmora: he risks a critical alliance by defying orders to come unarmed.]
Keith enters the Trials of Marmora lost and seeking knowledge, fighting combatants clad in violet hues. When he’s in his mindscape there is a visual battle between violet and red. In the first sequence, Keith is surrounded by purple, and as Shiro walks away there is a sharp burst of violet light. In his Earth mindscape, the entire scene has a red hue, and when Keith leaves the shack the screen goes completely red. After he awakens and reorients himself, Keith halts the fight saying: “It doesn’t matter where I come from; I know who I am.”
Keith roots his identity in being the Red Paladin of Voltron, Shiro’s right hand. Shiro, who knew Keith before Voltron [pre-Kerberos backstory please?!] and knows him now, becomes a beacon Keith uses to orient himself. For a while that works, but then Shiro is lost.
Season 3 opens to a scene of Keith looking for Shiro in the wreckage of battle and wouldn’t you know the background is a myriad of red and violet- illustrating Keith’s inner turmoil and bereavement [“Your friend desperately wants to see you”]. Adding insult to injury, Keith is pulled away from the Red Lion, pushed into the Black Lion - whose alternate color is purple- and is vocal about his discomfort with his new identity. Keith knows he is slipping, losing his sense of self. He doesn’t want to be the leader because he doesn’t associate those traits with himself. And the one person who believed Keith could embody this role is missing.
By the time Shiro [ahem, Kuro] returns, Keith is completely lost as the black paladin trying to find himself through his work with the Blade of Marmora, swimming in violet. In season 4, Keith doesn’t wear red and furthermore is absent from a large portion of the season. As mentioned in the post I linked at the beginning, Keith’s dash lights up red at the end of season 4, when he is putting himself aside to save the universe and his original team. It’s a strong indicator that Keith is going to start gravitating back towards Voltron and towards himself. Keith isn’t going to fully understand who he is until he figures out he needs his family/friends by his side.
Canon content has demonstrated Shiro is going to be an important role in Keith figuring out who he was versus who he must become, and I won’t be surprised if Lance is somehow involved as well given he is the one who helped Keith come to grips in Shiro’s absence. But I also think Hunk may have a part to play in the future. As I mentioned, S1E10 seems to be foreshadowing and shows yellow to be a ‘healing’ component for Keith. There is a peppering of yellow throughout Keith-centric scenes and, most importantly, Hunk was there for Keith at a time when the team was not. Immediately following the revelation of Keith’s Galra heritage, at a point when everyone [Keith included] was struggling to deal with this, Hunk is the one who gets Keith to talk about it. He does it in a humorous shit-eating-grin sort of way, but in the end Hunk, the yellow paladin, does a lot to alleviate the tension.
In future seasons I think we are going to see Keith return to his sense of self, but in a better way than where he began. Red is set up to indicate his sense of self, purple is used to show the inner turmoil he grapples and must come to terms with, and yellow acts as a beacon guiding him home [notice how yellow was removed from Kuro’s outfit?]. I don’t think we are going to see Keith fully realized until he learns to truly accept, not fight, his Galra heritage and take on purple as a part of his identity- it’s no coincidence that his eyes are violet after all.