Why Fans Resonate With Lance So Much and Why We’re Mad He’s a False Protagonist (spoilers I guess)
So Lance has pretty much been my favorite character since about ten seconds after he came on screen, and I’ll try to get right to the point about why I feel that way and why a giant portion of the vld fandom feels that way as well.
Obviously, Lance has been openly shown to have insecurities about his self-worth. I can’t really think of another character from a cartoon show (except maybe, like, Sokka from A;TLA) to have this plotline to this degree, but it’s a very unique and sensitive characterization that should be handled a little more carefully than it has been.
As a recap, Lance doesn’t really contribute much in the way of “hyper-specialized skills” to Voltron (aside from occasional shots of underused Sniper!Lance.) But next to him, we see 1). An ace pilot with special alien heritage and advanced hand-to-hand fighting skills who has been picked as the successor to the team’s leader 2). An Earth hero/veteran with a special prosthetic that gives him valuable fighting abilities, who pilots the oh-so-special Black Lion 3). An engineering genius 4). A tech/ex machina genius 5). A space princess with magical powers, fighting skills, and shapeshifting abilities who can ‘sense’ and ‘channel’ whatever whenever the plot needs her to.
And then, oh yeah, we’ve got…Lance. Who cracks goofy jokes.
He’s NORMAL! And it SUCKS to feel ‘normal’ when everyone around you seems so effortlessly special!
I’ve struggled with that feeling my whole life—that habit of constantly measuring myself against others and obsessing over what I can “contribute”. For the longest time, I thought I was only as valuable as what I could bring to the table. So I was shocked and awed to see a character with that same affliction. It’s odd. I’ve never had a character I resonated so strongly with. I see myself in Lance so much.
Our own insecurities are validated and reflected through Lance’s character. It’s a real emotional issue that many of us struggle with, so to see it on the screen given representation means something.
ANYWAY—Onto why Lance is a false protagonist, and why I’m pissed about it. In fiction, a false protagonist is “a literary technique, often used to make the plot more jarring or more memorable by fooling the audience’s preconceptions, that constructs a character who the audience assumes is the protagonist but is later revealed not to be.”
LANCE WAS SET UP DURING THE BEGINNING OF EPISODE ONE AS THOUGH HE WAS THE MAIN CHARACTER.
Seriously, think about how books typically use their prologue+main story setup. We got our prologue (Shiro and the Holts being taken) and then it opens up to what the viewers assume is the start of the “Main Story” which typically follows the main character-to-be. This is a natural pattern to follow in storytelling because it helps the viewer understand and process what role each character plays overall. Lance is the first character we got a little bit of a read on with that whole “Blah blah remember you’re just a replacement for the dropout so don’t end up like him” Garrison test flight, so that’s another reason for the viewer to latch onto him.
Watching Voltron for the first time knowing literally nothing about it going in, I knew there would be a team dynamic as episode one unfolded but thought that there would be special emphasis on Lance as the main character (think Aang from A;TLA. Yeah, there was a team of main characters, but Aang was THE main character if you get what I’m saying).
Seriously, go back and watch the first episode again if you didn’t notice it the first time. By a writing standpoint, Lance is written in the most “This will be the main character!” way possible.
Which is why it’s so bizarre that he’s been pushed to the back-burner for so many seasons now. God, at this point, his back-burner isn’t even turned on anymore. He and Hunk are just the 3-day old pots of mac n’ cheese congealing by the sink while Shiro, Keith, and Pidge are lit up and ready to go at a moment’s notice, but at least Hunk’s Balmeran arc in season 1 spanned, like, 2 or 3 whole episodes when Lance is lucky to get anything beyond two minutes.
I’ve accepted that he’s not THE main character (I WAS starting to think it was Keith, but then he f’ed off for season 4 and I was like, no, Voltron, when we said we wanted less Keith we just meant we needed a better balance of characters not the entire removal of one) (and anyway how bad is it that even when Keith’s character is finally drawn back a little bit, WE STILL. GET. NO. LANCE (or Hunk). ARC.)
Still, the dynamic from a writer’s standpoint is a little clunky. In my experience, stories are best told when they revolve around a singular main character, or two, like Gravity Falls for example. But things fall apart and get messy, especially in a television format, if you try to sell 5 main characters (six if you count Allura) as equally important (story-wise) right from the start. It just doesn’t work. It’s only natural to latch onto one or two characters and that’s why we keep getting these “Just wait, Lance will get his (3 second, never mentioned again or brought forward into a new season) moment!” promises. Good storytelling just doesn’t evolve well when you try to juggle five characters as all equally THE main character. And it ESPECIALLY feels super-clunky since Lance was introduced in episode one of the whole show as the potential main character and then used mostly for comic-relief ever since.
And when I say I want a Lance arc, I don’t mean “I want a Lance arc where Lance helps Keith learn to lead” or whatever—NO, GODDAMMIT. I WANT. AN ARC. FOCUSED SPECIFICALLY ON LANCE. NOT ON LANCE GROWING AS A SUPPORT FOR OTHER CHARACTERS’ GROWTH.
I was actually hoping that whole “Lance Dies in season 4!” worry going around would be true because 1). Lance obviously wouldn’t die for-real, so I wasn’t even worried about that 2). It would mean we would actually be getting what could have been a very emotional and quality Lance-focused story arc longer than three minutes.
I’m actually starting to think Lance isn’t going to get a story arc that spans across a few episodes that also remains the driving theme of those episodes. I think it will be another tossed-out line regarding his insecurity and that will be it.
I wanted Lance to be the Black Paladin so freaking bad, you guys! It would have been such a twist, such a moment for him to show off the leadership skills he’s been quietly accumulating. AND HOW ANGRY WAS I IN SEASON 4 WHEN LANCE LOGICALLY SAID “HM, MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T STAND UNDER THESE GENERATOR THINGS THAT LOOK LIKE THEY COULD FORM A FORCE FIELD AT ANY TIME” AND SHIRO BASICALLY SAID “WAIT HOLD ON, WE HAVE TO INVESTIGATE WHAT IT IS BY STANDING EXACTLY WHERE WE ARE.” WTF. LANCE, WHY ARE YOU SO IGNORED.
Anyway, it’s late and I’m cranky and kind of forgot where I was going with this but I’m signing off, passively hoping that maybe Lance will one day get his huge “I’m Keith and I get whole seasons dedicated to me” arc.
But it probably won’t happen.
I’m going back to bed.