Not to beat a dead horse —
But it is kind of darkly funny that after season 4′s cliffhanger everyone just assumed that Lotor would get an interesting introductory scene with the paladins, would be treated fairly and allowed to negotiate the terms of his surrender with the coalition, and, while not necessarily liked or trusted, would be given some small freedoms and a taste of the good guys’ empathy and goodwill. These are our assumptions from our understanding of how heroes in Y7 shows are supposed to act; they’re fair and compassionate above all else, traits that emerge when faced with a vulnerable foe. Healthy suspicions won’t trump the heroes’ moral code, and they’ll even risk their lives for someone they hate. AtLA and even LoK understood these expectations and built compelling interactions around them (Zuko trying to save Zhao in s1; the Gaang saving Zuko in s1 and hearing him out in s3; Korra, however awkward the execution, saving and empathizing w/ Kuvira in s4), as do so many other shows. And while “Lotor learns the meaning of friendship” would feel too saccharine for VLD’s tone, most pre-season 5 speculation was centered around how the paladins’ open friendliness would bounce off Lotor’s cagey paranoia, and how they’d come to realize what it really meant to be the son of a tyrant.
But in VLD, what we got was quite the opposite: Lotor is introduced already captive, ostensibly a pawn of the paladins, feeding them correct tactical information for weeks in the hopes that they might consider giving him the benefit of the doubt eventually. His being Zarkon’s son is a strike against him, even after they witnessed Zarkon’s forces attacking him in season 4. He’s even being held away from rest of the coalition, despite explicitly surrendering to both Voltron and the rebels, the latter of which should have jurisdiction over him as well. (Okay, that part has less to do with Lotor and more to do with the unclear relationship between Team Voltron and their allies, but still.) Ethics aside, Lotor has more than proven his practical use as well, so Team Voltron isn’t just acting weirdly callous here, but also weirdly petty. They won’t let him out of his cell because, what, he got in some nearly-bloodless battles with them? Because he’s a good strategist who outmaneuvered them several times? Because he’s Galra? I totally understand not trusting him and limiting his movements, but come on, what’s with the lengthy solitary confinement? (He’s even an exceptional pilot with an incredibly powerful ship they could really use. Why not take him on missions with a handler or two in case he tries anything? That wouldn’t just make sense, it would be interesting.)
And of course this is followed by the even more callous and illogical prisoner exchange, which has been discussed to death already. Back when I first saw this, I didn’t really hate it; I figured the paladins would realize they’d acted unheroically, since Lotor was proven right anyway. But the show went on, and it was never addressed, and everything imploded in season 6, and I got this sinking feeling that the paladins would never be held accountable. Like I’ve said, it’s one thing I’d love to see season 8 pull through with, but I don’t have much reason to hope.
The paladins may be our designated heroes, but they aren’t very heroic, and that’s compounded by how their decisions are never questioned. Pre-season 5 speculation assumed their morals were sound, which is why fan material from that time is so laughably different from what canon delivered. And at this point? If the show does acknowledge their failings last-minute, I may feel vindicated, but I won’t be that impressed. It’ll only confirm that I was right to be biased against the paladins, the heroes, all along. Why would I want to dislike and disagree with the main characters? Sadly, I’m much more inclined to believe that the writers didn’t think about how such actions would come across.