Arcane Family Dynamics: Vander and Vi

Source: Opening, Arcane

By: Beata Garrett | @clearsummers

There’s so many great things to say about Arcane, the Netflix show animated by Fortiche and based on characters from League of Legends, but my favorite analyses from fans of the show are about family. Arcane’s first season begins and ends with the fracturing of family as two sisters, Vi and Powder (later known as Jinx), are torn apart, reunited, and ultimately left in tatters by the end.

But their relationship isn’t the only familial one we see as the stories of other characters such as Jayce, Viktor, Mel, and even Marcus come into play. These characters are shown to have sometimes difficult and complex relationships with their families and it’s fascinating to learn just how much those relationships have shaped them into who they are presently. 

I’m interested in doing a series of posts analyzing these relationships and I’ve decided to start with Vi and Vander because they are arguably the standout relationship in the first three episodes of Arcane. While Vander is both Vi and Powder’s father, his relationship with Vi is at the forefront of these episodes. As the class conflict between Piltover, the wealthy city across the bridge, and Zaun, the grimy undercity that Vander and Vi live in, builds, Vander and Vi clash in the way only family can. 

Source: Episode 1, Arcane

At the beginning of the show, we see Vander adopting Vi and Powder as he takes these kids who have just been orphaned under his wing. Importantly, he has to put down his weapons (the gauntlets) to do so, symbolizing how he’s turned away from physical violence and where his priorities now lie: family. Vander’s name is dropped a few times throughout Episode 1 as if he’s the boss, someone the kids want to impress and don’t want to get in trouble with. While Vander serves as a father figure to all of them, he’s obviously closest to Vi.

Vander sees himself in Vi as she’s inherited all his best and worst traits. Vi is a leader, looked up to by everyone in her gang of kids, similar to Vander’s leadership amongst the undercity residents. However, Vi’s also hot headed and prone to using her fists. As we learn more about Vander, we see just why he’s put down his gauntlets as his part in the initial unrest led to so much destruction. Indirectly, Vander is responsible for Vi and Powder losing their parents. So it’s no wonder that he doesn’t want to see Vi repeat his mistakes and come to regret it like he did later. 

After the theft goes wrong, Vander tells Vi, “When people look up to you, you don’t get to be selfish. You say run, they run. You say swim, they dive in. You say light a fire, they show up with oil” (Episode 1, Arcane). It’s very reminiscent of the adage “With great power comes great responsibility.” Vander also points at Vi’s fists and says, “This? It’s not gonna solve your problems. It just makes more of them.” 

Source: Episode 1, Arcane

Although Vi understands the responsibility she has as a leader, there’s a clear divide in her vision for her and Powder’s future versus Vander’s desperation to keep them alive through the stability he has forged. However, Arcane delivers a powerful message through this conflict as neither character is fully right. Viewers may lean towards one more than another, but the show seems to say that while stability is good, no change can come from it.

Despite this talk with Vander, Vi still expresses a desire to change Zaun and free the undercity from Piltover’s oppression. At the end of Episode 1, she looks at Piltover with Powder by her side and promises that “One day this city’s going to respect us” (Episode 1, Arcane). It’s no coincidence that the show introduces Silco, the primary antagonist of the series, right after this. The idea of respect links Vi and Silco together, whereas Vander has given up on the idea of Piltover respecting Zaun. 

Source: Episode 1, Arcane

It’s easy to see Vi’s desire to be respected as one of a child’s. But I would argue that what Vi wants is the respect that comes with humanizing people seen as lesser than, which is part of the goal Silco is working towards (although his is undoubtedly more corrupt and self-serving). Vi expresses this desire right after telling Powder some stories of the gang’s bad childhood experiences and encounters with enforcers and other people. It emphasizes how these are kids who are desperate for power and change in any way they can take it.

In contrast, Vander is respected because he looks out for the undercity residents and has a deal with the head of the enforcers to keep violence to a simmer. But it’s clear that this respect is running out as a new generation of enforcers (shown by Marcus) and even Vander’s own comrades such as Sevika are tired of this faux peace. They read his reluctance to fight Piltover as him shielding his children and as, worse, weakness (Episode 2, Arcane). 

Source: Episode 2, Arcane

Vi is among this group, unsure of why Vander doesn’t use the collective power of the undercity to fight back. Vi argues, “We need to fight back. And if you won’t, I will” (Episode 2, Arcane). The shot emphasizes her fists, her desire to use it and take the respect she believes the undercity deserves and to protect her family. At this point, Vander realizes that just talking to Vi won’t change her aspirations. So he takes her to the bridge where the show began and tells her his story, and the harsh lessons he learned from it as a leader. 

Source: Episode 2, Arcane

Vander lays out his regrets to Vi, and it’s important that he recognizes and validates Vi’s anger and feeling of helplessness. He understands and sees the desire to change things within her that he had, but asks, “Who are you willing to lose?” (Episode 2, Arcane). This goes back to Episode 1 as he’s advising her leader-to-leader on the casualties of her crusade if she continues this path, one that could put the family (specifically Powder) in danger.

It is this talk that brings father and daughter closer than ever, but it also leads to Vi sacrificing herself. She contacts the head of the enforcers and waits in the pawn shop for them to come, willing to be taken away if that means everyone else, including Vander and Powder, are safe.  

Episode 3 is a master-class in how to write tragedy. Instead of enforcers taking Vi, Vander sacrifices himself in her place. He tells Vi, “Protect the family.” However, he is taken away by Silco and his crew instead, leaving Vi to mount a rescue mission. It is at this moment that Vi feels a fraction of what Vander must feel as their father. She’s willing to let Mylo and Claggor tag along with her as they have experience fighting and are older, but tells Powder to stay home. Just as Vi didn’t understand why Vander wouldn’t let them fight Piltover, Powder doesn’t understand why her sister won’t take her along. 

Vi’s desperation to honor her father’s last words and to protect her sister is what makes the events that happen next even more tragic. She tells Powder, “You’re all I have left” and leaves her, which only makes Powder want to help more. Thus begins the gap that grows between two sisters.

Source: Episode 3, Arcane

Vi not only takes Mylo and Claggor with her, but also takes Vander’s gauntlets and puts the iconic weapons on for the first time. She proceeds to rescue Vander and it seems successful until Powder shows up. Ironically, Powder’s bombs work for the first time. In a second, Mylo and Claggor are dead, and Vander is severely injured after protecting his family for the last time. His last words echo the beginning of the episode as he tells Vi, “Protect Powder.” 

The family has been reduced to the two sisters and, in Vi’s grief, she’s unable to comfort Powder. Powder, who thinks that she’s helped her family, innocently approaches in elation and Vi lashes out, hitting her sister and calling her “a jinx.” This moment can be divisive for viewers of the show as some believe Vi crossed a line and is responsible for the tragedy of Powder becoming Jinx. However, I argue that this is an understandable moment of a person, never mind a child, reacting to being confronted with the person who indirectly caused the death of the rest of their family. Vi is still a child who has just lost three members of her family and, after hitting Powder, you can tell that she instantly feels bad.

Vi gets some space between her and Powder, unable to deal with her sister at the moment, but has not abandoned her. She doesn’t keep running away from Powder but is taken against her will by Marcus, and is unable to help her sister when Silco approaches Powder. Vander’s last wish, his desire to keep the family together and protected, is destroyed in this moment.

Source: Episode 3, Arcane

One of Arcane’s strongest traits is how it couches larger politics within the personal lives and struggles of its characters.There are many characters in Piltover and Zaun that we see throughout the first three episodes, but Powder, Vander, and Vi’s story feels the most personal to me. That may be because the writers of the show nailed the struggles of marginalized families and because we see these three characters care and love one another throughout. 

There’s plenty to be said about Vi and Jinx, but I wanted to focus on Vander and Vi because the two present many of the themes that we’ll see throughout Arcane. They represent a generational divide and the different visions each generation has for their future, i.e. stability vs change, and their relationship puts forth one of the most damning questions in the show: what would you sacrifice for your family?

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