Netflix UK TV review: Shadowhunters (Episode 2)
Nathanael Smith | On 20, Jan 2016
Already seen Episode 2? Read on at the bottom for spoilers.
Now thoroughly entwined with the world of the Shadowhunters, Clary (Katherine McNamara) is determined to find her kidnapped mother. Coming along for the ride in Episode 2, ominously named The Descent into Hell is Easy, is her bemused BFF Simon, a “mundane” (or muggle), and three dreamboat demon-killers named Jace, Alec and Isabelle. In order to track down her missing mum, she has to unlock memories that have been blocked from her by the warlocks assigned to protect her; tapping into her hidden past means visiting The Silent Brothers who live in the even more ominously named City of Bones (which was also the name of the first Cassandra Clare novel).
The stage is set for Clary’s first proper expedition into this murky hidden world of magic and demons. Naturally, it isn’t going to be easy.
The second episode, taking off straight after the events of the pilot, is a much stronger start to the series than its predecessor. From the off, Clary starts making more decisions, whereas earlier she was essentially dragged from one event to another with very little say in any of it. Here, she has some agency, much to the chagrin of perma-grumpy Alec. Katherine McNamara shows a lot of promise in the lead role, her affectations and stubbornness making it clear why the rest of the characters are either drawn to her or annoyed by her. Instead of becoming a bland ‘chosen one’ that everyone rallies around, Clary needs more real dramatic meat to deal with for Shadowhunters to really take off. With McNamara, the potential is definitely there.
What The Descent into Hell does particularly well is show off some of the design and ideas of Cassandra Clare’s world. The City of Bones is a gruesome, haunting set, the walls studded with human remains laid out in macabre, unsettling patterns. The residents of this sepulchral conurbation are even more horrific, their eyes and mouths sewn shut as they delve into the recesses of Clary’s mind with a threatening Soul Sword. From such an eery and memorable scene, it’s clear that Clare and showrunner Ed Decter have put extensive thought into this; as several questions remain, such as the nature of the mysterious Magnus Bane and what Luke’s motivations are, this densely detailed backdrop suggests that the answers do exist and will reward those who come back to find them.
It’s also worth noting how effortlessly diverse this show is. Television has often been way ahead of cinema in this respect, but the cast of Shadowhunters spans several different ethnicities without ever once drawing attention to that fact – it’s just there.
Yet in spite of all these improvements, the show still hasn’t hit the rhythm it should do and it still feels like everything is being set up. The plot is rattling along at such a pace that every character remains frustratingly one-note, sapping the drama from the narrative. Much like the first episode, The Descent into Hell mostly consists of improbably sexy people walking from one place to another, spouting exposition as they go. It’s very, very talky and it’s only towards the end of the episode that the potential for something more substantial and dramatic emerges. So while Episode 2 builds on the faint promise of the first, there is still some distance to go before Shadowhunters becomes a truly satisfying watch.
New episodes of Shadowhunters Season 2 arrive every Tuesday exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. Episode 1 premieres on 3rd January 2017, with Season 1 already available.
Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– The Descent into Hell is Easy ends on a cliffhanger or two that should make the future of the series a lot more interesting. Firstly, the disappearance of Simon, carried off by a couple of vampires, gives an immediately strong motivation and premise for Episode 3 – a tease in the series trailer of Simon’s mouth dripping blood suggests he may not be mundane for long, which readers of the books are probably very excited for.
– The revelation that Clary is Valentine’s son is an enticing one. While Valentine is yet to properly emerge as a compelling villain, the murmurings surrounding his character combined with the lies that Clary has been told all her life should lead to some compelling character development. While she’s trying to become a Shadowhunter like the rest of them, she’s also faced with a deep existential crisis: who is she, really?