Monday, January 2, 2017

Shadowhunters 2x01 Review: "This Guilty Blood" (New, But Stale) [Guest Poster: Jennifer Iacopelli]

"This Guilty Blood"
Original Airdate: January 2, 2017

The first season of Shadowhunters was received as a mixed bag, and rightly so. Many fans of the book series (and if the rumors are true, Cassandra Clare, the author of The Mortal Instruments series as well) seemed to be outraged on a weekly basis at the happenings on their screen, while others who had never read the books (and perhaps will never read the books) enjoyed the show for what it presented itself as: a self-indulgent frolic through a fantasy plot, following traditionally archetypal characters played by very pretty actors, but an entertaining one at that.

Over the course of the hiatus, Freeform axed the show’s original showrunner Ed Decker and hired a new creative team. I’ll admit I was a little bummed because I’d enjoyed the mindless entertainment that Shadowhunters brought to my screen. It was irreverent. That being said, I’m not sure that the original source material deserved any sort of reverence, especially considering that the film version, The Mortal Instruments, which apparently stayed closer to the novels in terms of plot and character was a spectacular flop at the box office, despite the intense hype and stellar casting. Regardless, Freeform decided to go in a different direction in season two, despite generally decent ratings on a network that has seen a steady viewership decline in the last few years.

The narrative picks up almost immediately from where it left off: Jace Wayland off with his father Valentine and the rest of the Shadowhunters at the New York Institute, especially his friends, scrambling to rescue him. The creative shift is apparent almost immediately in the first episode of the season. Perhaps it’s simply a mark of a higher budget or those budgetary resources being allocated toward special effects rather than other areas, but the quality of the CGI is far superior than the entirety of the last season, which — despite my enjoyment of the show — was one of my pet peeves.

The opening battle sequence makes excellent use of Dominic Sherwood’s ability to play fierce very well and reestablishes his character as an awesome fighter and exactly where his loyalties lie — with his friends and family. However, if that was to remain true throughout the episode, let alone the season, the show would not have established it as thus. It was a stroke of creative brilliance on the part of the new creative team to use the rebelliousness we saw in Jace in season one and apply it to his relationship with Valentine. Jace wants to see for himself rather than allow a higher authority to judge and having Jace acknowledge Valentine’s manipulation of the situation was very important and crucial to making Jace’s choices feel real and earned.

Similarly, the step back and, later, the much needed conversation about their relationship we saw from Alec and Magnus under the stress of Jace’s kidnapping was an excellent bit of character development that will be interesting to see play out over the season (interesting is actually an understatement — they are easily the most compelling relationship on the show and the chemistry between Matt Daddario and Harry Shum Jr. continues to sparkle on camera). Clary, as usual, is one-dimensional and dull, but Kat McNamara hasn’t lost the spark she bring to the role and thus the character will hopefully grow this season. I wish we had seen more from Emeraude Toubia’s Isabelle, but with a main cast as large as this, it’s tough to balance everyone equally in one episode.

All that being said, however, there was a cognitive dissonance between the decent character work and the actual plot of the episode. It was cliche and predictable — much like season one — but lacked the irreverence or at least the newness and thus felt stagnant. The Clave sent another “overseer” to the New York Institute, the Lightwoods have been stripped of their power, everyone’s being watched, the team can’t function and must be secretive in their plan, etc. etc. etc. The overseer sees things the way they distinctly aren’t and then our Shadowhunters manage to play into that narrative before the episode ends. The show has been there and done that and it wasn’t overly thrilling the last time. It actually undermines the capabilities of Alec, Isabelle, and Clary. The ineffectiveness of Clary is believable as she’s been a Shadowhunter for what, five minutes? Add to that, she was an art student prior to discovering their world with no training in any sort of fighting. In fact, her abilities are probably greater than they should be considering the amount of time that has passed. But Alec and Isabelle are supposed to be two of the best and so far, the show has only told us that and not shown it with any regularity. It’s very important that they do so in season two, consistently, or the characters will soon lose any and all credibility established in the narrative.

All that being said however, the first episode was clearly intent on simply establishing the characters again, but perhaps setting them on different paths than season one had clearly pointed them toward, and thus sacrificed plot and some logic along the way. This is totally forgivable in a season premiere, but going forward Shadowhunters needs to find a plot that isn’t simply “rescue Jace.”

Hopefully in the next few episodes a story arc is established that will hold viewers’ attention over the course of a season; if not, all that attention to the characters will have gone to waste.


Post a Comment