The elation experienced during the Shadowhunters premiere wore off a little upon viewing it’s follow up, and where the show looked to have taken ten steps forward, “A Door Into The Dark” takes a couple of steps back. The advantage is still very much there in pieces, though the overall execution flounders under the weight of too fast a pace and too much information. With a difference in production budgets, the season’s second episode feels less like a new shoe and more like a really good spit and polish, but it is not without its merits.
Picking up where the premiere left off, Valentine’s manipulations haven’t caused a dent in Jace’s stance on what his personal creed means, which is heartening after all he’s endured. What Valentine feeds him now is fear, but the basis of it can’t be denied. His wishes for the Shadowhunter cause reaffirm his radical racial ideals, and while the Clave aren’t quite at the level of exterminating all Downworlders, he’s right to observe that they are failing to put energy into the things that matter. The simple fact that they continue to treat Valentine as nothing more than an errant fly is evidence of this.
Valentine is still shaping Jace’s emotions into things he can’t argue against, and it soon becomes clear that Jace isn’t the only person he’s been twisting in his recruitment schemes. He’s been busy abducting top fighters from dojos, gyms, and underground fighting rings across New York, which has Luke Garroway back in his detective day job. Valentine’s business, however, isn’t the only thing keeping his hands full.
A recurring theme so far is Luke getting his pack under control. They bow to him when he makes a point, but as soon as his back is turned, they find loopholes in his orders – namely Gretel, who seems to believe she runs the pack in Luke’s absence. Simon’s residence at the Jade Wolf still isn’t endearing him to them, and his presence at the Institute and Raphael’s threatening reappearance in his life only drive home how truly homeless he is. All three push Simon in the direction of the Brooklyn’s High Warlock, Magnus Bane. Having ditched the vampire threads, he portals into Magnus’ apartment in his old band shirt and jeans. And standing there as he tries not to throw up on Magnus’ shag carpet feels like he’s back to the Simon Lewis we know. All that’s missing now is his glasses and a pulse.
Magnus, to the relief of fans, is actually acknowledged as having a job outside being the go-to for our Shadowhunters gang. His job this episode as Simon’s hands-off mentor gives us some entertaining back story dialogue and his mention of gift-giving hints at the creative ways he can throw shade at those undeserving of him. His flamboyant showmanship with portals looks to be no longer, as the season’s overhaul has apparently given Magnus more power to work with. Now he closes portals with a simple finger snap and walks through them like a kid who’s been playing with them forever. It makes Magnus’ every bit of screen time terribly exciting to watch. His adventures with Simon also lead Magnus to find something important. We don’t know what it means to him, but the show makes damn sure we file it away for later.
Meanwhile, the Fairchild women are clashing in the fallout of Jocelyn’s choice to assassinate Jace, and their butting of heads unleashes some heavy family truths. Jocelyn’s secrets are beginning to rub people the wrong way, and Clary’s bitterness quickly turns glum when she realizes she’s now part of a society she doesn’t quite fit into.
Aldertree continues to threaten players in place like a man working a chessboard. He’s running a tighter, more organized ship even if said ship is still docked, and Clary is beginning to realize what kind of rules she’s been breaking all this time. Does it teach her anything? Not really. The rules, as ever, don’t seem to apply to Clary Fairchild. Her heart is in the right place, but her logic is clouded. It makes Clary a little frustrating to watch.
Isabelle is playing nicely under the boss’ orders for the sake of Jace’s welfare, and it puts her in the hard space between Alec’s by-the-book mentality and Clary’s lack of. This time, she’s in Alec’s favor. She’s largely the only thing keeping Alec together right now, supporting him and talking him down when needed. Though with her parents choosing Idris over home and Alec taking the hard road instead of the safe one, she’s almost left wondering where she stands in everyone’s priorities.
Alec’s anger takes a backseat this time around, instead replaced with a deep weariness at Jace’s continued absence. The soulbond they share isn’t severed but vanished entirely, and without any indication as to how Jace is faring with Valentine, Alec walks around like a piece of him is gone. As Jace’s Parabatai, Alec knows nothing else but the yearning to have that connection back, to have Jace where he’s sensed and safe. The fact that he’s not seems to drain him emotionally.
Slowing the craziness of the episode down in places is Clary’s self-reflection. It doesn’t save the overall pace, but it adds some lovely, overdue moments of ‘where to from here?’. Season one gunned forward without a chance for the protagonist to sit down and think about what she was getting herself into, and with everything falling apart around her, now seems to be as fitting a time as any. One scene, in particular, carried entirely by stars Katherine McNamara, Emeraude Toubia and the nostalgic musical cue ‘Bird’ by Billie Marten gives a taste of what the show is trying to achieve this season – emotive connection between its characters.
It’s packed to the fences with entertaining character moments fans will enjoy. Alberto Rosende’s Simon Lewis is mostly in top form here, bantering his way out of the awkward with all the finesse of a teen on Ritalin. He’s full of great one liners that will send you into fits, particularly his listing of all the things he’s afraid of – elevators, snakes, clowns and ‘Raphael trying to burn my junk off.’ Harry Shum Jr. adds another little something to his role, which takes his performance from that of a man only playing the role of Magnus Bane, to a man who is Magnus Bane. He reacts to everything like he has an exciting story to add later, and the way he plays pettiness and dark humor with outright giddiness is dangerously fun.
Kat McNamara is really getting the hang of holding scenes at her mercy and out-performs several of her scene partners as Clary. Dominic Sherwood’s Jace keeps simmering away, showcasing improved battle skills nicely. Alan Van Sprang continues to terrorize as Valentine in an unpredictable manner, while Isaiah Mustafa’s Luke remains steadfast and caring as all good men are. He even shows us how Luke gets when he’s feeling a little betrayed, and the results give him nice new shades.
Matthew Daddario and Emeraude Toubia as the Lightwood siblings hand in performances that fluctuate between heartfelt, heartrending and robotic – the latter can be blamed on several points of poor voiceover work throughout the episode, which in all fairness hindered the seamlessness of many performances across the cast. When they hit the right notes, they’re riveting. Unfortunately when they miss, you notice.
Production wise, it doesn’t get the same shiny premiere budget, but it holds where it matters. I’m still hoping the original music score takes the lead from the overbearing music add-ons, though the placements weren’t as jarring this time around. One particular music cue was a little on the nose and a bit too loud, clearly trying to do the job of the story and background set where it didn’t need to. But the audio accents of the portals, weapons and gore were additions I happily noticed, and the tinkling of the chandeliers and the billowing of curtains in Magnus’ apartment gave his home some delicious vibes. I hope the show spends more time there.
Overall, this episode spent most of its time shifting things into place for future plots. Responsible for penning last season’s ‘Of Men And Angels’ and ‘This World Inverted,’ Y. Shireen Razack produces a script that feels as if it’s been given a long list of names and information to drop, and despite admirable efforts to the contrary, it begins to show. However, it hits the right tones during the conversational, when it’s just two people taking the time to connect with each other. And the comedy will have fans living.
Directing this episode was Andy Wolk, also responsible for last year’s ‘Dead Man’s Party,’ and his quick pacing and multiple oversights made me sorely miss Matt Hastings in the driver’s seat. This episode requires a few rewatches to pick everything up, which shouldn’t be a problem for the diehard Shadowhunter fan. Despite my small hang-ups, it does the job – you will want the next episode right away.
Shadowhunters airs Mondays 8/7c on Freeform, and Tuesdays internationally on Netflix.