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Shadowhunters: 2×04 “Day of Wrath” Review

After last week’s healthy dose of panic and angst, this week’s ‘Day of Wrath’ gives us another big helping of panic and angst, which is a dream for story masochists like me. It also made a couple of heavy points within its narrative; The idea of the family you choose and the moral line you draw. With these in mind, the show has successfully accomplished what it has tried and failed to do in the past – raising the stakes.

But firstly, nitpicks.

While it’s opening minutes are designed to showcase the delicious darkness and perils of the revamped City of Bones, Clary’s presence there and her continuing trend of popping up randomly in places she isn’t allowed to be makes little to no sense within the overall story of the episode. Even more so when Isabelle later inquires about any news of Jace’s welfare. Apparently, our favorite girls don’t talk anymore; I don’t know.

Clary’s ferocity as a warrior is welcome and much appreciated, even if her proficiency feels a little too advanced for a two-week old Shadowhunter. “For someone who hasn’t been training their whole life, this stuff is impossible,” she complains, then later does exactly that – kills a demon with the finesse of someone who has been training their whole life. But that can also come down to a few other factors like her runes and her bloodline, being the general hero of the story and the drive in exacting vengeance for her mother’s death. Even if the little things bug the hell out of me, I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.

Lydia’s fight scene was the standout with its tighter camera work, impressive with the same pounding tension and brutality of fights seen in 2×01 and 2×03. The others were disjointed, sluggish and lacked any sort of urgency, particularly in the City of Bones as Valentine, our villain, quite literally stood and waited his turn. The wide shots drained the tension right out of them, leaving the players looking a little bored and perplexed. Clary getting the chance to kill the demon that murdered her mother was understandable, but seeing our heavily implied best-of-the-best Lightwoods lying on the floor and casually watching it all go down rang false. The editing was long-winded when it needed to be snappy and fierce, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have me groaning in frustration. Our Shadowhunters in action should look like the trained killing machines they’re supposed to be, not like they’re awaiting instruction.

There, nitpicks over.

Following Alec’s near death experience, Alec and Magnus take a moment to reconnect. Magnus faces undecided punishment for his actions against Raj last week, and though he looks like he’d go to bat for Alec again with no regrets, his history with the Clave is tumultuous and not to be taken lightly. Alec, bless him, makes a beautiful point of ensuring that Magnus’ vigilant presence and comfort was felt in his unconsciousness, and that it mattered to him. He follows that up with a delightfully nervous mention of their relationship and what comes next – a first date – and when Magnus suggests they go and get kebabs, he’s ready to walk out of the Institute right then and there to spend time with him. Eeeeeeeeek! Of course, their plans get interrupted when a new case falls on the Institute, and Alec apologizes for the reschedule and heads back into duty mode after adorably asking Magnus if it’s okay. Stab me with a fork, I am done. Alec is already doing so, so well at this relationship thing, and it’s killing me. Really should have known the mood of the episode would go downhill from there.

Clary goes through her own little journey this week, moving between limbo and purpose. She and Jace have a long overdue conversation about where they stand with each other – Clary is doing her best to offer him a place in her family unit despite her mixed feelings, while Jace understands his own feelings well enough to know that accepting it will slowly destroy him. I was prepared to grind my teeth over their warped love story post-sibling reveal, but so far it’s playing out honestly and tragically, especially on Jace’s end where his romantic feelings for Clary are tied to his newly dark, twisted idea of himself.

News of Clary’s possible relocation to Idris has her stuck firmly between the opportunity of starting a new life with her mother and the new family she’s made at the Institute. Having found a sister in her, Isabelle is reluctant to see her leave. On the other side of the Lightwood coin, Alec believes the change of scenery might do her some good – no longer having to deal with her constant insubordination is also an attractive concept to him. He’d probably deny it, but Alec’s reluctant warming to Clary is beginning to show in the way he no longer talks at her but to her, even in the way he bellows “Hey, Fray!” like he’s her commanding officer and she’s the team nuisance. The banter between them is less spiteful and more familial than either would care to admit, but little do they know, they’re about to be tied to each other in one of the most unexpected and harrowing ways imaginable.

Jace chooses to own his actions during his imprisonment in the City of Bones. Imprisoned in the next cell is Clave traitor and former mentor Hodge Starkweather, who is now deeply repentant and broken down. Jace views Hodge as a weak man who has succumbed to his regret and is ready for punishment, while Jace knows no one can punish him half as much as he’s punishing himself. In a bid to prevent himself from breaking, Jace acknowledges what he’s done and promises to do better – if only to push back against Valentine’s creeping influence inside him.

He makes a point of vowing to distance himself from Clary and uses that as his new moral compass. She’s no longer a safe space for him, and the way he begins to untangle himself from her influence on his life is messy and painful. Alone and facing interrogation, he draws on his bond with Alec to keep him centered under the Soul Sword, then immediately attempts suicide, fearing life imprisonment as a traitor. He’s messed up, but Jace has a habit of forgetting he’s part of a two-way bond that would ultimately destroy his Parabatai if something were to happen to him, just as Alec sacrificed his own life to track Jace down last week. All this talk of their sacred bond gets a little ridiculous when they’re both so eager to throw themselves (and each other by association) under the bus. You’re not Sam and Dean Winchester, dudes. Try living for each other, instead of dying for each other. Honestly, it’s the hip, new thing.

Victor – or as I now like to refer to him, Dicktor – and his interrogation of Jace is grossly inappropriate, probing and twisting in the same unflinching manner as Jace’s previous engagements with Valentine. Perhaps more unsettling is his ever-evolving fascism and blatant disregard for the Accords, which shows us a side of the Clave we’ve only heard mention of. The way he manipulates Raphael, traps him, then tortures him without batting an eye is extremely difficult to watch. The fact that he even thought to install a torture device specific for vampires in his office is alarming. Both, I believe, are supposed to be. Television isn’t all unicorns and party hats. Sometimes it’s dark and deplorable, and the show’s newfound bravery in going to hard places is horrible in a fantastic way. With the Downworlders acting as an allegory for minorities, my only hope is that the show treads carefully with how it frames its violence against them, and deals with it appropriately. If you take the race card out of it, you have the issue of police brutality – a man in power torturing a suspect in custody. It doesn’t mean the show’s writing can’t go there, but the audience viewpoint in today’s political climate and the sensitivity around that needs to be in mind when these decisions are made. Because despite his own justifications, Victor, for me, has officially crossed the irredeemable line. Whether it was the intention or not, his actions this week (as were Lydia’s and Alec’s condoning of Downworld torture last season) are representative of the kind of fascist, totalitarian regime the Clave is. It’s all allowed to be alarming, and uncomfortable. But if the rest of the season sweeps these realizations under the mat, that’s going to be a problem for the audience.

Valentine continues to push his cause by slaughtering his way through the defenses of the Silent Brothers in accordance with the canon of the show’s source material, though he murders the imprisoned Hodge along with them via a dagger through the forehead. His familial pleading with Jace in the season premiere felt like it came from a place of genuine (albeit twisted) love – now, Valentine seems to look at Jace like he’s a possession, and he’s determined to take him back and use him as he sees fit. His next-level attacks and the fact that he’s becoming less sympathetic and more evil has me downright giddy because I prefer my villains when they’re not being watered down with justifications and feelings. Being chaotic for the sake of chaos raises the stakes, and with Valentine, in particular, all of the show’s previous mumblings on his reputation are now bearing fruit. Yes, show. Yes.

Over in Downworld, Magnus is forced to deal with unresolved issues when Raphael collapses on his doorstep following his torture session with Aldertree. Magnus’ inability to father children drives his compassion in taking other lost souls under his wing, and we learn Raphael is one such child he has claimed as his son. He takes Raphael’s brutalization hard and personally, struggling with the knowledge that his attack on Raj and his blind-eyed ignorance of Camille’s historical antics may have been contributing factors. He sits heavily with his options despite Simon’s cut and dry opinion on her, and he reveals a heavily guarded secret about his own dark days to offer Simon some understanding of why the condemnation of someone should be hard.

Magnus’ understated admission of a suicide attempt back in 1870s London is painfully honest, and feels vague enough to allude to a history of depression instead of a simple one-off, which only manages to hit the mark a little deeper. Camille’s saving of him has kept him loyal in small ways ever since, but when he removes his own feelings, he knows where to draw the line. Camille’s continued breach of the Accords and the trail of bodies she leaves behind doesn’t sit right with him, and as a self-proclaimed protector and parent, he takes on the burden of condemning her to the Clave’s fate by himself. What makes the moment especially rough is that he knows what she’ll be subjected to. Raphael has made a point in recent episodes of telling us what the Clave does to vampire prisoners – his face this episode also shows us what Clave interrogation looks like – and Magnus being unable to look her in the eye as he portals her to Idris speaks volumes.

Jocelyn’s death was shocking, and the show’s blatant drop-kicking of the source material is an exciting twist that has raised the stakes in a grand way. The gravity of Jocelyn’s death didn’t pause and draw out like expected; it became the driving force for the continuing mission at hand. I found myself switching gears into Shadowhunter mode along with Clary, wanting to see the resolution of the problem before anyone else could be hurt. Coming back to herself once it was over felt right, and with Jocelyn’s death essentially being a two-parter, I suspect it will really sink in next week.

This show is getting the hang of framing its emotional beats and its final moments were once again wrought with character connection. Simon is the same stable pillar for Clary that he’s always been, intuitively understanding that something terrible had befallen her and immediately offering her what support he could without a word. Having to honor his intentions of pulling away from Clary, Jace bypasses his need to go to her in favor of comforting his family, then watches helplessly as she falls apart in another man’s arms. That moment is clearly supposed to be the focal point of the scene, but for me it’s Alec’s implied guilt at his hand in Jocelyn’s death and his worry for Clary’s emotional welfare as he witnesses her emptiness post-fight, knowing his most precious person is still alive and safe where Clary’s is not.

Kat McNamara gets even better every episode, playing the role of Clary with an ease and precision – I’ve always been open about my disconnect with the Clary character, which makes me so proud of how genuinely delightful and likeable Clary is to watch now. Dominic Sherwood continues to experiment along Jace’s nuances, splendidly so, and he does such a good job of balancing the line between being the most unbreakable and most vulnerable character at the same time. Harry Shum Jr. just…somehow manages to dig deeper every single episode in new ways, and his layered performance this week was stunning. The tears in his eyes as Magnus opened up to Simon about one of his lowest points struck hard, as did the softness in his voice as he spoke about the moment as if it were fragile glass. I need Magnus to receive hugs now; long, warm, loving hugs. Group hugs, Alec hugs. The squad needs to pile up on him and never leave.

Emeraude Toubia’s Isabelle feels the most real when she is examining dead bodies, outsmarting everyone with her brain instead of her swagger, and connecting with people through the heart. The rest feels too affected, and it wavers. Matthew Daddario has a habit of being riveting when Alec is opposite Magnus, but the way he carries Alec’s guilt over his part in Jocelyn’s murder is tentative and careful, especially when he sees it finally hit home for Clary at the end. His performance in the last few minutes is understated and lovely as Alec tends to his wounded sister and worries for Clary at the same time. His brief second of rest in Jace’s embrace before picking himself back up and prioritizing Isabelle’s welfare over his own embodies Alec’s complexities perfectly, and it’s not the first time I’ve been left wondering how we got so lucky with this cast.

Alberto Rosende’s Simon ticks all the boxes in his performance, ranging from fiercely snappish opposite David Castro’s enraged, unapologetic Raphael, to deeply respectful beside Magnus in his time of vulnerability, to being Clary’s soft place to fall when she needs it. The Simon/Clary relationship continues to lure me, to my utmost surprise, and I’m starting to see where the romance could fit. There’s a subtle thread there that is growing quietly in a way that works – it’s never going to be endgame stuff, but it deserves to be done right, and right now it’s feeling kinda right.

Isaiah Mustafa’s Luke took a backseat, playing the brief sidekick detective to the Shadowhunters and then Jocelyn’s pleading lover. How he handles the aftermath of losing his lady love, hopefully, will be a little closer to center-stage next week.

Writer Jamie Gorenberg’s first experience in the Shadow World was no toe-dip in the swimming pool, but a full-fledged cannonball. Despite my nitpicks, her characterizations and the way she tackled the show’s huge gray areas was deeply complex, and her pacing and twisting of the overall episode arc left me feeling like I’d been slapped in the face, but in a refreshing, I’m-paying-attention way. Where director Joe Lazarov lacked in the framing of the action scenes, he excelled in drawing fantastic performances out of the cast. His ability to catch their nuances helped deepen the episode’s impact, and the generous way he framed the terror and awe of the City of Bones took my breath away.

‘Day of Wrath’ has quite literally changed the rules, pronouncing the show very capable, and willing, to throw the source material it draws from out the damn window. We’ve all been under the assumption that book characters that die and book characters that live are safe bets, but now, most bets are off. And I am all for it.

 

 

Shadowhunters airs Mondays 8/7c on Freeform, and Tuesdays internationally on Netflix.

Written by Sam Pedley

I like food, sleep, and binge-watching television shows in place of being productive.

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  1. Well said! I agree completely! I am all for shocks and changes, as long as they fit the nature and themes of the show, and oh man, are they ever. The stakes in this world are high, and sometimes, shocks are necessary. And departures from source material. But, hey, it would be boring just to watch a carbon copy of the books unfold; I’d rather be on the edge of my seat than just watching something I’ve already experienced. As always, you write a fair, thorough review. 🙂

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