Come on, show. Now you’re just spoiling me.
Last week’s ‘Day of Wrath’ threw the rule book out. Then ran it over twice before lighting it on fire with a flamethrower. This week’s ‘Dust and Shadows’ was the morbid teen adding kerosene and grinning as it burned everything in its path. The concept of ‘mothers’ was a common theme running throughout the episode, and despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, Clary probably ended up with a better deal than most. It also answered a few outstanding questions and shoveled forward an entire slew of bright, shiny new ones just to drive us all mad. And I loved every single second of it.
But as always, nitpicks first.
Kidding. I have none.
After doing what he can to support Clary in her grief, Simon returns home to be with family. His happiness at being with them again is bubbly and genuine, even as it makes his unlife all the more difficult. Rebecca unknowingly dumps the last of his blood rations down the drain, and as the panic of running on empty sets in, Simon comes clean to his mother about his undead status. He’s overwhelmed at her apparent show of support, but we see the thoughts already turning in her head, and they look a lot like Simon in a padded cell.
With Luke M.I.A. and Raphael unable to get to him while the sun is up, Simon’s only option is feeding on rats to sustain himself. Elaine walks in on him doing this exact thing after a concerned phone call to the family doctor, and it’s not something he can talk his way out of this time. Holly Deveaux and Christina Cox are incredible compliments to Simon’s story as Rebecca and Elaine Lewis respectively, and they both bring out different facets to his personality. I adore the Lewis family and what the actors are doing here so much, and the fact that it’s not looking good for them right now has my heart in a vice.
Jace spends most of this episode getting the lay of the new land following his official return to the Institute. He’s feeling the effects of being an outsider as his time under Valentine’s rule hasn’t made him any friends. He’s also dealing with the realization that the mother he never knew is now the mother he never will. Despite his own issues, he’s largely the glue between his siblings this time, delicately moving between each of them. He reassures Alec of his support, even as he knows to give him space. He has a bit of fun reconnecting with Isabelle, who is his kindred spirit in a lot of ways. He also tries to steer Clary through her grief where he can, getting a feel for his new brother role, but his involvement in the situation is unique and leaves him very much out of his depth.
Having been exonerated of his crimes by the Clave following his brave standoff in the City of Bones, Jace and the Institute’s population face the aftermath of Valentine’s double-edged attack. A hefty death toll of 26 Silent Brothers and 3 Shadowhunters seems to be enough for the Clave to consider taking action. It means an excursion seeking answers from the Iron Sisters is on the horizon, but Aldertree decides Jace’s choice to save his life is a dangerous sign of misaligned priorities and bans him from field duty. Jace is wary enough of the thin ice on which he stands and doesn’t bother forcing the issue, though her childhood hero-worship of the Iron Sisters makes Isabelle determined to be involved in the mission.
Isabelle’s knife-wound injury from her demon possession is still causing her trouble, and she covers up the extent of her pain like an athlete afraid of being cut from the starting lineup. A training session with Jace only points out the obvious, and when Aldertree offers her a solution, Isabelle’s hinted dark path this season finally begins to take shape. Those familiar with the books will know the term ‘Yin Fen.’ It’s not good news. Isabelle falling victim to the dangers of a supernatural drug addiction isn’t something I was prepared for, but it’s a development that presents the possibility of severe conflict and character twists. And anything that puts our characters in rough situations gets me terribly excited. It’s just a shame how easily avoidable it was – had she simply turned to Magnus for help, he would have healed her with no problem. The fallout from this is going to be insane.
Alec isn’t dealing so well in the wake of the Institute’s tragic events. He doesn’t know how to face Clary, and he’s also devastated at his continuous perceived failings. As far as Alec is concerned, his inability to prevent Jace’s pain and imprisonment means he’s to blame, and now he holds himself responsible for killing Jocelyn. He displays a worrying level of self-punishment that is borderline self-harm, first in the way he exerts his archer prowess until he’s bloody, then in his refusal to heal himself. Having been through his fair share of pain, it’s Magnus who puts words to this particular coping mechanism of his.
As promised, Alec doesn’t push Magnus away amidst the craziness but rather seeks the safety and understanding Magnus, and their growing relationship offers him. He’s determined to knock himself down, but Magnus is quick to build him back up by reminding him of who he is and how he tries. Their honest, mature interactions are becoming a beautiful, heartwarming standard for these two, and it makes their recent minimal screen time together much more bearable. Bring on next week, is all I can say.
Magnus also gives council to Clary and Simon when they come knocking. Clary is looking a little crazed in her grief and believes resurrecting Jocelyn is a swell idea, but her attempt to get Magnus involved backfires spectacularly when he uses the story of his own mother’s death to dismantle her allusions. The Keris dagger Magnus found a few episodes back is revealed as the weapon his mother committed suicide with – the choice she made when she saw his cat’s eyes and realized what he was. With that in mind, his reasons for keeping his Warlock mark hidden are made all the more terrible. That’s some serious psychological damage right there. He was only nine years old.
He tries to help Clary with her grief in a healthy way by offering her a cherished memory instead – a photo of her and Jocelyn from the day he first met them. Magnus is well adept at handling the throes of grief and advises Clary not to shy away from it. Unfortunately, his centuries of wisdom go well over her head. She’s stupidly determined to do the wrong thing for the right reasons despite numerous warnings not to mess with natural law, but her inability to accept her mother’s death isn’t hard to sympathize with. And when Alec finally works up the courage to face her, she depends on his guilt to ensure her plan falls into place. He – the hurting, loveable idiot – goes along with her out of his own need to fix what he broke. Predictably, it lands her in hot water. The way it all unravels, however, is unpredictable.
Warlock Iris Rouse looks really good as a mundane doctor, but you know she’s bad news from the moment she discredits Magnus’ advice with her own cocky self-importance. It’s yet another instance of ‘should have called Magnus’, and I can’t help but wonder what her reaction would have been had she known Clary and Alec both have New York’s High Warlock on speed dial. But the episode would have been really short had it been brought up, because there’s no way in hell any of this would have gone down on his watch. Iris’ presence on screen grows dodgier as both Clary and Alec overlook every red flag she presents – no payment necessary, just a teeny future favor, and a freakin’ blood oath. How—How did this even come to be? It was like seeing a herd of sheep jump off a cliff one after the other – you watch in the hopes that one of them has enough of a brain to change course, but you’re still morbidly fascinated when they all wind up dead.
Iris’ sly attempt to separate them banishes Alec to the waiting room, and it’s here where I slowly began to lose my mind because of Alec and children. More specifically, Alec and Warlock children. Left to hang out with Iris’ goddaughter, Alec gently nudges little Madzie with small talk while she observes him with a mix of awe and nervous self-preservation. He scores big points when he compliments her Warlock mark – a cute set of gills on her neck – and his paternal warmth and kindness is enough to inspire her adorably fierce protection of him when Iris later tries to kill him. It’s also worth noting that Alec gets upset at the sound of crying babies, enough to investigate when noises come from upstairs. Alec and dad vibes is a dangerous, ovary-combusting mix. Don’t do it unless you mean it, show. Or you’ll kill us all.
Eventually, both Alec and Clary put the pieces together, and it’s even worse than the nightmare imagined. The spell to resurrect Jocelyn doesn’t work and is quickly brushed aside in favor of Iris’ true, demented intentions – breeding a new, stronger type of Warlock to help fight in the war against Valentine. The notion of Clary being locked in a basement with a demon for the purpose of being raped and impregnated is, quite frankly, one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in recent memory, and the show’s hiring of a contortionist to play the demon prowling on her was a touch of genius that intensified the gross factor tenfold. Luckily, Clary escapes the encounter by killing the demon with a super-powered ray of sunlight; the result of a new rune that comes to her in a vision. Book fans have been waiting for the introduction of that particular plot thread, and sweet potato puffs, what a way to do it.
The concept of a whole bunch of Warlock babies now out there in the world is as worrying as it is intriguing, as is Clary’s outstanding blood oath that she’ll either need to break or fulfill. Both are promising storylines for the show to pick back up later.
The biggest question left over from last week was whether or not Jocelyn would be back. Was she really dead? Would the show dilute the impact of it by using a supernatural loophole to bring her back to life? As it is right now, no seems to be the answer. And I’m really, really glad. My opinion of Jocelyn has always been rather neutral; she drove the stories of other characters but didn’t really contribute much to the overall running plot, either in the original source material or the show. Killing her off was a gutsy move, and by not bringing her back to life, the impact of her death keeps its integrity. It also gives the dangers of this story some real, devastating consequences by avoiding a magical fix-all.
It’s this concept that finally hits home as the episode comes to a close. The Clave has restricted Downworlders from the funeral service, which prevents three of the Fairchilds’ dearest from attending; Magnus, Luke, and Simon. Alec watches the funeral unfold uncomfortably and emotionally, too paralyzed by his guilt to verbalize his farewells to the dead. Jace is Clary’s strength, holding her steady when she can’t do it herself. The way he dutifully takes on the role of Jocelyn’s son when Clary falls to pieces was enough to make me ache, as was the stunning vision of everyone in white – the Shadowhunter color of mourning. The funeral rites of Nephilim are poignant, beautiful and magical, and they wind down the episode in a way that will make this episode resonate for seasons to come.
And then there’s Luke, chilling out naked and alone under the night sky, shifting into wolf form against his will and raising a bucket of new questions. Naturally.
Kat McNamara has been so consistent in the quality of her performances this season that they’re almost easy to overlook. Her precision in controlling the pendulum swing of Clary’s emotions without relegating her to a teen cliché is tried and remains true. Dominic Sherwood has a much more understated role this time as Jace tries to fit back into the mold. His shields are back up, and his trademark snark is in full effect, ready to take on anyone and anything, though Dom manages to balance it out with some wonderfully vulnerable pauses. Alberto Rosende as Simon is a big bleeding heart just wanting to be happy with those he loves. Like Kat, his regular stellar performances tend to push his brilliance to the background, but it doesn’t make him forgettable. Dude is just too good.
I don’t even know what to say about Harry Shum Jr. anymore. His subtle weaving of Magnus’ intricacies, and his ability to translate Magnus from page to screen and make it look so damn flawless renders me dumb with awe. Emeraude Toubia is getting some juicy writing to work with, and I’m ready and willing to see where it pushes her interpretation of Isabelle. In the case of Isaiah Mustafa, I’m hoping we get enough of him to actually have something to talk about next week. As it is right now: yay for naked Luke?
This was Matthew Daddario’s strongest hour, having clearly been pushed to experiment a little deeper with Alec’s troubled psyche. His portrayal of Alec’s sorrow in the show’s final moments looked like it was a personal struggle, and his stilted ability to let it out and keep a lid on it at the same time only made it more real and raw to watch. Alec is an emotionally stunted soldier, and Matthew has always played him close to the chest, but as he navigates the new complexities of his character arc this season, he’s going to need to let us in a little more. He’s getting there bit by bit, and this episode proves that with the right motivation, he absolutely thrives.
No dig on Ruelle, her music is fabulous. But I’m stoked that the show has whittled down its number of music cues to a couple of good punches per episode, and I appreciate that it’s also broadened its musical horizons to, well, everything but Ruelle. Clove’s ‘Don’t Forget About Me’ is a song that has resonated with me for months now, and hearing it drive the tone of Jocelyn’s funeral didn’t just bring tears to my eyes, but changed the way it now sits with me. There are so many beautiful songs out there in the world – Shadowhunters is finally being smart about how it uses them, and it’s producing some truly touching results.
Another new addition to the writing staff, Zac Hug’s Shadowhunters debut is the Inception of the series. Just when you get comfortable with one level, another is introduced. And when you’re comfortable with that one, a more shocking level quickly takes its place. The amount of cues he’s taken from the source material had my mind running a mile a minute with possibilities. Yin Fen, Warlock babies, and Clary’s manifestation of her unusual rune creating abilities were just a few that had me clawing at my own incredulous face. I did not sign up for any of it, but holy hell was it everything I didn’t know I needed, all at once. It left me feeling terribly overwhelmed in a way I haven’t been since the excitement of the season premiere: Is this really my show?
Stitchers actress Salli Richardson took the directing mantle this week and handed in what was, for me, the only episode so far to hit the bar set by Matt Hastings’ incredible season premiere work. The editing of the action scenes were tight and tense, while the more emotional cuts were given ample time to linger. Her intimate framing of character moments made everything feel a little more quiet, more personal. But perhaps most impressive was her ability to extract the right level of performance from the cast. Everyone was present and pulling from deeper wells, which made this episode, collectively, the strongest outing by the cast to date. It should be said that the caliber of writing, and it’s notable left-field twists of horrible happenings also contributed to the push.
Series director Matt Hastings and writer Michael Reisz are a hard combination to beat, but I think they may have just been served. ‘Dust and Shadows’ now stands as my favorite Shadowhunters episode, ever. I’m still kinda sitting here with my jaw in my hands, riding the high.
Well done, show. Well done.
Shadowhunters airs Mondays 8/7c on Freeform, and Tuesdays internationally on Netflix.