This week’s Shadowhunters episode, the aptly named “Raising Hell” brought a favorite character to the front for some much-anticipated screen time. The High Warlock of Brooklyn, Magnus Bane, is the man responsible for Clary’s (Katherine McNamara) frustrating memory block, so the gang took steps to lure him out of hiding. What followed was probably the most gratifying episode of the series to air thus far, filled with drama, action and amusing one-liners. Perhaps the most entertaining moments of the hour were Magnus’ attempts to feel his way around his new Nephilim acquaintances, poking and prodding at them for the sake of reaction – especially in the case of Alec (Matthew Daddario), of whom Magnus took an immediate shine to. But for someone who has been hanging out and waiting to see her favorite character come to life, there is far more to Magnus Bane than just comedic value.
For fans of the source material, Magnus is the magnificent cat-loving, free-wheeling bisexual warlock of the series who aids the Shadowhunters whenever needed (read: paid), usually with an array of sarcastic quips and glitter. In Shadowhunters, Magnus rides the fine lines between businessman, showman and conman, navigating his way between both Shadow and Mundane worlds with the attitude of a bored historian looking for the next bit of excitement to tide him over. Sure, he’s sarcastic and sassy and swaggers around like a far more stable and far less drunk version of Captain Jack Sparrow, but beneath the glitz and glam and bucketloads of fun, he’s cunning, calculating and distrustful, and it makes Magnus Bane a far more enjoyable and intriguing character to watch. Besides the show’s invested writing team, that feat comes down to the way in which the actor who portrays him – Harry Shum Jr. – has interpreted the role.
On Shadowhunters, he brings through the history of what he’s learned about Magnus Bane in his subtle nuances of expression. His sassiness is played with the brazen giddiness of a man who knows he’s the most hilarious person in the room, but between one witty comment and the next, the deeper shades of who Magnus Bane really is gently bleed on through. Magnus is a man who is wise to distrust and wary of history repeating itself, yet too compassionate to take off and save himself. He’s been around enough Shadowhunters in his time to decide he wants nothing to do with them, but he’s still capable of having his opinion turned at the sign of a selfless good deed (or in the case of Alec Lightwood, the sight of a pretty face).
Shum Jr’s most well-known as Mike Chang, that ‘asian dude who dances’ from Fox’s show choir hit Glee, but while Magnus probably won’t be busting out a dance number anytime soon, the actor indeed utilizes his performance background in every move Magnus Bane makes. From his sinuous, purposeful strut and the way he sways where he stands like he’ll bore himself if he remains still for too long, to the elegant flicks of his wrists as he gestures and the curls of his fingers when using his magic – Shum Jr.’s physical embodiment of Magnus Bane is mesmerizing and utterly beautiful to watch.
He’s also dangerous. Fans were treated to their first taste of Magnus Bane back in the show’s premiere, where he lounged about like a spoiled prince in his own nightclub, the Pandemonium, before confronting a couple of circle members who conveniently forgot they were on opposite sides of the same war. Magnus had them retreating with the barest display of power, a batting of wayward flies which barely scraped the surface of his full potential considering he teleported his entire apartment to a new area of town in his latest appearance without so much as a hint of exhaustion. The transition between his trademark double-edged charm and his unmistakable threat was viper-like in nature, and it was a wonderfully dark set-up for a character who will probably give us the most laughs this season. He’s immensely powerful in ability, perhaps more so than his book counterpart, and Shum Jr. brings a razor edge to his presence that is entirely satisfying to watch.
For someone who enjoyed Magnus the most out of the original material, Shum Jr’s. take on our favorite Warlock goes above and beyond expectation. So far, he is everything I’ve ever wanted to see in a screen adaption of Magnus Bane – and for a character whose journey has only just begun, that is all kinds of exciting.
Watch Shadowhunters Tuesdays at 9pm/8c on Freeform, and Wednesdays internationally on Netflix.