What do you do when you’re thrust into a world that’s always been a part of you but that you’re just now discovering and are now at the center of? When everything seemingly is falling apart in front of you, and you’re trying to stay strong in the midst of it all? That’s the situation Clary Fray finds herself in with Shadowhunters’ second episode.
In “The Descent Into Hell Is Easy,” Clary, Jace, Simon, Isabelle, and Alec must journey to the City of Bones in order to retrieve Clary’s lost memories. The hour begins right where we left off from the pilot with Clary being torn between running away from this newfound Shadowhunter life with Simon or embracing her destiny by following Jace. Of course she chooses to follow Jace or else this would be a short story and an even shorter television show.
In the instance when we enter the Institute, the audience is essentially Simon in that we are being exposed to this new world. Jace helps peel back the glamour on the Institute and we see the Institute come to life complete with that ridiculous overabundance of technology. No matter how long we’re exposed to the Shadowhunters as tech savvy warriors it’s never going to feel organic and that’s because of the race’s backstory. The Shadowhunters have existed long before technology and what they do is possible because of their angelic origin. The overwhelming reliance on technology to do their work negates the need of their magic in the first place. It sort of feels like the Shadowhunters are some demon division of the FBI. And that’s not a compliment. Simon even makes a reference about them seemingly have “robbed a tech store.” See, Simon is us.
Then we get to the introductions as the Lightwoods meet Simon. Alec is just as fond as Simon as he is Clary, though Isabelle seems to have taken an interest in Simon. Simon is smitten, just as he is in the books, so much that he agrees to be the experiment in trying Isabelle’s cooking, which Jace warns him “don’t eat the food,” which was a nice callback to the books when we learn Izzy’s cooking is atrocious.
Jace takes Clary to meet Hodge Starkweather, who is their weapons trainer and former Circle member. “Jocelyn?” he asks Clary when he sees her. Clearly he knew Jocelyn. In fact, they were close friends in the Circle together. Clary gets some backstory on this Valentine and the Mortal Cup learning that it’s the most important instrument in the Shadow World (no mention that it’s a Mortal Instrument sadly) in which it can create new Shadowhunters and be used to control demons, which explains why Valentine wants it. So basically the entire conversation translates to this: Valentine can’t get the Cup. So we need to get to it first.
Eventually Clary and Jace learn that the best place to start in search of the Cup is Dot, who may or may not be in league with Valentine. But she’s the best place to start being as though she is a warlock and might have some idea of what happened to Clary and possibly Jocelyn. It takes a little convincing to get Alec to agree, but he finally relents and they set off in search of the warlock.
Meanwhile, Dot is determined to protect Clary from Valentine and goes to Magnus for help. Turns out that Valentine found out that a warlock created that potion that Jocelyn drank and he’s trying to hunt them down; he’s hunting down all warlocks so he’s fleeing. Magnus is running away. Sigh. This leaves Dot on her own, which certainly doesn’t bode well as she’s kidnapped by Valentine’s men and dragged back to Chernobyl (sorry, still don’t get it).
While this is happening Clary learns that the necklace her mother gave her acts as some kind of clairvoyant power where she can see her mom and Dot. The necklace leads them to Pandemonium, but they’re too late. Dot has been taken. So what are some desperate Shadowhunters and a mundane to do? “There is something we could do,” Jace says.
Time to head to the City of Bones for a visit with the Silent Brothers.
When they arrive on the outskirts of the City of Bones, Jace, Alec, and Isabelle go ahead to check things out. Alec warns Jace that if anything happens to “that girl” that it’s on them. He knows that, but he also knows what it feels like to have lost everything. That is until the Lightwoods took him in. “Your family always used to welcome strays,” Jace says. “You were never a stray,” Alec says, and it’s official I’ve been hit with feels for the first time in this show.
Since Simon can’t enter the City of Bones without dying (“By all means,” Alec chimes), Jace goes with Clary while Alec and Isabelle watch Simon on the outskirts. The two journey down to the bone city with Jace’s witchlight (which is much “cooler than a flashlight”) both seemingly freaked out a bit at this place. But they soon come face-to-face with a statue of the angel Raziel, which includes the Mortal Sword and the inscription: “Nephilim Facilis Descensus Averni,” which Jace translates to “Looking better in black than the widows of our enemies since 1234,” but it actually means, “For Shadowhunters, the descent into hell is easy.” It was one of the most faithful scenes adapted for the show so far, and it was wonderful. More please.
Meanwhile, outside Alec is so done with Simon (“Literally never stops talking.”), but Isabelle seems interested when Simon begins talking about his band and wants to hear some of his indie rock music (how is it that Jace doesn’t know what a G.I. Joe is but Isabelle knows about indie rock?) Simon has some songs on his phone which is back in the van. Isabelle suggests they go get it, and she gets an accusing look from Alec to which she responds, “He passes the time.” (Really? Did she just say that?) At the van, Simon is looking for music when Isabelle hears a noise outside and goes to see what it is. She instructs Simon to not leave the van while she does, which turns out to be bad advice as he’s taken by someone hiding in the backseat.
Back in the City of Bones, Clary takes her spot beneath the Mortal Sword and prepares for the memory-extracting process. And damn it’s terrifying as the tip of the sword pierces her forehead and we’re thrown back to a memory from two years prior. We see Clary pretending to sleep as Jocelyn and Luke discuss Jocelyn’s decision in taking Clary’s memories. Jocelyn says she’s keeping her safe because people can’t find out who Clary is; that she’s Valentine’s daughter.
The shock of the memory thrusts Clary back to reality as she struggles to accept the revelation that was just revealed: She’s Valentine’s daughter. When Clary and Jace exit the bone city Alec awaits them and Jace reveals the shocking news about Clary, which prompts Alec to have even more distrust in Clary than before. How do they know she’s not some sort of spy? Clary unloads on him for that accusation as she essentially sees her world falling apart. When Isabelle returns without Simon, that’s the final straw.
Clary runs back to the van screaming Simon’s name, praying that her best friend isn’t the next person she loses. “Is that the mundane’s name?” Our gang looks up to see two vampires – one of them Raphael – holding Simon upside down a hundred feet in the air clearly threatening his life. Jace threatens to kill Raphael, but Alec says that would violate the Accords. Only it wouldn’t. These vampires are clearly threatening a mundane’s life, which means that they should attempt to stop them. One of the problems that I have with this is that the show claims to be following the mythology but it’s not following through with it. Don’t claim to be following the ancient mythology if you don’t understand it.
Turns out the vampires want the Mortal Cup, as well, because that who controls it controls all. So they’re going to use Simon as leverage. Cue cliffhanger that sets up Hotel Dumort for next week; for the third episode; which seems really early this quick into the show; but then again a lot of things have seemed rushed so far.
Here’s a look at the good (raves) and the bad (rants) of “The Descent Into Hell Is Easy”:
- Jace and Alec’s Relationship: This is a relationship that I’m really looking forward to seeing; these two parabatai and that trusting foundation. When Jace, Alec, and Isabelle stepped aside from Clary and Simon there was a natural understanding to their relationship but also compassion. These two really love and understand each other. They – including Izzy – are still in this together even with the new additions. (But honestly it would’ve worked better if they were the only ones, along with Hodge, in the Institute really capturing that bond as they grew up with only each other and the Lightwoods). Jace knows what it’s like to lose everything, and the Lightwoods took him in; Alec became his best friend; his parabatai. One of my favorite lines came at the end of that conversation. “Your family used to take in strays,” Jace says. “You were never a stray,” Alec says. That melted me.
- Simon Lewis: Simon continues to easily be my favorite character on the show. The way his character has been portrayed thus far has been organic and the most relatable character to his true book form, minus the majoring in accounting thing and such. Simon is an organic source of comic relief in a show that at times can become overwhelming with all of the exposition of the mythology and the darkness of its nature.
- “Looking Better In Black”: In one of the more direct scenes in the show pulled directly from City of Bones came when Jace and Clary were at the entrance to the City of Bones and Clary saw the Shadowhunters motto: “Nephilim Facilis Descensus Averni.” When she asked Jace what it meant he told her – just like in the books, and a phrase that fans know all too well – it meant “Shadowhunters: Looking better in black than the widows of our enemies since 1234.” But Clary knew that was not the Latin translation. “For Shadowhunters the descent into Hell is easy.” It was a small moment, but it was significant in that it’s one of those scenes that feels like the story we all fell in love with in the books. It also serves as a reminder to Ed Decter and the writers that there is amazing dialogue readily available in the books, and it’s a small, but great way to honor the fans of the books who were fans of this show long before it premiered.
- Book Nuances: Speaking of paying homage to Cassandra Clare’s books, it was nice to see little things sprinkled throughout this episode that referenced certain aspects of the characters. We had a reference to Isabelle’s horrible cooking, as well as Jace being ignorant to pop culture (“What’s a GI Joe?”) seeing as this culture was never in tune with the pop culture references of the mundane world. Why should they be?
- Simon and Jace: One of my favorite dynamics in this episode was between Jace and Simon, who clearly do not like each other as they have similar affections for our lead heroine Clary. But there’s a natural chemistry between Dom and Alberto that allows for some great exchanges between the pair. That humor between the feuding men was always something that was entertaining, and it was nice to see a bit of that brought into the show.
- Simon and Isabelle: While I did not enjoy the way Isabelle views Simon as a way to “pass the time,” I did enjoy seeing these two characters interact. As we know it took some time in the books before these two developed into the characters they were when they fell for each other. So this is a relationship that’s going to need some time and development to grow. But it was nice to see the writers pay homage to a relationship that fans have made clear that they love and want to see respected on this show. Now we’re just along for the ride.
- The Valentine Reveal: So for book fans the little bombshell that Valentine is Clary’s father didn’t really come as a shock, but the way that the reveal was handled felt flat and lacked suspense. Whether it was Clary pretending to be asleep and hearing her mom tell Luke that people can’t learn she’s Valentine’s daughter (in her recovered memory) or the ease with which the information came (we’re two episodes in, people), it simply didn’t work for me. In the book, hell even the movie, there was build-up to that moment. We learned that Jocelyn was in the Circle (kudos for including that in this episode), we learned that Jocelyn was married to Valentine and then left him, and deep down we all knew that Clary was Valentine’s daughter but we never said anything until that piece of information was revealed. It was a slow build that had that suspense that makes these reveals so great and deliver on that surprise. This felt rushed like a lot of plot points in this show so far.
- The Treatment of Women: While I continue to have an issue with Isabelle’s clothing, this has nothing to do with her and everything to do with Dot and that Circle member who was ripped to shreds by Luke, in self-defense. With a show where a vast majority of fans are women, Shadowhunters should be relishing in the opportunity to put as many strong women on this show as possible. Dot, an entirely new character brought in to fill the role of pseudo-Dorothea and Magnus, was only relevant for two episodes before she was killed by Valentine near episode’s end. Why was it so important for Dot to be introduced onto this show – and given the focus she was – if she wasn’t going to be someone significant at some point? Then there was that female Circle member that was questioning Luke in the pilot. Granted I never expected her to have a significant role in this story, but she was the second woman killed in this episode for some unknown ridiculous reason. Sure she was after Luke and it was nice to see her hold her own for a bit, but she was treated as nothing more than an expendable plot device. Everything so far about this show has me feeling discouraged about its treatment of the women, from the leads to the minor (and now deceased) characters.
- Isabelle Sexing Up Simon: Look I love Sizzy as much as the next person, but this whole scene when Isabelle took Simon off to sleep with him in his van – which never really got started – was disheartening. Sure fans want to see these two together, but not before they’ve developed into the characters that actually want to be with each other. Simon isn’t over Clary, Isabelle hasn’t opened up and let that vulnerable side of hers show and these two have known each other for only a few hours. It did not feel genuine and it did feel respectful.
- Simon Being Kidnapped by Raphael: I understand the changes from the book to the television show (especially seeing as Cassie has no involvement in the show), but one of the storylines that we’re rushing into way too fast is Simon being kidnapped by Raphael and the vampires. We’re just two episodes and already what leads to a major plot point in the second book is already coming to fruition. This show has just barely began to explain this world to its audience, including non-book readers who probably have no idea what the hell is going on. And now we’re going to dive right into Hotel Dumort? One of the lessons that Shadowhunters needs to learn is: slow down. There’s plenty of time and plenty of material to cover. You don’t need to cram everything in. Also, the circumstances under which Simon was kidnapped were far too mundane, let’s be honest. In the books – and movie – there was a build up to Magnus’ party and this happened on a whim. In the show it feels forced.
Shadowhunters airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Freeform.