‘Shadowhunters’ Season 2A Review: An Improvement That Still Needs Some Work
When Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer took over former showrunner Ed Decter, there was this renewed sense of optimism for Shadowhunters following a freshman season that was anything but impressive. The new showrunners promised a more character-focused story while alluding to some stronger book representation.
While Shadowhunters second season has been a significant improvement from its first season, it still needs some work if it’s going to be worthy of its source material. While there was an increased sense of awareness regarding these characters and their relationships, there were still moments in the show that had us flashing back to season 1.
With a full season under Shadowhunters belt – and the new ownership – there seemed to be more familiarity and a sense of comfort for all involved. Even the actors have stepped up their game, which has only added to the improvement of this second season.
But old habits die hard, even when new management is involved.
With the second half of Shadowhunters’ second season set to debut in June, we’re taking a look back at the first half of the season – what worked, what didn’t work, what we wanted to see more of, what we wanted to see less of, and more.
When you compare this second season to season 1, there have been significant improvements on multiple accounts, ranging from cinematography to dialogue to performances. While some of that has to do with being more familiar with the world and the characters, a big part of that has been the new ownership. But at the same time, there have been some questionable storylines that have left us scratching our heads and wondering if these producers have read these books. There are so many storylines left on the table in that regard. This is, after all, a television show based on The Mortal Instruments.
Look, I’m not asking for the television show to be a carbon copy of the books. But when you have pre-established storylines at your disposal, use them. That was something that we were promised when Slavkin and Swimmer took over showrunner duties. While there have definitely been more references to the books than in season 1, this season has felt more like a mix of the first several books than focusing on a single book like season 1 did for the most part.
One of the better parts of this season has been the focus on the characters and their relationships, ranging from romance to friendship. At the heart of this story – both in the books and the show – are the characters. They’re the reason why we hurt when we watch them suffer. They’re the reason we cheer when we watch them triumph. They’re the reason we care. Season 2 has brought us more developments with Malec – a couple we didn’t get a lot of screen time with last season – and more developments with Clace – a couple that we got a lot of screen time with last season. Even when there were relationships that we weren’t fond of, like Isabelle and Raphael, it was still a character-driven focus.
Jace & Alec’s Parabatai Bond | While there was a focus on Jace and Alec being Parabatai last season, we never got to feel the significance of it. The show spent most of the time prancing the idea of Parabatai around, but they never really explained why the bond was important. This season we got an entire episode devoted to exploring and explaining that Parabatai bond with Jace and Alec in what was one of the best episodes of the season and the series, “TITLE.” We saw the concern, the connection, the pain, the relief, the emotion. It was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, which is exactly what I’ve been waiting to see.
Progression of Alec & Magnus | The thing that didn’t work with Malec last season is exactly what’s working with Malec this season. Shadowhunters is taking the time to explore this relationship as Alec and Magnus get to know each other, which we forget they haven’t really had a lot of screen time to do that. We’re getting to see them confronted with obstacles; we’re getting to see them face those issues together instead of running away. While it hasn’t been perfect, there’s no denying that right now Alec and Magnus have been one of the more satisfying parts of this second season.
Beginnings of Clary & Simon’s Romance | When Shadowhunters was first optioned, the intent was to focus on one book per season, which makes sense from a storytelling point of view. With season 2 being the season where Clary and Jace grapple with the revelation that they’re brother and sister, this was the year that Clary and Simon finally decided to see if there was something more to their friendship. And the build-up was fantastic. There’s such a beautiful and natural chemistry between Katherine McNamara and Alberto Rosende that made this beautiful friendship leap off the screen. The pacing of it was nice, as well, which provided some opportunities of jealousy for Jace and exploring that three-way dynamic.
Killing Jocelyn | I haven’t been a fan of how Shadowhunters has treated Jocelyn. Jocelyn is a character that has a greater impact down the line in this series than in the beginning of it. And there was nothing wrong with that until Shadowhunters decided to wake her up in the season 1 finale. Sure, we got the good Clary/Jocelyn scenes where Jocelyn struggled to accept that Clary wasn’t the daughter she’d seen last. But after that, there really wasn’t anything for Jocelyn to do. So killing Jocelyn early in season 2 – and providing a good emotional catalyst for Clary – was probably the best thing that Shadowhunters could’ve done at this point with her character. Honestly, it felt like they had no choice but to kill her.
The Performances | One of the strongest aspects of Shadowhunters even in season 1 were the actors bringing these characters to life. It was frustrating last year because it felt like they weren’t given the material needed to really drive home those emotional elements. Season 2 definitely improved in that regard. These actors were given more gritty scripts to sink their teeth into (pun not intended.) Dominic Sherwood and Alberto Rosende especially brought it to another level on the emotional level, which only makes us yearn for these continued emotional arcs where these actors can dig deep.
What Didn’t Work
Isabelle’s Addiction to Yin Fen | This was one of those storylines that felt like it was more about the Yin Fen of it all (considering it’s alluding to The Infernal Devices) and grasping for a storyline for Isabelle rather than delivering an addiction storyline. It might’ve been better had they not tried to drive this Infernal Devices connection, but it also might not have. But regardless, the show has squandered its opportunity with the addiction storyline. There’s been a whole lot of spiraling and a whole lot of absence of awareness on Isabelle’s part. Isabelle is a character who deserves a worthy storyline of her own. There was the perfect opportunity to give Isabelle a storyline with substance, i.e. learning that her father had cheated on her mother per the books (which is something that was instead given to Alec.)
Isabelle and Raphael | While I like both Isabelle and Raphael as individuals, I did not like the romantic pairing that this show forced on us. Part of that reason has to do with Isabelle as an individual. She’s someone who hasn’t allowed herself to be vulnerable, which is why the relationship with Meliorn made sense because it wasn’t about substance at all. But with this addiction storyline, they’re trying to use Raphael in the role that Simon played in terms of getting Isabelle to open up and finally be vulnerable. It’s one of the many reasons that Sizzy is as strong and beloved as it is. Now, I could’ve done with a nice friendship between the two, which is what I’m hoping inevitably happens between the two.
Continuation of Clary & Simon’s Romance | To be upfront, this wasn’t about the actual continuation of the Clary and Simon from a romantic standpoint so much as it was about how the two took the steps to be in that relationship. While Simon’s confession was lovely (and the almost confession in the premiere), it was Clary’s reaction that didn’t feel natural. For someone who hadn’t thought of Simon as anything other than a friend, she as pretty confident about wanting to try out the romance. We didn’t get to see the reflection or the pondering. It’s one of the reasons that the events in City of Bones and City of Ashes flow so wonderfully together. We get to see Simon’s confession and Clary’s shock. We get to see Clary consider the possibility of romance with Simon. We get to see her reaction when Simon “dies” and becomes a vampire. It’s those kind of emotional moments that force you to confront your feelings. We didn’t see Clay have anything like that in Shadowhunters.
That Brother/Sister Resolution | One of the things that has irked me since season 1 has been the inconsistency of storylines and plots from multiple books. One of those storylines was Clary and Jace being brother and sister and that struggle. Sure, we got to see a little bit of that struggle, but we didn’t get to see the really emotional gritty scenes, ala the Seely Court. Clary and Jace really did some personal exploration in that second book due to this revelation, which we didn’t get to see enough of before in Shadowhunters Jace learned that he and Clary weren’t actually brother and sister – and that he wasn’t Valentine’s son. Moving this revelation ahead an entire book also potentially affects certain events, including that huge moment at the end of City of Glass that changes everything.
What We Wanted More Of
Book Storylines & Consistency | I understand and respect that Shadowhunters is a show based on the books. I understand and respect that Shadowhunters is a different medium than the books. But when you have a plethora of knowledge and storylines at your disposal – ones that your intended audience has read, loved, and embraced – why aren’t you using that to your advantage? While the second season has resembled the books more than the first season, it could’ve done a lot better. Most notably, the storylines involving Clary and Jace’s brother/sister struggle and Clary and Simon’s blossoming romance. The resolution was too quick and didn’t give the characters the time to explore their feelings on these matters. There was a constant struggle of conscious that allowed these characters to make mistakes, learn from them, and move forward. I feel like we’ve been denied that.
Clary & Jace | In Shadowhunters’ first season, the story seemed to slack when it came to Clary and Jace, even though there was extensive time spent on the two’s budding relationship. There was something missing that wasn’t evident in the writing. Because when given the opportunity to play with real emotional storylines, we’ve finally seen that chemistry that we’ve been missing between the two. Granted, it was something that we would’ve liked to see much more of (and are hoping to see more of in 2B). But it’s a relief to see that this show is capable of bringing us that epic Clace romance that the books have so eloquently delivered.
What We Wanted Less Of
Victor Aldertree | Seriously, his character was a complete waste of space and television air time. They took a storyline that should’ve gone to Maryse and gave it to a new character that came off as jarring more than intriguing. He’s not the antagonist we deserve.
Isabelle and Raphael | Shocking, one of the things that hasn’t worked this season is something that we definitely wanted to see less of. Isabelle and Raphael’s forced romance is something has felt so awkward an infuriating, which is a shame because as individuals they’re great characters. I like the idea behind Raphael becoming a more pronounced character in the show, but there are other ways to do that than to force a romance that most of the fans despised just in order to keep Simon and Isabelle apart.
Parabatai Lost (2×03) | This was one of those episodes that had all of the emotions I’ve come to expect from the books so beautifully woven into an hour of television. Getting that focus on Jace and Alec’s parabatai bond and that relationship in general was so important and was the emotional catalyst for the episode.
Least Favorite Episode
Dust and Shadows (2×05) | I wish I could wipe this episode from my brain – minus the Simon coming out to his mother part. That whole demon impregnation storyline with Iris and how Clary was almost raped. This was just terrible and disgraceful.
Midseason Finale Impression
As an episode of television, “By the Light of Dawn” was an action packed hour that delivered some big moments and set the stage for season 2B. There were moments that made your jaw drop and moments that left you asking questions about: What next?
But there were definitely some missed opportunities at paying homage to the book that this episode missed out on. For example, I’m more than thrilled that we’re going to be exploring Simon as a Daylighter, but there was a missed opportunity to make this an even more emotional scene. Alberto Rosende brings the emotion in every scene he’s in, but it could’ve been even better if Clary had been with him and there was a viable reaction to the possibility of Simon dying. That’s what made the moment so impactful in the books.
But “By the Light of Dawn” did what a midseason finale should do: It delivered big moments, teased what’s to come, and left the audience asking questions about what comes next.
Season 2B Speculation
The midseason finale certainly left us with more questions than answers, even though it provided us some answers. And that’s exactly what it’s supposed to do.
With Jace learning that he and Clary are in fact not brother and sister, what happens next? Will we see Jace tell Clary immediately? What happens when he tells her the truth, now that she’s dating Simon? But also, Jace isn’t Valentine’s son, so who is he? Books fans know the answer to this – and they’d better stay faithful to that. But how is the show going to answer that question without Inquisitor Herondale present?
Simon is now a Daylighter, which we know is something that puts a literal target on his back. How are the vampires going to react to that? How is this show going to present the significance of this storyline?
We also know that Sebastian is coming to the show in the back half of season 2, which leaves us with more questions than answers. Who is Sebastian going to be? Is he going to be Sebastian Velac per City of Glass? Where are we going to meet him? Alicante? New York City? How does he actually play into this second season? Are we going to see interactions between him and Valentine? Sebastian’s arrival brings all the questions and none of the answers.
What were your thoughts on Shadowhunters season 2A? What did you love? What did you hate? What do you want to see more of? Less of? Sound off in the comments!
Shadowhunters returns for season 2B on Monday, June 5 at 8/7c on Freeform.
Thank you for your detailed take on the show. I agree with your opinion of the strengths and weaknesses entirely. If it were not for the wonderfully cast actors and the fact that I love the books so much I would not be watching the show any longer. Having said that though perhaps if I did not know about the wonderfully thoughtful and complex storyline from which this show is based, perhaps what they give us week to week would be enough. I don’t know. The point is what they give us is often boring, rather than rich and complex like I know the story is supposed to be.
I know the movie, “City of Bones”, was not well received in the Boxoffice, but I have to say I loved it. Although some of the storyline was too complex for those who didn’t read the book(s) and even how they tried to explain some of the concepts from the book, in the film Lost Even Me. (Even though I know what they meant regarding The Clave and Valentine and Jace’s relationship and the whole Shadowhunter – Angelblood and different types of “monsters” they tried to include, etc. I didn’t understand.)They made the mistake of trying to include everything from the book in a two hour movie when perhaps they would have fared better if they left some things out. They certainly did a wonderful job of Clary adjusting to who she really is and her relationship with her mother; of showing Jace’s struggles with who he is; the budding romance between Clary and Jace, and their problems of conscience when they found out they were siblings. They even captured in the movie just like they do in the book their denial of the truth and defiance with what they knew they should do. Jamie Campbell Bower was particularly wonderful the way he captured the book-Jace’s vulnerability, his self-hatred/poor-me attitude which came out usually as sarcasm and distancing himself from those who love him while at the same time endearing us to him was perfect. The movie was as well cast and well acted as the tv show but, it is so much better because it captured the nuanced characters and storyline of the book, without leaving so many important details out. The movie also did not make up so many ridiculous storylines that are just filler leading nowhere like Izzy’s addiction.
So yes I will continue watching Shadowhunters, I got my hopes up when I heard there were new show runners for season 2, but I am not holding out any belief that they will do anything different than they have already which has missed the mark of what the movie and what this show could be. I wish they would let Cassie write some episodes. Or maybe we can get new show runners for season 3… like perhaps the team who did the movie?
I really liked the part of 2×05 that was the evolution of the whole relationship between Alec and Clary, though I completely agree the whole other part was just messed up.
Fantastic and in-depth review. I’m sad to say I never made it through the first half of the first season but now I’m curious to know if season 2 worth sticking around for. I read the first book and watched the movie and everything was just a bit blah to me. Might decide to pick it back up now, you never know, I might even learn to like it. Great and informative read.
That said, would you be interested in sharing your thoughts and opinions on Movie Pilot? I’d love to invite you to join the platform, and to hear from you so I can to expand on what that means. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail, my contact details are on my “About” page. Hope to hear from you.
Great article. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote! I really hope they handle the storyline where Jace discovers who his parents are well. Also: I really hope they don’t mess up Sebastian!
By the way: ”This season we got an entire episode devoted to exploring and explaining that Parabatai bond with Jace and Alec in what was one of the best episodes of the season and the series, “TITLE.””
I guess you meant ”Parabatai Lost”? 😉