Note: May contain spoilers for readers not familiar with The Mortal Instrument series.
Now we’re getting somewhere. I’m not surprised Freeform released the second episode of Shadowhunters early via their app and website for fans to enjoy a week before the episode actually aired on their network. The reviews for the pilot were less than stellar. Freeform needed to save face with The Mortal Instruments fans before losing their audience when 13 episodes are already shot and in the can.
The Descent into Hell is Easy was a good answer. Perfect? No. But characters were fleshed out more and the scenes had time to breathe, unlike the pilot where I felt like the first 100 pages of Cassandra Clare’s novel along with backstory were being hurled at the screen. The Descent still covers over a hundred pages of the novel with no scene playing out exactly as it is in the book, but we were entertained by the banter of the secondary characters (and I use the term “secondary” loosely, as there is nothing second rate about Simon’s, Alec’s, or Isabelle’s story arc, but they aren’t Clary or Jace who are the focus of the show) and we got to see the beautiful visualization of the Silent City.
In this episode three characters left me smiling: Simon (of course), Isabelle, and Alec. I became a fan of Alberto Rosende almost immediately. He looks like Simon; he sounds like Simon; he delivers his comedic – although not always meant to be for Simon – lines perfectly. Alberto, you had me at Champagne Enema. Emeraude Toubia and Matthew Daddario certainly look the part, but it wasn’t until this episode that they embraced the characters fully.
To Clary’s surprise, Simon said nothing to this. He was too busy staring at Isabelle, rapt and openmouthed. Isabelle was exactly Simon’s type – tall, glamorous, and beautiful. Come to think of it, maybe that was everyone’s type. Clary stopped wondering about the peanut-fish-olive-tomato soup and started wondering what would happen if she dumped the contents of the pot on Isabelle’s head.
The above description fits actress Emeraude perfectly, but more importantly she embraces Isabelle’s desire to annoy everyone with her flirtatious instincts. I can’t tell if Isabelle in this episode is ostentatiously flirting with Simon to piss off Clary, Jace, and Alec, or if she really finds Simon attractive at this early stage, but Emeraude captured Izzy’s “use ‘em and lose ‘em” nature with her wicked smile and tossing of her long locks.
“I was trying to save him some pain. Isabelle will cut out his heart and walk all over it in high-heeled boots. That’s what she does to boys like that.”
Only time will tell if the above Jace quotation from City of Bones will be the direction for the TV show or not. My hopes is that the creators of the show let the relationships between all the characters develop naturally and not force chemistry within the first season.
Matthew Daddario also captured the essence of Alec: irritable, responsible, and overprotective. But despite Alec’s prickly nature, his dry sarcasm and gorgeous smirk left me wanting more of him on the screen. My two favorite moments of this episode involved Alec. One when Isabelle bets Jace fifty bucks that Alec doesn’t approve the mission and then moments later Alec joins everyone declaring he doesn’t approves of the mission. The other moment was after Simon stated that he was missing a financial analysis class. Alec, waving his hand in the direction of Simon, says he can’t be here anymore so he’s going to mind the perimeter. Aka, he can’t stand to be around Simon, possibly the entire situation that Jace has forced on him. Alec’s rude. He refers to Simon as an inanimate pronoun. You don’t do that to Simon in my world! But Alec does, and he gets away with it with a smirk and dry comedic timing, allowing even me to forgive him.
There’s a lot in the episode that feels glossed over, especially the scene with Hodge. In the novel Hodge reveals a plethora of information to Jace and Clary about the Circle, Clary’s mother, Jocelyn’s marriage to Valentine and involvement in the Circle, and why Valentine desperately wants the Cup.
Hodge’s face was gray. “Isn’t that obvious?” he said. “So he can build himself an army.”
Over the next few pages Hodge reveals Valentine’s Nazi-esque plans for purifying the Nephilim and purging the world of Downworlders. Little of this made it into the show. What Hodge reveals on screen is that Jocelyn was a member of the Circle, a vague comment about Valentine nearly destroying the Shadow World before, and that he will destroy everyone now. But the information is generalized. As an audience we have no concrete details about what Valentine’s original goal was or current plans. Even less info as to why he is holding up in freakin’ Chernobyl! (No, I’m still not ok with this.)
Instead, the torturing of Hodge via a burning rune that prevents him to speak of the Circle distracted me from most of what Hodge was saying, and apparently distracted Clary too, who focused on feigning concern for him. Perhaps it wasn’t false concern, but Katherine McNamara’s acting in this scene fell flat to me. And why punish someone by not allowing them to discuss the stupidity of their past actions? That doesn’t sound like punishment. Especially when aren’t we supposed to learn from ours and other people’s mistakes? Otherwise the Nazis might try to stomp across Russia like Napoleon one hundred years before – oh, wait…
A highlight of this episode was the Silent City. I was never a fan of the invisible carriage that transported Clary and Jace through the New York City streets, up and over cabs and SUVs, so the fact that Simon offers to drive the Shadowhunter gang to the Silent City in his beat-up van is fine by me.
Besides, I wouldn’t have my favorite moment between Simon and Alec if only Jace and Clary went.
The descent into the Silent Brother’s mausoleum city in Shadowhunters captured the macabre, eeriness of the novel. Stone stairs and wet brick walls covered in ivy. Darkness illuminated only by Jace’s witchlight. Set designer Matthew S. Morgan’s vision was perfect for me even if not perfectly matching the novel. No, there wasn’t a square pavilion, no long table of black basalt veined in white. But there were skeletons, bones, dark corridors, and even the conversation between Jace and Clary at the statue.
He pointed at Brother Jeremiah, who had come to a halt in front of a statue just slightly taller than he was, its base overgrown with moss. The statue was of an angel. The marble of the statue was so smooth it was almost translucent. The face of the angel was fierce and beautiful and sad. In long white hands the angel held a cup, its rim studded with marble jewels … There was a date inscribed on the base, 1234, and words inscribed around it: NEPHILIM FACILIS DESCENSUS AVERNI.
Jace nodded. “And that’s the motto of the Nephilim – the Shadowhunters – there on the base.”
“What does it mean?”
Jace’s grin was a white flash in the darkness. “It means ‘Shadowhunters: Looking Better in Black Than the Widows of our Enemies Since 1234.’”
Ah – I love it when screenwriters quote the original text.
Although Jace and Clary have been outshined by the other characters in my opinion, I did appreciate a subtle moment of acting from Dominic Sherwood as he descended the stairs into the Silent City. He paused briefly and caught his breath, as if the next step he took went against every fiber of his being. It was a small moment, but it helped sell the fact that even fearless Jace had demons he didn’t want to confront down there.
The Silent Brothers were designed with a close attention to the novel as well. From their robes to their stitched mouths, they looked exactly how I imagined them when reading City of Bones.
The hood of the robe was the color of parchment, and the intricate runic design along the hem and sleeves looked as if they had been inked there in drying blood.
I found the make-up artist team’s and costume supervisor Christina Barry’s interpretation of the above description fascinating. Instead of threading the runes into the robes, make-up decided to place the runes on the Silent Brothers’ skin. Instead of fabric looking like it was inked with blood, the runes literally were blood – disturbing wounds that appeared to never heal properly, perhaps a sacrifice in becoming a Brother.
With a quick gesture he raised his hands and drew the hood back from his face. Forgetting Jace, Clary fought the urge to cry out. The archivist’s head was bald, smooth and white as an egg, darkly indented where his eyes had once been. They were gone now. His lips were crisscrossed with a pattern of dark lines that resembled surgical stitches.
With their own creative license the crew of Shadowhunters gave fans a faithful version of the Silent Brothers and the Silent City.
After a bumpy start, Shadowhunters instilled hope for their fans with The Descent into Hell is Easy. That hope primarily arrived by a faithful visualization of the Silent City, especially after the debacle of the Institute where there are STILL too many Shadowhunters milling around doing pretty much nothing and Cher-freakin’-nobyl (argh), and by the comedic banter of Simon, Isabelle, and Alec that cuts through the melodrama of Clary and Jace. My faith is restored for another episode, but if it’s gonna last Clary needs to transform into a fully fleshed-out character and Jace needs more wit and swagger. Oh, and chemistry between the pair would be nice. Right now more sparks are flying between Magnus’s fingers – or between these two…
* Italicized text quoted from Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones.