After the up-and-down quality of the last few episodes of Shadowhunters, I was ready for the fifth episode to be another disappointment. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it wasn’t too bad this time out showing that the series may finally be hitting its stride and levelling off in terms of quality. That said there are still a fair few issues that continue to grind, which is especially annoying as other things are beginning to improve.
Following on from last week’s close call with a demon the gang are trying a different tactic to find Clary’s mother and Valentine. However the search is hindered by the arrival of Maryse, a superior shadowhunter and Alec and Izzy’s mother, who warns them that their allies are breaking off contact and it needs to be investigated.
With her attempts to find her mother halted, Clary is forced to run away from the institute to find any clue she can to find the Mortal Cup, forcing Alec to come with her as she finds herself walking headlong into another dangerous situation.
This week the overall theme seems to revolve around family and relationships which, while interesting from a character perspective, does mean that we lose sight of the larger storyline again. With that in mind, the decision to see more about Alec and Izzy’s mother, and Jace’s adopted mother Maryse, helped to add a bit more gravity to this world.
Until now the shadowhunters’ over-reliance on young leads made it feel more like a secret club house than an actual military operation, so having an older adult come in with higher authority helped authenticate things in some way. It still feels a bit slap dash, even with all the trappings of high tech surveillance and equipment, but this was a positive move to help flesh out the shadowhunter world.
Another big movement this week was in investigating Alec’s character and his sexual orientation within this world. The flirtation between him and Magnus was playful but refreshingly upfront, which helps humanise the usually robotic Alec as he tries to keep things cool, calm and otherwise professional.
The revelation last week that he has feelings for Jace became a touchstone moment in his relationship with Clary as he is forced to own up to how he feels and its impact both on him and the rest of the characters.
The down points, though, were continuations of what’s wrong with the series as a whole. Katherine McNamara as Clary is still a young actress and all indications show she is pretty new to it, making it hard to keep trusting her to shoulder the series. The show’s (still) occasionally clunky dialogue feels all the worse for having her try and deliver it, and this leaves the audience mostly bored during her scenes and itching to follow almost anyone else.
I say ‘almost’, because the storyline featuring Simon is not really bearing the fruit that show-runners seem to hope it will. It feels like too much of a slow-burn to really make waves.
Overall both characters have to catch up to the rest of the cast, who are improving and becoming more interesting every week. The more they flounder, the more we lose faith in the driving narrative.
The characterisation of Clary also felt somewhat inconsistent this week which made it hard to follow her. On the one hand she is actively pursuing her mother’s trail as a confident young shadowhunter, and yet on the other she is the damsel in distress needing people to save her.
It feels like her character is getting lost between two extremes and being played by McNamara isn’t helping matters. This might just be a one-off but it feels like they are trying to make her something of an every-woman to appeal to different kinds of viewers, which actually makes it harder to find the real character.
One area we are forced to lament over is the lack of special effects budget. As we have seen before, the show’s scope for mysticism and action is bigger than its budget will allow for and this makes every scene featuring it seem a bit awkward to watch. While big realistic special effects aren’t always necessary, it helps a viewer buy into the world, but if they are handled badly they break immersion more.
At this point it’s clear the show is improving but there is still more work to go. Shadowhunters needs to get back to the main story and improve its portrayal of Clary or this improvement in quality will only let us down later.
Shadowhunters airs every Wednesday on Netflix in the UK.