Four episodes in and things seem to be getting better again, which tells me either this show was a promised slow burner or that this up-and-down quality will be a continuing trend. Although, as I hoped last week, we seem to be right back on track with the story and some heavy hitters have come out of the woodwork in this well constructed (albeit flawed) instalment.
The story resumes where it left off: with Clary and Simon recovering from their detour with the vampires last week, fresh on the trail of the Mortal Cup. To that end, the shadowhunters are drawn to seek out Magnus Bane (as played by Harry Shum, Jr of Glee fame) a warlock who once took Clary’s childhood memories.
Meanwhile, Simon is dealing with the repercussions of his brief foray into vampire society and trying to deal with his normal human life on top of it. The adventure leads to encounters with demons, magic and surprising revelations that show a surprising level of character development. It seems there might just be a little more to these characters than meets the eye.
The overall arc needed some movement in order to help get things back on track and we get it in spades this week. Magnus is a big character from the books and his expanded role in this episode helped change the overall dynamic in a beneficial way.
Magnus’ presence as a sarcastic yet knowledgeable entity was welcome and his unique level of snark made him feel more human when set against the rest of the cast. It gave him a more natural manner some of Shum, Jr’s co-stars could learn from (and perhaps already did in this episode, as their acting gets better).
Character-wise, aside from Magnus, we got to see a bit more of Alec this episode. We began to understand him and his antagonistic attitude towards Clary a bit more. While the revelation regarding his feelings doesn’t excuse his bad behaviour, it did give a bit of a hint towards his motivations and inner confusion. It was a realistic take on self-denial.
Seeing the tension between Alec and Magnus was also a little funny and yet hinted at how the series might develop this relationship further. Clary and Jace also succeeded in not annoying us too much this week, as well.
But it was Simon – with his attempt to return to normality – which really brought it home, as the adorably dorky character stammers and stumbles his way through mundane life after he has seen the shadow world. I’m even a little interested to see if his development as a potential demonic foil might be something which comes up as a strong element to the story later.
Shadowhunters still has something of a problem with its hit-and-miss dialogue and occasional clunky delivery. While it didn’t grate as much this time, the problem is still there and even characters we can really like had trouble (Magnus attempting the line ‘I was alive when the dead sea was just a lake that didn’t feel well’ was a particularly cringeworthy moment).
This might be slowly improving, though, as the exposition fairy doesn’t seem to be making as many appearances this week. There’s only a little light backstory being thrown in to help flesh out Magnus bit more. Importantly, this didn’t distract from the pacing of the show, which felt more similar to episode 2 and even had a touch of action in it to provide a visual pay out. Simply put, things still aren’t perfect, but if the series wants to be able to win and keep fans, it will be with instalments like this.
This fourth episode showed definite improvement but there is still a lot of room to grow. The addition of Magnus has helped humanise the cast and make this episode feel more like an ensemble piece with everyone playing their part very well. It also made me ready to tune in and see how things continue – a marked improvement on last week.
While it has yet to reach a top spot alongside the likes of Buffy, Angel or Lost Girl, if Shadowhunters keeps up this level of quality then there may be some hope yet.
Shadowhunters airs every Wednesday on Netflix in the UK.