When Freeform’s Shadowhunters returns tonight, it brings back one of television’s most progressive and entertaining hours. Based on Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments book series, the show has been a surprise hit for Freeform (the channel formerly known as ABC Family). The first season took the books as an initial blueprint and transformed it into something fun.
As a disclaimer, I am not a fan of the books. There were too many problems with the characterization that I could not get past. I gave them an honest shot but the only one I could get through without needing significant breaks was The Bane Chronicles which isn’t one of the books the show is allowed to draw from. I know there are book fans who also like the show and I know there are book fans who absolutely despise it. I happen to be a show fan who hated the books. To each their own, right?
For those unaware of the concept, the protagonist of the show is an eighteen-year-old New York art student named Clary Fray. On her birthday, her life goes haywire as her mother is kidnapped, her mother’s close friend is killed and Clary herself is attacked by demons. Honestly, not the birthday that anyone would wish for. When the demon poisons her, she is saved by a mysterious man before blacking out.
When she wakes up, she learns some harsh truths. She isn’t a normal human being (called a mundane in this world) but a half-angel, half-human hybrid called a Shadowhunter. Clary finds herself thrust into a world of angels and demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves, and faeries. While learning to navigate this world and discover who she really is, Clary must also help her new friends track down a Shadowhunter gone bad, who wishes to destroy the world and just happens to be Clary’s father.
Those basics are the same between the books and the show, and for the most part, the plot follows that of the first book. But where the books have trouble with diversity, the show has embraced it which was one of the reasons I started watching in the first place. Add in an unapologetic bisexual character and a realistic portrayal of someone coming out of the closet and this book takes what could be a typical special-girl-saves-the-world story and makes it something meaningful to many people.
The first season’s writing and acting were by no means perfect and some of the special effects left something to be desired but none of those things were the reasons I kept coming back each week. It was the characters and the masterful depictions of them that captured my attention and my heart.
In the books, Clary’s main love interest Jace Wayland grated on my nerves, so cocksure and hardheaded that he treats everyone around him like crap and yet they all fall over themselves to talk about how great he was. It was hard to understand any of the relationships in his life because I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to be around him for any period of time. By contrast, Jace in the show is a man who says that love makes you weak but voluntarily goes with the madman Valentine at the end to protect those he loves the most. He is vulnerable but uses his bravado to try and cover it. He loves deeply and will break any rule necessary to protect those he considers his family. Dom Sherwood does a great job showing all the sides of Jace, making him as lovable as he is infuriating.
Kat McNamara has probably endured the most criticism over her part as Clary Fray. It is hard to step into a part that is so beloved to the fandom but she is as good as the writing has allowed. Unlike in the books, I feel her desperation to find her mother, the ever-present motivation making the whole storyline that much more plausible. This is a girl who will go to hell and back to save the one person in her life that she loves more than all others. She is impulsive and makes mistakes but you almost understand why, even when she puts her new friends in danger. And when someone she cares about (see Luke or Simon) gets hurt, she puts the same dedication into saving them as she does with her mother. I expect we will see more of that this season when the focus is on saving Jace and stopping Valentine.
Izzy Lightwood, the female Shadowhunter that Clary encounters that first night, is played beautifully by Emaraude Tobia. Izzy is completely supportive of Clary, befriending her immediately and sticking by her side. She helps initiate Clary into the world and acts as a buffer between her and Izzy’s surly brother Alec. In season two, Izzy will go on her own emotional journey and I expect that Clary will return the concern that Izzy gave her all through season one.
Speaking of Alec, Matthew Daddario is a fan favorite, easily getting the most attention from the rest of the cast. His Alec is strong but oh-so-vulnerable. As a gay man in an unaccepting society, as a first born child of a powerful family who has many expectations placed on his shoulders, Matthew’s Alec is pushed to his breaking point in season one where he finally has to decide between the path that had been laid out for him his whole life and what he truly wants. And while he finally chooses his own heart, in the end, season two will not be all sunshine and roses for him. With his brother and platonic soul mate Jace missing, Alec will probably push himself harder and end up hurting himself and others before he can be happy.
The other half of Shadowhunter’s most popular pairing is Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of Brooklyn. Played by Harry Shum Jr., Magnus is probably the second most popular character in the show. And while his relationship with Alec is important, both in terms of LGBT representation on TV as well as for both their characters’ story lines, there is so much more to Magnus than “Malec”. Season two promises that we will learn more of Magnus’ past, see him mentor young Downworlders (people who are not Shadowhunters or mundanes like warlocks, werewolves, and vampires), and fight in a war for the survival of his people and the world in general. His relationship with Alec is important though and I look forward to seeing how these two navigate the prejudice thrown their way both because of their gender and their species.
One of the characters who will be mentored by Magnus is Simon Lewis, the fledgling vampire who is also Clary Fray’s best friend. After betraying the vampire clan in an effort to help Clary, Simon will spend at least part of season two working with Magnus to learn how to navigate this new world he has found himself thrown into. Alberto Rosende brings a charm to Simon that was missing in the books. I hated him in the novels but he is one of my favorite characters in the show. He has obvious chemistry with everyone he is on screen with, particularly David Castro who plays vampire leader Raphael Santiago, and it will be interesting to see how those two characters move forward after the falling out at the end of season one.
Last, but by no means least, we have Luke Garroway, Alpha of the New York werewolf pack, who has been a steady influence with all the chaos going on around him. With the love of his life – Clary’s mom Jocelyn – returned to him, and Clary now knowing about the world she was born into, Luke will finally get to be with them as a family. I want to see more Luke-Clary moments because those were some of the best ones of season one. And with the rise of Valentine who was once Luke’s best friend before he turned on him and threw him to the wolves (literally), I expect that Luke’s emotions will be more on the surface and he will have a chance to shine. I hope he will be given more screen time this season so he can have the attention that he deserves as one of the main characters.
Shadowhunters season two offers more; more characters, more drama, more action. With its success, they have been given the chance to go farther than they were able in season one and I expect that the fans will not be disappointed. The show airs Mondays at 8 PM (7 PM Central) on Freeform. For international fans, at 12 AM PST on January 3, the show will be available on Netflix as well as the Freeform app.