‘Shadowhunters’ 1×01 Recap: The Mortal Cup

It’s hard to get a good feel for a show based on the pilot. They’re often rushed and disjointed, with everyone from the cast to the writers adjusting to their new roles. They’ll try to cram a little bit too much into the forty minutes they have to sell the audience on the show, flying through characters, world building and plot without going into detail on anything. Shadowhunters is no different.

Yes, the pilot had its issues. There were a few things that didn’t sit well with me, and a few problems I hope don’t persist, but the potential is definitely there. On the whole, I actually really liked the episode, and I am very confident about the future of Shadowhunters. Once the show hits its stride, I think there’s a good chance we get to see the complex characters we fell in love with in the books, even if we only got glimpses of them in the pilot. After all, who was already attached to these characters after reading chapter one of City of Bones? As I recall, they were all fairly one-dimensional and we certainly didn’t know much about them. One of the amazing things about The Mortal Instruments is the way we get to see the characters grow up and mature as they’re put in these crazy situations, and there’s no reason to expect anything else from the show. The characters we saw in City of Bones were wildly different from the ones we ended up with in City of Heavenly Fire, and hopefully the TV show will do justice to those amazing character arcs.

PanDEMONium

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The show kicks off with a flash-forward, and an introduction to the badassery we should be seeing from the shadowhunters throughout the series. Jace, Isabelle and Alec are hunting a shapeshifter demon, and they look awesome while doing it. Jace bumps into Clary, she confronts him, and he drops the line that leads us into the opening credits: “Wait, you can see me?” The first meeting of our main couple leaves something to be desired – the sparks aren’t exactly flying yet – but it’s not a exactly a bad start to the epic romance.

Art school

Flashback to a few hours earlier, on Clary’s eighteenth birthday. She’s applying to the Brooklyn Academy of Art, and we see that, just like in the movie, she’s been unconsciously drawing runes on her sketches. The Academy is impressed, and just like that, Clary has been accepted into art school. Oh, if only she knew how little that would matter in a few hours…

Simon

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Simon was by far my favourite part about the pilot. I liked Clary and Jace, and I’m sure I’ll come to love Izzy and Alec eventually, but Simon absolutely stole the show. We first see him when he and Clary meet up for coffee at Java Jones, in a cute little moment of downtime. She tells him the good news about art school, and the conversation eventually shifts to Simon’s love life. The dialogue isn’t the best: it’s cheesy, and Clary’s line about Simon not noticing that Maureen is in love with him is downright cringe-worthy, but we can hope that the writing will improve as the show continues. A big positive to take out of this scene is the fact that the actors managed to shine despite the script they were given, and the chemistry between Kat Mcnamara and Alberto Rosende is excellent. The writing can improve later on, but good acting is crucial and Shadowhunters seems to have it.

Absently doodling on her paper, Clary draws a rune that book fans are very familiar with: the one that magically hides objects in drawings! Her biscotti mysteriously disappears into the paper. It’s slightly different from the way she discovers that power in the books, but it totally works and I really liked the way they did that.

Mundane Blood? 

We find out very early on that there’s something demonic going on in the city. Luke is investigating a bunch of mundane bodies that have been drained of blood, and it looks like a few members of the police force know about the Shadow World. I wonder if the police is supposed to be Luke’s pack, which would be kind of cool though it makes me a little worried about the safety of the city, considering their secret.

I can understand why the show wanted to introduce this storyline early on. I can’t imagine what Valentine is doing with the blood (isn’t mundane blood supposed to be the least interesting/magical of all?), but it does add a certain intrigue to the beginning of the series. The thing with the first few chapters of City of Bones is that despite Clary discovering this Shadow World, there doesn’t seem to be much direction to the plot. We don’t know what’s going on with the shadowhunters, or what Clary has to do with it, or even what the rest of the book is going to be about, so having that extra storyline keeps us interested. Honestly, I’m curious about where they’re going with it, if a bit wary of the changes they might make.

Jocelyn

As soon as Clary starts telling her mother about the runes she’s been drawing, it’s obvious that Jocelyn knows something is going on. She attempts to help her daughter without actually telling her anything, by giving her a stele disguised as a family heirloom. I’ll admit I didn’t like Jocelyn in the pilot. I didn’t understand any of her motives, as the show decided that Clary would enter the shadow world because the “protections” on her would wear off, Harry Potter style, when she turned eighteen. This means that Jocelyn knew this would happen, and still decided not to tell her daughter anything. In the books, she takes Clary’s memories because she honestly believes that she can hide her from the shadow world her entire life. This is a permanent solution, not a temporary fix. Her knowing the exact date that Clary would enter the shadow world completely turns that on its head: she is now intentionally withholding important, potentially life-saving information from her daughter, and ensuring that she gets the shock of her life when she turns eighteen. And all because she just didn’t want to freak her out too early in life? On top of that, she apparently had no idea that Valentine was alive, despite that being her main reason for hiding Clary in the first place, in the books. I simply cannot see such an overprotective mom putting her child in danger like that, and I hope the show gives her a better reason for doing what she did.

Magnus Bane

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I wish we could have seen more of Magnus’ personality in the pilot, but I guess we’ll have to wait a little while, just like we did in the books. We see him take Clary’s memories in an unnecessary flashback that probably could have been saved for later on in the series, and get a few glimpses of him in Pandemonium, which he apparently owns. Most notably, we see him kick a few circle members out of his club.

Maureen

I actually kind of liked what they did with Maureen, though I really hope she remains a side character throughout the series. Her lines weren’t great, and I thought she was a little bit too obvious in calling Clary’s lack of family “suspicious”, but I definitely didn’t hate her. Without spoiling too much, I will say that I think aging her up and making her a member of the band rather than a fan will make an interesting difference in the show if they ever get to COFA, since she loses that aspect of innocence, and obviously she won’t be nearly as creepy as she was in the books.

Futuristic institute

I really, really did not like what the show did with the Institute. It’s been turned into a futuristic workplace, complete with technology straight out of Tony Stark’s office, and tons of shadowhunters all working on… a case? Really, there can’t be that many problems in the shadow world without Valentine, can there? The main characters even had to have their mission “approved” by other shadowhunters, which takes a lot of the fun out of it. One of the things I really liked about the Institute in the books was the timelessness of it all. In TMI, the Shadow World seems behind the times, with old architecture and little to no technology, while in TID, the same environment seems more futuristic especially in terms of beliefs and values (for example, the use of witchlight, and women being allowed to fight). I’m sure I’ll get used to the new Institute eventually, but it definitely loses a lot of its charm, and I can’t really see any justification for making this change.

Champagne Enema

Simon’s band is actually good. And he sings instead of just playing guitar. Need I say more?

The Real Fun begins

We soon find ourselves right where we left off in the opening scene, with the shadowhunter squad entering Pandemonium, and Clary following them in an attempt to finally get some answers regarding the crazy things that have been happening to her lately. With cool club music playing in the background, she follows our favourite imaginary blond dude into Pandemonium, only to walk in on him and his adoptive family slaying demons. She picks up a discarded seraph blade, which apparently lights up at the touch of a shadowhunter rather than the name of an angel, and accidentally kills a guy. Understandably freaked out, she leaves the club, crossing paths with Magnus on her way out.

The Circle

Clary tells her mom about the weird stuff that’s been happening, and actually gets the chance to talk to her about it for a bit before the Circle members barge in. The fact that Jocelyn tells her about the Shadow World before Clary finds out on her own is interesting, because one of the recurring themes throughout the book series is Clary’s conflicted feelings toward her mom, since Jocelyn had never given any indication whatsoever that she was involved in this world. For a big chunk of the book, Clary doesn’t think her mom has anything to do with this, and her wanting to talk to Jocelyn despite her anger and resentment plays a big part in the development of her character. Having already had a brief conversation about these things could change things a bit between her and her mom.

Once the circle members arrive, Jocelyn gives Clary a purple necklace that is obviously going to play a big part in the story eventually, and thrusts her into a portal that takes her just outside the police station. Overhearing Luke’s conversation with a couple of circle members, she receives another shock: not only is Luke involved the Shadow World, he’s a traitor. He declares that he doesn’t care about her or her mom, and that he wants the cup for “his people” (I can only assume he means the pack, which makes no sense at all). This means that Clary has no one to turn to, so she goes right back home.

Valentine

I have mixed feelings about Valentine. I liked everything I saw from him, except for one thing. When his followers present him with a comatose Jocelyn and no Mortal Cup, he injects one of them with what we can only assume is mundane blood, and tortures him. The “torturing your followers and leading through fear” thing is something a lot of movie villains do, but that I can’t ever see Valentine picking up. One of the things I like about Valentine is how real he is, and how easy it is to understand why he has supporters. The circle members don’t follow him because they’re afraid of him, they follow him because they love him, and they believe that his cause is a noble one. These aren’t death eaters or stormtroopers, fully aware that what they’re doing is evil; they’re revolutionaries with big dreams, who happen to be a bit misguided in how they’re going to save the world. And that’s why the scene in which Valentine tortures a loyal follower bothered me so much. He’s not that kind of villain. His followers should be under the impression that he loves and respects them, that he considers them indispensable to his cause. That’s what makes him so compelling, and I really hope the show doesn’t go any farther in turning him into a generic villain.

The Runes

The show has gone an interesting route in regards to the design of the runes. Instead of drawing them on their skin, the shadowhunters simply wave their stele over the area and a reddish rune appears there. They also disappear, it seems, rather than leaving scars. There’s also a scene in which Jocelyn sets an entire room on fire just by drawing a rune on her hand, which suggests that they’ve changed the way the runes themselves work. It’s a small detail that doesn’t really change anything, but it’s still not a change I’m particularly fond of.

The Ravener

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Clary goes back home to find the place in ruins, and approaches Dot for answers. But Dot, who is kind of Madame Dorothea but not really, transforms into a ravener demon, proving to Clary that everything she knows is a lie, and that she can’t trust anyone. Jace comes in to save her with just a touch of the sass we see in the books, and Clary passes out, prompting Jace to pick her up and carry her to the Institute.

Once she wakes up, she gets a brief introduction to the Lightwoods, and Jace explains the Shadow World. Clary sums up the feelings of all non-books fans in one line: “Literally, my head is about to explode.”

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But even though Clary’s life has been falling to pieces around her, she still has one last tie to the mortal world: Simon, who has used an app to figure out her location, and traced her to an abandoned church. They have a pretty amusing conversation, in which Simon clearly thinks his best friend is on drugs, and Clary tries to explain things without sounding too crazy. She watches an invisible fight between Jace and a circle member, talks to her invisible friend about an invisible dead body, and then finally requests that he make himself visible so that Simon doesn’t think she’s going insane. The show sets up a love triangle by having Jace and Simon argue over where to take Clary: Jace wants to bring her into the Shadow World, while Simon just wants to take her home and resume their normal life.

We end with Valentine requesting to see his daughter, which is very weird considering the fact that Clary doesn’t actually meet him until the end of the book. I really, really hope they don’t introduce THAT storyline any earlier, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I know I’m nitpicking a bit. I really liked this episode, and I’m really excited to watch the rest of the show. I knew Shadowhunters would deviate a bit from the source material, and though some of the changes didn’t sit well with me, overall, I’m happy with what I saw. I think the cast is excellent, and the show seems to be staying true to the spirit of the books even if it changes a few things, plot-wise. As long as the dialogue improves and they don’t make any major changes to the character arcs, Shadowhunters has the potential to be an excellent TV adaptation, and I am very, excited to watch the next 12 episodes.

Reader, fangirl and aspiring writer. Obsessed with horses, hockey and Herondales. Frequently has her heart broken by fictional characters and terrible hockey teams. Contact: beata@fangirlish.com.