Clary Fray has never been the most popular character in the Mortal Instruments series. Most readers prefer the bookish, more relatable protagonist of the Infernal Devices trilogy, and struggle to connect with the fiery redhead that headlines this one. Clary is impulsive, fierce, stubborn, overly dramatic, occasionally annoying and maddeningly heroic, so she can sometimes be a difficult character to like.
In that respect, TV show Clary has been true to the character we met in the books. While most fans like her enough, she’s nobody’s favourite character. She doesn’t get the best lines. She’s not the most interesting part of the show. She’s not even in the best relationship – not by a long shot.
TV Clary feels almost muted. Understated. Watered down. Instead of quirky outfits and green converse, she’s been dressed in more typical clothing. The lines that are clearly supposed to make her seem fierce come off either flirty and sexy or weirdly abrasive. Her character development has been all over the place. Instead of barging into dangerous situations with no regard for the own safety, she waits for the approval and support of the other Shadowhunters. She’s not as headstrong or stubborn as her book counterpart. The writers have clearly tried to make her relatable, but it’s only turned her into a typical YA heroine.
And let’s not forget perhaps the biggest issue with her character development: the fact that she’s acquired these fighting skills way too quickly. The wonderful thing about characters like Clary who start out with no abilities whatsoever and learn to fight over a long period of time is that we get to see them improve. We see them train tirelessly and get slightly better with every fight. We notice every tiny improvement – did she just kill a demon? When did she learn how to fight with a sword? – until the moment they start truly kicking ass and we think what happened to the little girl from the pilot?
When a show does what Shadowhunters did, which is make their protagonist start kicking ass without any training whatsoever (besides that awkward graveyard scene with Jace that we’d all like to forget), they rob us of that moment. They eliminate all the effort and pain that makes it so triumphant. Clary has now killed plenty of demons, even a Greater Demon. She’s led a demon army against her father. She’s a force to be reckoned with. But that doesn’t feel genuine, because we can’t stop wondering how she managed to get this good so quickly. It’s unrealistic (although to be fair, all this stuff seems to be pretty easy for everyone, but that’s a different problem).
I feel like that’s my main complaint with so many elements of Shadowhunters. They’re taking things too quickly. I want them to reach that endgame – in this case, Clary being a badass – but it’s cheapened and wasted when there isn’t any build up to it. I want Clary to try. I want her to struggle with her training. I want her to falter, and get back up again, because that’s what makes her a hero. I want to know that it’s difficult, because that’s what makes it interesting.
Look – I know that the characters in the TV show aren’t like the ones in the books. It took me awhile, but I’ve accepted it. But the thing with adaptations is that if they change something, it has to be worth it. I liked book Clary, probably more than most readers. And I don’t like show Clary, as an adaptation or as an original character. I think the show has gotten some things right, notably her relationships with her mom and with Simon, but overall, Clary has been very underwhelming. With season 2 expected to air in January 2017, I hope that the writers will put more care into their protagonist.