Of all the senseless additions to the Shadow World that Shadowhunters has introduced over its first two seasons, the shapeshifting rune – that useful little mark that allows all our nephilim characters to seamlessly disguise themselves as other people – is perhaps the one that has annoyed book fans the most.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a major deviation from the foundation laid out by the book series: the Shadowhunters of Cassandra Clare’s novels have a great number of runes at their disposal, many of which we probably haven’t been introduced to yet. Runes can make the nephilim strong and fast. They can make an institute look like a pile of ruins. Why shouldn’t they give shadowhunters the power to shapeshift?
It’s only when you look into the logistics of the rune that you realize how many problems it causes it terms of the show’s storytelling.
Putting aside the fact that giving this power to all shadowhunters completely negates the entire plot of The Infernal Devices, it makes everything way too easy and convenient. Any shadowhunter could be wearing it at any time, and our only way of knowing would be, I presume, seeing the actual rune on them, which nobody has ever done yet. Anyone could be anyone. Victor Aldertree could be Sebastian Verlac in disguise, and you can bet our main characters won’t have any way of figuring it out until he chooses to reveal himself.
In fact, it’s such a useful rune that it’s become a major plot hole that the main characters aren’t using it at all times. When Jace was on the run from the Clave at the beginning of episode three, why didn’t he throw on a shapeshifting rune and blend in? Why does Valentine have to hide when he can turn himself into anyone he wants? Hell, why doesn’t he just shapeshift into an important Clave member and infiltrate the Institute? Why isn’t the Clave using it all the time to lure Valentine out of hiding and/or learn about his secrets? Why are people only using this rune when it’s convenient to the plot?
Now, the biggest argument in favour of the shapeshifting rune is that it was necessary to have Jace believe his dad was actually Michael Wayland, which I do understand. That plotline was always a bit hard to believe in the books, and with all the technology added to the show’s canon, it simply wouldn’t have made sense for Jace not to know what Michael Wayland looked like before the big reveal at the end of season one. However, there are other ways to get around that. Couldn’t Valentine have paid a warlock to modify Jace’s memories, kind of like what Jocelyn did with Clary?
Furthermore, even if the Shadowhunters writers are insistent on keeping this rune in the show’s mythology, they have to make it harder to use. Maybe the rune is banned and any shadowhunter who uses it faces serious consequences. Maybe it takes a physical or mental toll on the wearer. Maybe there’s a time limit. If the shadowhunter using it is only creating an illusion and has to project a mental image of the person they’re turning into, maybe that image is imperfect. If the shadowhunter is physically changing into someone else, maybe it’s a really uncomfortable or dangerous process. Whatever it is, we need something to discourage people from using it all the time.
Which brings me to my final annoyance, not so much with the rune itself, but with the way it’s being written into Shadowhunters: the writers are missing out on a golden opportunity to use this rune to add humour to their show.
Picture this: Clary, for whatever reason, has to disguise herself as Valentine, and she’s terrible at it. She doesn’t quite understand what the circle members are telling her, she almost blows her cover a million times, and most importantly, we get a full scene of Alan Van Sprang using Clary’s mannerisms. Would that not be hilarious?
For some reason, every time a character shapeshifts into someone else on Shadowhunters, they act exactly like the person they’re shapeshifting into. Granted, it’s not usually used for extended periods of time, but there has never been a moment where one character was very clearly acting like another. Why are all these characters such good actors?
Adding this one little element would both make the show funnier and give us a way to tell when someone is using the rune.
So to recap: I don’t think the shapeshifting rune should exist at all, but if it has to stay, it should at least be a lot harder to use. And if the current rules about using it aren’t going to change, then please, Shadowhunters, at least use it in a comedic way, because right now it’s really not working.
Shadowhunters airs Mondays at 8pm on Freeform.