Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light” is an outstanding first episode, an hour that establishes the characters at the heart of this story, introduces the dynamics we will come to care for, and more importantly, does a fantastic job of setting up the stage for a lot of things only book readers will recognize, while still managing to keep the show from overwhelming people not familiar with this world.
It could only be this way if the show was going to succeed. For me, going into this with seven (or nine) books of backstory, I wanted to feel like reading the books before the shows was worth it (fine, it was anyway, because the books are good, but you get me), and for fans who have yet to read the books, they had to feel like this was digestible even without them. That’s a really, really hard balance to achieve.
Here at Fangirlish, however, we’re not judging. If you read the books, I will be here to discuss every little book detail I noticed and obsess over tiny characterization details that won’t come into play for like four more seasons. If you haven’t, Erin’s got you covered with her reviews from the POV of a non-book reader. And we will both be here for the entire journey. Yes, that’s right, we are reviewing every episode – twice! That’s how much we both enjoyed the show.
So, let’s go into the relationships, the themes and the book nods in Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light”:
“When I was young, I was afraid of the dark,” Alina opens Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light” saying. “When I got older, I learned that darkness is a place, and it’s full of monsters.” We don’t know which Alina is talking, but the Alina we see in the first episode has yet to learn that lesson. That Alina still smiles freely, still trusts wholeheartedly, and her world is still focused on one person: Mal.
But we’ll go into their relationship later because it’s important to focus on just Alina first, especially considering the changes the adaptation has made to the character. In the books, Alina’s sense that she doesn’t belong with anyone but Mal comes for her upbringing. The show adds another wrinkle to this idea of Alina as an outsider by making her half Shu.
“I look like my mother, and my mother looks like the enemy,” Alina explains in a voiceover, as she sort of justifies the way she’s treated, because that’s what we do to survive. Racism has, of course, no justification, but that’s easier said – and known – than put into practice by a young girl who’s just another grunt in an endless army fighting a losing war. For someone like her it’s easier to ignore the world and focus on her immediate circle, because, after all, she’s never had that many people, never truly cared about belonging in the world at large.
However, there’s a part of Alina that might have always suspected what she was, what she was meant to do – and in many ways, what she was choosing to give up by never broadening her horizons. “I learned about my true enemy when I was a child,” the voiceover also says, and younger Alina is looking at the Fold, the one that ate her parents, the same one she’s destined to destroy.
“I spent years thinking I’d find a way out,” she continues, the dream of a girl who has never belonged anywhere, and who’s never wanted to be special, never wanted to stand out. Instead, she just wanted to belong. Alina’s happy ending isn’t power, isn’t recognition. Her happy ending is peace. A place to call her own. Someone who loves her for who she is. “Around the Fold, to go somewhere where no one cares where I’m from. But now, I’m old enough to know the only way out is through.”
This sentence is pure Alina, her essence distilled into what might just seem like a throwaway line from the first episode. Because though this is just the beginning, the journey Alina is about to embark on is perilous, and there’s nothing she can do to avoid it. Sometimes, when destiny comes calling, the only thing you can do is face it head on and learn to trust in yourself.
That, and the people who love you.
ALINA AND MAL
Interestingly enough, as much as Alina’s world is focused on Mal, his entire world seems to be focused on Alina too, something I will argue is also true, if much less obvious in the book, at least till much later. The books are, of course, told from Alina’s POV, and that’s part of the reason why Mal never truly works the way he should. We don’t believe that he cares enough, and by the time we believe him he’s been gone for so long that we’re not sure we care anymore.
This Mal isn’t different, that’s the thing. It’s the same Mal, we just get much more of a sense of who he is from the very first episode, instead of getting glimpses of his personality here and there, like we do in the books. And we see his relationship with Alina develop through the flashbacks to their younger years, when Alina was his protector, and Mal the one trying to run away from his problems. He, however, doesn’t become the boy the Headmistress warns him he might. He doesn’t become the boy who runs from a fight. Instead, he compensates by becoming the boy who runs towards a fight.
Shadow and Bone 1×01“A Searing Burst of Light” does a good job of establishing the character dynamics of Mal and Alina before it goes into their easy friendship, the obvious affection they feel for each other. It doesn’t feel outwardly romantic at first (despite the smiles, and the fact that Mal talks about Alina all the time) and yet there’s that spark that can only be achieved through chemistry, the spark of possibility. You see them and truly believe that they love each other, even if they might not be willing to risk putting a name to that feeling, for risk of losing the one constant thing in their lives: each other.
Later on, when Mal is assigned to the Crossing and Alina isn’t, they have the type of conversation OTPs are built on. They still aren’t being overt about their feelings, but they’re getting closer. And then, of course, there’s Mal’s whole “I’ll find my way back to you,” which is 100% a platonic sentiment if I’ve ever seen one. I mean, no romance there whatsoever, nah. Just like the looks they give each other. Oh, yes, and the fact that Alina basically risks not just herself, but everyone in her unit, not to save Mal, but to share his fate, to be with him, no matter what.
“I’m with you,” Alina tells Mal, and she means it. “I’m with you” in the good times, I’m with you in the bad times. “I’m with you.” And her desire to be with him, to shield him as she did when they were children, is what brings her powers to the forefront. She hid those powers for Mal, all those years ago, and now, for Mal, her powers are finally free. There’s something kind of poetic about that.
Ketterdam is a very different place from Ravka, that becomes clear as soon as we move from Alina and Mal’s storyline to The Crows. Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light” is meant to be both an introduction into the three main players from this other storyline, as much as a look at their group dynamics. Because even though Kaz is the boss, The Crows are indeed a team. A dysfunctional one at times, but a team. And in the streets of Ketterdam, the people on your team, well …they’re almost your family.
The ways the trio relate to each other are established pretty early on, just as each character’s strength is touched upon. In a way, the first few scenes in Ketterdam are about making clear who Jesper, Kaz and Inej are, just like the first few scenes in Ravka were about establishing who Alina and Mal were. In this case, though, these three aren’t the same kind of orphans who only have each other as Alina and Mal – and only Kaz is truly an orphan – but they’re also young people forced to take care of themselves, and each other, the only way they know how.
In many ways, that’s the connecting thread of this show, the thing most characters – save The Darkling, and like, Baghra – have in common. They’re all young, they’re all capable, and they’re all utterly devoid of a backup system. The world they live in is harsh, cruel, and every one of them has had to find a way to survive. No one is coming to protect them, and there’s no one to rely on … except each other.
Kaz, Inej, and Jesper have a job in Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light” – find out how to safely cross the Fold, and though the montage of them asking all sorts of people about it is supposed to be funny, it also gives great insight into how well they work as a team, just as their scene later, at the Crow Club, cements the dynamics. Kaz is the grump who very secretly cares too much but would like everyone to believe he doesn’t – and most of the time, he manages just that. Jesper is the jokester, the one who breaks up the tension, both the little brother and the big brother, depending on who he’s talking. And Inej …well, Inej is the kindness, the conscience of a group who, at times, feels like they don’t need – or want – a conscience.
For The Crows, this is merely the setup. We’re not delving into their issues the way we are with Alina and Mal. We’re just getting to know them. There’ll be a chance later to go into what makes them the people they are – I’m pretty sure of that. As for the rest, well, this is a new journey, so I’m just going to sit back and enjoy every tiny crumb of new Crows content I get.
THE KAZ AND INEJ OF IT ALL
Kaz’s introduction is quintessential Kaz Brekker, ruthless, pointed, harsh. Only when he steps into his rooms do you see a hint of the boy he is underneath, as he smiles at the DeKappel he and Inej stole. But the true measure of who Kaz Brekker truly is, despite what he tries to pretend, is in the way he senses Inej’s presence, and of course, in the fact that he trusts her enough to remove his gloves in her presence.
The problem with Kaz, of course, is not that he has no feelings, it’s that he has absolutely too many of them and no earthly clue of how to express them in a constructive way, not that he truly wants to. Part of this is that Kaz never learned how to communicate effectively, and the other part is that Kaz doesn’t truly want to work on his communication, isn’t interested in how he comes off to Jesper, or even Inej. Kaz only has one goal, and that is revenge. Even the money he might get with this job, Kaz isn’t thinking abut spending it, or hoarding it, or buying himself – or someone else – something pretty, not at this time, no. Kaz wants money because he wants power, and he wants power because he wants to destroy Pekka Rollins.
As a result of this mindset, of the way he lives his life, even when he says something that, coming from anyone else would be a quite tender statement, it comes out harsh, cutting. His words to Inej when she informs him that she got the lead for this job from a girl at The Menagerie, a girl he could help out with, aren’t a compliment. They’re facts. It’s just that the facts are quite teling.
“I only invest in the one of a kind. She isn’t like you. No one is,” he says, because it’s true. But he isn’t considering what the words imply. He’s literally telling her there’s no one like her in the entire world, and the intensity of his words betray the truth of the sentiment behind them, just as every move Kaz makes from the moment he first realizes Inej is close, to the end of Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light,” does the same with his feelings. But he cannot let that be it, he cannot make himself vulnerable, not to Inej, not to anyone.
Inej, however, is very quick to see through him, and also very quick at second-guessing herself when she does. Kaz’s walls are a mile high, after all, and for someone like Inej, it’s hard to believe that this person she owes so much to, this person she cares for, sometimes very much against her own wishes, could truly mean exactly what she wants him to mean. His fear plays against him, and hers finish the job.
Anyone with two eyes can see Inej is more than an investment for Kaz, and yet he cannot say that, and she cannot let herself believe it. This is the setup for the other OTP in this journey that started with Alina and Mal, and the best part is that Kaz and Inej could not be more different from those two. Best friends to lovers is, after all, a fine trope, but I’ve always been partial to the “guy who cares about this one girl more than anyone in the world, but cannot say it” trope, and Kaz Brekker, well …he fits that to a “t.”
Things I think I think:
- The title card! The light!
- If this be inspired by tsarist Russia, why be British accents?
- The flashbacks to Mal and Alina’s younger days give their story so much more emotional depth and are one of the best decisions the show makes, especially early on.
- Also, the way the show weaves explanations with things like younger Alina not understanding about the Fold, or even the Grisha, is very seamless.
- I can’t say I ever gave the physical manifestation of the Fold as much thought, but what the show did visually with it looks perfect to me.
- Okay, look, Mal and Alina smiling at each other the first time they see each other, those big smiles and the googly eyes? That was kinda cute.
- “Hide your emotional breakdown for when you’re alone” is a thing that’s coming back later, right?
- Zoya does absolutely nothing in Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light” to earn the heart eyes I was giving her.
- The gun tricks are 100% Jesper.
- Look, Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker is a thing of beauty. The gravitas of his face and that cane, I cannot even explain.
- Part of me knows there was absolutely no reason to show me Kaz and Inej stealing that DeKappel, but I don’t really care about common sense.
- Especially considering Kaz’s little smile at seeing it.
- “Well, of course, certain death pays a million.”
- Part of me was like PFFF, Kaz wouldn’t risk taking this job for a mere million. MAYBE TEN.
- The whole “tell me you followed him” is a nod to you, non-book readers. It’s setup. Kaz would know that Inej followed him, because she is Inej.
- Mal stealing food for Alina is it for me. That’s how you win my heart. Food.
- “Here’s what I don’t get.”/” We’re gonna be here all night.”/”Rude.”
- “Doesn’t exist yet.”
- Fuck Pekka Rollins. Sincerely.
- Alina’s face as Mal leaves is a POEM.
- There was ONE RULE. ONE. No LIGHT!
- No one cares about West Ravka. Sorry, not sorry.
- The whole “I’ll meet you at the meadow” thing hit me harder than I expected.
- Hearing Kaz be called “Mr” is hilarious to me.
- Inej’s kindness with the water might seem like a little thing, but it’s such an Inej thing.
- Amita’s face as Inej learns about the Sun Summoner, and the way she always, always defaults to looking at Kaz, are going to be the death of me. This is only episode 1.
- Notice how Inej jumped when Dreesen shot and reached for her knives. Even Jasper seemed surprised. Kaz, however, didn’t even blink.
- He expected it.
- “Bring me Alina Starkov.”
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of Shadow and Bone 1×01 “A Searing Burst of Light”? Share with us in the comments below!
Shadow and Bone is available to stream on Netflix.