Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya” is a perfect middle-of-the-season episode in that it provides you with some temporary answers that somehow feel real, as the characters explore where they need to go, who they need to be. But the first answer you find might not always be the right one, and no decision, once made, should mean you cannot change your mind later.
“Otkazat’sya” also focuses more on the Darklina dynamics, even as Mal remains a presence, despite the fact that Alina cannot feel him anymore. This is a catalyst for Alina making the only choice that matters and putting herself first. The rest …what she chooses romantically, what the people around her do, that’s secondary. The most important thing for now is that Alina is reclaiming her power, choosing it above all things. And, in doing so, she might well end up saving Ravka.
The Crows, meanwhile, are in for a heist – their favorite thing – and Matthias is forced to confront the notion that Nina might actually be right, not just about his people, but about what that makes him. Some paths look much clearer than others, so let’s examine where the show is going, and what the future holds for these people as we discuss Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya.”
YOU ARE MY TRUE NORTH
Mal’s voiceover carries Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya,” so we’ll start with him this time. This episode, in particular, does a lot to separate show!Mal from book!Mal, in that it allows him an on-screen realization, and puts the words we will all come to realize are true by the time the Shadow and Bone book trilogy ends, in his mouth. Mal getting to have feelings on-screen seems like such a little thing, but it’s fundamental to our relationship with the character – and how we perceive his relationship with Alina.
“What is she to you anyway?” Mal poses the question about Alina, echoing someone else who confronted him with the thing he hasn’t wanted to define till now. Because he didn’t need to. Alina was always there, and he ran no risk of ever losing her – not by choice, anyway. So he (and Alina, if we’re being honest) were always content with the status quo. He was the most important person in her life, and she was the most important person in his life, and what else did they need?
Much more, of course. Not thinking about what his feelings meant might have been easier, and confronting them might be scary, but at this point Mal has already lost her. She’s already gone from his life. And if he’s going to find his way back to her, he knows he needs to have words. She deserves them. Their relationship deserves them.
But at this point in the story Mal doesn’t think he’s worthy of Alina, doesn’t think he has anything to offer her. He’s not trying to find his way to her because he thinks he deserves her, or that he’s the right choice for her, nor anything of the sort. He just wants to be near her, help in any way he can. That’s why he goes after the stag. “It’s the one thing I can still give you, maybe the only thing.”
It isn’t, though, but that’s Mal’s journey. He’s been doing a lot – from the beginning, as we learn in Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya,” to be close to Alina, to protect her, to be her companion. Now he’s also found the words. But he still needs to find his purpose. Another person cannot be a purpose, and when he makes his way to Alina, what will Mal do ..who will he be? Alina can’t determine that, only he can.
SOMEONE’S VERSION OF ME
In Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya” Alina struggles with who she is, who she’s meant to be. A part of her feels like an impostor, like she’s playing at being someone other than who she is. General Kirigan presents her with the possibility that maybe this Alina is the real one. But that’s hard for Alina to accept, just as it’s hard for her to process when Genya tells her this is her life now. And the reason this is so hard for Alina is that, she chose the life she had before. No one forced her.
“I protected myself,” she tells Baghra, to which Baghra replies with, “You protected yourself, by denying yourself.” And, of course, Baghra is right. That was Alina’s choice, just like accepting her power is now her choice. But the thing Baghra – and maybe Alina to this point – doesn’t understand is that Alina wasn’t just holding back for Mal. Yes, a part of it was about him, but it was also about fear. Fear of being alone. Fear of not being enough. Fear that Mal could only love her as the Alina he knew.
She didn’t trust herself enough, and back then, she didn’t trust Mal enough. She didn’t trust their bond. And in the present, she feels like she has to let go of that bond to find her power, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that. If it were, that would mean her power is somehow tied to Mal, and it isn’t, it’s all about her. So it’s not Mal she’s letting go of, it’s the idea of who she has to be, the one she herself created. And that has nothing to do with Mal, or Kirigan. That’s 100% about Alina.
But – and this is a crucial lesson Alina will have to learn – Baghra is wrong about needing other people. It isn’t weakness, it’s strength. It’s how Alina will make it through, it’s how she will win. It’s the only way she can, actually. Because the people around her will be what keeps her from losing herself. What will keep her power in check. What will differentiate her from …
BLACK IS HIS COLOR, NOT MINE
“Are you so anxious to be like everyone else?” Kirigan asks Alina in Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya,” and if a phrase has ever defined his entire worldview, it’s this. He isn’t like anybody else, and he doesn’t want to be. The Grisha aren’t either, and he’s always been proud of that, has always tried to protect it. “Our own people are turning against Grisha,” he laments to Alina, and whatever you might think about him, one thing is made clear in this episode… he truly does care about Grisha. He’s truly trying to protect his people.
Which is why it’s so hard to believe when he tells Alina he wished he were someone else. He might have wished for things to be different, but I don’t believe he ever wished he were someone else, despite the fact that book readers know that the story they tell about him …the story they tell about the Fold …didn’t transpire exactly like Alina tells it. Still, Alina is very much on point when she says that he looks at her like she’s his solution. She just doesn’t understand – has no way to – that when she promises he won’t let people turn on her, he only means his people. Their people.
“You and I are going to change the world, Alina,” Kirigan promises, and this he means. He doesn’t just need Alina, I’m convinced a part of him truly wants her. And when he tells her “I’ve been waiting a long time for you,” that could almost be romantic. For him, it probably is. But does a man like the Darkling truly understand what love is? Is there any love for him separate from power, from possession? It’s hard to tell.
“I have been fighting this war, alone, for so long,” he tells Alina at one point during Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya,” and there’s genuine pain there, genuine loneliness. No one has been worthy of him, no one has been his equal – though you could argue he wasn’t worthy of Zoya, not the other way around – and his isolation is almost a living thing. This cannot be analyzed separately from the reasons why he’s in this position, but knowledge of who he is and what he did doesn’t make his feelings any less real, doesn’t make his connection with Alina any less real.
There’s a connection between the two of them, that much is clear. It’s not just the chemistry between Ben Barnes and Jessie Mei Li that proves it, it’s the words, it’s the tone, the vibe. The issue isn’t the connection or lack thereof, the issue is that Kirigan isn’t coming to this connection honestly. He wants to be there for Alina, he wants her to feel like he’s the only one who could understand her, maybe because a part of him feels that about her …but he isn’t letting her decide.
We all know by now that the missing letters are not a matter of chance. And whatever decision Alina is making now, to come to him, to stand by his side, that could have been a decision she made with her eyes open. That would have been a different story – probably a darker one, but nonetheless, an interesting one. That, however, is not the story we’re getting. In this one Alina’s choice isn’t really that, and when she finds out …. well, the house of cards is going to collapse.
TIME FOR A HEIST
Our Crows truly get to be our Crows in Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya” and it’s a beautiful thing to see. They are all transformed at the idea of a heist – from sad faces to Jesper’s genuine excitement and Inej’s “I’m going to pretend I’m not smiling” smile, these three are at their best working together, and you know, in the middle of a heist.
The montage of the heist is pretty fun too, and the perfect way to break up the more dramatic Alina/Mal/Darkling storyline going on in the Little Palace. This is one of the many reasons why bringing in the Crows in season 1 was a great idea – they get to provide the levity and the Alina storyline can remain as what it needs to be without having to default to adding new characters or new scenes just to achieve some sort of balance. And yes, I know – the irony of the Crows being the levity isn’t lost on me.
It’s also a joy to watch Kaz do the planning, Inej move like the Wraith, and Jesper just shoot straight and never miss, the thing we all wanted and expected of them, the things we fell in love with in Six of Crows, but in new ways. One of the greatest joys of this series for me was getting new Crows “canon” to devour, because when you appreciate characters as much as I appreciate these three, all you want is more of them.
Plus, imagine how the Ice Court heist will feel now with this season as the background, with the dynamics already established? I cannot wait for season 2. And 3. Give me like six, okay? Six is a good number.
IF I CAN’T CRACK THIS NONE OF US ARE GOING ANYWHERE
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t find a way to sneak a Kanej section into my reviews, even in an episode that, on first glance, doesn’t seem to have too much to dissect. The thing, though, is that with Kaz and Inej, the little moments speak volumes, and sometimes what they say in silence, with a look, or a nod, what happens in the spaces between other scenes, is even more important than the words they do find.
For example, it’s worth noting that Kaz always stands much closer to Inej than anyone else, a sign of trust if I’ve ever seen one, for a person like Kaz, and probably an acting decision made by Carter and Suman. He still isn’t touching her, but he could almost be, because personal space isn’t something they are as concerned about maintaining between the two of them as they are with other people. Inej herself recoils a bit when touched by Marko, but she never seems as concerned when Kaz is near her.
And, of course, there’s the looks. In general, because there’s a silent conversation going on at all times, a nod here, an acknowledgement there… Kaz could pick out Inej’s presence in any room, without even trying, and Inej, who is always aware of everyone, seems to be hyper aware of Kaz. But also, in Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya” there are some particular looks that speak to the bond between them.
There’s the way Kaz looks at Inej when it turns out they require a performer, or the look they exchange as Inej hands Kaz her knives to safeguard. It might seem like a simple thing, but the act of handing him her protection, her saints, and the fact that Kaz is there, palms up – even if gloved – read to hold onto them for her, speaks to the kind of bond that needs no words, and that Freddy Carter and Amita Suman have perfectly tapped into.
Carter, in particular, says everything with the decision to have Kaz studiously not look at Inej as she’s performing, like he cannot possibly stand to look at her, like she’s more than he can handle, more than he deserves. And yet, somehow, it’s also like Kaz needs to keep an eye on every face in that place, to make sure they all understand that yes, Inej might be beautiful and perfect, but she’s not there to be gawked at. She’s not their plaything, and she will never be.
WERE YOU BORN A PRICK OR WAS IT A CHOICE?
The Nina and Matthias storyline goes pretty much how anyone with some knowledge of tropes would expect it to go, with Nina challenging Matthias’ way of thinking, his way of seeing the world, and him constantly trying to tell her, and himself, that he feels nothing for her. That despite the fact that her fire, her passion, her strength, are all dazzling him, he doesn’t see her as anything other than Grisha. Less than human.
But just because the storyline is somewhat predictable in Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya” doesn’t make it any less powerful. This isn’t about two people falling in love, or even about two people finding common ground. It could never be about that, because you don’t find common ground with people who want to kill you just for existing. Instead this is about two people choosing to see beyond what they’ve been taught. And of course, the situations are not comparable. Matthias has to actively choose not to hate, while all Nina has to do is give one Fjerdan a chance.
It’s clear, though, by Matthias’ reaction to the Captain’s orders to kill the captives if things get bad, that he did think they were transporting prisoners of war to a fair trial. Or, at best, that he hadn’t ever given what he was doing any real consideration. He was just following orders. But now that Nina has challenged his worldview, it’s time for Matthias to decide, eyes-wide open, what kind of man he wants to be.
And that won’t be easy, but he has absolutely no excuses now. Not anymore.
Things I think I think:
- Look, I was emotionally compromised enough when it was just Alina’s letters, now with Mal’s I’m going to collapse.
- “He sent her away to reassess her priorities,” re: Zoya is supposed to feel like a win, but it just makes me angry.
- Inej eating that bread is me, and I am Inej.
- MILO! I will miss you.
- Jesper’s dramatic goodbye …I love Jesper so much.
- Yeah, I even like Mal’s friends in this.
- Baghra’s training montage is kinda hilarious.
- Alina talking about Mal is kinda …cute.
- It’s so weird to see Kaz as Ivanovski smiling. That’s how good Freddy is as Kaz. The smile feels wholly out of place.
- Kaz’s complete faith in Inej never ceases to give me feelings.
- And the way she gently rebukes him when he’s all extra cautious …I’ve written a lot about this, but I love how they don’t tiptoe around each other.
- Pfff, Fedyor having to “save” Nina.
- “Are witches so used to deceit they can’t accept good manners”?
- Look, if I knew Matthias in real life, I’d hit him right now.
- “Are your parents also slavers?”
- The way Kaz and Inej say, “Shut up, Jesper” together. PERFECT FAMILY DYNAMICS.
- When the conductor almost touches Kaz, his face is all “how dare you get so close to me?” A+ character moment.
- Also Inej looking uncomfortable at being touched, not quite like Kaz, but uncomfortable, is pretty on point too.
- The TRUST Inej – and Kaz – have in Jesper’s abilities.
- “I’ll make my own way,” is very Kaz. Even if he could convince Marko, why?
- “Good girl. Now the work begins.” So encouraging, Baghra.
- Mal hearing “the sound” is a nice nod to what’s coming, a nod only for book readers.
- Damn Fjerdans.
- You see how Mal just doesn’t die from all those gunshots? You see?
- “We match.”/ ”We do.”
- How am I suffering over Mal’s friends?!
- “Know that when I told you about true north, I was talking about you. You are my true north, and I can see my way to you now.”
Agree? Disagree? What did you think about Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya”? Share with us in the comments below!
Shadow and Bone is available to stream on Netflix.