Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea” is one of the strongest episodes in an already strong season, the emotional backbone of the entire show to date. Some much-needed backstory is provided, everyone’s motivations are explored, expected revelations are brought to light in fantastic character moments, and people find their words, for better or worse.
This is a particularly strong episode for Jessie Mei Li’s Alina, who gets to fight back, to make choices, to assert who she is, and even later in Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea,” when her choice is taken away, when she becomes nothing more than the Darkling’s pawn, she never once stops fighting. We’ve seen Alina go from not knowing her power, and not knowing herself, to the Alina that very loudly and forcefully asserted her opinions, not just to the most feared Grisha in Ravka, but to her former friend, the boy she loves – everyone.
Being that this isn’t just Alina’s story, we also get a big emotional step forward for the Crows, whose dynamics are again perfection in this hour, and especially for Kaz and Inej, as Kaz finally finds some words to explain to Inej what she means to him, and what he’d be willing to do to keep her safe. So, let’s explore the beats of this season’s penultimate episode as we discuss Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea”:
IT IS YOU, DARKLING
Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea” starts with a flashback to the creation of the Fold, to the man The Darkling was …well, not before he was The Darkling, but at least to who he was before The Darkling made a mistake – his words, not mine – and created the Fold. And, when it comes to mistakes, this is a pretty big one. But the story they tell, the villain kids learn about, the reasoning repeated over and over, isn’t all true, either. He wasn’t, at first, looking for unlimited power, or at least, he wasn’t looking for that just to rule.
He just wanted to survive. He wanted his people to survive. He wanted Grisha safe. And he wanted to never have to feel helpless as someone he cared about was taken from him, violently, or by time. These are all good goals, good reasons. The rest is just … a man pushed to the extreme by a world who never gave him, or his people a chance, a big mistake and …the consequences of it.
A long time has passed since then, though, and the question now is …can he care for anyone at this point? Does he care for Alina? I think the answer is complicated. There is a part of him that was starting to care for her, a part of him that could have truly loved her. Some of it had to do with the fact that her power made it likely she would live as long as he did, which meant The Darkling could allow himself to feel, and another part of him was probably just genuinely drawn to her. Combined, those two things could have been enough.
Back when he created the Fold, it was hard not to root for him. The soldiers were in the wrong, that was clear. But more often than not, trying to right a wrong with another one just creates a bigger problem than the one you had to deal with. And despite the mess, The Darkling’s face as he contemplated his mistake – The Fold – wasn’t one of horror, but one of pride. Just as his face as he basically took control of Alina, was one of, not joy, but triumph. She is the thing he needed, the thing he’d been waiting for. And I don’t mean a companion, or a lover, I mean a weapon as powerful as him. And of all the things The Darkling has done, the worst, most disgusting one, is the way he uses Alina, takes away her choice, takes away her control. The way he’s used people, over and over again, mostly younger women, to get what he wanted.
The way he’d do it again, and again, and again, because he feels he’s justified.
Alina’s not a person to him in that moment. She’s just a vessel. And it doesn’t matter what he might have felt, or might one day come to feel for the vessel, you cannot truly love someone that cannot choose you, just as someone who has no choice cannot ever truly love you.
And later, as he brags to Mal that he doesn’t need to kill him, because he’ll die, and Kirigan won’t, that feels almost as bad as the original sin. He might try telling himself that he sees Alina as his equal, but if he truly did, he wouldn’t have gone through all the trouble to control, not just her power, but her. And, what, is his grand plan for romance to just wait 50 years so he can catch Alina when she’s vulnerable? Not exactly a top notch love story right there, dude.
MAKE ME YOUR VILLAIN
This is one of the most famous lines in the book, and Ben Barnes delivers it perfectly during Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea,” mostly because it seems he understands that, for all The Darkling is telling Alina he isn’t the villain she’s casting him out to be, the truth is, if anyone has made him the villain, it’s been himself. Yes, she fled before giving him a chance to explain, but the choices he made after that don’t exactly make it seem like she was wrong to do so.
Not that Alina’s decision to let the stag go is anything but baffling. I remember being absolutely flabbergasted, when I read the books. After all of that, she lets the stag go? Was that really the time for “There’s another way to do this?” And was the decision to save Mal the right one? Even Mal seems to think it wasn’t, even Mal begs her to kill the stag, sacrifice him. He isn’t important enough. Which, fine, turns out Mal was wrong, but that’s a matter for way in the future. For now, this is about Alina’s choice, or lack thereof. Because as she makes clear to The Darkling, nothing has been up to her for a while, perhaps since the first instant where she let out the light to save Mal.
He’s trying, though, The Darkling. You can see he is. He wants to convince her. He doesn’t actually want to control Alina, he’d love for her to join him. To make that choice. Except, how can you make a choice freely when it’s the same choice you’ve already been forced to make? You can’t.
“I could have made Grisha safe, but you never gave me a choice,” Alina tells The Darkling during their charged conversation, you know, the same one where she tells him that she’s not an extension of his perversion of power, and he tries to tell her telling half a story is not the same as lying, typical couple arguments. That this argument feels as charged as it does is a testament to the chemistry between Jessie Mei Li and Ben Barnes, but chemistry and the spark of a possibility doesn’t always translate to choice. Whatever Alina and The Darkling are, or could have been in another universe, the fact is that this story was never set up for them to be anything than enemies.
And as The Darkling waves poetic about how he only wants to protect Grisha and Ravka from people like the King or Zlatan, without having enough self-awareness to realize he’s doing the same thing to Alina he accuses others of doing, whatever sympathy I might have felt for the man Aleksander Morozova once was finally disappeared. Alina didn’t make him the villain, he made himself that. And a quite effective one, to boot.
“We could have had this,” Alina’s words are clear, and hard enough to cut through steel. “You could have made me your equal. Instead you made me this.” Except, you don’t make anyone your equal. You just believe in them. And it’s clear that The Darkling believes in no one but himself.
This isn’t a story of the brave girl redeeming the villain. This isn’t a story of the innocent girl deciding she didn’t want to be as innocent, and instead joining the villain. Instead, this is a story of shadow vs light, but not the kind where they balance each other out, no. This is a story about light overcoming the darkness. And though right now Alina might be standing in the darkness, soon it will be her time to shine.
SIR, SHE IS CLOSE BY
I want to take a moment to talk about David, because what David does in Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea” – basically The Darkling’s bidding, no questions asked – is not just horrible, it’s something we know is going to stick with David for the rest of his life. He doesn’t look like he wants to do it even while he’s doing it, great acting by a Luke Pasqualino that doesn’t get to do enough this season, but he still does it.
Could he have stopped it? Did he have any chance of standing up to The Darkling? The answer is likely no, but the fact that he didn’t even hesitate is something that will mark the character from here on forward, and that’s why I wanted to take a moment to appreciate the fact that this will lead to a much larger storyline for David.
Especially because it’s one I’m really excited to see. David was always an interesting if underused character in the books, and the show has a real chance at giving him more depth and more screen time as we go forward. If Shadow and Bone season 1 did one thing well, is set up a whole host of possibilities for the future, some that only book readers might have caught. And I really hope we get enough seasons to really get into that.
I NEVER DID LIKE THIS COLOR RED
Genya is another interesting, if heartbreaking part of Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea.” Because this Genya has won. This Genya has gotten her revenge. This Genya has betrayed her friend to do it, but as she herself tells Alina, “I waited years for my chance at revenge. Wouldn’t you have done the same if you were me?” And the question doesn’t have an answer, Alina doesn’t even attempt to give one.
But Alina does call out Genya on her attempts at portraying herself as something other than another pawn in General Kirigan’s game. “I had no choice,” Genya justifies herself. “Except that you did,” Alina tells her. “And you chose to betray our friendship.” This is both a true assessment, and an oversimplification. Genya wasn’t trying to betray Alina as much as she was protecting herself. She was putting herself first.
She explains it best, as she tells Alina: “Choosing friendship over survival was not a luxury I could afford,” and though a part of me is, at this point, a little upset at her, the greater part of me – and of Alina – understands. That’s why later on, as Alina confronts The Darkling, one of the things she throws in his face is what happened to Genya, and how he did nothing about it. She says the same thing to Genya before, too, except Genya doesn’t want to hear it. She can’t.
Because the thing is, if Genya accepts she was a victim not just of the King and Queen, but of The Darkling, what does she have left? “I am his soldier, we all are,” she says, and Alina responds, “We are his pawns, nothing more.” Alina is, of course, right, but Genya isn’t at a place where she can accept that. Not yet, at least. This is just the beginning of Alina’s journey, and it’s just the beginning of Genya’s as well. They will both have choices to make, not just about who they are, but about what relationships they will prioritize going forward.
The future of Ravka might just rest on those decisions, but no biggie. All cool.
NO MOURNERS. NO FUNERALS.
Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea” has some of the best Crows dynamics in the entire show, from Jesper’s funny, tender, and somehow poignant conversation with Inej at the beginning, a conversation where Jesper not only displays a great amount of trust in Kaz (“If you told Kaz that story, I think he’d murder Heleen himself.”), but also a great amount of maturity (“I was going to tell you to trust Kaz, and that he’d never let you go back, but I don’t have the right to tell you what you should do with your shot at freedom.”) and just …affection.
He clearly cares for Inej. Inej clearly cares for him – even if Jes isn’t truly Suli for friendship – and it’s great that the show got to give them these moments even before we got into the main story of Six of Crows. But it isn’t just Jesper and Inej that work, it’s the three of them together, in the obvious things, in the quiet moments, and even in the things that almost go unnoticed – like the little nod to Jesper fixing Kaz’s cane, which means both Inej and Kaz know what Jesper can do.
The family dynamics are especially at play during the scene were the three of them are waiting to see if they can get back on the train to cross the Fold once again. From “Not to be that person, Kaz, but are you sure you can drive that thing?” to Kaz’s look of affront at Inej’s doubt and the way he mocks the fact that Inej just referred to Jesper as Jes, they all play off each other in a believable way, that somehow, still has a lot of room to grow.
At times, the show treats the Crows with kid’s gloves, more interested in exploring the dynamics than going deep into what makes each character who they are, but Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea” is great setup for future storylines with the three of them – both together and apart. Because Kaz, Inej, and Jesper are more than what we saw this season from them, deeper, even more nuanced characters. And yet, I’m pretty sure that book reader or not, you are now pretty interested in seeing more of them. I’ll call that a win.
NO SAINT EVER WATCHED OVER ME, NOT LIKE YOU HAVE
Kaz’s emotional maturity takes a giant leap forward in Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea,” as he finally finds words to express some of what he feels to Inej. Of course, Kaz isn’t all there yet, and we don’t truly want him to be – we want the Six of Crows journey, but he is trying. It isn’t easy, and it takes him once again barely looking at her as she’s trying to literally stitch herself back together, and the worst possible response when she approaches him by the fire, but he gets there.
Like ten seconds too late, of course, because he really had to respond to her trying to prod him to say something else, to not just let her walk away, with: “What else is there?”. That’s the Kaz Brekker way, after all. What is softness to a boy that has never felt it directed at him? What is communication to a boy that has, somehow, gotten through life without ever showing his true hand. What is trust to a boy that has only been able to trust in himself for so long?
Inej is all of that. Inej, and Jesper. Kaz wouldn’t be here otherwise. But the words …the words still don’t come easy.
He starts with, “You were right,” because that the easier discussion. He didn’t want to believe in Alina, and he still doesn’t see her as a Saint, but as we’ve discussed before, Kaz Brekker isn’t in the business of lying to himself. Alina’s powers are real, and if admitting that will get Inej to sit back down and talk to him, well that’s where he’s going to start. Especially as, at that point, I’m not sure he knew what he wanted to say.
All he wanted was for Inej not to leave.
Inej makes it easy for him, by asking point blank. She always kinda does, in a way that’s about as caring as anything else. She doesn’t typically let him stew when he can’t find the words, instead she just confronts him with what’s wrong, asks what she needs from him. That’s one of the reasons their relationship works so well. There’s no gotcha to their dynamic, and though Kaz rarely says what Inej wants to hear, more often than not, he still ends up saying more than he would have wanted to say. Somehow, they make that work.
More than what he wanted to say, in this case, is the fact that he doesn’t believe in Alina, doesn’t believe in a higher power, but he believes in himself. And he believes in Inej. He always has. He throws Jesper in there too, not just because it’s true, but because he doesn’t want to seem too desperate and needy and, you know, make this a thing, but Inej gets it. The viewers get it. This is a thing. Especially when Kaz uses the Crow analogy to explain.
“Crows don’t just remember the faces of people who wronged them. They also remember those who were kind. They tell each other who to look after and who to watch out for.”
Isn’t that just the definition of family? Kaz might not be able to put a name to what he’s telling Inej, might not want to, he just sits there, holding his cane like a lifeline, desperate to keep his two closest friends, and yet trying to do so without making it so obvious to them – or the world – how much Dirtyhands actually cares. This is, in many ways, the same Kaz we meet at the beginning of Six of Crows, and yet, at the same time, this group has a much more developed dynamic than we see in that book. Whether that ends up being a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen, but I’m not sure I’ll be mad with any type of content they end up giving me from these three.
Especially when the show gives us, “No saint ever watched over me. Not like you have,” a line that is so purely Kaz, and that, at this moment in time, is tantamount to a declaration of love. Kaz might not understand it this way, but Kaz isn’t obtuse enough to miss the obvious connection – he had someone, once. Someone who was meant to take care of him. Someone who left him, instead. Inej isn’t obligated to take care of him, just like he doesn’t have to take care of her. And yet they’ve become each others constant in a world that every day throws another obstacle their way. And as much as Kaz might pretend otherwise, as much as he might tell himself – and her – that he could survive without her, the truth is that Kaz simply doesn’t want to.
Kaz has lost everything. Inej has lost everything. They’ve somehow made it through, on the other side. So, for people like them, it’s less about a feeling that you can’t survive without this other person, and more about the certainty that you don’t want to. This is where they’re making their stand. Together.
The scene ends with a promise from Kaz to Inej. “You won’t go back. I won’t let you. We won’t let you.” And Inej, the one who lost her family, the one who never thought she’d find one again, much less someone who saw all parts of her and never looked away, seems, for a moment at least, to understand. She’s not alone. Not anymore.
Things I think I think:
- I will say, the backstory helps the Darkling A LOT. It doesn’t make what he’s doing good, but it does help understand why he feels he has to.
- Also, to see him actually concerned about Baghra made me feel a little sad for all that’s been lost.
- The flashback is also effective at showing HOW Grisha could be persecuted, because their powers, at times, makes this feel impossible.
- One could argue Baghra acts the way she does because she feels the failure of her son is on her.
- “Most Grisha aren’t fighters. They fix things. They make things.”/ ”Then we make an army.”
- “Between our dwindling funds, lack of time and conflicting interests, it’s time we cut our loses.”
- Jesper’s “I’d miss me too. I’m fantastic.”
- Open your eyes, Zoya.
- We know why Mal’s a very good tracker, but I wonder how this plays for non-book readers.
- Kaz trying to make small talk. “Are you hungry?” Really?
- “Jesper fixed your cane,” means everyone knows about Jesper. And by everyone I mean Kaz and Inej, no one else matters.
- WHAT ELSE IS THERE? Like, if you need me to, Kaz, I will write you a list of what else is there.
- But the funny thing is, I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to, so why do you say things you will regret? Why?
- “She’s a girl with a gift, not some savior of lore.”
- It would do Alina well if everyone believed what Kaz believes.
- “Milo. The goat’s name was Milo.”
- “You murderer. You stupid fool,” is …harsh. True, too.
- Mal’s whole “You?” to the Darkling is kind of hilarious.
- You look more than fine, Jesper.
- “No one’s ever going to believe I’m that old.”/” You tell yourself that.”
- Inej always looks at Kaz after laughing.
- “Jesper and I can’t do it without you.”/ “Been saying that since day one.”
- Inej be like, “Imma fuck shit up to help Alina. But later.”
- “I very much doubt they’ll notice your feet.”
- But if no one does, I’ll judge them.
- “Make sure I have an open casket,” he said.
- I got emotional at, “No mourners. No funerals.”
- NO ONE’S DYING TODAY.
What did you think about Shadow and Bone 1×07 “The Unsea”? Share with us in the comments below!
Shadow and Bone is available to stream on Netflix.