Shadow and Bone 2×01 “No Shelter But Me” is a solid start to the second season of a show that feels ready to leave it all on the table. That can be a great thing – it’s not that we can trust Netflix to renew shows, after all – or a bad thing, depending on how the season evolves. As it stands, the storyline with the Crows seems to be going over stuff that only happens near the end of Crooked Kingdom, the second book in that duology, while the storyline following Alina is clearly Siege and Storm, the second book in the Shadow and Bone trilogy.
That, of course, means that the pacing is a little different in the two storylines, at least for people that come in with expectations. Coming into the show with no book knowledge would probably leave you feeling like this is a more comprehensive story than it feels like for book fans. This is particularly true because the Crows storyline seems to be borrowing stuff from way later on, while the Hellgate storyline is moving at a glacial pace.
Overall, though, at least in the first episode, it sorta works – if you can forget what you think should happen and when it should happen. And the thing about Shadow and Bone is that, well, the casting has provided us with such good versions of these characters, that it’s easy to just get lost in what they’re transmitting instead of getting caught up in the details. Yes, it feels like fanfic at times (particularly Crows fanfic), but no one’s ever said no to good fic, right?
SOME HOPEFUL PLACE
For Malina, Shadow and Bone 2×01 “No Shelter But Me” sets up the future they want – and ironically, that hasn’t changed one bit since they were kids. All they want is just to be together. If you strip away all the things they need to do, or are meant to do …the happy ending for both Mal and Alina is just… each other. Whether it be traveling, or just settling down, as long as it’s the two of them, they’ll be happy.
The show has done a much better job of selling this idea than the books do up to this point, and that’s partly because Archie Renaux and Jessie Mei Li just have such believable chemistry as both two people who love each other, above all, and two people who are trying to figure out how that love can be physically expressed. It’s a very innocent kind of love, but it is their first love, and they have known each other since they were kids, so that is to be expected.
It is also a love built on trust and considering who Alina is, what is expected of her, and the way she has been used for her powers before, that is incredibly important. You cannot truly love someone you cannot fully trust, and there is no one in the world Alina trusts more than Mal and vice-versa. Wouldn’t you rather face life – and all your enemies – alongside someone you truly trust?
Of course, their love cannot – won’t just survive as that one thing, because they are not in the orphanage anymore. Instead, it’s now up to Mal and Alina to figure out not just if their love can survive the world they have to live in and the circumstances they are forced to confront, but if their love should. For Alina, that means taking her rightful place as the Sun Summoner, as the hope of Ravka, and figuring out where and if Mal fits in that picture. The important thing is she wants him to. He wants to be there. The rest is just figuring out how.
PRIVATEER (NEVER PIRATE)
Sturmhond (we will refrain from using his actual name until the show reveals it) was basically the character Season 2 rested on. We already knew the characters in Season 1 worked, and as much as I adore Wylan, there isn’t as much resting on his shoulders as there is on the shoulders of this privateer, not pirate. So, in a sense, it felt like if he worked, the season would work. And though Shadow and Bone 2×01 “No Shelter But Me” is a very small sample to judge on, the sensation after the first hour is that he very much does.
And the reason why is casting. He had to come off as self-assured and borderline cocky, but never unlikeable, a very hard thing to pull off, especially before you get to know him. It’s a good idea to make him go toe-to-toe with Kaz as his introduction, because their dynamics in the books have always had the vibe of a chess match (that Kaz almost always wins, but at least it’s a match), and Kaz, a character we already like, works as a good barometer for the introduction of a new character the show wants us to like.
Not a pirate, but a privateer (and a lot more), not quite a mercenary, but a man willing to go outside the regular channels to achieve what he wants. And not a hero, but also …not a villain. No, there’s already one of those on this show.
Similarly, but in a very different way, Wylan also works perfectly in Shadow and Bone 2×01 “No Shelter But Me.” It was an easier balance, I think, because Wylan needs to play off well with the Crows, have chemistry with Jesper, and just …be his own adorable self. In many ways, the Crows are all just lost kids, carrying different loss and pain, but carrying it all the same. And that’s much easier to relate to than the cocky, self-assured vibes of a pira– I mean, privateer.
I’M NOT LEAVING YOU
A part of me is a little bit torn on the Kanej we get in Shadow and Bone 2×01 “No Shelter But Me” because in a rational sense it isn’t even that much – and yet, considering Kaz and Inej in the books, it is a LOT. But Kaz and Inej are the two characters that gain (or lose, depending on what you want) the most in an adaptation such as this one. Kaz, in particular, is a character that is very, very loud about his feelings on the book – at least, on his internal monologue. He doesn’t say 1/10 of the frankly romantic things he’s thinking about. He can’t.
This Kaz also can’t get to where he wants to be, and has a lot of demons – ones we literally get to see here – but he’s got to communicate somehow. Plus, the changes in Season 1 affect the ways Kaz, Inej, and Jesper behave in Season 2. Because Inej knows she has options and Jesper suspects Kaz actually does care. So that changes the ballgame. Importantly, though, it doesn’t seem to change who these characters are. And it doesn’t really change the way they feel about each other or the things they are willing to do.
For some, though, there might be a sense of disappointment as to where these characters are – where it seems like they will go. This is not the same as the books, and from the way, it’s being set up, it’s clear it can never be the same as the books. These characters’ journeys have already moved past some plot stuff that hasn’t already happened. I have been particularly harsh on other shows for deviating too much from the source material – Bridgerton Season 2, for one. But the difference there is that they did it in a way that felt like it took away from the characters I loved, mainly Kate Sharma. Here the characters still feel the same, they just seem to be moving through this journey differently than they did before.
If you can accept Crows fanfic, with the perfect actors for these Crows getting to bring that fanfic to life, then the journey of this season will probably be satisfying. If not, well, thankfully, the books will always be there to welcome you home.
THE TROUBLE WITH STEREOTYPES
If there has been one consistent criticism of the Shadow and Bone series it’s been how its deals with racial issues. This doesn’t mean fans don’t want a diverse show – it just means that fans can recognize fake diversity or performative diversity. And Novyi Zem in Shadow and Bone 2×01 “No Shelter But Me” has an inauthentic feeling to it, one that can probably be traced back to a lack of real diversity behind the scenes.
This is true not just in the writing room, but in all respects. Even within the confines of fantasy, places, and characters that are clearly based on diverse communities should have people from those communities shaping everything about them, including the look and feel. And though it is impossible to know if this is the root of the problem, the time we spent in Novyi Zem feels a little bit like a bunch of stereotypes put together into a visual that doesn’t actually fit anything.
And sure, it’s fantasy. It doesn’t have to fit anything in particular. But it also shouldn’t feel put together after a few google searches, either. Representation is a very specific thing, and the more a show tries to generalize, the more they lose in translation. This feels like one of those instances. And as well-meaning as it might be, that doesn’t change the fact that this is one thing Hollywood in general knows it needs to improve on, and somehow, we always end up with “oh, but we tried” and not much else.
Things I think I think:
- Scary way to start the season, A+ no notes.
- I also really like the title card.
- Okay, look, let’s be honest, Mal is very, very cute. Archie, what you’ve done here is pure magic.
- SOMEONE FEED ALINA.
- Of course they’re not dreams, Alina.
- I will never not get excited at seeing Kaz, Inej and Jesper together.
- “She does that” LOL.
- I quite like the flashbacks on Kaz. Ironically, Kaz is a character we know a lot about – because he’s quite eloquent in his internal monologue. The show cannot truly adapt that, so it has to visually show us some things and put others in his mouth.
- Hahaha the way he sees right through Dressen, though.
- IS THAT STURMHOND? SO SOON. AND WITH KAZ.
- Someone hold me. I’m having heart palpitations.
- He said the privateer thing!
- How is Malina so cute? How am I finding it so cute? Is this magic?
- I mean, but are you really surprised he knew, Jesper?
- Kaz and Sturmhond sassing each other, this season is already complete.
- Both Alina and Mal are awful at subterfuge.
- The thing with everyone protecting them WAS nice, though.
- Tolya and Tamar are perfect. Peeerfect. If this show consistently gets something right, it’s casting.
- “Lessons were learned.” But were they?
- “We didn’t do that, did we?” LOL – Jesper is like, not that I’d mind, just checking.
- “What happens to saints is fate, what happens here is up to us”
- Inej is code for I cannot leave you, because, you know, pesky feelings.
- Did I say Tolya and Tamar were perfect? I take it back, Wylan is perfect.
- And his interactions with Kaz feel dead on.
- For how much this is basically Crows fanfic, I will say it’s very enjoyable Crows fanfic.
- This Inej and Nina scene, for example? Something I believe could have happened, that furthers their bond and that doesn’t feel OOC.
- Am I just going to be crying over Matthias all season?
- Oh, oh …but did Wylan and Jesper …you know?
- Wylan is so adorable; I literally cannot process it. I love him. He’s been on my screen a few minutes, and I would already kill people for him.
- I’m glad Kaz didn’t lie to Nina. But I do wonder how the show plans to get to the releasing Matthias part.
- “The barrel doesn’t belong to kings, it belongs to bastards” is a good line, what can I say?
- Sturmhond was probably the hardest character to get right, and so far, I think he works. I will need more evidence, but I think he works.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of Shadow and Bone 2×01 “No Shelter But Me”? Share with us in the comments below!