Shadow and Bone 2×04 “Every Monstrous Thing” is about monsters, literal and figurative. It’s also about the things we consider monstrous, even when they aren’t. There are monsters of every kind in this show, after all, and they don’t all look it. Vasily and the royal family are no saints, and yet they carry the veneer of respectability. But what makes them better than the Darkling? What gives them moral superiority? Are they not, in some ways, as responsible as he is for the Ravka that now exists?
It’s hard to stay in this idea, of course, because the Darkling wins in this hour, and when the dust settles, only Nikolai remains. But we won’t be shedding any tears for Vasily, he was never the future of Ravka. He was just a different kind of monster, one who liked to pretend he wasn’t.
Then, of course, there are those who might be perceived as monstrous – like Genya or even David, traitors to one side, changed by the nichevo’ya in the case of Genya. But as this episode proves, even with Pekka Rollins, the monsters aren’t always the ones who look it. And though Shadow and Bone isn’t a morality tale, in this episode, it does seem like most of the monsters get what they deserve.
The real monster of this episode is, of course, the Darkling, and season 2 of Shadow and Bone has been very heavy-handed in showing him as such, perhaps, a bit too heavy-handed. It’s good to draw lines in the sand and make storytelling decisions, but the show seems to want to remove anything that might make people root for the Darkling, and as someone who didn’t really love him all that much in the first place, that isn’t exactly how it goes.
It’s also not the most interesting story to tell. The worst monsters aren’t the ones who are not redeemable, but the ones who make the wrong decisions, over and over, even though they could make better ones. So Baghra’s “I was a fool to think I could steer you to redemption,” doesn’t really serve the purpose the show thinks it does. Sure, maybe there was never any redemption to be had. I never really thought there was. But the Darkling is a more interesting character if there’s a speck of possibility there. If we consider that, perhaps, he did care for Alina, at least for a moment. If we frame his wrong choices in the right reason, even if he himself has long lost sight of what that is.
Just as Alina is a more interesting character as she’s toying with the idea of crossing a line, just to stop Kirigan. Power corrupts. Absolute power, well, you all know how the saying goes. What is it that makes us make the right decisions? Is something inside us, the people around us, or both? If the show is smart, it will take some time to explore this – whether it be with Kirigan, with Alina, or both.
YOU’RE MY FLAG, YOU’RE MY NATION
If Malina works on screen in a way it never truly did in the books, it’s hard not to chalk up all of it to Archie Renaux’s delivery – and his chemistry with Jessie Mei Li. The lines come straight from the book, and yet coming from Renaux, they don’t sound cheesy, they just sound true. They also sound a bit too codependent, but this is a YA adaptation, what else did we expect?
Honestly, the show probably doesn’t have time to grapple with how little choice Mal and Alina have had, in anything, much less the fact that they’re here, together, and they love each other the way they do. But if this season is really going to adapt Ruin and Rising too, then they’re going to have to. And, if they do it right, perhaps the love these two feel can finally be not just fate, but a decision they both make. That strikes me as much more romantic than the alternative.
For now, though, it works. And more importantly, we believe it. Mal and Alina are everything to each other, and as they embark on this new journey to heal Ravka, the goal isn’t just to destroy the fold – though it is, the goal is to make a better world, and then find some peace, together. The ordinary, the day-to-day, that’s what Mal and Alina want. That’s what any of us wants with the person we love. They just have a lot more to get through to get there at the moment than most of us will ever face, real monsters included.
I WOULDN’T MISS IT
Inej keeps her promises, except when she doesn’t. Except when she can’t. Because in saving those girls, Inej finds something she hasn’t had since she was one of those girls herself – a purpose. Kaz Brekker isn’t her purpose, he can never be. Perhaps he can one day become the man walking beside her as she fulfills her calling, but he can never be the one thing making her life complete. In this regard, the arc of Kanej’s relationships is very far removed from Malina’s in a good way.
But even if Inej cannot make Kaz her purpose, she also can’t leave him to face his demons alone. She cares too much. She’s tried not to because a lost, scared girl like her craves security and Kaz Brekker isn’t that, not really. And yet, in some ways, he is. Because he helped her when she had no one else. He provided comfort when she had none. And even if he did it clumsily and inadequately, when you have nothing else …that’s still something.
For Kaz, on the other hand, the moment Inej doesn’t show up is …illuminating. “The trick is not to love anything,” he tells Pekka, but he’s failed at that. He cares about Inej too much and that is a weakness. It might be one no one else but he can see just yet, but it is a weakness nonetheless.
“If we can’t rely on each other, we have nothing,” he tells her later, as he pushes her away, but what he really wants to say is, “I thought you were dead and I was scared.” Of course, Kaz Brekker doesn’t have those words. We can hardly expect him to have all the words. If we’re being honest, he’s found a lot more than we expected him to in this show already.
I’D LIKE TO FIND OUT
Wylan and Jesper feel like a safe port in a storm of ship issues, because everything about them just …works. Yes, they had one previous night together, and yes, Wylan left because, well, this is Jesper we’re talking about, of course he expected to be left, and self-preservation is the darndest thing. But as Jesper says …well, that was before he knew Wylan.
Kaz Brekker is no matchmaker (or is he?), but the way he brings Wylan and Jesper together works perfectly to help them see each other before they get to be more. And though the cynical TV-watching part of me thinks, wait, this is too fast, is there a curveball coming, the biggest part of me hopes it’s the other couples that get the curveballs. LGBTQ+ ships rarely get to be the steady, dependable ones. We’ll take Wesper and we won’t even complain about the rest. Well, not too much.
Especially if we can get more scenes of them like we got in this episode, together, laughing, being proud of what they are finding in each other. We need more of that in our TV in general, and in the fantasy genre in particular. Queer joy should be the norm, not the exception, and this feels like a good place to start.
Things I think I think:
- Really dig the different title cards, but this one isn’t my favorite.
- Oh, joy. Vasily Lantsov. What have I done to deserve him?
- But that was a reaction from Zoya to Nikolai’s announcement. Now, can I get Nikolai and Zoya talking? My kingdom for a conversation. A look. ANYTHING.
- “Understatement is overrated” is indeed Nikolai’s motto. In fact, he could sell t-shirts with that saying.
- The Queen is giving me Vasily vibes, instead of Nikolai vibes. That is not a good thing.
- Hey, Zoya is still Zoya! Comes off a bit better now, though.
- TAMAR AND NADIA.
- “You’re my flag, Alina. You’re my nation” remains a darn good line. And Archie can deliver it.
- I very much enjoy Baghra telling it to the Darkling like it is.
- Someone cast Freddy and Amita in a rom-com, please.
- I don’t know what’s better, Jesper saying “I kinda like your face” OR Wylan’s reaction.
- SOMETIMES BROTHERS FIGHT.
- Jesper, you have no idea what this means. And yet Kaz just …accepted it.
- If anything has felt too soon, it is perhaps this. They really need to go deeper into what it means if/when they get more time.
- Look, it’s a FUN plan, what can I say?
- Sure, sure, like anyone believes Kaz isn’t in this with Nina.
- It feels like this escalation of Alina’s powers has to pay off somehow.
- Am I upset David found his way to them so quickly? Very much no.
- “Any chance is better than no chance.”/”That’s a very Sturmhond thing to say.”
- Did I enjoy the Crows taking down Pekka? Yes? Did it make me worry about continuity with other things? Very much yes, lol.
- Every second of the Kaz flashbacks was like a dagger to my soul, that part is true.
- How does Vasily even get the drop on Mal? In what world does that happen?
- Also, Vasily gives me the creeps.
- This Wesper scene is PEAK ROMANCE. Basically a self-contained rom-com scene.
- Kanej angst is a drug.
- Nikolai’s all-casual “I’m a bastard” reveal is kinda hilarious.
- “Being myself is a luxury I can’t often indulge.”
- We do like you when you are, though. And though I still feel very little of a romantic connection, it does feel like Nikolai and Alina make a good team.
- Take Vasily. TAKE HIM.
- Not very sad about how this party turned out. Even if the Darkling isn’t exactly my favorite dinner guest.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of Shadow and Bone 2×04 “Every Monstrous Thing”? Share with us in the comments below!
Shadow and Bone Season 2 is now available to stream on Netflix.