Shadow and Bone 2×05 “Yuyeh Sesh (Despise Your Heart)” is an episode that defines two words: beauty and leadership. The first side of the coin is Genya, the one she thought she was, the one she has become, and perhaps, the one she has always been, deep down. Because Genya has always had scars, but now she wears them on the outside — which makes it very, very hard for her to belive anyone can still look at her and see beauty.
On the flip side, there’s Nikolai, a Nikolai who has always had good intentions and good ideas, but who in this hour is confronted – in a way he hasn’t before – with everything that is wrong in Ravka, everything he needs to change. If he is to be a leader, whatever his country might become, it must start with him. And for that, he must not just face the facts of what his family was, he must strive to be the kind of King people can look up to.
Both Genya’s beauty and Nikolai’s leadership come head to head in an episode that once again nails the character development, but that does a disservice to all the good messages – and great acting — by featuring a Shu Han that looks about as well-thought-out as an Asian-inspired party back in the 90s. It’s not just laughable, it’s insulting, and it sadly undermines a lot of what the show does right, because it forces us to look at the show’s mistakes instead of its triumphs.
YOU’RE SAFE HERE
Shadow and Bone 2×05 “Yuyeh Sesh (Despise Your Heart)” is a crossroads for Nikolai, and the show handles his moment(s) with Genya, and then with his mother, perfectly. First, of course, there’s anger. Here is Genya, the woman who murdered the King, and Nikolai wants justice. He believes in justice. But he’s also a man of reason, and a man of common sense, so it doesn’t take long for him to understand that, ironically, the one true victim in the Genya situation might just be Genya.
The first sign that Nikolai would actually make a good King is that he listens to the advice of Baghra and Alina, and lets Genya go. But later, Nikolai takes it a step further, when he listens to Genya herself explain what she was forced to endure. The words hit him deep, and Patrick Gibson plays the moment of realization perfectly, just as he plays the apology that follows with as much earnestness as it’s possible. Because that’s Nikolai to a “t.” He didn’t do the thing, but he is the King now. He’s responsible. And he will apologize because he understands it’s what he needs to do.
But Genya doesn’t want an apology. She doesn’t want empty words — and she’s not at a place to really measure if Nikolai can truly back them up, not yet. She’s heard those all her life, from a lot of men who have tried to use her. Instead, Genya wants action. She wants Nikolai to make her pain mean something.
He takes it to heart, and the fact that he does reveals his true character. If anything has been made clear by the first five episodes of this show, is that Nikolai knows what his family is, but he still cares about his mother. He, however, cannot be a good King and a good son, not when his mother is responsible for so much pain. If he is to be a good King, he must hold her accountable – and punish her.
“If Ravka is to change, it must start with me,” he says, and he is right. It is the correct decision, both personally and politically. But it’s also an extremely costly one for a man who is surrounded by people but truly has no one on his side.
YOUR BEAUTY IS YOUR ARMOR
It’s hard to imagine a more romantic speech than David’s in Shadow and Bone 2×05 “Yuyeh Sesh (Despise Your Heart),” particularly because, for David, there’s nothing romantic to his proclamation. Instead, he’s just being honest as he calls Genya’s beauty an armor – one he’s always seen through. “What’s inside you,” he tells her, “that’s steel.” And David, being a Durast, understands steel better than he understands anything.
There’s nothing empty or patronizing about his words. He’s just seeing what was always there, what the Darkling, and even Genya herself, could never see. She is brave and unbreakable, and she doesn’t need fixing. Has never needed fixing. David loves her, just as he is, and this is his way of saying it. It’s not about romance, even though it is romantic, it’s about David stating a fact, as plainly as he possibly can.
For Genya, it’s simple. The words – the ones she has always wanted to hear, and the ones she desperately needed at this moment – hammer home the truth of what she has found with David. And though love doesn’t cure all wounds, physical or otherwise, there’s some beautiful respite to be found in each other’s arms. David and Genya don’t have much, and they certainly don’t have all the comforts they had when they were back at the Little Palace, but they have each other, and that feels like the better deal.
I’M NOT HERE FOR YOU
Kaz and Inej are at an impasse in Shadow and Bone 2×05 “Yuyeh Sesh (Despise Your Heart).” For Kaz, it would be easier if Inej had taken her freedom and ran. More painful, but ultimately easier. Kaz is, after all, used to pain. He could have continued living, even if her absence would have meant sacrificing a little bit more of his heart. The sweet torture of having her close and not being able to have her must seem to him, at times, to be infinitely worse than the possibility of her being gone.
But Inej won’t just go, and though a part of her does stay for Alina, an even bigger part stays for Kaz. Because she is the only one who sees his struggles, and the only one who understands what he needs – and why he needs it. Kaz gifted Inej with a piece of his heart when he shared the truth about Jordie, and as much as he now wants to take it back, to protect both himself and her, Inej won’t give it back. It’s hers for safekeeping now. Even if she one day finally leaves. Even if their paths diverge for a while. When someone sees you, really sees you, there’s no going back.
And if that means deviating from the job to bring Kaz his gloves, well so be it. Inej might be the Wraith, and she might never actually get to have Kaz the way she wants, but that doesn’t mean she won’t care. That doesn’t mean she won’t follow her heart. He can’t take that from her. Inej will continue to be Inej, Kaz Brekker be dammed. And, ironically, that might be the reason he loves her, even if a large part of him wishes he didn’t.
FORGIVE US FOR THE FALLING INTO STEREOTYPE
Everything about the visuals of Shu Han in Shadow and Bone 2×05 “Yuyeh Sesh (Despise Your Heart)” feels catered to fit a stereotype. In fact, the entire thing looks like someone went to party city and bought all the Asian-inspired decorations, then threw them together on set haphazardly. The costumes, the décor – even the person the Crows are there to meet – it’s all stereotype after stereotype, without any kind of depth to even balance it out.
The books are not exactly great in this respect, either – but in a show that is less adapted from and more inspired by Shadow and Bone, if there was something that needed to change, it was the overreliance on stereotypes. To add insult to injury, the first season of the show introduces a racism aspect this season rarely delves into – not even while they are in Shu Han. It makes the rest of an episode that has admittedly good moments feel a tad hollow because it breaks the fantasy we’re supposed to be immersing ourselves in.
For all that Shu Han feels narratively – and visually – problematic, the truth of the matter is, I’m not even the person most equipped to critique this failing. That doesn’t mean it isn’t easy to stop, or that we shouldn’t be listening to what Asian critics have to say about something that feels like a travesty, even from my point of view.
Things I think I think:
- Crows! This might be my favorite of the title cards. EXCEPT FOR THE MATTHIAS CROW.
- That’s just painful.
- Kirigan be like, strategy, what’s that?
- “We have to keep our demons at bay,” HA IRONIC IRONY.
- These flashbacks are bruuuutal.
- MORNING SCENE? Morning scene.
- Kaz knowing where everyone is at every point is still A+.
- Zoya, my love.
- “Not an option,” says Kaz. Jesper, meanwhile? Straight to Inej. And with Nina!
- “He’d rather push you away than admit he feels anything for you?”
- Glad that you said it out loud, Nina.
- Tamar and Nadia make sense.
- Genya running from David, my heart.
- Alina and Genya hugging, I CANNOT TAKE IT.
- Tolya and Nina speaking Shu was cute.
- I did not expect the reveal about Wylan not being able to read coming now.
- Look, Genya’s poisoning was A+. 10/10, no notes.
- Could they make Shu Han look more like a stereotype?
- “Who here hasn’t lost someone?”
- Genya and David just invented romance. David just invented romance. I don’t make the rules.
- Tolya trying to give Jesper advice is lol. And his face, too. Priceless.
- Wylan running away from a compliment, however, is just sad. I want to cry.
- Nina and Kaz are like chaotic siblings.
- BRB, will be calling Kaz “waffles” from now on.
- Inej taking a moment to take Kaz his gloves is actually the height of romance, I changed my mind. And keeping her distance, too.
- “I couldn’t leave you.”
- Alina’s “I was meant for more” is a double-edged sword.
- Kirigan so easy.
- “The problem with wanting… is that it makes us weak.”
- LOL, the way Nikolai and Baghra just left.
- They needed this fight, Mal and Alina.
- “It’s as if I know you.” You do, Jesper.
- What’s funnier: “I’m a soldier, not a thief” or Tolya’s response?
- Nina would say it was worth it, I think.
- Oh, joy. More of Pekka Rollins.
- “The power was …angry, but it was mine. Mine alone.” Well, if the show is going to go into morally grey territory with Alina, I’m in.
- “He betrayed you. Violated you.” Baghra is taking no prisoners.
- “You are who you are in spite of him.”
- I have really enjoyed Nikolai and Alina’s friendship.
- Aww, the lucky compass.
- Love me a good heist.
- Wylan, baby. Someone hug him.
- And Jesper.
- Okay, they can just hug.
- Foreboding feeling, I love it.
- DID YOU REALLY HAVE TO SAY “THIS IS HOW WE DIE”?
- Man, that final shot.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of Shadow and Bone 2×05 “Yuyeh Sesh (Despise Your Heart)”? Share with us in the comments below!
Shadow and Bone Season 2 is now available to stream on Netflix.