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Of Trust, Secrets, and Decisions

Out of all the characters from Shadowhunters, the most interesting can only be Magnus Bane. If his irreverent personality wasn’t enough, Magnus has lived for centuries. He has both accumulated and created knowledge in the Shadow World, including the potions, spells, and Portals. Moreover, Magnus is a part of the oppressed Downworlders. Yet, he is one of the most powerful warlocks alive, whose magic can overpower even the Silent Brothers. That is quite a list.

And if that wasn’t enough, Magnus carries even more weight when it comes to representation of minorities. An Asian man, Magnus exudes masculinity and power. Both things are rarely allowed to his peers on television. He also embodies a positive take on bisexual people. His sexuality is neither played for jokes nor in a derogatory way. Instead, Magnus is a romantic soul, proud of loving whomever his heart chooses.

Played by the exceptional Harry Shum Jr., Magnus Bane could’ve simply existed in the show and make it ten times more interesting. Still, that would not be enough to honor such a character. Much as Harry himself earned his award as TV Breakout Star by TV Scoop Awards (2016), brought to the show GLAAD’s Outstanding Drama Series (2017), and was nominated to Teen Choice Awards Choice Summer TV Actor (2017), Magnus deserves a storyline worthy of him.

And that was exactly what season 2 of Shadowhunters delivered, especially in its last 10 episodes.

In contradictions, there is truth

While the first season of the show focused on a very private journey for Magnus’ character, it also relied too much on his eccentricity to give the character life. Magnus’ flaws and strengths were often overshadowed by his romantic turmoils. That happened before the audience could grasp what kind of person he is. Instead, the viewers saw only the shapes of a character.

Still, with someone as multi-layered as Magnus is and with the show-saving performance from Harry, a lack of defining traits didn’t completely harm the character.

In the middle of flashier outfits and sassy one-liners, there were glimpses of Magnus’ personality. In the very first episode, Magnus protects the other warlocks. He is in a position of power, one that has other warlocks such as Dot seeking out to him for help. Amidst drinking and a nonchalant attitude, Magnus is the only barrier between Valentine and the warlocks. And that is because he puts himself there.

Yet, Magnus is also reckless when it comes to matters of the heart. He agrees to meet up with the Shadowhunters to retrieve his necklace, as well as to offer Clary a safe place to hide. Magnus risked his well-being for a jewelry of sentimental value and a girl whose mother he knew. When that backfired and brought Circle members to his lair, Magnus fought them off by himself. He then gave away his precious necklace as a thank you to Izzy’s for her services in helping him and the warlocks.

Season 1 of Shadowhunters went a long way to tell us who Magnus Bane is, though it was at its most effective when it showed that instead. The direct contrast between Magnus’ reputation among the Shadowhunters and his actions made the character shine. The authoritative figures, such as Hodge and Robert, painted Magnus as a greedy hedonist who only cared about riches and sex. However,  every time Magnus was on screen, he proved to be selfless and caring.

So much so, his “bad” attitude later in the game put off some viewers. Those viewers probably missed the first signs of Magnus’ flaws, such as his quick-to-anger temperament and tendency to over-exaggerating. A broken heart in healing softened Magnus’ strong personality, but at no point was he ever supposed to be perceived as docile. Magnus’ spiked hair and edgy look are what truly represent what lies underneath his pretty face.

Ironically, though, season 1’s failure of grounding the character created contrasts that are very much in line with Magnus Bane. A complex character by definition, Magnus is full of contradictions that make this immortal warlock so relatable. He is oppressed but powerful, ruthless but generous, tormented but kind.

Out of all his contradictions, though, two outshine the others. Magnus has a long history of doubting his own self-worth while being confident in his skills. In the Shadow World, warlocks make a living off selling magical services. Magnus has no problems charging small fortunes for his potions and spells. He knows for a fact they are worth that and more.

But he is less certain about himself and his own value. As the son of a demon, Magnus carries a mark that sets him apart from the mundanes. His cat-eyes, the symbol of his power and immortality, are also what drove his mother to suicide. Magnus’ eyes caused him to be rejected when he was merely a boy. As a result, Magnus presents himself in the best possible way in the hopes of not being shunned out again. He is always impeccable, even if it means conjuring a full face of makeup so his boyfriend doesn’t find out he is hurting.

“What? I wake up like this: Flawless.”

That insecurity, in turn, leads to the second contradiction. Magnus seeks the truth while hiding secrets. His use of makeup is not solely decorational, it is his personal war paint. Magnus has no problems sharing intimate stories with strangers. More often than not, though, those tales serve as brags and distractions from what is truly meaningful in his past. Magnus’ bold fashion statements and an extravagant personality create a character, a brand for the real Magnus to hide behind.

That real Magnus only comes to life around a selected group of people. All of Magnus’ friends and loved ones have the privilege to peek behind the curtain and get to know the man inside of the warlock.

But that privilege was earned by the one thing that Magnus treasures beyond any other; honesty.

Trust and Love

All of Magnus’ close relationships are based on honesty. It is from there that he builds trust. Even brutal honesty, such as Ragnor Fell’s, is an appealing trait in Magnus’ eyes. This is precisely why their friendship lasted for centuries, much as Magnus and Catarina’s relationship. In the very few interactions between these immortal friends, one thing is clear: they do not pull back any punches.

But because Magnus is so honest with those he cares about, he puts himself in a vulnerable position. In that way, even someone as physically powerful as he is can fell into an emotional trap. Which is exactly what happened in Magnus’ relationship with Camille Belcourt.

Once friends and lovers, Magnus and Camille had fun together. Their bond was deeply forged over decades, through admiration and love. In fact, that bond was strong enough that Camille was able to talk Magnus out of committing suicide in his greatest moment of weakness. But what started out as a mutually supportive relationship shifted into something much uglier in time.

By the end of their many breakups, Camille had used Magnus’ vulnerability against him countless times. Magnus had loved and trusted her, and Camille’s response was to cheat and steal from him. She played with Magnus’ heart as her own grew hard as a rock.

With such a fundamentally rupture shaking his every fiber, Magnus closed himself off. For almost a century, he was able to flirt and have something casual with Dot, and even adopt Raphael Santiago as a surrogate son, but not love. Not until Alec Lightwood came along.

The one thing that unlocked Magnus, such as he himself puts it, was how honest Alec was. Not only with his blunt words but also with his actions. Alec’s beauty might have caught Magnus’ attention but his heart kept it. Before Magnus could realize it, there was a tenuous trust between them.

From there, love was born. Despite their many differences, Magnus found himself being able to open up to another person again. As the Shadow World collapses around them, Magnus got to know this kind Shadowhunter who put himself into harm’s way in order to stop living a lie. Their relationship was born from an act of truthiness. It grew stronger every time Magnus and Alec talked their problems away.

Magnus finally found happiness again. Not perfect nor complete happiness, but enough to be worth fighting for. He was finally able to be vulnerable and put his trust in someone else’s hands again, whether it was about sexuality or his warlock mark. Slowly, Magnus began to feel comfortable to share his secrets with someone again.

But some secrets take more than trust to share. Especially those one wants to forget. At this point, Magnus’ own insecurities and self-worth played an important part. However comfortable Magnus was with sharing his secrets with Alec, there are some things that it’s best not to think about.

Magnus had no problem telling Alec about his mother’s suicide, triggered by the knowledge of giving birth to a half-demon son. In fact, Magnus had also told that story to Simon when he thought it could help the confused vampire. But that was just a layer of the truth. Undoubtedly, the layer Magnus himself tends to focus on, since what happened next kick-started centuries of misplaced guilty.

The Breaking Point

Before Magnus could process those dreadful memories by himself, however, he was forced to confront them in the worst possible way. When Azazel put Magnus’ mind in Valentine’s body, Magnus was mistakenly tortured with an Agony Rune. More than just bringing out physical pain, the rune forces the subject to relive their worst memories.

The torture was thankfully short-lived but horrifying nonetheless. Once back in his body, Magnus suffered silently from PTSD. The changes in behavior were many, though subtle for someone so lavishing. Magnus started drinking heavily and opting for flashier, more striking looks. Magnus also focused on others, throwing all his cards on Alec’s Cabinet Meeting between the Shadowhunters and the Downworlders leaders.

However, it was only all of those factors and four nights in a row of waking up alone that had Alec stop pretending things were fine. As much as Magnus tried to cover up his suffering, Alec confronted him about what was wrong. The moment was more than just Magnus professing the “shameful” secret that he had killed his stepfather as a boy. It was the first time Magnus told someone about it.  

When Alec assured Magnus that what happened was not his fault, even if Magnus knew what he was doing, it is a cathartic moment. That incident made Magnus question his nature, it made him think of himself as this ugly person capable of destruction and horror. For someone who Magnus trusts to tell him otherwise, someone who loves him so deeply, is a radical change in perspective. Alec accepted Magnus, all sides of him. Maybe if he did, so could Magnus.

That was why Alec’s following betrayal hurts so deeply. Magnus was only on his way to start healing when Alec failed to trust him with a state secret. Right as Magnus was vouching for Alec’s transparency policy to other Downworlders, Alec omitted from him that Valentine, and not the Clave, had the Soul Sword.

As Head of the Institute and High Warlock, each of them has a responsibility to their own people. When Alec chose not to tell Magnus, he sided with the Shadowhunters’ paternalistic philosophy. The Clave believed the Downworlders would start uprisings if they knew their greatest threat was in possession of the mass-murder weapon again. Following that logic, Alec deprived Magnus and his people of forming a plan of action. Because of that, Magnus had no idea and no way to protect his people.

This betrayal of trust originated from a political stand rather than a personal one. Unlike what happened with Camille, it was not a personal attack in intent. However, Magnus’ response could not have been detached from personal feelings. When Magnus snaps at Alec during their confrontation, hitting low with insults he knows will hurt, it is not a rational response but one that comes from a place of hurt and fear.

Good thing Luke was there to stop Magnus from destroying his own penthouse

Following that, Magnus defers to primal logic: “If one can’t lie, they will tell the truth. If they tell the truth, I can trust them.” He seeks out the Seelie Queen because she physically cannot lie. At no point Magnus fools himself into thinking she cannot deceive: he is too intelligent for that. But Magnus does fool himself into thinking he can see through any coming betrayal.

However, fear and pain are not the only driving forces in Magnus’ decision. In a parallel to season 1, Magnus’ first course of action is to find protection for his people. The Seelie Queen can offer that in ways the Clave cannot. The Shadowhunters only promise to stop Valentine from using the Soul Sword, something they claimed they had already done.

On one side, there is the Clave, who lied about having the Soul Sword and have nothing to lose if Valentine used it. On the other, there is the Seelie Queen, who always has her own agenda but is also in danger as long as Valentine is alive. Neither option is particularly appealing. However, one of them has reason to want the problem solved quickly and the means to protect the Downwolders if it is not.

He makes his choice, submitting to the Queen’s demands in exchange for her protection. Magnus offers the same bargain to Luke and Raphael, whom both ultimately agree to do the same. None of them is happy. But better unhappy and safe than dead.

Magnus’ actions in the final episodes of season 2 are a result of many factors. His trauma and the recent process of recovery certainly play into it. However, there is more to the equation than just irrational behavior. Fear and anger might have prompted him, but Magnus kept his people’s safety in mind first. Even if it cost him his personal happiness. In order to take care of his people, Magnus broke up with Alec. In doing so, he severed any ties left to the Shadowhunters that might make him waver in his resolve.

Magnus Bane

In the end, though, Magnus’ choice was not the best one. The Seelie Queen betrayed all Downworlders when she let Valentine go, instead of killing him on sight. Upon hearing about this, though, Magnus didn’t break. After lashing out his frustration at Alec, he geared up and acted.

Magnus “I’m the High Warlock” Bane closed off the rift between Earth and Edom by himself, even taking down a dragon-demon in the process. He was there for Alec when he thought his Parabatai had perished. Magnus also took both Alec and Izzy to Idris, risking his life instead of seeking shelter from a possible Downworlder death-wave.

In short, Magnus acted as the leader he is. By begrudgingly teaming up with the Shadowhunters, he managed to save New York City, his domain. In the end, Magnus didn’t have to side with neither the Seelie Queen nor the Clave itself. All he had to do was to work with the people he trusted.

That was a valuable lesson for Magnus to learn. He was right to put his faith on Alec, even if mistakes happened on the way. Magnus, not the High Warlock, was right in trusting Alec, not the Shadowhunters. That meant Magnus didn’t have to choose between his people or his happiness. He can have both. All Magnus has to do is to trust himself.

Therefore, when Alec apologizes again for lying to him, Magnus is ready to accept his apology. They get back together, though with a promise of working out what lead to the break up in the first place. Once again, the relationship grows when Magnus and Alec talk. An honest “I can’t live without you” also helped.

Unfortunately, Magnus won’t find such luck in his political life going forward. Even if he remedied his mistakes in time, siding with the Seelie Queen almost led to the destruction of the Downworld. As the trailer for the first two episodes of Season 3 teases, a new warlock, Lorenzo Rey, is coming to take Magnus’ title away. It is an interesting twist: Magnus’ primal source of confidence was his title. How is this loss affect him?

Worse still, Executive Producer Todd Slavkin is hinting at the appearance of Magnus’ demon father to complicate things even further. In two season, Magnus has never talked about him. The only indications came in the form of Azazel. Both his quick recognition of Magnus and Magnus’ extensive knowledge of the Hell dimensions are clues of a hidden history.

Whatever happens, though, one thing is certain. Magnus Bane has gone through a transformation in the last season. From an all-powerful being with a sassy tongue, he grew into a real fleshed-out character. Magnus is no longer just an eccentric prop for whenever the Shadowhunters are in need of magical assistance. He has his own story to star in.

But Magnus’ journey is far from over. He has just started out on the path to find true self-worth. When Magnus finally understands that he is entitled to love regardless of his powers, titles, or conquests, there will be no stopping him. On that day, he will be just as confident saying “I’m Magnus Bane” as he is saying, “I’m the High Warlock.”

On that day, Hell itself will crumble under Magnus’ feet.


Images courtesy of Freeform.
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