S3E02: Risk and Reward

Returning from a great premiere, Shadowhunters hits the 10% of Season 3 with another home run. However, this one feels – and is – different. While “On Infernal Ground” matured the show to another level, “The Powers That Be” twists the Shadowhunter formula and takes risks the show never dared to approach before.

Written by Shadowhunters veteran Peter Binswanger and directed by Peter DeLuise, the episode is a study of the characters’ relationships like the audience has never seen before. Shadowhunters is known for heavy drama and dynamic action scenes. This episode had neither. Instead, it bet on interpersonal relationships, a change in structure, and comedy to captive the viewers.

And it paid off.

The Powers That Be

One of the many risks taken shouldn’t even be considered a risk at all. It is no secret that the show has a problem with keeping a consistent timeline. In fact, time, in general, is better left unquestioned. In the Shadow World, the nights are long and things move fast. There is barely any time to breathe.

Not in this episode, though. “The Powers That Be” breaks with that frenzy by starting out two days after the events of its predecessor. That pause gives credibility to the characters’ motivation throughout the episode. Magnus had time to get over the worst of the disappointment about being voted out, reducing his bitterness to a few poignant comments here and there. Simon eventually told Maia about the mark he received from the Seelie Queen. Jace doesn’t go straight from intensely hallucinating of killing Clary to wanting to take her out on a mundane date.

Time is of the essence and sometimes that means giving things time to settle in. The 48-hours-skip also works in Lilith’s favor. Unknown to our heroes, Lilith is recruiting the rest of her virtuous disciples, one loving murder at a time. Love, in fact, is central to Lilith’s plan. And so is violence. In the last episode, she chose the Church of Talto for its accumulation of energy. Now, Lilith puts it to use by corruption the Ley Lines under the site.

It is a risky move on her part. As we learned at the end of the episode, the altar where Lilith gathers the blood of her disciples is sacred to her. Could its destruction mean the end of Lilith’s plan?

At the same time, messing with the Ley Lines affects the local warlock community. There is where the biggest risk of the episode starts. Shadowhunters has eight main characters, but Clary is arguably the lead among them. She has been the driving force throughout past seasons. In this episode, however, Alec and Magnus take the front seat.

Funny enough, this was just the third time Catarina appeared on our screens. She has integrated so well into the show, it feels like she’s been there since Season 1.

Much like the writing of the episode itself, Alec is the one uncovering new information and coming up with risky plans. He makes use of his position as Head of the Institute to both examine the corrupted Ley Lines and clean them up. His final plan, to use the Institute’s Angelic Core, is a bold move that only a true leader would make. Alec has never been surer of himself and the confidence is highly appreciated.

At the same time, Magnus is now the one with family ties to the enemy. No longer tailoring his image, Magnus reveals to Alec who his demon father is. That would be no one less than the most powerful of the Princes of Hell, Asmodeus. They think he is behind the Ley Lines problem and that Magnus can use Asmodeus’ signature magic to stop him. Of course, Lilith is truly the one causing trouble, but as she too comes from Edom, the confusion is one easy to make.

Regardless, Magnus and Alec are the ones furthering along the episode’s plot. And they do it with a balance between high stakes and humor rarely seen in the show. The scene where Alec distracts Lorenzo Rey while Magnus investigates the corrupted Ley Lines is a breath of fresh air. A risk to be sure, but one that pays off in both execution and character building. The scene is fun and light, but it keeps the audience on the edge of their seats the entire time.

Much of it is thanks to the intricate performance of Javier Muñoz as the pompous Lorenzo Rey. Muñoz injects the role with an adorable authenticity that elevates Lorenzo from merely Magnus’ foe to a character in his own right. Lorenzo is not a villain, but a complex and flawed character that is trying to do his best for his people. Which happens to put him in Magnus’ way.

The animosity between the two warlocks feels real and ancient. There is history there to be explored. If they have to keep name-calling each other until they realize how alike they are, the better for the audience.

Look at him. So smug, so adorable.

Meanwhile, Jace and Maia take some risks of their own. By asserting herself and her relationship with Simon, Maia puts herself in an antagonizing position in the pack. She is right to do it, though. Werewolves and vampires may not get along, but this Simon-hunt is getting tiresome. Its only purpose was to reveal that the mark on Simon’s head protects him from physical harm. Is that the darkness the Seelie Queen warned Simon would come for him?

Jace’s risk, on the other hand, is of a much more personal nature. The Golden Boy is not used to feeling vulnerable and that is what being with Clary makes him. That discomfort manifests when Jace struggles to come up with the date Clary deserves. Ultimately – and after disastrously crashing Simon and Maia’s date -, Jace gives Clary something more important than a fancy dinner. He tells her how he feels in a scene that gave the couple more substance than any make out session ever could.

Unfortunately, this sincere and, above all, fun episode couldn’t end on a tender note. This is Shadowhunters, after all. Even the most daring writing experiences must come to a hooking point. So early in the season, that does not mean something nice to the good guys.

Using the surveillance videos Luke brought to her, Izzy finds the moment when the mysterious owl-looking demon under Lilith’s service possessed poor nurse Tim. However, neither Izzy nor Jace can identify the demon.

And the mundanes are paying for that with their lives.

Personal Notes

  • The detail of Jace wearing the Herondale family ring has not gone unnoticed. No, sir.
  • Raj had a point about the problems of risking the Institute. Too bad he increased that risk by shutting Alec out of the system while keeping the Ley Lines linked to the Institute open for corruption. A season in Wrangel Island should give him some perspective on coming up with dumb coups attempts.
  • I wonder if Catarina will be in every episode. By “wonder” I mean “hope.” Adding Madzie and that adorable scene with Alec was certainly a plus.
  • It was nice to see Izzy fixing her necklace. As she struggles to find herself after the events of the last season, Izzy could use it as a center.
  • Still on Izzy, her interactions with Luke were something completely new to the show and much applauded. Although, Luke should listen to his own advice. As much as he adored Jocelyn, she is gone. Luke too deserves to find someone to spend his free time with.

Next On

Check out the promo for next week’s episode “What Lies Beneath” as well as a Clace Sneak Peek and a Luke vs Russel Sneak Peek.

Images courtesy of Freeform
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