The third episode of Season 3 puts the villains ahead in the game. As the heroes struggle with their own expectations, the bad guys play their illusions with mastery. Be it the Clave or the Mother of Demons, this week is a win for the dark side.
But not all is lost. Newcomer Alex Schemmer’s script masterfully equates the audience and the characters. An episode has rarely been so immersive as every single time the character’s expectations were subverted, so was the audience’s. But if the characters end the episode in confusion, the audience can see beyond that.
Beautifully directed by Amanda Row, “What Lies Beneath” isn’t just about the corpse of Jonathan Morgenstern. It is about the reality our heroes will have to face if they are to triumph. Things might look bleak now, but we know there is more to come. As always, in the Shadow World, things get way worse before they get better.
What Lies Beneath
For an episode full of twists in expectations, “What Lies Beneath” starts out telegraphing its whole deal. When Morgan actively fights off and escapes the Owl’s attack, the audience should know it is for a wild ride.
So far, every episode of the season has introduced a new element in style and this one is no exception. The first episode was a mature take on Shadowhunters’ classic elements. The second episode shook things out and tried new possibilities. This third installment pays homage to established tropes in the show by using them to subvert expectations while pushing the story forward.
The biggest example is the hunt for the Owl. Jace is convinced Jonathan is behind that mask, but he keeps refusing to let anyone in except for Clary. They go on a secret and unauthorized mission to hunt down Jonathan, with Izzy tagging along for good measure. Not one of them thinks it is a good idea to let Alec, their boss and brother, know what is happening or call for backup.
It is a much too familiar routine. Adding Jace’s constant hallucinations and the scenes play like a movie we’ve seen too many times.
However, all that familiarity functions as an illusion to the audience. As events play along, the more attentive viewer will realize Jace is the only one that sees Jonathan. Even in the most realistic of the hallucinations, Jonathan’s dialogue plays like a broken record of Season 2’s finale. There is nothing new coming out of his mouth; almost as if he is saying exactly what Jace thinks he would.
The illusion of the storyline is complemented when Clary blames Jace’s exhaustion on the hallucinations. The audience buys into her explanation because it makes sense. The use of the Stamina rune is a nice touch in that regard. All in a Shadowhunter day’s work after all.
There are even more old tropes employed in new ways. Izzy uses her whip against the Owl, a signature move that wouldn’t normally raise any eyebrows. But, as Izzy explains later, it was a calculated move. Jonathan would’ve reacted to the electrons in her weapon and the Owl didn’t.
Finally, when Lilith reveals Jace underneath the mask, the illusion breaks. Not to the characters, though, who still have no idea who wears the Owl’s mask. But to the audience, who spent the episode thinking they knew how it was going to end. It is a brilliant move. As the characters stay frustratedly lost, the audience gets the payoff of a revelation it should’ve seen coming.
Although, Jace, Clary, and Izzy aren’t the only ones left confused after the events of the episode. Alec and Magnus have to deal with another kind of crisis: the visit of Maryse Lightwood. Alec and Izzy’s gloomy faces when they learn their mother is dropping by prods the audience to certain conclusions. Maryse’s harsh treatment of her children is more than well-established. Magnus’ suggestion of holding the dinner at his place only serves to increase the sense of impending doom.
And then, of course, Maryse couldn’t be happier to see Alec and Magnus together. The night goes out splendidly and the audience is left as shocked and amused as Alec looks. Maryse even thanks Magnus for “loving her boy.” The break of expectation makes for a warm and cozy scene. A true highlight of Magnus and Alec’s tender interactions, with lots of casual touching and free praises between the loving couple.
All of that makes it all the more gutting when Maryse reveals that yes, she did bring bad news. Terrible news, in fact, though none that had to do with her and Robert’s divorce, or Alec’s professional and love life. In order to maintain its illusion of righteousness, the Clave revisited former Circle member’s cases. They cannot punish Valentine and Malachi, as they are dead and out of reach. Therefore, the Clave decided to do a trial by proxy. Maryse is to be deruned and exiled from Alicante.
However heartwarming it was to watch Maryse recognize her past mistakes, Alec is right. The Clave’s decision is unjust and, even worse, destabilizing. The new regime proves to not only be willing to use the really good Shadowhunters to boost their image but also to make scapegoats of the people that had already gone through trials and legally rejoined the society.
But as far as moral judgments go, no one paints themselves in a more undeserving darker shade than Simon. When the werewolf that attacked him can’t heal from the resulting wounds, Simon freaks out. He blames himself for whatever the Mark on his forehead did. Even Maia’s reassurances that she will be by his side trying to figure it out aren’t enough to appease his heart.
When Luke tearfully kicks Simon out of the boathouse, Simon thinks it is for the best. The scene is heartbreaking for both characters and a disillusion in itself. After spending the day chastising Ollie out of his own guilt, Luke chooses the pack over his surrogate son. It was certainly a decision that nobody expected the Alpha of reconciliation.
And yet, maybe the most surprising storyline of the week might go not to a main character but to a supporting one. We finally learn why Raphael was torturing Heidi with UV light. What do you know, the story about Rosa being sicker than ever was true. Raphael desperately wants more time with his beloved little sister. He probably believes Simon has sired Heidi and, thus, she might be a Daylighter.
But that is no reason to torture and withhold anyone. Rosa perishes and Raphael can’t do much more than grieve. He can’t even attend her funeral as it is to be held during the day. The scene with Izzy is touching and David Castro’s performance makes for the most devastating moments of the episode. Although, they are not nearly as worrisome as when he finds out that Heidi has broken free. Now, the roguish vampire is loose on New York and she knows more than she should.
As it ends, “What Lies Beneath” leaves all the characters in the lowest they’ve been in the season so far. Jace has no idea he is being controlled by Lilith and killing mundanes. Clary and Izzy are just as lost as before and they have a possessed mundane in their cell. Alec has to deal with the Clave’s injustices and Magnus isn’t anywhere near to regaining his title as High Warlock.
Luke had to choose the pack and, in doing so, hurt Simon. Maia might be trying to help her boyfriend, but there is little she can do as that also puts her at odds with her own pack. Finally, Simon has never been so unique in the Shadow World and that uniqueness means a solitary path to figuring out what is going on with him.
Not the sweetest of ending, was it?
- This humorous side to Magnus and Alec’s relationship has made them even more delightful to see on the screen. It’s almost like something really terrible will happen to them at some point in the season. Please, no.
- Doctor Charlie can take a walk and stop being so invasively insistent. I hope Izzy gave him a fake number.
- Can any of the Lightwoods cook? Jace, perhaps? Although, I wouldn’t bet on it.
- Talking about the Lightwoods, why exactly isn’t anything weird showing up in the Parabatai bond? Alec knew Jace was lying but he doesn’t know Jace is a mind-controlled, mundane-possessing owl? Is that right?
- As much as I felt for Simon in this episode, I still wanted to slap him in the scene with Raphael. Take a hint, boy. Maybe other people have problems too.