The mid-season finale is upon us. After a double episode, the first part of Season 3 ends on a devastating note. The heroes were able to defeat Lilith, but at a higher cost than they were willing to pay.
It was an interesting experience, although mostly from a meta point of view. The finale brought about the best and worst of Shadowhunters, leaving it crystal clear that these were two episodes instead of a long, cohesive one. Much like the rest of the season, the first part of the finale was a condensed rehash of every plotline this show has ever had in about an hour. The plot was all over the place and the rules of the universe took a backseat to prioritize the action.
In the second part, however, the story picked up its pace. There was a center to the plot, the characters used their strengths in their favor, and the show remembered the world building. The end of mid-season had the difficult job of tying together a cascade of loose ends and it succeeded.
Moreover, it set off the rest of the season with the terrifying feeling of not knowing what is to come.
Familia Ante Omnia
It is hard to be frustrated over something you love. Anyone reading this review has clearly invested their time and love on Shadowhunters. It is not just a TV Show you watch during an hour of your time and move on. There is significance in the story and the characters. There is something that draws you back every week, that makes you care.
When an episode like 3×09 hits and all of that time and affection is wasted, it makes one wonder why bother. There are three problems with an episode like this one. The first is the repetition of plots, such as bringing back the last villain and pass him as a threat again just to pass the time of the episode. We were all in that boat with Jace, we didn’t need to see the Circle members worshiping their leader just so he’d be killed off again by a quick lash. Alan Van Sprang did – as always – a masterful performance as Valentine, but his presence only served to diminish the rest of the story. Starting out from the fact that everything Clary learned from him could’ve been in the journals stocked at the Institute.
However, that is not the most worrying part. From a Consul whose morale flips according to the plot’s needs to Clary creating a rune instead of receiving it from Ithuriel, everything was undercut by the process of bringing Valentine back. Even Clary’s newfound self-worth was forgotten. Through her daggers, Clary realized she is more than a Morgenstern or a Fairchild. But maybe not. Apparently, now, her strength comes from her family legacy again. Can this show make its mind?
Although, it is not just the Shadowhunters that struggle with reliving past storylines. Luke is back at his old habit of completely disregarding his pack for Clary. He didn’t even realize Maia was gone and he certainly didn’t care about the danger his orders would put the wolves in. Luke unlearned everything his Season 2 arc taught him and that has, rightfully, cost him his pack.
The second problem is not entirely this episode’s fault. The season as whole gave Simon’s arc a weird pacing. Simon shouldn’t be facing his own personal family storyline – again – at the same time that the other characters are all invested in the main plot. Leaving that plot point to be explored now unbalanced the episode. As electric and touching as both the writing and performances of that arc were, it took away from the overall story. Plus, we’ve already seen Simon’s dilemma when it came to his family. Rerun storylines with different results is a job for fanfiction.
Lastly, and perhaps the most frustrating part, the rest of the characters were all dumbed down in order to make the episode work. Jordan didn’t think to look for Simon at his own place, having to enlist Izzy who was happy to make jokes just hours after losing Jace to Lilith again. Alec posed threats he wasn’t willing to go through, weakening his position as a leader. Magnus picked a fight with Lorenzo, ultimately proving Lorenzo’s point that he is not right to be High Warlock as Magnus can’t control himself when his Shadowhunter boyfriend is involved.
It is all very disheartening, especially because that is clearly the opposite of what the writers intend. The crew has proved time and again how much they love these characters and this story. No one is out to do a poor job. But a poor job has been done.
Although, to call it a complete disaster is misguided. “Familia Ante Omnia” ends with Iris Rouse on the loose, the Owl leading Clary to Lilith, and Magnus accepting that the only way to stop the Queen of Edom is asking the help of a Prince of Hell. There are amazing performances and breathtaking scenes throughout the episode. The Clave also revealed its most brutal facet to date and Luke got a more complex clash between Shadow and Mundane World to deal with than ever before.
It set the stage for the grand finale and, ultimately, that is what the penultimate episode is there for.
- Anyone that says Clary cannot create an Immortality Rune has to watch this episode three times. The Law is hard but it is the Law.
- Talking about Clary and new runes; are we getting a darker tone to her? Now that Ithuriel is gone, Clary doesn’t have a blessing to use the Angelic Runes. Does that mean that Clary will take them regardless of the Angels’ wishes? Kat McNamara can pull a mean look and that Frankenstein-like scene was great once the context was ignored.
- Look, I know Heidi makes no sense whatsoever (How is Simon’s her sire if he feels no connection to her? Why is she stronger and faster than older vampires?) but I love that deranged vampire and I’m glad she’s coming back. There, I said it.
- Lorenzo Rey is the most entertaining jerk this show has ever had. When will we get the Downworlder Cabinet Meetings back? I need more of Alec and he being fake friendly with each other.
Every mid-season finale has two jobs. It needs to wrap up the first part of the story and introduce the second. Episode 3×10 manages to do both and keep true to the characters’ core. Combining Bryan Q. Miller’s ability to focus on the hero within the characters instead of the supernatural elements that define them and Jeffrey Hunt’s touching director style resulted in an episode that elevate the season as a whole.
“Erchomai” picks up on the best beats of “Familia Ante Omnia”. Simon is dealing with the repercussions of Heidi’s horrific plan. With Izzy’s encouragement, he goes to see his sister. In an episode full of action, the quiet moment between the Lewis siblings injects a much-needed tenderness to the finale. The audience is reminded what is at stake here and why the heroes are risking all they have. When Simon decides to make his mother believe he is dead, it is Becky’s love that drives him to complete this sacrifice.
Meanwhile, Luke has to deal with his Lieutenant’s poignant questions. It shows why mixing Shadow and Mundane World is such a challenge; Luke cannot explain what happened to Lieutenant Vargas or Alaric or Ollie. The investigation is a much better way to frame the complications Luke deals with than just having the characters state how bad things could be. Unlike Ollie’s possession, this was a direct repercussion from trying to live a double life. When Maryse comes with news on Clary, Luke makes the conscious decision of sacrificing his job. He has already lost his pack and now his position at the NYPD has been compromised. Still, it is worth it. Together with Maryse, Luke finds Lilith’s hideout.
And that is thanks to an incredible use of the world building. As the Owl takes Clary to Lilith, Clary finds a loophole in the Blocking Rune. The Rune blocks tracking Clary’s body, but not others parts of her. By leaving the trail of blood, Clary both marked the path to Lilith’s hideout and allowed Alec to track her. It was a smart move on her part, made even smarter by the expansion of the Rune’s abilities.
Choices make the difference in the episode. Magnus chooses to go to his father when he runs out of options. After centuries free from Asmodeus’ manipulations, Magnus has to literally face his demon. It was Asmodeus who raised him, making use of Magnus’ naivete and need for answers when he was just a child. Harry Shum Jr.’s performance leaves no room for doubts. Even after all this time, whatever Asmodeus taught Magnus still haunts him.
That explains why Magnus was so driven to rectify his role in Jace’s possession. He knows what his darkest impulses will lead him to do. What his magic does is his responsibility. Guilt makes Magnus do whatever it takes to set things right, even if that means giving up his magic and immortality. Only the rest of the season will prove if that was a worthy trade or not.
Alec made another big choice, still at the end of “Familia Ante Omnia”. If he can’t save Jace, he will oblige to his brother’s request and kill him. Alec’s entire plan is designed to have the Owl facing him alone. He has Simon go after Clary, predicting that she will need the Stele, her true signature weapon. Alec also has Luke and Izzy cover each other’s back, suggesting the need for a bigger army to take on both of them. Alec is not counting on Magnus coming back and saving the day; he is in for the kill.
When the Owl arrives, Alec is ready for him. His first shot is straight to the face. There is no hesitation in Alec anymore. Their fight parallels beautifully with the training practice from 2×11. Alec does better in a close range fight with weapons, making good use of the longer length of his arrows in relation to the seraph daggers.
However, just like in the Parabatai practice, Jace is a better melee fighter and the Owl uses that. It dominates Alec, breaking his arm and using Alec’s own weapon against him. The only thing that would make that scene better would be some visual insight of how distraught Jace was watching that, but one can’t ask for everything. Especially when Magnus does such a grand entrance and saves the Jace, Alec, and everyone else whose hearts were hurting along with Alec’s.
But, just like in any superhero/fantasy show, the true center stage is all about ideology. And that is where Clary and Lilith shine the brightest – one of them, quite literally. One of the best exchanges in the episode happens when Clary questions Lilith’s love for Jonathan. The Queen of Edom is appalled by such lack of faith. Everything she’s done is for her son, to save and protect him. Lilith has been more dedicated to Jonathan than Valentine or Jocelyn ever were.
Only, her love cannot be taken at face value. How can it be love when it involves murder and burning children alive? Lilith may think she loves Jonathan, but as this show has proven, again and again, bringing someone back from the grave is an act of selfishness, not love. It does more harm than good.
This resurrection proves it. It takes three steps for bringing Jonathan back: the blood of 33 Virtuous Disciples, the flesh of Jonathan’s father, and connection to a living family member. That means the death of innocents, the disturbance of the dead, and forever condemning someone else to keep a dead man alive. Jonathan now shares Clary’s life force.
Or do they? The episode ends when Clary and Simon make Lilith attack him, resulting in a seven-folded counterattack by Simon’s Mark of Cain. Lilith is banished but she takes Clary and Jonathan with her in the explosion. If Clary is really dead as Simon thinks she is, that means Jonathan hasn’t been resurrected in the end. But, just like our heroes, that is not a price I’m willing to pay to keep this monster down.
- Kidding. Clary isn’t dead. But where is she? Edom? Somewhere else in the Mundane World?
- There is good and bad in Luke’s NYPD storyline. The Lieutenant saying that Luke’s daughter disappeared is a bit far fetched considering Clary was in the precinct in 3×05. But it is nice to see other events catching up to Luke and the mentions of Vargas and Alaric. This will be an exciting plot line to follow.
- They saved Ollie! And we got a full name! Olivia William. Nice!
- I’m going to miss Lilith. Well, not her rapey kisses – we could’ve gone without that – but all the rest.
No Sneak Peek this time. Shadowhunters returns on Netflix on August 15. Presumably, that means it will return on Freeform on August 14, but there has been no official announcement as of the time this review was posted.