Out of all the characters in Season 3A, both returning and new, one stood out. Lilith, the Queen of Edom, was the driving force of the season, the only one who was in control the entire time. She stole the show, caused trouble, and nearly won against the good guys. Anna Hopkins’ gentle and fierce performance highlighted both the best and worst traits of the Mother of All Demons.
Lilith is gone now, but the same cannot be said about her influence. She completed her goal and it will come back to haunt the heroes once more. Her son is back and defeating her took everything the characters had – in some cases, literally.
It would be a disservice to just paint Lilith as a temporary or inconsequential problem. In a series with villains such as sociopathic race supremacist, a paternalistic and racist organization, and a demon-child man with abandonment issues, Lilith stands as the most compelling of antagonists.
Her quest for unconditional love, one that she believes she has found in her son, creates a simultaneously terrifying and relatable villain. Lilith is by no means justified in what she does, but the audience can still understand her even if nobody is rooting for her.
A False Feminist Icon
There is no denying it: Lilith started out as a victim of men. As Adam’s first wife, she lived in Paradise and in contact with Seelies. Her life was, for all intents and purposes, perfect. That changed when Lilith angered the Seelie Monarch and they became sworn enemies.
There is no way of knowing what Lilith did to kick off this animosity, but whatever gave cause to it made the Seelies seek out revenge. In true Seelie fashion, the retribution was indirect and in the most hurtful way possible. Eve received Seelie beauty and that led Adam to toss Lilith aside for her.
When Lilith gives her faux-feminist speeches, there is nothing cynical about it. Men have ruined her life, even more than the Seelies did. Their magic only made Eve beautiful. It was Adam’s choice to prioritize that over his marriage. By doing so, Adam did not just push aside his wife, but actively cursed her. Lilith lost her ability to bear children when she was expelled from Heaven.
It is an inherently sexist punishment, one that specifically targets Lilith as a woman. The punishment also strips Lilith from getting the one thing she craves the most: the unconditional love between mother and child. As we learn her story, it is hard not to sympathize with Lilith.
That she has only contempt for any man that tries to control a woman comes as no surprise. She manipulates Heidi into turning against Simon using that discourse. However, there is nothing feminist about making a man kneel to a woman as a replacement for a woman kneeling to a man, especially when that involves hurting two other women.
Just as there is nothing feminist about sexually assaulting a man. Lilith’s method of giving strength to the Owl cheapens her discourse and strips Lilith of any sympathetic undertones. At that moment, she is no longer a victim lashing out, but the abuser causing harm. Lilith inflicted on Jace a sexualized torture, not unlike the one that she was cursed with.
For someone who talks about love so much, Lilith certainly knows how to twist the most famous expression of it. Corrupting love, in fact, is Lilith’s greatest trait. After being rejected by her husband, one that she loved enough to try and change herself to please, Lilith seeks nothing more than to be loved.
And that is what she finds in Jonathan. Or rather, what she projects onto him.
Not So Much of a Crossed Mother
Lilith believes herself to be a loving mother. She might have been once before the centuries have corrupted her. But, now, Lilith’s motherhood is very much about herself. She has nourished the worst aspects of Jonathan, torturing him to unleash them. Those aspects are a reflection of her.
When Lilith agreed to give her blood to Valentine, her only intention was to get herself the child she always wanted. It was a selfish impulse, one that did not account for the safety of the woman bearing Jonathan or the boy himself. Lilith counted on Jonathan being too much for Valentine to handle; therefore, she gave Valentine a way to get rid of the boy for that very reason.
Lilith says she loves Jonathan, but she literally and figuratively disfigured him. Valentine’s abusive behavior ruined Jonathan’s childhood and Lilith completed that descent into monstrosity by urging Jonathan to embrace his darkness. Lilith’s possessive and destructive love for him was the first time Jonathan was cherished, but not for his own merits. What Lilith loves about Jonathan is her blood in his veins. She loves that Jonathan is hers, that he is special because of her.
This narcissist love reflects when Lilith decides to bring Jonathan back. Lilith corrupts the best people she can find, making her “Virtuous Disciples” prove their filial love for her by killing other loved ones. She creates children for herself wherever she goes, seeking for the validation of their love.
That is what makes her such a great villain. Ultimately, all of us want to be loved.
Despite how cruel and destructive she is, it is easy to sympathize with Lilith. What set her down on the path of darkness was not fair or in any way deserved. However, it also does not justify any of Lilith’s actions thereafter.
Lilith spared no effort in bringing back the symbol of that unconditional love she desires so much, especially after that symbol called for her in his final breath. Lilith might have been banished back to Edom, but she managed to resurrect her son. More importantly, she tied his life to Clary’s, giving Jonathan a decent shot at staying alive this time.
Still, her’s is a tragic story. All Lilith wanted was to hold her son in her arms one last time. Now, he is alive again but she will never be able to touch him. Once again, her monstrosity is overcome by the sad realization that Lilith will never get the love she craves so badly. As horrifying as Lilith’s objective is, one cannot help to feel for her.
A compelling villain indeed.