Shadowhunters S01E02 “The Descent Into Hell Is Easy” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Netflix, episodes released weekly
Writers: Ed Decter, Hollie Overton
Director: Mick Garris
Essential Plot Points:
- Clary learns about her family history and Shadowhunters and the Circle and runes and the Institute and a vampre fight trainer called Hodge in a series of talky exposition scenes that seem to go on forever.
- The pertinent stuff is: her mum used to be a member of the Circle but betrayed them; Valentine is a git; Hodge is another ex-Circle member who’s now (magically) stuck in the Institute and who gets rune-burn whenever he mentions the Circle; Clary realises that her mum’s assistant is a warlock.
- Izzy takes a shine to Simon.
- Team Clary – against Alec’s advice – goes in search of Dot in the hope she can recover Clary’s lost memories,
- Warlock Magnus, worried that the Circle will come looking for him, makes a quick exit with his mates through a portal to Lord knows where. Dot is appalled at him scarpering at such a crucial time.
- Dot is kidnapped by Valentine’s henchman and taken to his Chernobyl base. There Valentine interrogates her to try to find the name of the warlock who wiped Clary’s memories. Then he kills her.
- Not being able to locate Dot, Clary and co – against Alec’s advice – go to the City Of Bones where the Silent Brothers can use the Sword of Truth to recover Clary’s memories.
- Izzy – against Alec’s advice – flirts with Simon.
- Clary learns that Valentine is her dad.
- Simon is kidnapped by vampires who way they’ll exchange him for the Mortal Cup.
- The episode – against Alec’s advice – ends.
This particular descent into Hell isn’t just easy, it’s also very wordy. For some reason the writers have decided to cram about three quarters of a book’s worth of backstory into one episode and the strain shows. But hey, you have to admire a show that turns torture porn into exposition. Jon Cor moans and groans as Hodge, his runes burning him whenever he says “Cirlce” as he gasps out a list of really important plot points.
It’s a valiant effort but there’s little disguising that almost nothing happens for the first 20 minutes of the episode other than a lot of nattering. Admittedly there’s Izzy going into sexual predator mode on Simon to liven things up, and Hodge’s naked torso is eye candy if your interests lie in that area. Other than that, may as well be reading a book.
Even when Team Clary does motivate itself into action, it’s pretty humdrum stuff. They search for Dot. They can’t find her so they go to plan B (the one marked “City Of Bones”) and thus, with about as much effort as supermarket shopping trip, Clay discovers that Valentine is her dad. You get the feeling this is supposed to be a big deal, but with so little build up and so little effort taken to acquire this information the moment fails to have any clout at all. Jace and Alec keep trying to make things sound more exciting and challenging with dire warnings but it turns out to be all so much hot air.
Meanwhile Dot gets herself killed by Valentine while cop (and surrogate dad to Clary) Luke is involved in something dodgy that involves shredded corpses in two B-plots that fail the spark much interest. If something’s worth doing it’s worth doing half-heartedly may as well have been the motto on the sword at the entrance to the City Of Bones.
On the other hand, the dialogue’s a bit snappier than in the pilot and Team Clary – a kind of constantly bickering Scooby Gang with their own Mystery Machine – does show evidence of developing into a more appealing ensemble. It’s watchable fluff, that looks polished (the Silent Brothers and the City Of Bones provide some striking visuals) but seems worrying bereft of style and ambition.
- Clary and Jace – while still as stiff as rigor mortis and with as much frisson as a flat can of coke – are slightly more charismatic than in the pilot episode. Jace even has a couple of funny lines (“ Looking better in black than the widows of our enemies”).
- In fact the quip rate is much better in general (Simon: “I’ve seen every horror movie ever made and the funny best friend who gets left behind… dead man.” Jace: “You’re not that funny.”) Then again, it has to be to distract you from all the exposition.
- It’s a gorgeously lit show. If it get cancelled we’d strongly suggest the predominantly muddy brown Agents Of SHIELD snaps up its cinematographer.
- The Izzy/Simon flirting is fun.
- Far too much infodumping and not much of it done elegantly.
- The revelation that Valentine is Clary’s father seems to have come way too early in the series. They haven’t even met yet. So what should, we presume, feel like a major moment for Clary falls completely flat.
- Plus that whole “Sword Of Truth” guff, despite Jace’s dire warnings, looked about as traumatic as accidentally switching over to Downton Abbey. This series seems intent on perfecting the art of low drama.
- Simon refers to Jace as “this Mick Jagger looking guy” which is comes across as dopey on so many levels. First, Jace looks nothing like Mick Jagger. Plus, the Rolling Stones front man seems like a very unlikely reference for someone of Simon’s age even if he is a muso.
- This is only the second expression we’ve seen cross Jace’s face and we’re not even sure what emotion it’s conveying. “Who farted?” perhaps?
And The Random:
- Stephen Hart, who plays Brother Jeremiah, played the same role in the film The Mortal Instruments: The City Of Bones (2013)
- FORESHADOWING ALERT! FORESHADOWING ALERT!
- Are the cops on an economy drive? Or don’t any of them know how a light switch works?
- Director Mick Garris is the creator of Master Of Horrors and has also helmed countless Stephen King TV mini-series.
Review by Dave Golder