The Ladies of Shadowhunters

Not many YA book series get a shot at two adaptations — especially when the first attempt bombs at the box office and misses the chance at a sequel — but Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments did. Why?

The series itself has its issues as I’ve discussed previously, but in my mind Clare was always determined in her efforts to create well-rounded, diverse women and a compelling (albeit flawed) story.

Complex women are a rare find in most shows today, and Shadowhunters has a lot of material to draw upon. It’s not a carbon copy of the book series, it’s not trying to be the next big sensation like the movie was — it’s a make-over with a new cast, new ideas and less involvement from Clare herself. It has space to breathe and grow.

So is it doing just that? I vote yes. The show may not be a masterpiece and it has plenty to improve on in the next eleven episodes (starting with the cheeseball title sequence), but the focus on the women and each of their respective journeys leaves me feeling optimistic. For all these reasons, I’ve decided to mentally separate the show from the books (as much as I can as a fan) and even the movie in an attempt to view the characters as new entities rather than rehashed versions of an original concept/ideal. So let’s meet the ladies of Shadowhunters, shall we?

Clary Fray, played by Kat McNamara

We first see Clary at the Brooklyn Academy of Art submitting her work for an admission review. It’s her eighteenth birthday, she has plans with her best friend Simon later that day, and her life is completely “mundane”…until it isn’t. She’s got Shadowhunter blood in her veins, and she was born to protect humans from all the crazy demons prowling the earth. It’s not exactly your average coming-of-age story.

Kat McNamara’s overacting is somewhat distracting, but she hasn’t had much acting experience outside of some Disney-level pursuits, so it’s hard to judge her too harshly. In a way, her inexperience helps to build Clary as a character. Who Clary starts off as and who she grows to be are two wildly different things, and that makes Kat the best for this role because she’ll be able to grow into the role of Clary at the same time as Clary is growing into herself. Plus, I’m not too worried. She has the potential to go from this:

To this:

My favorite thing about this version of Clary is that she has a ton of room to evolve. We see her start off from a point of innocence and confusion as she’s thrown into madness, but in those moments we see her strength and potential as a character. For Clary’s development, it’s all about the journey and who she becomes along the way.

The moment that illustrated this most for me was the scene after Clary runs home in the rain to find her mother in the first episode. A sort of transformation takes place here — after she kneels to the floor of Dot’s (her mother’s assistant) place and cries, she looks up with determination. Her mascara is running and she’s drenched from the rain, but she stands up to grab an axe (one of the antiquities belonging to Dot) and goes upstairs to face whatever’s coming her way. For the first time, we really believe she’s not mundane — she’s a Shadowhunter. In the second episode, we watch her take the lead in the search for her mother and try to put the pieces of her past together. As the show goes on, I believe she will strengthen and develop into a true heroine.

The downside? Two things. One: her romance with Jace is majorly heavy-handed from the start. Right now it feels out of place for there to be such an obvious romance with everything else she’s got going on. Hopefully the writers will give the relationship a chance to slow down and develop naturally as Clary comes into her own. Two: Aside from the mention of a graphic novel her and Simon are working on, Clary has lost some of the nerdisms that made her character so relatable. However, the show has aged her up two years, so it makes sense that she’s graduated from Chucks to wedges and gives off more of a mature college vibe than that of a high school student.

Isabelle Lightwood, played by Emeraude Toubia

At the beginning of the show, we see Izzy on a hunt with her brother, Alec, and adopted brother, Jace. In the first showdown between them and a group of demons in the Pandemonium club, she kicks ass and uses her signature whip to take them down. She’s confident, she’s badass, and she’s not afraid to break the rules to do what has to be done. However, in the same scene, the writers have her luring in demons by dancing on a table top as they stare at her body, entranced. She starts feeling more like an object than a person here.

I have mixed feelings on the portrayal of Izzy and the way the show attempts to enforce the idea that she is empowered by her sexuality. I think Emeraude does a fantastic job with what she’s given and has the potential to be the perfect Izzy, but the writers need to let that happen. While I’m glad to see a show encourage body positivity, sexuality and confidence, I’m not yet convinced that the effort succeeds completely. Isabelle’s character is not empowered by her sexuality — she is hypersexualized to such a degree that I have to wade through it to get to the character underneath. She can hardly get a word in edgewise, walk across a room, sit down or breathe without it being flirtatious. Ninety-five percent of her dialogue is practically delivered with a wink, a giggle and a coy come-hither expression.

There are exceptions with Izzy. After all, I do love the bonding moment between her and Clary, the sibling banter with Alec and any moments when she gets to show off her badassery. Those are the things that make Isabelle the Shadowhunter who will do anything for those she cares about (and do it while wearing heels). I’m all for Isabelle being comfortable with her body as Jace says. I’m all for her being a sexual being with the confidence to wear or do or say whatever she chooses. I’m not okay with her being reduced to a sexual object or being defined only by her sexuality.

Jocelyn Fray, played by Maxim Roy

Jocelyn is a badass mama bear Shadowhunter with a dark past and some secrets (including a seraph blade or two) under her belt, and Maxim Roy brings her character to life with a vengeance.

What I love about Jocelyn is how we get to see her as a well-rounded character rather than just a mother figure in need of rescue due to her relation to a male villain. If you need any proof of this, just watch her big scene in the first episode. When she whips out her blade and confronts the Circle members, we realize how much we have yet to learn about her. Jocelyn knows where the Mortal Cup is (the magical object that Valentine wants in order to create an army of Shadowhunters), so she takes a potion that ensures Valentine will never get the information from her — not only to protect her daughter but all of humankind. I think it’s safe to say she is the MVP of the show.

In her other scenes, we see her worry over her choice to protect Clary while lying to her in the process. She’s got a complex story of her own to tell, and while I’m sad that she’ll most likely be unconscious for most of the season, I’m excited to see more flashbacks with Magnus, Luke and Clary and her past as a Shadowhunter/Circle member.

Dot, played by Vanessa Matsui

This character is no longer Madame Dorothea, the Frays’ elderly neighbor living in a psychic shop. In Shadowhunters, she’s a warlock named Dot. She’s much younger and seems closer to Clary and her mother than she was in the books — plus, we get to see more of her role amongst the Downworlders. She still owns an antique shop of some kind and has some tarot cards on hand, but it looks more like a bohemian boutique than a psychic den. Basically, Dot has gotten quite the upgrade as a character.

She no longer feels like a token “sage” character with her only purpose being to help Clary on her quest (*cough* like the movie *cough*). She does give Jocelyn the potion she needs to put herself to sleep, but she also has her own role to play and even encounters other warlocks like the ever famous Magnus Bane. I’m not sure how long she’ll be around on the show, but I was glad to see these changes in her character — they’re changes that make her feel more like an individual rather than a pawn.

Maureen, played by Shailene Garrett

Maureen is another character with some major changes worth mentioning. In the books, Maureen is a young girl with a huge fangirl-like crush on Simon who ends up becoming a vampire after he accidentally turns her himself. In the show, she is around the same age as Simon and Clary and hangs out with them both regularly as a part of their friend group (she is even in Simon’s band).

As with Dot, I’m happy with these changes A) because creepy vampire children freak me out and B) because her character will probably be more fleshed out this way. It gives her more agency and the chance to become a full person rather than a child with hardly any choice and a disturbing level of bloodlust. However, at the moment she is only being used as a voice box for Clary’s concerns and as a romantic interest for Simon that conveniently serves as a way to introduce Simon’s feelings for Clary. Even though she has a smaller part to play, I hope as the show goes on we will see her developed as an individual and not just a token friend shown only in relation to Simon and Clary (even if she does become a vampire as she does in the books).

Captain Vargas, played by Lisa Marcos

Captain Vargas is a new addition to the world of the Mortal Instruments, and so far her character could be improved upon despite her potential.

In her first scene, she’s standing side by side with Luke at the scene of a homicide. They talk about it for all of a few seconds before the conversation abruptly steers towards Luke’s love life. She urges him to marry Jocelyn and asks him what he’s been waiting for. What was probably meant as a natural introduction to the Luke/Jocelyn relationship feels like a forced suggestion (Don’t just tell us, show! Show us!). In the process, Captain Vargas’ character is belittled. Even though it’s normal for her to have an interest in her co-worker (and maybe friend)’s personal life, it feels more like she’s a cardboard character shown only in relation to Luke. Her only purpose in the scene was to talk about him. Yawn.

In the second episode, this doesn’t necessarily improve. Vargas asks Luke about Clary and her only purpose is to guide him/tell him she was at the station looking for him. The good thing is, Vargas is a police detective, so I’m assuming that her character will have more to do in the coming episodes. I can only hope that they created her character with more in mind than to have her be Luke’s sidekick 24/7. Am I asking too much?

The verdict

I am excited — slightly hesitant — but excited. The show has the feel of the books, but at the same time it’s something new entirely. The characters are (mostly) as I pictured them, but they’re being brought to life in new ways. Most of all, I’m excited because even if this is a modest beginning, it can become a solid story. Yeah, it’s kinda cheesy, but that’s weirdly the best part.

Shadowhunters has a long way to go before I would call it a good show with adequate representation, but I’m in it for the long haul and I think it has plenty of promise. I can’t wait to see more of these characters. I want to see Clary develop into a kickass Shadowhunter, I want to see Isabelle and Clary kick ass together, and I want to see Jocelyn kick ass without even having to be conscious. Great things are happening, TMI fans. We just have to believe.

Disclaimer: All Shadowhunters images and gifs belong to Ed Decter and ABC Freeform, and are used here for criticism and analysis only.

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