3 July 2018

REVIEW: Shadowhunters 3A

I do not own any of these images.

This was initially supposed to be a short review of the 3rd season of Shadowhunters, but we decided to write a more elaborate post after hearing the show has been cancelled by Freeform. All episodes are available on Netflix and Hulu.

If you are thinking of starting Shadowhunters, keep in mind that thanks to the continued overwhelming support of fans the show has grown and developed over the past 2 years into something quite wonderful (seriously, remember that when you watch season 1, it has come a long way since then). Shadowhunters is based off a popular YA fantasy series The Mortal Instruments, which has several spin-offs, sequels, short stories and more. This massive amount of content gives the creators a lot of material to work with if they choose. Also one of the most popular YA series (which has already seen a film adaption with Lily Collins) means that there is already a large fan base, many of whom will watch the show out of pure curiosity or support it because it’s a story they’ve been following for a decade.

Many shows like Shadowhunters struggle to find their feet in the first season. It takes them a season or more for the showrunners to establish their vision: imagine for a moment if The 100 had been cancelled in its first season. It’s always bittersweet when a show such as this one gets the axe, when it has just begun to realize its true artistic and entertainment potential. They're cutting the head off the rose just as it has begun to bloom.

Some may wonder if SH has been cancelled because there may not be room in the tv world for another fantasy show. But with the end of Teen Wolf, The Vampire Diaries & The Originals, and even an uncertain future for The Shannara Chronicles, now is probably the best time for Shadowhunters to bloom. Sadly, the reason for the axe was 'purely economic' according to a Freeform executive:

One key element, Burke explained, was the overall strategic shift at Freeform toward ordering shows in smaller batches. That decision triggered the end of the valuable Netflix output deal with the network’s co-production partner, Germany-based Constantin Film. “We went back and forth with them but ultimately we just couldn’t make the economics work,” she said. “We were very happy creatively with it.via Deadline
Clary Fray portrayed by Katheirne McNamara by John Medland/Freeform

Although primarily aimed at a younger audience, the show has now grown into something which can be enjoyed by young adults (although there are many adult fans out there too). The very popular YA book series by Cassandra Clare has been going strong for 10 years now, so it's really no surprise that the show received overwhelming support from the get-go.

We all need that one show which is a little cringey and often unrealistic, something to get lost in after a long day. That was just how Shadowhunters started out. However the 3rd season saw the quality of the episodes soar, to the point where it couldn't even be compared to its 1st season: the show finally found its feet and figured out what works and what doesn't. On top of our wonderful diverse cast, the show is politically correct, discussing various socio-political issues throughout the seasons. Shadowhunters has been a firm ally to the LGBTQ+ community since season 1 thanks to Alec and Magnus, but it's been wonderful to watch the show discuss other important educational topics too. 

This article will shine a light on the third season but also the show as a whole, discussing new showrunners & directors of photography, and how the show found the right balance between fantasy elements and characters and more.

  • New showrunner, new directors and better writing.
Shadowhunters grew in every sense of the word in its second season. We had a change of showrunners, Ed Decter exited and Smallville alumni Todd Slavkin & Darren Swimmer took over. Although still campy and cheesy at times, it upped its game in its writing and direction, with directors of photography from The Originals coming on board the cinematic quality of the show improved drastically. Season 3 followed this path, and has continued to improve since its first season, resulting in a more mature show with greater visuals and storylines.

Although the general outline of the series follows the storyline of the books, there are plenty of sub-plots which do not. This was seen a lot in its second season, particularly with Lizzy and Raphael. Season 3 loosely follows the events City Of Fallen Angels, with a few changes here and there to accommodate sub-plots. So far, the story arc of season 3 is overall strong: the introduction of Lilith who is at the core of 3A's plot, the Mark of Cain, the brief return of a previous baddie. Episodes 3x07-08 focused on Maia and Jordan were especially good, as was 3x09 with Simon and his family: all these episodes saw the repercussions of their new lives as vampires and werewolves on their close friends and relatives. Humanity is at the forefront of its strongest episodes, with the writing this season allowing more emotional depth and opening doors to more interesting character arcs.

  • A more mature approach in season 3

The end of season 2 and season 3 saw a big leap in maturity for the show, which has a lot to do with one of the most popular characters Magnus Bane (Harry Shum Jr) and Alec Lightwood (Matthew Daddario).

Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer and I wanted to deliver a more mature and layered show, so they began at the ground level deepening the characters. Upping the emotional stakes but keeping the show grounded. With a great script in hand anything is possible, and we have been able to improve the show week to week. - Matt Hastings, executive producer and director via Nephilim Updates

The relationship between Magnus and Alec is one of the strongest elements of Shadowhunters. In one of the episodes, a friend of Magnus jokes that he's acting like some 40 year old Warlock: a little indication at Harry Shum Jr's age. Season 2 also saw Alec (Matthew Daddario) become the Head of the New York institute, a huge character moment which gave both character and actor more mature and realistic material to work with. Although it is said Clary & Simon are in their teens, the other characters such as Jace, Alec and Lizzy have never directly revealed their true ages. As the actors who portray them are all over 25, the show embraces it for the better (unlike other shows who will cast 30 year old to play teenagers)

In general, the show felt a little young. Some of that was the beginning of the story, but also the way that it was shot and the way that the actors portrayed their characters. In the books, they are young, in fact. They're all teenagers, and now you have Matt Daddario, you have Dom Sherwood, you have Harry Shum, Jr. These guys that are in their mid to late 20s, and so some of that tone needed to be made a little bit more adult. - Slavkin & Swimmer on season 1 via Empire Online 

Season 3 also matured in the visual sense. Some fantasy and sci-fi shows work better if you show only a glimpse of magic, instead of using mediocre CGI that ends up looking campy: less is more. Let’s be clear, s2 saw a huge improvement in terms of special effects and the overall cinematography but s3 knew when and how often fantasy cgi should be used so it would be more impressive.

For instance, instead of showing a full werewolf change, we would see the beginnings of one and then cut straight to the aftermath. This made a particular flashback scene in s3 between Maia and Jordan more poignant and disturbing. Another example of this technique is a scene between Lilith and the Faerie Queen, instead of showing a huge fight sequence, we saw only the bloody aftermath, leaving the events up to the imagination and avoiding any awkward special effect issues.

This technique of not actually showing the event itself but the aftermath is very effective and is even used in bigger budget shows such as Vikings or Outlander - not necessarily shows with fantasy elements, but it does allow the editing to flow a lot better.

The reason behind this drastic improvement in cinematography is showrunner's Matt Hastings decision to bring in a new director of photography, Roger Chingirian. This new addition paired with the talented production designers has elevated the cinematic quality of the show, creating a more compelling universe. We were no longer in a children's 'campy' world. We see the results of this in the details in Magnus' apartment, the Institute and the newest additions, Lilith's abode and Simon's new place.

(Lilith’s apartment.) It is inspired by a Haussmann apartment in Paris that was locked and forgotten in 1939, and just recently reopened. I love the feeling of history and detail in this set, it photographs beautifully. Thanks to our fantastic production designer Doug McCullough and his team. - Matt Hastings via Nephilim Updates

  • A character driven season focusing on backstories
I had a very long break after the first 2 episodes of s3 came out as I found them to be a little weak, but fast forward a couple of months later and Summer (having binged the last 8 episodes in a matter of days) convinced me to sit down and watch the rest. I was so impressed by how great the rest of season 3A was I found myself prepping this article way before I watched the finale.

They stopped trying to cram in a dramatic life-endangering event in every episode and instead decided to focus on the characters. We had a much more mature approach which ultimately benefited the story in so many ways. We must be given the time to explore and discover characters before any big action-driven story-lines are put in place. The success on a show truly lies on the writing, if you don't give the audience any information about what the characters are actually about then you are guaranteed to fail. We need to know where they come from, their hobbies, their likes and dislikes, their beliefs, their relationships, their routines. All these things are major contributing factors, they simply can't be brushed aside in favour of more special effects or action.

We saw many more mundane scenes this season which contributed to this more 'mature' feel. They invested in the characters more and really focused on the different relationships and dynamics. We had more short scenes between characters where no plotting, mystery or confrontation was involved, only snippets of the characters' daily lives which made them all the more relatable.

  • Expanding the Shadow World by introducing new characters
Season 3 introduced some new characters which allowed us to explore more of the Shadow World: from the Jordan and the Praetor Lupus to Eden and Lilith & Asmodeus, these new additions helped further establish the political landscape and mythological structure of the Shadow World. These new story-lines helped elevate the standard of the show, my personal favourite being the introduction of Jordan's character, played by the talented Chai Hansen. We saw the creation of a new favourite trio (Simon, Maia and Jordan) who had a great arc. The actors worked so well together, the chemistry between them was very convincing which made the storyline even more engaging. Jordan brings in a whole new dynamic to the group and enables the audience to delve deeper into the downworlders world.

Season 3 also saw a new baddie with links to last seasons Sebastian, Lilith. Although the original mystery 'owl' character in the first few episodes was a little weak and cringey, it was soon dealt with and grew into a more realistic bad-guy scenario. Introducing Lilith allowed the Shadow World to expand in terms of history, magic & power dynamics between various supernatural forces. The showdown between Clary, Simon and Lilith at the end of the mid season did the book justice, translating what it could on to screen in the best way creatively.

With only 12 episodes left of Shadowhunters, at least we can say that in a bittersweet way, season 3 is a great chapter to end on. Fans continue to fight for its renewal, recently flying a banner over Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles and even a #SaveShadowhunters billboard ad on display in Times Square ! Maybe there's a chance their dedication will be rewarded, but until then we still have season 3B to look forward to. 

What are your thoughts on the show? Let us know!

Summer & Holly

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