Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa in episode 206 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Timea Saghy/Netflix © 2022

Shadow & Bone Season Two: Where Did The Magic Go?

The first season of Shadow & Bone premiered to critical acclaim. The second season fails to carry on the torch.

Odd changes, fatphobia and colorism make a bland season. Read our latest post here.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 09: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been digitally manipulated) (L-R) Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, Kit Young, Jack Wolfe, Danielle Galligan and Calahan Skogman attend Netflix’s Shadow & Bone Season 2 Premiere at Netflix Tudum Theater on March 09, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix)

Well guys, the second season of Shadow & Bone is here, and that’s pretty much all I can say about that. The previous installment of the series was intriguing, interesting and fun despite numerous changes to the original material what more can you expect from an adaptation? The second season absolutely told me that I can ask for-and expect more-from an adaptation. I’ve had the (dubious) pleasure of watching all 8 episodes and all I can say is I am  underwhelmed. At some point an adaptation has ventured so far from its roots that it can only be called something completely new and that’s whats happened here. 

Last season, Shadow & Bone received heavy criticism for venturing so far away from the Crows storyline. I was fine with that as it would have been impossible to incorporate the crows into the Shadow & Bone timeline without adjustments. The events of Shadow & Bone occur two years before those of Six of Crows and while I would have preferred two separate series, I understood how that might not have been practical.To allow the Crows and the Grisha to “co-exist” we are treated to what is essentially the Crows backstory-something the books deny of us in fullness, which I do quite enjoy. With that being said: this season Shadow & Bone will probably receive heavy criticism for venturing incredibly far from the Grisha trilogy plot. 

While waiting anxiously for Season 2, fans were informed that we would see a merging of the final two books in the trilogy Siege & Storm and Ruin & Rising and I suppose you could say that in a way we did. If those events were nothing like what happened in the books. On the surface the big plot points do happen, Mal and Alina do get on Sturmhond’s ship, they do meet Tolya and Tamar (my favorite heart render twins) and make it to Os Alta and there are many battles over the span of the final episodes. 

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev, Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in episode 201 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2022

Alina is deep in her guilt over the events of the first season, the Darkling is furious at his failure and Mal is just along for the ride. Over the course of this season, we watch Alina try to find and use the amplifiers. The writer’s room wanted to be clear that each amplifier held a special emotional significance: the stag for strength, the sea whip for anger and rage and the firebird for love, but only one of those amplifiers actually seems to truly embody the emotion it represents-although I won’t tell you which one.

The goal was to create an arc for Alina that truly showed her growth but I don’t really think it worked when considering the final episode of the season-I’ll come back to that later. We watch Alina struggle with this power (that is supposed to be awe inspiring but rarely is-thanks CGI) and the knowledge that the responsibility of tearing down the Fold is entirely on her shoulders. She wants to find peace-for Ravka and for herself-and find a way to do what she really wants to-live a life with Mal.

 Mal’s only goal is to keep Alina safe and help her achieve her goals. Everybody they run into has an ulterior motive for Alina-either they want her dead or they want to use their power for her their own good. Unfortunately, this also means that Mal has to deal with his own needs-he knows that Alina is the best chance for people like him and he knows that she’s the only one who can get them there. How can he justify his desire to use Alina for his own freedom while protecting her from others who want to do the same?

Shadow and Bone. Ben Barnes as General Kirigan in episode 203 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2022

 The Darkling on the other hand has not lost his strong desire for power and with it control. He’s been put in a position where he has completely lost that control. It’s taken him centuries to get him close enough to achieving his ultimate goal and at the final moment its snatched from him. This season he has to grapple with what it means for him to have lost to a girl in her teens. He is more ruthless, more isolated and-interestingly enough-more afraid than he’s ever been. It makes for a villain who is more unhinged than he’s ever been. 

One thing this season does well with regard to Alina’s story is emphasizing that the Darkling is a villain, not just in the overall history of Ravka, but specifically in Alina’s story. I very much enjoyed watching him unravel as he becomes increasingly desperate to stop Alina from destroying the Fold and watching Alina take her power back from him in real and measurable ways. Unfortunately-Leigh Bardugo also stepped back a bit from the work of creating the show-and it shows. Book elements that are crucial to the plot have been completely eliminated and massive swatches of the story suffer because of it. 

Despite having read these books multiple times, I felt as if I was a visitor in a space I’d never seen before. There is no Apparat, Alina does not lose her powers, the Fold is not destroyed as it is in the book and the absolute last scene of the season left me mystified. It’s also just an incredibly bloody season, which I suppose one should expect when dealing with war, but so much of the violence feels as if it was to justify the budget and not to actually contribute to the plot itself. There is one scene that is so unnecessarily bloody I almost turned off the television, not because I’m squeamish but because I genuinely did not see the point. 

Shadow and Bone. Patrick Gibson as Sturhmond in episode 201 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. D‡vid Luk‡cs/Netflix © 2022

I did really enjoy the inclusion of Nikolai Lantsov (Patrick Gibson). Gibson brings the irreverent charm that I expected of a piraterring prince. He’s optimistic, loyal and devoted to making Ravka a place where everyone can find a place to call home. He has a sort of magnetism that works well for the character and the way that his relationship with Alina blossoms feels natural and fun to watch. He truly grows to care for her as the episodes continue and I enjoyed that thoroughly. Tolya and Tamar (Lewis Tan and Anna Leong Brophy respectively) my favorite heartrender twins are also great additions. Badass and dangerous, their sibling dynamic is authentic. There’s conflict and harmony and when they are together they are a force. I loved watching them.

Overall, I didn’t love the Shadow & Bone portion of the show this season, because of the deviations from the source material and-given the way book readers tend to be about the things they love-I anticipate many people will feel the same way. But many people aren’t here for the Grishaverse characters. They’re here for the Crows so let’s chat about them now!

These are my babies! They are all my favorites and-despite the discouraging amount of screentime they got in the trailer-I promise they are present throughout! The season starts off with the Crows in a bad spot, Kaz is surprisingly happy-at least for him-but they did not succeed in their mission and are now returning to Ketterdam, a city full of people who want them dead and with no money. A lot has changed in their absence, the club has been taken over, their other safe spaces have been lost as well and things have gotten even more dangerous for our favorite thieves. All of them are haunted by ghosts both real and imagined. In equally exciting news: we get our Wylan (Jack Wolfe)!

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Danielle Galligan as Nina Zenik, Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey, Jack Wolfe as Wylan in episode 201 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

The Crows story this season is about love-in all it’s many forms-at least to me. And it works wonderfully. I’ll start with my least favorite of the lot: Matthias and Nina. I adore them in the books, they’re soft and precious with each other and deadly to everyone else. Unfortunately, because of Nina’s betrayal last season-Matthias is jailed and Nina is desperate to find a way to free him. She manages to see him multiple times in prison, but the soft man she’d met has become hardened behind bars and his anger is beginning to fester over into his feelings about Nina. It wasn’t very fun seeing the limited plot of the jail storyline play out and-as a fat girl-I have lots of feelings about the casting of Nina-which also affects my enjoyment of their moments.

My second favorite romance is Wolfe’s Wylan and Kit Young’s Jesper. The two  have an excellent, new chemistry with one another that I adore. It’s believable, fun to watch and so, so cute. Wolfe plays Wylan as vulnerable, adorable and steely when it counts. We also watch both of them deal with pretty significant reveals this season and their understanding and care for one another shines through beautifully. I also applaud the care the show took with building this relationship as it is the only queer relationship on the show. There’s a scene where the two are cuddled up with one another, enjoying post-coital bliss and it was so soft and sweet that I nearly melted. 

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa in episode 206 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Timea Saghy/Netflix © 2022

And finally, what you’re all here for: Kanej! They are-unabashedly-my favorites. I am biased towards them in ridiculous ways and my desire to see them on my screen pays off every time in every way. Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) is hardened from his life experiences-he wants no attachments to anyone-ironic considering how he draws people to him, creating the ultimate found family. Even with his desire not to form attachments, Kaz can not deny the connection he has with Inej (Amita Suman). They are like moths to each other’s flame. They-together-have some of my absolute favorite lines and the chemistry between these two is palpable. Kaz shows Inej he cares for her in multiple ways, he successfully secures her future, finds leads on her family, tries his best to keep her out of harm’s way and yet all Inej wants from him is what he is unwilling-or unable-to give. 

The trauma of his brother’s death has left Kaz unable to have skin to skin contact with anyone-even those he cares for-and its something that Inej dearly wants. How can they possibly overcome what has become Kaz’s true crutch? Is it even possible? I don’t know dear reader but I want-more than anything-to see this two obtain their happy ending. If any two character deserve it-its them. 

Because the show functions as essentially a prequel for the Crows, the plotline once again does not truly mesh with the book-and I’m OK with that. The Crows are well developed and showcased and their particular skill set allows them to save the day in more ways than one-each of them more exciting than the next. The Crows were absolutely my favorite part of the season and I hope that they’re yours too. As I mentioned earlier-this season is not without issues. The casting of Danielle Galligan-who is not a fat woman-to portray a woman who is continuously described as “voluptuous” and “curvy” with a decided love of food.

The books make it clear that Nina Zenik is loved not in spite of her fatness but that she is desirable because of it. To strip that representation from a group of people who are continuously told that their body type makes them undesirable and that they should seek to lose weight in order to suit society’s view of acceptable bodies has had disastrous effects. Fat people deserve to see themselves on screens too-especially as objects of affection and Danielle’s presence reinforces the idea that we are not supposed to be seen in that light.

Shadow And Bone. (L to R) Ben Barnes as The Darkling / General Kirigan, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa, Anna Leong Brophy as Tamar, Julian Kostov as Fedyor, Jack Wolfe as Wylan, Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov, Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Danielle Galligan as Nina Zenik, Daisy Head as Genya Safin, Lewis Tan as Tolya, Sujaya Dasgupta as Zoya Nazyalensky, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey, Patrick Gibson as Nikolai, Dean Lennox Kelly as Pekka Rollins on the set of Shadow And Bone. Cr. Katalin Vermes/Netflix © 2022

 Further-there is blatant colorism in casting for this show. Making Alina half-Shu was meant to be a bid to increase diversity and it does work-but in almost all other aspects the show fails dramatically. Jesper for example is meant to be dark skinned-and despite Kit Young’s admirable performance, he’s truly a standout-he’s absolutely not dark skinned. This same thing happens with Tamar and Tolya, both described as having “bronze” skin, which again, puts me in mind of darker skin-something that Lewis Tan and Anna Leong Brophy lack. Why are we so against casting darker skinned individuals in roles that demand it? What are we afraid of? 

The finale moments of the season clearly set us up for a third-and potentially final-season, with many loose ends in need of wrapping up, despite my issues, I’m still a whore for Kanej and the Crows and want to see them on my screen again soon-let’s hope that’s a reality in the near future. Tell us below-what are you looking forward to in this season of Shadow & Bone? What are you worried about? 

All eight episodes of Shadow & Bone are available now on Netflix! For more from Aprille’ click here!

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