This week’s episode is all about reconnecting with family. Every storyline revolves around it, one way or the other. We see the characters trying their hardest to mend bonds tarnished by past actions, to various degrees of success. Additionally, Director Paul Wesley brings out the best of his actors and scenery, making 2×16 the best visual episode of Shadowhunters.
It is too bad, then, that the episode still manages to feel incomplete. It is a heavily shadowhunter episode and the exception of Simon’s storyline isn’t enough to even things out. The lack of downworlders, especially Luke, is sorely noticed, even if the characters keep talking about Magnus.
Day of Atonement
Following Valentine’s escape, the Institute is on high alert. As they wait for the Clave’ envoy, the shadowhunters discuss the possibility of Valentine still being in New York. While Izzy and Jace are ready to take the blame, Alec knows that, as Head of the Institute, any punishments fall on Alec.
The envoy turns out to be none other than Robert Lightwood. Alec and Robert talk, and Robert informs his son that he will remain the Head of the Institute. He has convinced Imogen that Alec is better equipped to find Valentine in New York. Alec thanks him, but says that helping him does not gets Robert off the hook for cheating on Maryse. When Robert tries to equate his feelings to what Alec feels for Magnus, the Alec shuts him down.
As mad as the Lightwood siblings are at their father, it is important to notice that neither Alec nor Izzy is unfair to Robert. They are justifiably angry about the treatment Robert gives to Max after he finds his youngest son looking into his personal messages to Inquisitor Imogen, but Alec and Izzy mostly choose to stay out of their parents’ problems. They wonder about Robert’s involvement with Imogen, as Izzy thinks she might be the person Robert has cheated on his wife with.
By the end of the episode, however, Alec learns that is not the case. The messages exchanged was about the lies the Clave has been telling. Robert reveals to Alec that, contrary to what it had claimed, the Clave does not have the Soul Sword. He tries to make Alec promise not to tell that secret to anyone, Magnus included, but Alec says he cannot promise that. Izzy and Alec’s relationship is as strong as ever, but neither of them seems ready to trust their father as of yet.
While that delicate situation was going on, Jace and Clary had their own drama to deal with. Since Clary was avoiding him, Jace requested to go on a mission with her. He means to search for Valentine at a cabin he used to bring Jace to at a forest near Idris. His effort would be for naught, since the Clave denied his petition for a portal, but Clary’s angelic powers manifest again. This time, she is able to create a Portal Rune.
The portal does not work as well as warlock portals do. Clary and Jace end up at the bottom of Lake Lyn, where Clary loses her stele. They still land close enough to the cabin, so they keep going. Clary notices the absence of the stele and goes back for it at the lake. In doing so, she gets lost from Jace and starts to hear things.
It turns out, the water from Lake Lyn causes hallucinations to those who drink from it, like Clary did. When Jace hurts himself to get his parabatai’s attention, Alec and Izzy find the rests of a portal. They are able to locate them and Alec sends Izzy “The Best Shadowhunter of the Institute” Lightwood to the rescue. With her help, Jace is able to locate Clary and activate her Iratze Rune without the help of stele.
Together, the trio finds the cabin, but there is nobody there. Jace recovers Valentine’s journals and finds out records of Jonathan Herondale and Jonathan Morgenstern. Clary remembers the visit she received from the Ithuriel while she was hallucinating. The Archangel told her “Jonathan is alive”; that knowledge brings Clary one step closer to figuring out Sebastian’s true identity; her long-lost brother.
Talking about him, the episode opens with Jonathan talking about his past. As Jace surely finds out in the next episodes, Valentine had raised both Jonathans. However, in an interesting departure from the books, Valentine banished his Jonathan to Edom after he killed Albert Timberworth, a shadowhunter kid. Valentine judges that Jonathan was too out of control. It is easy to buy the explanation, since Alan Van Sprang makes such an amazing job of showing just enough fear in the way that he looks at his son.
As great as Alan is, though, it is Will Tudor who steals the show. Anger and derangement pour out of Jonathan as he tells Valentine his skin was burned by demons. He adds that the demons have taught him how to draw power from his demonic blood, but he prefers to wear Sebastian Verlac’s face than to look like a “demonic beast with burned flesh.”
Throughout the episode, Sebastian and Valentine go back and forth about their motivations. Finally, Sebastian reveals that he wants to send Valentine to Hell, as revenge for what has been done to him. Valentine, however, pulls off a final manipulation to save himself.
He uses the Soul Sword, which the audience knows has been in Jonathan’s possession since Season 1, to convince his son that he has always cared about him. It is fascinating to watch the words Valentine uses to do so. Under the compulsion of the sword, he never once treats Jonathan as a human being or says anything that proves he loves him. The decision of sending his son to Hell might even haunt Valentine, but he never expresses true regret. Instead, he tells Jonathan the same words he has told Jace: “You have always been my greatest achievement.”
But where Jace rejects that affirmation, telling Valentine that he is not an achievement, Jonathan welcomes it. Tenuously, if the tense dinner is anything to go by, but he welcomes it nonetheless. With Valentine and Jonathan now working together, the last four episodes of the season promise to be a wicked ride.
In a heavy shadowhunter episode, the sole exception comes in Simon’s storyline. That also where the name of 2×16 comes from. As Simon mopes the recent series of unfortunate events that his life has turned into, he receives a surprise visit from Maia. She tries to cheer him up, but Simon is not in the mood of putting himself back together.
It is only after Simon reveals that he intends to go to a family dinner for Yom Kippur, though, that Maia gets really worried. Wanting to stop her friend from losing control and attack his own family, she decides to join him. For a show full of characters that annoyingly decide to meddle with things they weren’t invited to come, Maia makes her “I’m not taking a no for an answer” scene refreshingly endearing.
But that is only half as endearing as Bubby Helen. We finally get to meet her and it is worth the wait. Simon’ grandmother is yet another great member of the Lewis family. Much like all true Lewis, she is immediately taken by Maia. This family dinner captures everything from Simon’s guilt, to Elaine’s worry about her son, to Maia’s unwavering support for her friend. We also get a little bit of Maia’s backstory, learning about her complicated relationship with her parents and that she is a Marine Biology undergrad.
While indirectly, Maia sharing her story prompts Elaine to assure her own unconditional love for her children. It is exactly what Simon needed to hear after the last turbulent weeks. In a quick but powerful self-realization moment, he decides to move past the bad that has happened and not let it ruin his life.
In the end, this was a touching episode. But as much as it brought a much-needed explanation for Jonathan’s presence, one can’t help but feel a lack of cohesiveness with the rest of the episodes so far. Season 2B has been mostly about the relationship between downworlders and shadowhunters. To have the most prominent representatives of the former (Magnus and Luke) missing felt like something was wrong. Especially Luke, since he would’ve fitted well in Simon’s storyline after A Problem of Memory focused so much on the relationship between the two of them.
Hopefully, next episode will bring back the balance.
- “For a downworlder, depression can be seriously dangerous.” This kind of hint is what I miss from Simon’s arc. Much like Clary represents a window into the shadowhunter way of life, Simon is the perfect vehicle to explore the Downworld. The show is stronger whenever it does so and now that Simon is back on his feet, I hope his story furthers even more Simon’s relationship with his people.
- The way the Clave handles the position of Head of the Institute is astonishingly bad. A single mistake is enough reason to replace a Head, which means a change in leadership and political decisions. For a system that is all about order and hierarchy, this kind of institutionalized instability only undermines the Head’s authority. Everyone can safely assume whoever is in charge won’t last much more than a week. That Alec remained in charge was a fluke.
- “If he was Luke’s accomplice, he could have orchestrating the secret transfer all along.” I do not understand what Jace means by this and why nobody calls him out on it. Are we back to thinking Luke is a criminal? I thought Alec had shut this down for good.
- The show sometimes uses imagery in beautiful ways. One example is having Jace wear the Herondale family ring while reading Valentine’s journals. Subtle and effective.