Shadowhunters: The Mortal Cup

Clary: “I’m turning 18, it’s not like I’m headed off on some epic journey.”

AKA Clary’s No good, very bad, birthday.

It started well enough. It’s Clary’s eighteenth birthday, and she got accepted into the Brooklyn Academy of Art to the delight of her neighbor, parents, and best friend. Now she is heading out for a celebratory night on the town with said best friend and his bandmate. That her overprotective mother is acting weirder than usual can be chalked up to her little girl growing up, right?

But Clary’s world is turned upside down the moment a strange man bumps into her. A strange man her friends can’t see. Her need for answers only leads to more questions when she witnesses and accidentally takes part in the murder of multiple people at the hands of the ill-mannered stranger and his friends.

Thus begins Clary’s introduction into the Shadow World where all the legends are true. It turns out the strange trio are Shadowhunters who exist to protect humans, or Mundanes, from demons. We are given enough clues to surmise that Clary's mom, Jocelyn, is also a Shadowhunter and she's been paying Magnus to suppress Clary’s knowledge of all things Shadow-related. Jocelyn has been hiding among the Mundanes to protect the Mortal Cup from Valentine, AKA The Big Bad.

Clary’s day goes from bad to worse when she’s sent to her would be stepdad, Luke, for protection. Instead, she overhears Luke say that he wouldn’t care if Clary and her mother were dead. There goes that bright idea.

She returns home to find her house destroyed, her mother missing, and her neighbor transformed into a demon. Luckily, Mr. Ill-Manners arrives in time to dispatch the demon and save Clary’s life. This leaves Clary in the unenviable position of either trusting the stranger who seems to know what’s going on or her best friend for whom demons are nothing more than characters in comic books.

As with most pilot episodes, The Powers That Be have the herculean task of setting the tone for the show, introducing the cast of characters, and creating the world in which they inhabit. This is on top of the normal production issues of developing an interesting hour of story to tell. Shadowhunters does so with a confidence rarely seen in a series premiere.

The relationships are well defined and feel lived in. I’m not sure if Simon or Clary ever utter the words “best friends” but their in-jokes, and the ease of Simon’s relationship with both Clary and her parents speaks volumes. Unfortunately, that Simon is crushing on Clary but has been friend-zoned is also not in doubt.

The same goes for Alec, Isabelle, and Jace's relationship. Clearly the trio have worked together for a long time, despite the differing approaches to their “mission.” Alec is a straight arrow intent on following the rules while Isabelle and Jace would much rather ask for forgiveness than permission.

The only nit I have to pick is why Jace is the only one who realizes Clary is a Shadowhunter. I understand he was the only one to see the seraph blade light up for her. But if runes are lethal to Mundanes, then why is her status as a Shadowhunter even in question. On the other hand, that a by-the-book guy like Alec doesn’t trust her makes perfect sense.

The world-building is equally confident. The Shadowhunters have clearly defined abilities, as do the demons and other members of the Shadow World. Even if those abilities have yet to be explained. But there are more subtle indications of The Powers That Be’s confidence. Shadowhunters may be tasked with protecting humans, but they don’t seem to like them. Jace assumed that Clary could not see him, yet made no attempt to avoid bumping into her. Even the term mundane while originally defined as “of or relating to this world or earth as contrasted with heaven” is used with equal emphasis on its more recent and negative connotations.

This is not to say there aren’t the requisite information dumps to explain that Alec and Isabelle are siblings, that Jocelyn and Luke are a couple, or that Dot is Jocelyn’s employee. Additionally, we have the tongue-in-cheek references to this being Clary's best birthday or her life being so mundane, ensuring it will be anything but by the end of the episode.

Having Clary, and sometimes Simon, serve as the audience’s surrogate also helps tamp down the exposition overload. They ask just enough questions to keep the story moving. That said, this show, unlike many others in this genre, does not feel the need to spoon feed the audience every historical, political, and/or magical detail in the first 40-odd minutes.

This confidence may be due to the show being based on the bestselling series by Cassandra Clare, ensuring it had a sizable built-in audience. I was not one of them. I came to the show cold. And while other people not familiar with the books might have found the lack of explanations disconcerting, I found it refreshing.

Who is Valentine? We don’t know. What does the Mortal Cup do, and why does Valentine want it? We don’t know. We also don’t know if Luke can be trusted. But we have an entire season to find out. I can’t wait.

4 out of 5 shape-shifting demons

Parting Thoughts:

Actually, I have a second nit to pick. It appears that Valentine’s henchmen recognize Clary immediately, and she is what leads them back to her mother. But if Valentine didn’t know about a daughter, how did Goons 1 and 2?

There is no such place as the Brooklyn Academy of Art. However, there was once a Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts, but it closed in 1945.

Quotes:

Clary: "Simon, how can someone as smart and perceptive as you not realize the person sitting right there is in love with you?"
Simon: "I guarantee you I'm not the only smart, perceptive person to make that mistake."

Isabelle: "It's more fun to break the rules than to follow them."

Jocelyn: "Trust your instincts. You're more powerful than you know."

Jace: "What, no thank you for saving your life?"

Jace: "Here's a word you never hear me say. Please?"

Alec: "We don't know this girl. There is no such thing as new Shadowhunters."
Isabelle: "There is now."

Isabelle: "You should be happy that Jace is interested in someone other than himself."

Jace: "I'll keep it simple for you. All the legends are true."

Simon: "What are you doing undressed in an abandoned church? Clary, is there... is there a meth problem we have to talk about?"

Valentine: "Just because you couldn't find it doesn't mean it isn't there."

Shari loves sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, and anything with a cape.

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