Review | ‘Shadowhunters’ 1×01: The Mortal Cup

Shadowhunters’ first episode is clunky and expository in parts, but is enough to tune in for the next episode.

Season 1, Episode 1: The Mortal Cup
Original air date: 12/01/16
Directed by:
Written by:
Ed Decter
Katherine McNamara, Dominic Sherwood, Alberto Rosende, Matthew Daddario, Esmeraude Toubio & Isaiah Mustafa

Opening episodes are tricky beasts, aren’t they? There’s an awful lot to establish, and it’s tricky to get people in established situations to casually explain what they are doing and why. That’s a line that Shadowhunters finds slightly tricky in its first instalment. Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara) is introduced to us on her eighteenth birthday and is soon thrown into a world that she finds horrendously confusing, seeing people fighting strange demonic creatures in a nightclub and then her mother is captured by men who appear to be after Clary as well. Sounds gripping, right? Well, it should be. The execution is slightly less slick.

Shadowhunters is adapted from a line of books by Cassandra Clare. Within these series, we follow angel-human hybrids known as Shadowhunters who hunt down demons in order to protect humankind. The base of operations for these particular Shadowhunters (known as the Institute) is a gothic cathedral and they fight demons with the help of runes tattooed on their skin (here they look a little like birth marks instead of purposeful tattoos) and a blade that looks suspiciously like a lightsaber. Handily, demons disintegrate when they are killed to make it seem a little bit less like murder, but it still sort of is. Also, somehow, Shadowhunters – despite being teenagers – are able to take out multiple demons and I feel like demons might have found better defences against seraph blades at this point.

The book series is told from the point of view of Clary as she discovers this new world and for the first episode of a new series, you would think that this would be the approach that the TV series would take as well. However, we start the episode with Jace (Dominic Sherwood), Isabelle (Esmeraude Taude) and Alec (Matthew Daddario) stalking a shapeshifting demon, complete with synchronised jumps and slow motion walking through New York City streets. It’s classic teen drama stuff, except they have runes on their skin and they’re dressed ready to kill, somewhat literally. Jace bumps into Clary, quite literally, and expresses surprise that she can see him. CUE FLASHBACK. I mean, if you’re going to use the classic flashback technique, it should probably come after something dramatic has happened. For example, if the episode had started with Clary’s mother forcing her to be transported away from the flat because they were about to be attacked, and the preceding events were told as Clary slips in and out of consciousness, that would be a compelling reason to use flashbacks.

Instead, we are left feeling somewhat detached from Clary, which is unfortunate considering that she is meant to be our heroine. We are granted access to knowledge that Clary does not see, such as interactions between her mother, Jocelyn (Maxim Roy) and some seemingly rogue Shadowhunters known as the Circle in which they indicate that they are after something known as “The Cup”. We also get granted expository lines by Isabelle, such as awkwardly calling your brother “big brother”, as if that is some normal way to talk to somebody. Ultimately, we should be seeing the world through Clary’s eyes and as an audience we are granted an insight into the world that she is not and therefore we have her character lagging behind, which is somewhat frustrating especially so early on in a series. Later on, it’s much easier to have facts concealed from the heroine that we know because that creates more tension, but at this point it’s just irritating and slightly confusing. I take umbrage with the structure of this episode more than anything, because a meet cute in an alleyway is certainly not a compelling opening to an entire series.


Don’t you just love having exposition-heavy conversations with your friends, right before you do something? “Demons like blondes”, “rules are meant to be broken”. Whose benefit are you saying this for? Do you see the camera? What’s happening here?

Wouldn’t the fight scene in the night club have been much more surprising and shocking had we not already known there was a shapeshifting demon involved? I know it’s tempting to do dramatic slow motion sexy walking with your unrealistically attractive leads, but no show is immune to good writing, you know. Think things through, writers.

Surely Clary’s mother’s kidnap might have been a more compelling cliffhanger finish to this episode, instead of Clary’s fighting between her new Shadowhunter world and Simon (Alberto Rosende).

Speaking of Simon, he might as well have a sign around his neck that says that he’s in love with Clary. It’s so obvious that he might as well smack me around the head with it.

On the topic, it’s obvious that Clary is going to choose the Shadowhunters because 1) it’s called Shadowhunters and 2) her mother has been kidnapped by seemingly rogue Shadowhunters and they are the only ones who can help her, in contrast to Simon who will likely just get killed in the crossfire.

Just because your sword glows and it makes pretty sparks doesn’t make vaporising “demons” any more legitimate. What have these demons done wrong supposedly? I am still lacking this information and until I am furnished with it, I am going to assume that this is a meaningless quest. They don’t even arrest the demons for questioning, they just go straight in with the killing which seems unfair to me, I’m just saying.

It’s quite fun watching this back knowing that it’s going to get much better. The next season looks decidedly less cheap and more adult, for example. Bring it on.

I will see you next time, children, for my review of the second episode of Shadowhunters. Also, I know that I’m really late to the party. As I indicated in my previous Shadowhunters recap I have completely lost sight of what the hell is happening anymore, so I am therefore here to guide you guys on my journey through time. You are incredibly welcome.

Next episode:
The Descent Into Hell Isn’t Easy

To view the other posts about Shadowhunters Season 1, click here.
To view other posts about Shadowhunters, click here.

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