Home » ‘Shadow and Bone’ Season 2 Review – Hits All the Right Marks

‘Shadow and Bone’ Season 2 Review – Hits All the Right Marks

by Beatrine Shahzad
Jessie Mei Li shows off her sun summoner powers in SHADOW AND BONE Season 2 on Netflix.

After a cliffhanger finale to season one of Netflix’s Shadow and Bone, fans anticipated a show renewal and a return to the Grishaverse. Based on the young adult book series of the same name by author Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone establishes a world where the “fold”, an area of darkness inhabited by monsters, has ripped the country of Ravka in half for decades. The only person who can defeat it is the sun summoner Alina (Jessie Mei Li). It’s a classic battle between light and dark bolstered by an arrayed ensemble cast of “magic” users and regular people alike. After collecting one amplifier for her powers is the last season, Shadow and Bone Season 2 is dedicated to finding the other two so she can finally destroy the fold. The show also incorporates characters from The Six of Crows books series, and they’re given their own subplot throughout the season. 

Fans of the source material may have noticed that two amplifiers are featured in Shadow and Bone Season 2. In the books, each book of the Shadow and Bone trilogy was dedicated to finding an amplifier, and so this season condenses two books’ worth of plot into one season. The crows, as well, have two missions. It’s one season of television containing four individual stories. And maybe half of one more because of a character stuck in prison. Because of this, Shadow and Bone Season 2 is paced extremely quickly. The individual episodes feel long because so much happens in each one, but the entire season goes by fast. Inexplicably, they manage to succeed in capturing the essence of each book and truly condense it.

It is worth wondering if the reason the creators of the show decided to truncate the timeline because of Netflix’s tendency to cancel shows, especially after their second season. There certainly is enough material to dedicate each season to a book. If the chances of renewal were not so unstable, Shadow and Bone Season 2 would’ve had the freedom to be better paced and take the time to really dig into its characters and ideas. 

Between all of the plots, the crows from The Six of Crows are the true standouts. Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, Kit Young, and Danielle Galligan return as Kaz, Inej, Jesper, and Nina, the main forces of the team this season, along with newcomer Jack Wolfe as Wylan. Due to the breadth of characters in the show, they have a limited amount of runtime to get the crux of their characters, to not only embody a believable personality but explore enough nuance to have the audience emotionally invested in their respective arcs.

Ben Barnes and Jessie Mei Li come face to face in a private showdown in SHADOW AND BONE Season 2 on Netflix.
Ben Barnes & Jessie Mei Li in ‘Shadow and Bone’ Season 2 courtesy of Netflix

The crows have a more active place in their storyline than the characters in the main Shadow and Bone continuity. They are forced to make choices that truly define who they are and question their morals, especially their quest for revenge in the first half of the season as they fight to regain control of the Crow Club. If season one was the season they were introduce, this is the season that they become fully developed and realized characters with backstory. Matthias (Calahan Skogman) has a tiny storyline of his own, but unfortunately he is very static within it.

The newcomers to the season in the main continuity are Nikolai (Patrick Gibson) along with siblings Tolya (Lewis Tan) and Tamar (Anna Leong Brophy). Nikolai, a fan favorite of the books, is embodied the cockiness from the source material with a good measure of surprising vulnerability as well. It’s a good performance, though he doesn’t seem very relevant to the plot unfortunately. He certainly is indispensable, and is written into the story so that it could not happen without him, but his agency or reactions to the overall stakes are not prioritized so it does not feel like his story. And so, while the performance is good and the writing is true to the books, he does not have much of a presence in Shadow and Bone Season 2.

Tolya and Tamar similarly are characterized well with very defined performances, but with very little in terms of goals or stakes within the plot. Wylan, a newcomer on the crows side of things, suffers from the same issue. Wolfe embodies Wylan well, but the writing is so concerned with his relationships with others in the series that he doesn’t have a story for himself.

Shadow and Bone Season 2 rushes to truly develop at least four different romantic relationships in the space of an eight-episode season. It manages to get away with this, believably, by centering the concept of love as a central tenant of the season and have all the differing relationships be a different angle on that core theme. Not only are the participants in each pairing different and defined people, but each pairing suffers through unique issues that keep them apart or circumstances that bring them together, so nothing feels repetitive or useless in the narrative. It all comes together cohesively. The excruciating will-they-won’t-they tension between Kaz and Inej is highlighted throughout the season, an active part of the character arcs, and explored through scenes whose energy could be summarized by AO3 tags.

A big improvement from season one is how diversity is handled. In the first season, the focus on diversity was represented by how the characters were oppressed. Regularly, the main character was ethnically from an Asian-inspired country while living in a Russian-inspired country and would have racially charged insults thrown at her. Though this is something people of color do struggle with, oppression is not the only thing about the minority experience worth exploring. In Shadow and Bone Season 2, the characters have a chance to visit other countries, with other sorts of people, and learn about different cultures. The audience gets to enjoy the richness diversity can bring to a fantasy story through the introduction of different customs, languages, and practices. It isn’t a huge part of the second season, though it is very nice.

In its technical aspects, Shadow and Bone Season 2 shines the brightest in its costuming. Like how the keftas the characters in the book wear reflect what “magical” order they’re in, the costuming in the show reflect not only the character’s personality but their setting. Everything else, like sets and special effects, are squeezed by its budget. This is especially unfortunate when the central threat to the season is the expanding fold, but it is difficult for the audience to actualize the weight of this phenomenon as many scenes action scenes involving extensive special effects happen in barren settings with little sense of scale.

Alina and Mal (Archie Renaux) continue to be the beating heart of the show as they work tirelessly to find the remaining amplifiers and destroy the fold. They’re supported by familiar faces from the previous season, Genya (Daisy Head), David (Luke Pasqualino), and Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta). The characters are very cleverly distributed between plotlines to highlight their skill sets and expose their weaknesses. It’s not a direct one to one adaptation of the events of the book, however, it manages to capture the central conflicts; such as how Alina and Mal desperately wish for a normal life among the chaos they’re thrust in and how Zoya softens up to working with others when placed in a team.

Despite the depth that season one tried to alot to its villain, General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), that momentum is lost in Shadow and Bone Season 2. He becomes obsessed with getting his way and is willing to do anything and hurt anyone to achieve it. While this creates frightening stakes for the protagonists, it also makes Kirigan’s scenes boring to sit through. There is very little to explore or empathize with, and he doesn’t feel scary unless he’s actively threatening other people. His overall presence would have been more powerful if his scenes were more dynamic.

Shadow and Bone Season 2 is better than its predecessor. The writing is sharper, forced through the condensing of its source material, and all the characters are fantastically portrayed and acted. The only great change from the books is the show’s ending, which is more intriguing than it is upsetting, even if slightly puzzling. They have to keep the door open for a possible season three, though. It’s a fast-paced ride through Ravka and beyond, with all the characters audiences and readers have grown to love. The show tightrope walks on fantastic tension that you can’t help but to binge watch through. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shadow and Bone Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix!

Follow writer Beatrine Shahzad on Twitter: @beyabean

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