With the second season of Shadow and Bone now available to stream on Netflix, more than a few critics have weighed in — including yours truly! The show is fun, if flawed, and I think it’s a good time. Let’s dive into the things we loved about Shadow and Bone season two, and the things we think could have been done better.
We Loved: The Romances
While sexual entanglements are common in a lot of fantasy shows, Shadow and Bone felt unique in the way that it centered romantic relationships for almost every character. Everyone seemed to get a romantic partner, slow-burn, or unrequited love story, and I ate it all up.
We Loved: The Crows
For the second season in a row, the characters from Six of Crows — Kaz Brekker, Inej Ghafa, Jesper Fahey, Nina Zenik, and Wylan Van Eck — comprise the most compelling parts of the story. Shadow and Bone showrunner Eric Heisserer has said that the only way he would sign on to work on the show was if the rights to the Crow cast of characters were includied, and it seems clear that the series is playing favourites. Also, extra praise to Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker — he owns that role. He’s so fucking good, and the writing is so tight for his character. I cannot get enough of that man. Highly recommend.
We Loved: Alina’s Finally Grown Up
In season one, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), the sun summoner, was kind of a naive fool. This season she’s definitely got a bit of a chip on her shoulder, and thank god. She’s much angrier, a little meaner, and a lot less gullible.
We Loved: Nikolai Fucking Lantsov!
It takes a certain kind of actor to pull off sleazy charm and also make a character feel vulnerable at the same time, and Patrick Gibson nails it. Nikolai is equal parts rogue and bastard, and his romantic nature and idealism make him exceptionally fun and tragic.
We Loved: The Whole Ensemble, Honestly
Every character in Shadow and Bone got to have their time in the spotlight, and every member of the cast did their absolute best with what they had. Nobody phoned in their performance — and while sometimes the absolute earnestness of the delivery was a little artless, it worked. Some characters (read: the Crows) got better development than others (sorry Alina), but honestly the cast worked their asses off and made the whole thing fun to watch.
We Loved: The VFX
Genuinely, the VFX/CGI this season remained pretty solid! Some of the production value — especially some of the rural set design — was hit or miss, but the actual magic and flash of the series was absolutely solid work. Cheesy at times, but very well done.
We Loved: The Cliffhanger Ending
No spoilers, but OH NO! and OH SHIT! in equal measure. Talk about setting up both a great Shadow and Bone season three AND the infamous Ice Heist from Six of Crows.
We Loved: The Iconic Kanej Scene
Kanej — or the shipping pairing of Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa — is a slow-burn romance that builds up over the two books of Six of Crows. There is a single iconic scene that both solidifies their feelings and clearly defines their problems and Amita Suman, as Inej, absolutely nails the delivery of this memorable, fan-favourite scene.
We’re On the Fence About: General Kirigan???
All the Shadow and Bone girlies went wild for Ben Barnes’ Kirigan in season one, but this season? He’s just not as fun to watch — he’s still got all the panache and style and violence of Bad Guy, but he’s not exactly as horribly fun to watch anymore. I dunno, I found myself so cold on him this season and I could never figure out why. Maybe it’s because without his constant interactions with Alina, his horrible gaslighting felt more like delusion than effective manipulation? Regardless. Ben Barnes is fine, and so was his performance.
We Didn’t Love: Helvar in Hellgate
Poor Mathias. He really was just Stuck In Jail this whole season. Kind of a bummer, but we’re really just keeping him on the line like a backup boyfriend until we get to season three/Six of Crows.
We Didn’t Love: Shu Han
While the heist in Shu Han was perfectly fine (even if it was nowhere in the books), the odd orientalist portrayal of the country, with a mishmash of eras and art from across Asia, felt weird, especially as this part was entirely added in and had no basis in the books at all.
We Didn’t Love: The Jedi Mind Tricks
It’s been a while since I’ve read Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, but I don’t remember Alina and Kirigan having the power to visit each other via magic mind projection. Even if it was in the books, the execution in this season seemed more like an excuse to get Alina and Kirigan to interact more rather than push the plot forward, and with an already incredibly over-fast plot, these moments might have been better suited to the individual stories.
We Didn’t Love: The Nichevo’ya
Let’s call this one a nitpick. I liked the idea that the Nichevo’ya were uncontrollable, but I didn’t love their design. After the terrifying Volkra, I was really hoping for something genuinely terrifying and we kind of got… shadow sand men? They’re well-rendered and the CGI is very good, but it just felt like a missed opportunity to do something really cool.
We Didn’t Love: The Pacing
The main plot of the series takes cues from two books, but there are scenes, characters, and winks towards an additional four books, including Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom (which follows the Crows of Ketterdam), and the duology that follows Nikolai Lantsov; King of Scars and Rule of Wolves. To call the series rushed is an understatement. The characters were enough to keep me invested, but if Shadow and Bone had just slimmed down the plot and slowed the pacing, and it would have been a much better show.
Shadow and Bone season two is now streaming on Netflix.
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