‘Shadow and Bone’ Gives Mal a Vital Mission.. And a Reason for Us to Root For Him (RECAP)
[WARNING: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Shadow and Bone Season 1 Episode 4, “Otkazat’sya.”]
One of the chief complaints from fans of the book series on which Shadow and Bone is based was that Mal (Archie Renaux)… well, Mal really doesn’t do a whole lot. Whether or not you’d pick him over The Darkling/General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), it was undeniable that for about three-quarters of the book there wasn’t much Mal except for Alina (Jessie Mei Li) wondering why he wasn’t answering her and thinking he’d given up on her entirely.
The Netflix adaptation probably won’t change readers from “Team Darkling” to “Team Mal,” but it does definitely give the latter a purpose. Showing Mal’s harrowing journey to accomplish a goal that’ll get him into the Little Palace gives viewers a reason to root for him, and it fleshes out his character. Meanwhile, Alina’s control over her powers grows—as do her feelings for the mysterious General Kirigan. Oh, and the Dregs have figured out a way into the Little Palace.
A Deadly Discovery
Mal’s mission? He’s searching for a stag which is said to be a powerful Amplifier for Grisha. If he can find it, he’ll have a guaranteed visit to the Little Palace. There’s just one problem: the creature is a myth. But Mal’s heartbroken because none of his letters seem to be reaching his friend, so he volunteers in hopes of being able to see her in person. He and his friends track the stag to Fjerdan territory, where they’re ambushed, and Mal gets shot. When he comes to, the Fjerdans have killed both of his friends. As he weeps over their bodies, he sees the stag.
A Ravkan History Lesson
Alina goes riding with Kirigan, who asks her to call him Aleksander (oooooooh). They journey to an old fountain that he says he visited constantly as a child, once he discovered he was a descendant of the most-hated Grisha to ever live: The Black Heretic. He’d toss a coin in the well and make a wish, the same one, every time: “to be anyone else.” Alina recounts the story of the Black Heretic. The Heretic was once the king’s military advisor, but he was hungry for power. The king, concerned about a coup, put a bounty on his advisor’s head. That’s when the Heretic fled and attempted to use the power of Amplifiers to create an army. When he failed, it accidentally created the Fold instead, and he was killed by it.
Alina tells Kirigan that she’s worried if she fails, she’ll become the new Heretic—someone for the people to see as a monster and to hate. “If you believe anything,” he says, “believe I will not let that happen.” He takes her back to the palace for her lessons with Baghra. Baghra continues to employ a “tough-love” teaching method, telling Alina she’s not doing nearly well enough.
“I’ve Been Waiting a Long Time for You.”
Eventually, Baghra ends up giving Alina a special tea that unlocks some of her memories about her power. Turns out, we see in a flashback that Alina was tested as a Grisha (the earlier flashbacks were misdirection), but she hid those powers so she could stay with Mal. She tells Baghra all of this, and Baghra asks her why she’s holding back now: Mal isn’t there. “How many more children have to be orphaned for you to face the truth?” she snaps.
That night, she wanders the palace and goes to see Kirigan. They talk about the map he’s studying and an uprising in the west, led by an esteemed general. He starts to spiral, saying that the coffers have run dry and Ravkans are now turning against the Grisha as their king once did. Alina reaches out to him and touches his wrist, flooding the room with a burst of light. “You’re not alone,” she tells him, to which he responds, “I’ve been waiting a long time for you.” He brushes a few strands of hair away from her face and it appears they might kiss, but she says she has to go.
The next day, Alina asks if there are any letters for her—apparently, she hasn’t been getting anything Mal has sent. She seems to make the choice to leave him behind and runs to Baghra, where she shows her powers in full force.
A Mini-Heist Before the Real One
There’s nothing like a pre-heist heist—an appetizer heist, if you will. Kaz (Freddy Carter) and the Dregs have a new mission—they need to break into the palace archives to steal the maps of the place. Inej (Amita Suman) will sneak into the archives through a dome, while Jesper (Kit Young) disguises himself as a palace servant so he can turn off the lights at the dome. Kaz pretends to be a sculptor who needs the dimensions of the entrance to ensure his creation fits. He attaches something to the archive receptionist’s foot that leaves a trail for Inej to follow once she’s in. She’ll then make a copy of the blueprints, and leave the way she came in. Sounds like a plan—except it doesn’t end up working, because the guards nearly find Inej while she’s there. But she’s still able to make a copy, and Jesper shoots the lock on the door to get them both out.
At first the palace seems impenetrable, but the Conductor finds them a way. They will pose as performers with a troupe that’s been invited to perform at the Winter Fete, and between Inej’s background in aerial dancing and Jesper’s sharpshooting, they’ll be able to not only put on a show, but accomplish a heist.
Nina Fights Back
Meanwhile, on the boat, Nina (Danielle Galligan) kind of makes friends with Matthias (Calahan Skogman). He offers her food in exchange for answers, but they end up asking each other questions and answering nothing. (“Were your parents witches?” “Were you born a prick?”) Matthias asks her to tell him about the man she serves—the Darkling, a.k.a. Kirigan—and she assumes he only gave her food to betray her people. But he gives her the food anyway. Later, the ship sails into a storm, and the captain orders Matthias to kill all of the prisoners. But he looks at Nina, and it seems he might spare at least one.
- The scene where Mal was ambushed by the Fjerdans was legitimately terrifying. We don’t actually see this in the book—Mal just tells Alina about it—but choosing to portray it in the show was a brilliant move. Also, for those who don’t know, the title of the episode, ‘Otkazat’sya’ is the Ravkan word for someone without Grisha power, like Mal.
- I initially had my doubts about how Shadow and Bone was going to balance Nina and Matthias, the Dregs, and Alina, but I have to say it was doing quite well. I’m probably least invested in Nina and Matthias, but that’s because they’ve had the least amount of screentime so far and not a whole lot has happened between them (yet). They were perfectly cast, though!
- Someone needs to give Jesper his beloved goat back, right away.
- While I think it’s a good thing the show is leaning into the whole Mal-Alina connection, I hope this is the last time we see that scene of them in the field. We’ve had that same flashback play several times now, and I’m tired of it.
- Ben Barnes really was the perfect Darkling. It’s not hard to see why Alina would fall for him (how about that scene where she leaves and he rushes to the door?!), but after the next episode, it’ll also be fun to re-watch his scenes for hints at a certain major plot twist. Descended from The Dark Heretic, indeed…
Shadow and Bone Season 1, Netflix, Now Streaming