Shadowhunters is a cheesy fantasy show airing on a network that nobody’s heard of (the former ABC Family, now confusingly called Freeform). But maybe because this show slid so far under the radar, it was able to capture a ton of the subversiveness of the books by Cassandra Clare, including both same-sex relationships and female friendships.
The season finale, “Morning Star,” aired last night. For the entire season, Shadowhunters has been a show about pretty people questing to restore order to the Shadow World, a place where demon hunters snootily refer to humans as “mundanes,” and draw power from glowing runes that look suspiciously like tribal tattoos. But amid all the weekly ridiculousness, melodrama, awesome hair, and supernatural warfare, Shadowhunters actually pushed the envelope in some fascinating ways.
On top of a cliche-ridden framework—average gal Clary Fray turns 18 and learns she’s secretly been super-special all these years, with magic powers to boot—Shadowhunters actually proved capable of tossing in some welcome surprises.
The most obvious example is the relationship between Alec and Magnus. On last week’s “Malec,” Shadowhunter Alec finally gave in to his true feelings, interrupting his own politically-motivated nuptials to smooch the warlock of his dreams. His jilted bride-to-be was remarkably, instantly forgiving; his friends were relieved and proud; and his parents—while they weren’t pleased, given the fact that they were counting on Alec’s wedding to restore their good name—didn’t give two shits that their son was in love with a man.
Then there’s the incest scare. Toward the end of the season, budding boos Clary and Jace learned that they were, in fact, brother and sister—pretty much right after the pair have finally shared their first kiss. If it’s really true, what happens next? And if it isn’t, will the show’s smoldering duo ever recover? A more timid show would’ve resolved that right away, but Shadowhunters lets the issue linger.
The character of Isabelle is also refreshing, and continuously surprising. Despite her aggressively sexy outfits—except during the “alternate universe” episode, in which she sports a Star Wars T-shirt—Izzy is portrayed as the most capable Shadowhunter. She isn’t necessarily as good in battle as Alec or Jace, but she’s the smartest, often taking charge of the technical side of their operations. She’s also the most emotionally mature. Though she agrees to end it with her Seelie/elf/whatever boyfriend to appease her (racist) parents, she stands up for him and risks being banished in the process.
And Isabelle is incredibly kind and welcoming to Clary—amazingly, Shadowhunters passes the Bechdel test. It would have been easy to paint Izzy as jealous or suspicious of Clary, but as soon as they meet she’s offering to lend the newcomer one of her skintight leather outfits. That’s what friends are for, right?
“For Shadowhunters, you don’t seem to do a lot of Shadow-hunting,” vampire boss Raphael smirks when the group rolls up in the finale, asking for yet another favor to get themselves out of yet another jam. He’s right. Shadowhunters actually contains very few instances of the clan doing what they’re sworn to do: protect humans from demons. And judging from the final scene, which saw Valentine prepping to execute his evil plan, they won’t be back to business anytime soon. Of course, we’ll find out more in season two.