Review: ‘Shadow & Bone’ Season 2 Kicks Off With a Bang, but Struggles To Keep Pace
The Darkling (Ben Barnes) is alive. Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux) are racing to save all of Ravka. Netflix’s Shadow and Bone season 2, which adapts the second and third books of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy, both books from her Six of Crows Duology, and even the two books in the King of Scars Duology kicks off with a bang—but maintaining that pacing through its eight episodes proves difficult at best.
This follows the explosive end of season 1, in which General Kirigan manipulated Alina into quelling the rebellion in West Ravka using Morozova’s stag and she fought back by ripping his bit of the stag from his hand. He was thrown into the Fold and seemingly consumed by Volcra. However, in the final moments of the season 1 finale, we saw him walk out of the Fold, alive, beckoning for someone—or something—to follow.
In season 2, we see the war between Kirigan and Alina come to a head as the two dance around each other in their separate missions—his, to regain the favor of the Grisha and attempt to gain control of Ravka; hers, to find Morozova’s other two amplifiers, the sea whip and the firebird, so she can defeat Kirigan, tear down the fold, and save her country.
Meanwhile, the Crows are back in Ketterdam, and the ongoing fight between Kaz Brekker (Frederick James Carter) and Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly) is intensifying. The Crows recruit the Heartrender Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and explosives expert Wylan Van Eck (Jack Wolfe), but soon enough they end up once again working with Alina and Mal when the group is hired by a new ally, the privateer Sturmhond (Patrick Gibson).
Shadow and Bone season 2 has all the best things about fantasy: magical creatures, a super-scary villain, assassins, frenemies forced to work together, secret identities, and more.
Unfortunately, the pacing leaves much to be desired. The series gets bogged down in the minutiae of its various plot lines and then pushes them back together for what should be an incredibly satisfying ending. Because the balance between plots is so off-kilter throughout the season, however, the finale falls flat.
Simply put, the writers have tried to cram way too much story into too few episodes. There are so many plots and subplots shoved into each episode that it’s hard to focus on any particular character or group, despite there being some truly gorgeous arcs and relationships at play.
The fight for Ravka and their lives is beginning to weigh on everyone, and the brief moments of reprieve we get from that war are stunning. Characters compromise their morals for what they hope is the greater good, while new additions to the cast like Tamar and Tolya (Anna Leong Brophy and Lewis Tan, respectively) breathe new life into the series.
There’s also plenty of action this season. There’s romance, flying ships, and fantastic combat. The mythology of Morozova continues to unfold, revealing what he did with his amplifiers and why. The Darkling’s power shifts, as does Alina’s, and their similarities and differences continue to be a huge focal point of the series.
In addition to the pacing issues, however, Shadow and Bone season 2 suffers because of how many wild swings it takes to avoid building the kind of tension that made season 1 so good. The writers seem almost reluctant to stretch storylines out and keep reveals at bay, which results in info-dumping too soon and too much. This seems to be the result of there being so many elements of six of the books in Bardugo’s Grishaverse present in just eight episodes of the show.
Netflix has yet to announce whether Shadow and Bone will be renewed for a third season, so it’s possible the writers wanted to include as much from the trilogy as possible in this season in case the story doesn’t get to continue. Whatever the reason, this ultimately destroys much of what the first season built, which is a shame.
Shadow and Bone season 2 is still fun to watch, and fans of the books will be especially delighted by certain characters and story beats. It just doesn’t hold up to its predecessor, which is a little worrisome for the show’s potential future. Watching Alina, Mal, and their arguably mismatched allies come together to defeat the Darkling for good would make for great television—although, if the conclusion of the series is given the same treatment as this season, that may not be the case.
Shadow and Bone is currently streaming on Netflix.
(featured image: Dávid Lukács / Netflix)
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