I came across this article from a friend on Twitter (actually a few of my friends who’s shared it) and had to take a look. This is exactly how I’ve felt about how dirty Clary, and especially Jace, had been treated in 3B of Shadowhunters.
I know not a lot of you will be interested in this, but for those of us who feel we were mistreated, this will speak volumes to us.
Thank you to Christine for letting me share this on here. I’ll also link her site to here if anyone would like to take a gander at her other posts.
I’m hoping by sharing this post, it will give some people more of an understanding as to why I (and others) are as upset as we were (and still are) about what was done to the show.
Female Protagonists Deserve Their Stories
Believe me, I get it. I am not the target audience for shows like Shadowhunters, Veronica Mars, or GoT. I am far, far removed from ship wars, cons, and the overall social media craziness that seems to animate fandom culture for shows like these. These shows – particularly Shadowunters – are really just guilty pleasures for me. With bonus points b/c they are sci fi/supernatural/fantasy/action & adventure genre pieces with strong female protagonists. That’s all. Just a genre that I love. Nothing life-changing.
So why, months later, am I still so pissed off about GoT S8, Shadowhunters 3B and the &*%& Shadowhunters finale, and basically all of Veronica Mars S4? Especially when the writers/ show runners behind these projects – and huge chunks of the fandom – really, really don’t give a shit about what someone in my demographic thinks.
Fundamentally, I am pissed off because each of these shows destroyed the narrative arcs of their female characters. And, because the showrunners – a bunch of middle-aged dudes – should have known better.
This post focuses on Shadowhunters. And I am writing it just for me. I appreciate and understand that others may disagree.
Ok, let’s just acknowledge the demographically engineered pulpy charms of Shadowhunters (TV) up front. The cast were (and still are, obviously) uniformly gorgeous; the casting was racially diverse (YAY!!!); each season features lots of angst-y love triangles, break-ups and make-ups (Oh, the drama :-)); and, the show deliberately centered LGBTQIA relationships, especially Malec (again, YAY!!!)
So, what’s my problem, when there is so much to like about the show’s stated desire to be inclusive and diverse? Especially when I believe that representation matters, particularly in genre projects like Shadowhunters, which historically have tended to lack diversity with respect to race and sexual/gender identity.
My problem is that somewhere along the line, the Shadowhunters showrunners decided that to tell the story they wanted to tell, they had to eviscerate the narrative arcs of Clary, and by extension, Jace.
To understand why the decision to sideline Clary (and Jace) is so frustrating, it helps to know a bit about the TV show’s source material. (Spoilers follow) SHTV is based on The Mortal Instruments, a six-book series written by Cassie Clare. Clary is the protagonist of TMI: Clare has described TMI as a “girl power” story, and she has made it clear that in TMI, she wanted to tell a story where a girl saves the world. She’s even clapped back at those who would question whether Clary is worthy of heroine status. Last year, in the Thule section of Queen of Air and Darkness, Clare showed us an AU where Clary doesn’t save the world (and is instead killed by Lilith, the mother of demons). It’s a hellscape: Clary’s evil brother Jonathan controls everyone and everything; angelic power no longer works; and anyone who tries to resist Jonathan is hunted, killed, “endarked” (turned into a soulless, murderous soldier), or otherwise enspelled. All of our other heroes are dead or enthralled. Realizing that he was turning into a demon, Magnus begged Alec to kill him (which Alec does, before committing suicide). And Clary’s love Jace? Devastated by Clary’s death, and enspelled by Jonathan, Jace becomes twisted and evil.
In addition to the Thule AU, Clare has written more generally about right of female creators to own their own work (on a Tumblr blog post). And, she has used other series in the shadowhunter world to center other characters and relationships (e.g., the Malec series currently underway); to interrogate gender roles (e.g., the Julian and Emma pairing in TDA); and to explore relationships and identities other than the Clary/Jace pairing (e.g. the polyamorous Christina/Mark/Kieran relationship in TDA). Why does all of this matter for SHTV? Well, Clare wrote TMI, and she made Clary the protagonist. So the fact that Clary is the protagonist of TMI was not some ancillary or inconvenient matter for SHTV. It was and is at the center of the books upon which SHTV is based, and as to which the show has IP rights.
[NB: This is not to suggest that Clare prefers Clary and Jace to other characters or other ships, or that other characters aren’t also heroic or ship-worthy – they are, they are just not the protagonists of TMI. And, SHTV is still based on TMI.]
[NB2: And, I absolutely don’t mean to suggest that the show had to be a transcription of the books, or that only Clary and Jace should have gotten screen time. I am affirmatively HAPPY that the show gave rich story lines to other characters – especially Simon, Magnus and Alec.]
With that background in mind, why do I think that Season 3B and the finale destroyed the Clary and Jace characters? Well – and I know this sounds snarky – let’s look at the parade of plotholes, the random redistribution of plot points, Clary’s loss of agency, the and general sidelining of the Clary and Jace characters and their heroism. (Again, spoilers to follow). I leave the memory wipe to last here, because I still can’t believe that anyone thought destroying three seasons of character development was a good idea.
1. Evil Clary story line: In the books, Jace is twinned with Jonathan. This makes narrative sense: Jace and Jonathan are “brothers” of a sort, having both been raised by Valentine, and Jace’s vulnerability to Jonathan (and Lilith) is rooted in childhood trauma of abuse and neglect that Jace endured at the hands of Valentine.
In the show, however, Clary is twinned with Jonathan. From the start, Clary’s ability to resist the rune is tied to her proximity to Jace. In fact, as 3B progresses, Clary becomes increasingly unhinged and violent any time she is physically separated from Jace. Eventually, when she is blasted behind a wall while on mission (and thus physically separated from Jace), she succumbs entirely. All of a sudden we have dark Clary, taking a walk on the wild side with the murderous brother who kidnapped her and nearly killed Jace just a few short weeks ago in show time. Dark Clary joining forces to burn down the world that she loved, and that she repeatedly saved. Really??? And then, when Jace and the others finally manage to free her from twinning rune, we see Clary saying that she WANTED to help Jonathan with his murderous rampage. And, we hear Jace saying that the call of blood was too hard for Clary to resist. Again, really??? The girl who killed her father, called upon an angel to bring her boyfriend back to life, survived the death of her mother, and who was nearly killed by her possessed boyfriend is somehow unable to resist the call of her Morgenstern blood? What about Clary’s agency? Her strength? Her love for Jace and her chosen family? Her identity as a shadowhunter? Enthralled book Jace at least still loves Clary, and has a scene where he temporarily breaks free of the twinning rune, and makes it clear to Jonathan that he hates him, and that he is being controlled. But Clary says she wanted to help her brother, and that it’s her fault for being unable to resist her “blood.” While team evil might have been fun – and probably was a blast for the actors to play – it didn’t make narrative sense to me. Not the biggest sin, and to each his own. But not for me.
2. Heavenly fire storyline: In the book, Jace is filled w/ heavenly fire. Clary eventually figures out how to get the heavenly fire from Jace into her weapon (heosphoros), which she uses to kill Jonathan. In the show, Izzy gets the entire heavenly fire storyline. Again, why??? For one thing, the scene in which Clary and Izzy fight (and Izzy ends up with the heavenly fire after being struck by shrapnel) – while cool – made no sense to me. Book Izzy is a formidable warrior. Show Izzy is disarmed by Clary (who has been training to be a shadowhunter for, like, 5 minutes at the time of their battle). Also, why does Izzy get the heavenly fire from a few bits of shrapnel, but Clary is totally fine after being STABBED by the sword? More generally, other than giving Izzy more to do, what was the thinking behind taking away this story arc from Clary and Jace? And, for making Jace basically a potted plant in 3B? (In contrast to book Jace — who was key to the good guys’ victory— show Jace is made to basically stand there: Show Alec, Izzy, Magnus, and Simon get literally every single heroic plot point in the finale — remember that we’re Lightwoods moment, sans Jace (the adoptive brother)?? — while Jace is relegated to crying or supporting Clary.)
3. The Jace character: While this post is principally about Clary, I can’t help but note that the show did everything possible to isolate Jace and make him incompetent and unlikable.
– Book Jace comes across as arrogant and as a wise ass, but Clary and Alec see the arrogance for what it is – a coping mechanism/ PTSD following a childhood full of trauma at the hands of Valentine. Through his relationship with Clary, Jace learns that he is worthy of being loved, and that he can love without destroying. And, Jace’s parabatai bond is a source of strength and joy for both Alec and Jace. Show Jace gets none of this. 3B kept Clary and Jace apart from each other much of the time (what w/ Evil Clary preferring to help her murderous brother burn down the world). 3B also effectively eliminated the parabatai bond: Alec is entirely focused on his relationship with Magnus, and he is impatient with a clearly suicidal Jace. You can count on one hand the number of minutes that Alec and Jace are on screen together in 3B.
– Book Jace becomes (with Clary) head of the NY institute, having rejected and fought against bigoted members of the cohort. I appreciate that this likely could not be shown b/c the show does not have the rights to TDA, but this does not explain why the show made Jace so incompetent as head of the NY institute. Show Jace gets the job only because of nepotism (Herondale blood). Show Jace is on board with the downworlder registry. Show Jace is so incompetent that he abdicates in favor of Alec after about a day. None of this made any sense.
– Book Jace is all-in w/ Clary from the beginning. He has one encounter w. Aline, but that’s presented as being as much about Aline’s confirmation of her sexual identity as it is about Jace in turmoil. (I know some people object to CC’s writing of Aline, but again, it’s her story.) But even if the showrunners felt that the Jace/Aline hook-up was “problematic” – and I get that some fans feel that way – why did the show choose to do some weird male version of slut-shaming of Jace? There is the Jace encounter with Maia. (To be clear, this was shitty to the Maia character, too. She hooks up with a drunk rebounding Jace, whom she had just tried to kill. behind a bar.) And, the comments about Jace, Kaelie and book club. Everyone keeps talking on the show about how Jace sleeps around, and they judge him for it, when, in reality, Jace is pretty darn faithful to his relationship with Clary from the moment they meet. Simon, Clary, Alec, Magnus, and Izzy all have more sexual encounters (and in the case of Simon and Izzy, more partners) vs. show Jace. And no one calls Simon or Clary slutty. No one decides that Alec is unworthy b/c he lies to Magnus. And no one decides Magnus is unworthy or slutty or not devoted to Alec because he’s had many sexual partners in the past.
– As noted elsewhere, the show isolated and shamed a clearly depressed and suicidal Jace in 3B. He’s shown devastated and alone in 3B when he thinks Clary is dead in the “Lost Without You” montage: Alec (his parabatai) and Magnus are busy comforting each other; Maia is comforting Simon; Mayrse is nowhere to be found. Same thing after Jace almost gets himself killed on the mission involving the Seelie: Alec yells at him and tells him to suck it up; Mayrse once again is absent; and only Izzy checks in. Then, in the flash forward, Alec, Magnus, Izzy, Luke, Mayrse, and Maia all seem entirely unconcerned with Jace’s state of mind. Once again, he’s told to suck it up and move on.
4. Female characters/ sexuality generally on the show: So much could be written about the show’s treatment of its female characters generally. Book Izzy is strong and fierce, and yes, body and sex positive. Show Izzy is all over the map. S1 captures Izzy’s sass, but she’s treated like slutty eye candy sometimes. S2 and S3 Izzy has more depth, but less sass. Tell me again why she had to be a drug addict? Or, why she gets disarmed by Clary (who had a couple of months of training at that point in show time) in the finale? Or why she alone (vs. Mayre or Alec) is sent to check on a clearly suicidal Jace? To be clear, I loved the Jace/ Izzy bond, but why does the show let Alec and Mayrse off the hook w/ regard to Jace’s mental health, and leave Izzy w/ caretaking duties? And Mayrse, who seems to exist in season 3 solely for the purpose of being punished — and then being redeemed — for her S1 homophobia. She becomes “captain of the Malec ship” after being deruned, and then is shown caring for Alec when Magnus is in Edom, and nurturing the Malec relationship. But, she vacations in Brazil in the finale with zero regard for her grief-stricken, suicidal adoptive son? And then there is Maia. Why does she hook up with Jace against a wall behind a bar? And what’s with the forgiving her abuser storyline? And Clary. Believe me, nothing made me happier than the show’s decision to make reasonably short work of the incest story line. But to have Clary literally jump into bed with Simon, her bff? Immediately after learning –falsely, as it turns out – that Jace was her sibling? Was that Clary’s first sexual encounter? Was is not weird to suddenly start sleeping with your friend (who you turned into the vampire, and who can walk in the daylight b/c he drank your ex-boyfriend/ now you think your sibling’s blood)? I know the books present Jace, Clary and Simon as a love triangle — YA, after all — but book Clary wrestles w/ her feelings for Simon. I get that aging them up on the show — which I liked — would have changed the dynamic around these relationships and the characters’ sex lives, but the handling of the Climon story line was so clumsy. And, in any event, why is S2 Clary snarky about Jace’s sexual past (the book club comments)? And in 3B, why does dark Clary manipulate — or worse — a basically roofied Jace at the club?
5. The Memory Wipe: OH.MY.GOD. I CANNOT EVEN CONVEY THE DEPTHS OF MY DISLIKE FOR THIS TROPE OF A PLOT POINT. In the book, Simon volunteers to give Asmodeus his memories, thus saving Magnus (and everyone else). Once again, this makes narrative sense – Simon never wanted to be a vampire, and he (unlike Magnus) could survive the loss of his memories, and even return to mundane life. And, after Simon gives up his memories, his friends NEVER give up on him. Clary, Izzy, and the others watch him, they reach out to him, and eventually, with Magnus’s help, they reconnect with him. Magnus even says that stealing Simon’s memories was a little bit “fascist.”
Show Clary has it much, much worse. Let’s remember how it played out in the finale:
– Jonathan goes on a murderous rampage. Clary saves the world using her rune power, killing her last living relative, knowing she would be stripped of the Sight and her memories.
– Notwithstanding Jonathan’s mass slaughter and Clary’s sacrifice, the MOST IMPORTANT THING is that Magnus and Alec have decided to get married at the institute the very next day, after dating for about three months on-and-off in show time.
– And so we have much of the finale devoted to the wedding. We see everyone smiling and happy (despite the slaughter of shadowhunters around the world the day before and Jonathan’s death at Clary’s hands). We see Clary in a very revealing dress sobbing as she dances with her boyfriend and her runes are obviously disappearing – but no one notices. We see Jace letting a sobbing Clary walk out the door.
– And then we see Clary alone, sobbing on the street in a revealing party dress, in the cold, with no memories, no I.D., no best friend, no love of her life, no money, no home (burned down in season 1), no mother (killed by Alec), no father figure. Nothing. I get that sacrifice is a shadowhunter virtue, but the trope of a memory wipe (I see you, Chuck) is SO far from canon, and so inconsistent with how Clare wrapped up the Clary (and Jace stories). Zero emotional logic.
– Then, to make matters worse, we jump ahead one year, and no one gives a shit about Clary or Jace or their sacrifice at all. Alec and Magnus are living their best life mixing cocktails in Alicante (leaving Alec’s clearly devastated and suicidal parabatai to just figure things out, I guess). Maryse (Jace’s adoptive mother) and Luke (Clary’s father figure) are vacationing in Brazil, seemingly more concerned about the humidity than they are about Clary or Jace; Izzy and Simon are loving life together at the NY institute (so much for Clary and Izzy as parabatai, or Simon and Clary’s friendship); and Simon tells a grieving, suicidal Jace – the same Jace who almost killed himself a couple of weeks prior in show time – to stop checking on Clary and to move on. Apparently, Simon thought that Maia’s naming a salad after Clary was enough. So much for Jace’s mental health. So much for Clary and Simon’s friendship (and in the books, their eventual parabatai bond).
– But, we we did get closure for the lizard/ Lorenzo; Underhill’s first name; and an update on Raphael. All of these developments were apparently more important than honoring Clary’s narrative arc, her chosen identify as a shadowhunter, her relationship with Jace, and her chosen family.
None of it made any sense.
1. Why would the angels strip Clary of the Sight when she used her rune power to SAVE THE DAMN WORLD? After all, let’s see who gets to keep the Sight/ memories in the showrunners’ telling: Valentine (insane, imprisoned an angel, killed downworlders and shadowhunters ); Jonathan (murderous, insane); Alec (killed Clary’s mother while possessed); Izzy (also possessed); Jace (killed his grandmother and mundanes while possessed, threw Clary off a roof, almost killed Alec); Jocelyn (almost killed Jace, circle member); Aldertree (despite getting Izzy addicted to drugs and torturing downworlders). The list goes on. But Clary’s invention of runes to stop her insane brother from destroying the world incurs the wrath of the angels?
2. The showrunners would have us believe that Clary lost the Sight (and her memories) because the angels were spiteful. How does this fit with Cassie Clare’s conception of angels AT ALL? They are completely unconcerned with human emotions in the books. And, why would only Clary suffer this fate when, as noted above, there are shadowhunters who did terrible things for entirely selfish or otherwise awful reasons?
3. In what world would Jace not notice his girlfriend’s runes disappearing? In what world would he ever let his sobbing, de-runed girlfriend – whom he just got back from the twinning rune/possession/killing her last living relative – walk out the door alone?
4. For a show so concerned about representation, what about Jace’s story as a survivor of childhood abuse and trauma? What about Jace’s near suicide earlier in 3B? Why does everyone in Jace’s life (specifically Alec after the Seelie mission and Simon in the finale) tell Jace to suck it up and move on when he is clearly depressed and suicidal? What about the show’s depiction of the relationship between Jace and his adoptive family? What message does the finale send about who was — and was not — a member of the Lightwood family when Mayrse and Alec either ignore Jace or yell at him when he is grieving and suicidal? So much for family. And, what about Clary’s mental health, after the showrunners stripped her of her friends, family, chosen family, memories, identity, home, and love?
And then, after all of this, the showrunners made things worse by talking up how important the wedding was for them, even as they made it clear they didn’t care about the resolution of the Clary, Jace and Clace story lines.
– The show runners misidentified the supposedly spiteful angel who I guess would have been the big bad in Season 4 in press coverage of the finale.
– They said they didn’t know where the Clary, Jace and Clace story was heading, and that “fan fiction” would figure it out.
– They talked about how difficult and important the seating chart was for the wedding, and about how they had tried to get every character, no matter how minor, back for the “reception” scene. And they spent precious time in the finale showing us party scenes involving ancillary non-canon characters (Underhill, Lorenzo) vs. coming up with a coherent resolution to the protagonist’s story.
– They engaged only with Malec content on social media, and talked endlessly how the show was a “love letter” to fans, and ignored less favorable fan reaction involving the Clary and Jace characters.
– Same drill for the writers, BTW. A young female writer for the show (who supposedly was the book stan in the writers’ room) has been on social media explaining how great it was Clary’s story line came “full circle” in finale. She’s now heading to a con with the show runners, having studiously ignored questions about the show’s treatment of Clary and Jace. (I get why she would do this — work, and all — but still.)
– To the extent the showrunners, producers, and writers have addressed Clary and Jace at all in press coverage of the finale, they have argued that the memory wipe was no harm/no foul b/c the final scene suggests that love conquers all. First, we knew that – we are talking about a pulpy YA novel, after all. Second, if the last scene sends the message that love conquers all, it’s because Kat M. and Dom S., the performers, imbued that scene with more depth and emotion than the writing deserved. Finally, the love conquers narrative ignores the fact that Clary and Jace earned their character arcs as INDIVIDUALS, not just as half of a ship. Clary deserved her identity, her chosen family, and her love. Jace deserved his hard-won happiness with himself, and in his relationship with Clary (and in his relationships with Alec and Izzy). I personally didn’t want a wedding – I don’t think anyone should get married after a few months of mostly unsuccessful dating. I did, however, want to see these characters enjoying their hard-won happiness vs. a dystopian future for two characters only, w/ a rom com meet cute tacked on at the end.
Fundamentally, the showrunners made SHTV into a fan service-, ship war- driven series of plotpoints in 3B and the finale. There are lots of potential reasons for this: Maybe they preferred the Malec storyline, and thought that playing to Malec fans might help the show get picked up (or maybe get a Malec spinoff approved); maybe they thought that punishing Jace and sidelining Clary might please some segments of the SHTV fandom; maybe they bought into the idea that the books are “problematic” and need to be fixed, or that dislike of certain performers justifies trashing the character. Whatever. The end result is the same: For me, they lost the narrative thread of the characters, and the emotional logic of the stories. They fed into a stupid ship war and a stupid book vs. show war. And, they played into scarcity, as if honoring Malec required tearing down Clace.
At the end of the day, the show runners’ decision to wipe Clary’s memory broke the show for me. No matter how much I love Malec, and no matter how amazing the last scene was (and how lovely the performances were in that scene), I will always believe that Clary and Jace deserved better.
And so I want to say to the showrunners and writers: NEXT TIME, LET YOUR PROTAGONIST HAVE HER STORY. SHE EARNED IT. (And FFS be tiny bit humble when there is source material 🙂
Again, thank you Christine for writing what a lot of us have been feeling for months.
Until next time