Shadow and Bone season 2 review: Saved by Crows

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Season two of Shadow and Bone opens with Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and Malyen ‘Mal’ Oretsev (Archie Renaux) on the run. Alina is a beacon of hope to some, a bounty, and a suspected traitor to others, but she is determined to bring down the Shadow Fold and save Ravka from ruin. General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) aka The Darkling has returned to finish what he started, but now that he is backed by a terrifying new army of seemingly indestructible monsters and bloodthirsty new Grisha recruits, Kirigan is more dangerous than ever. To stand a fighting chance against him, Alina and Mal must rally their own powerful new allies in the form of Nikolai (Patrick Gibson) and his seconds-in-command, Tolya Yul-Bataar (Lewis Tan) and Tamar Kir-Bataar (Anna Leong Brophy), as they search for the remaining two mythical amplifiers that will grant Alina the power to tear down the Shadow Fold forever.

Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter) and his loyal crows, Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) and Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), face old rivalries and grudges in Ketterdamn that threaten not only their place in the barrel but their very lives. When a deadly heist opportunity presents itself, the Crows find themselves on a collision course with the Sun Summoner, forging new alliances with Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and Wylan Hendriks (Jack Wolfe).

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Danielle Galligan as Nina Zenik, Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey, Jack Wolfe as Wylan in episode 201 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

This Shadow and Bone season could be divided into two parts: Crow’s and Sun Summoner’s. While their stories do intersect, it’s clear that the writers intended for the first half of the season to focus heavily on The Crows, with the remaining four episodes focusing primarily on Alina’s story and objectives. Shifting the focus slightly so that another book takes centre stage isn’t a bad idea, but the first few episodes are the strongest in terms of tempo and narrative of the entire series. While Alina’s story can feel a little stagnant at times in the beginning, The Crows’ gritty story will keep you entertained for the first half of the season. When The Crows arc takes a step back, Nikolai becomes more of a focus, and despite the doubts raised in the first episode about Patrick Gibson’s performance, Nikolai becomes one of the series’ best, most enigmatic, and empathetic characters.

There are two characters who not only fit their roles perfectly, but also give them new life. Nikolai is the charismatic prince with an innovative streak, but he is the only one who never says Alina needs saving; he sees her strength and never expects her to change or mould herself to his desires. The ending of the series with Nikolai and Alina has changed, but it is a change that makes perfect sense and will keep the two together past Alina’s book counterpart and weave together to complete the King of Scars duology.

Shadow and Bone. Patrick Gibson as Sturhmond in episode 201 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Netflix © 2022

Wylan is another fantastic addition. He is charming in a shy way, but despite difficulties, he is firm in his values. Although he can appear meek, he is a force to be reckoned with, and it is no surprise that Kaz saw value in his abilities. Wolfe plays Wylan as if he were plucked from the page and has chemistry with each character in different ways. Nina Zenik and Wylan Hendriks are two new characters in The Crow’s story, and their scenes will make book fans fall even more in love with them. Nina is one of the few characters who calls Kaz out on his unfeeling behaviour, which is refreshing to see. Wylan is a sweet young man who is hesitant to enter Kaz’s world. Both prove their worth in the Barrell’s harsh, unforgiving world. Jesper and Nina are just as brilliant this season as they were in the show’s first season. While they have their serious moments, they also bring levity to the world of Ketterdamn, making fans of both the show and the book smile with their one-liners and comedic timing.

With new Crows characters and so many personalities, each team has a fascinating dynamic, each offering something new and refreshing to the series. Kaz and Nina have some of the best scenes in the series, and everyone will enjoy them. With new heroes come new villains who highlight each of the crows’ flaws, as orchestrated by Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly). Pekka, as the leader of another gang, is like Kaz’s shadow. He is smarter than Kaz, with more experience and tricks up his sleeve, the most important of which is how to identify and exploit a person’s weakness, as well as how to best force someone into a situation where he has complete control. Scenes between Carter and Kelly are fascinating to watch as the vitriol between them oozes in pure hatred that captivates in a nine-minute scene in episode four, which is the standout of the season.

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev, Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in episode 202 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

A big improvement from Alina’s arc, from both season one and her books, is her agency. Alina does not cower or depend on Mal as she does in the books; instead, she takes the lead. She is a hardened character, burdened by power and the choices others have made. While the first part of this season stagnates, Alina and Nikolai’s chemistry propels everything forward with ease as the two naturally find strength in each other. While the Darkling and Mal insist she needs others to protect her, Nikolai understands Alina as a person and does not belittle or begrudge her talents. Another character shift is Mal, who is no longer driven by his jealousy of The Darkling. It is a refreshing, yet sometimes fleeting, change. When Mal is not focused on his relationship with Alina, Renaux delivers a much-improved performance. There is even a moment when Mal wants to find his own purpose outside of Alina, which is a huge deviation from the books. Some fans of the book may struggle with it, but it makes sense after watching the series.

This season is not without flaws, some of which appear to be due to poor casting. Tolya is supposed to be an important member of Nikolai’s entourage, but that doesn’t pan out. Aside from the extended (and sometimes dragged out) fight scenes, Tolya spends the majority of his time telling others how much he loves poetry, and it appears that this is all Lewis Tan could bring out in the character. It’s as if the actor is looking directly at the audience and saying, “He likes poetry; do you get it?” with no substance in his performance or delivery. Despite being a book powerhouse, Tolya is forgettable no matter who he is paired with and can never make the most of his opportunities. Tamar, Tolya’s twin sister, is not in the same boat. Tamar is an important part of Alina’s story in the Netflix series and is fascinating to watch as she explores various aspects of Tamar. The twins would have been the series’ biggest let down if Anna Leong Brophy hadn’t transformed them from the fierce Grisha to those with hope for a better future. Tamar, with her charisma and ability to make the role fun and memorable, is enough to carry the twins’ plotline for both of them.

Despite the pacing issues, season two of Shadow and Bone is an excellent sequel and adaptation. The second series delves deeper into the world beyond Ravka and Ketterdamn, with hints of a very cold place that will pose a major problem for all of our favourite characters. Unfortunately, some characters, such as Zoya Nazyalensky (Sujaya Dasgupta), are unnecessary in this second series. Zoya is lost in the sprawling plot, and attempts to cram her into different stories don’t help. Another new character is tidemaker Fruzsi (Rachael Redford), but her over-the-top acting and poorly delivered lines leave a lot to be desired. With previous beloved characters such as Ivan (Simon Seas) and Fedyor (Julian Kostov) missing, new additions such as Fruzsi seem out of place and raise the question of why those characters, who were far more interesting, did not return despite their fates being left open at the end of season one.

The Crows are the series’ strongest team, especially with the villain Pekka Rollins, who steals the show alongside Genya (Daisy Head). Daisy Head gives a layered and devastating performance as Genya heals from her trauma, confronts those who persecuted her and are responsible for her pain. Despite not being the lead character, Genya proves to have a leading role, and she could easily have led the season thanks to a powerful performance and excellent writing for her character. Both have fewer scenes, but their performances will stick with viewers for different but positive reasons.

Shadow and Bone. Ben Barnes as General Kirigan in episode 203 of Shadow and Bone. Cr. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2022

The MVC normally goes to one character that has been the most valuable to the series but after careful consideration we give that to the crows. Each member of the gang brings new life to the series and carries it through to new levels. Every performance is memorable and exceptional with great chemistry between every member no matter the circumstance. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s