archie renaux (left) and jessie mei li (right) in shadow and bone season 2

Courtesy of Netflix

‘Shadow and Bone’ season 2 is a bloated mess

'Shadow and Bone' season 2 brings more story, more characters, and puts it into one pot.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 16, 2023

Shadow and Bone’s first season accomplished the near-impossible: It combined two very different Leigh Bardugo series within the same fictional universe (the Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows duology, which is set after the events of the former) and leaned on the strength of its characters to make that coalescence feel nearly seamless. Even when some scenes might have felt a bit hamfisted, Shadow and Bone was incredibly effective at selling it, thanks partly to how Eric Heisserer (Arrival) and his staff knitted them together.

Shadow and Bone season 2
Two stars

Release Date: March 16, 2023
Creator: Eric Heisserer
Streaming: Netflix
Alina Starkov searches the world for two legendary amplifiers she believes will give her enough power to take down the Shadow Fold, while General Kirigan does whatever it takes to unite Ravka—even if it means killing Ravka’s own. Taking characters and elements from nearly half a dozen books from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, it’s a convoluted mess with big pacing issues that, despite the over-abundance, finds some bright spots in character moments.

But season 2, which takes characters and elements from at least four of Bardugo’s books (and you can argue as many as six novels with the addition of some supplemental material), bites off more than it can chew. There’s too much plot, too many characters trying to fight for a sliver of screen time, and sometimes characterization takes a backseat to make way for the plot (which requires a lot of clunky exposition to set up). While the cast and characters are still a bright spot—and there are plenty of moments directly from the books that many fans may adore—the whole is a giant, convoluted mess.

If Shadow and Bone season 1 was mainly about Alina Starkov’s (Jessie Mei Li) ascension to embracing her power as the Sun Summoner, season 2 is all about the MacGuffins. Fleeing Ravka with her friend-turned-partner Mal Oretsev (Archie Renaux), Alina is more determined than ever to tear down the Shadow Fold dividing Ravka in two. While Grisha—people who can manipulate elements, metals, or the human body—can usually only use one amplifier to boost their abilities, Alina believes that if she can unite three legendary amplifiers, she can take down the Shadow Fold.

patrick gibson in shadow and bone season 2
Dávid Lukács/Netflix

She already has one of those legendary amplifiers in the white stag antlers she obtained last season, which are much less obtrusive this time around. But now she’s looking for the Sea Whip, a legendary creature who no living person has seen, and the Firebird, of which much less information is known. Her and Mal’s search for the former puts her in the crosshairs of the privateer (and not pirate) Sturmhond (Patrick Gibson). With his right-hand commanders, the heartrender twins Tolya (Lewis Tan) and Tamar (Anna Leong Brophy), Sturmhond was already an unseen architect to many previous events and has a prominent connection to Ravka, has the potential to be a strong ally.

The convincing isn’t hard on Alina’s part, not because Sturmhond is persuasive. She has little choice in the matter because most people in Ravka see Alina as a villain who colluded with General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), who’s still very much alive; several nations want to collect a bounty on her head.

Convinced that Ravka (or at least the non-Grisha contingent, who are also known as otkazat’sya) is beyond redemption, Kirigan directs his attention to taking them down and gathering as many Grisha by his side as he can, a task also helped by nichevo’ya, the indestructible, shadow-like creatures who come from Kirigan. (If nichevo’ya is a mouthful to say or remember, characters just as often refer to them as “shadow monsters.”) He’s seeking a cure for his ailments, a reminder that all magic comes with a price, while also doing the most to use the remaining connection from the stag to convince Alina to return to him; if that won’t work, he’s not opposed to forcibly bringing her back into the fold.

The result is somewhat similar to The Last Jedi’s Force connections (even if it appeared in Bardugo’s books first) that allows them to appear before one another, which ramps up the angst and anger still simmering between them. Barnes doesn’t have as much scenery to chew on this time around, but he takes what he can get and makes a meal of it as Kirigan reminds her of how isolated her quest for power will make her. “You will only grow more powerful,” Kirigan sneers at her in an early interaction, trying to push her away from Mal. “And he will only grow old.”

In Ketterdam, the Crows—ruthless Kaz Brekker (Freddy Carter), the stealth Inej Ghafa (Amita Suman), and gunslinger Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) are left to face the fallout of being away for so long after their assets are sieged by the city’s biggest gang leader Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly), who’s determined to get them locked up; he’s not beneath framing them for a bit of murder. But those hijinks, which are the highlight of the early episodes and show the Crows growing as heartrender Nina Zenik (Danielle Galligan) and explosions expert Wylan Hendriks (Jack Wolfe) are brought into the fold of the Ravkan plot, melt away for a more convoluted heist than last time for, wait for it, another MacGuffin.

To mention more would cross over into massive spoiler territory, but it does showcase some of the show’s shortcomings, such as the shortcuts it takes when introducing new cultures that are part of the vast world Bardugo created. Many of the costumes look downright cheap, especially compared to the level of detail in creating those Grisha Keftas.

If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. The show is hurtling at full speed as it tries to fit as much of Bardugo’s story into the show as possible, which could both satisfy and frustrate fans. It leaves almost little room to check in on Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), the Fjerdan witch hunter who was a major player in season 1 but in season 2 gets little more to do than sit in a high-security prison, stew in his complicated thoughts about Nina (who got him imprisoned so her fellow Grisha wouldn’t kill him), and become entangled in the prison’s infamous fighting pit. There’s lots of pining involved, but it’s often not enough to sustain those scenes.

In some regards, Shadow and Bone season 2 burns through so much story you wonder where it could go next, and while the season starts off strong, it quickly becomes too unwieldy. In some of its messiest episodes, there are some great character moments tucked beneath the sludge, and as entertaining as much of it was, it was more exhausting than anything. But even in the darkness, there is some light: There is enough to remind you why you tuned in in the first place and how much more it could offer.

Shadow and Bone season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.

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*First Published: Mar 16, 2023, 3:35 pm CDT