Shadowhunters S1E01 “The Mortal Cup” or “I Hope That Cup’s Full of Booze”


I’ve really missed recapping a TV show, and have been seeking out a sci-fi or fantasy series wacky, campy, or silly enough to suit the tone of this blog. The Shannara Chronicles seemed to fit the bill, but then I remembered Shadowhunters and figured I’d get more attention if I recapped that seeing as it’s connected to a figure of internet notoriety. Hey, can’t fault me for honesty.

Nearly anyone with even a passing connection to the Harry Potter fandom knows about the Mortal Instruments book series upon which Shadowhunters was based. The author, Cassandra Cla(i)re, was once a big-name fan in the Harry Potter fandom. In particular, she was known for her fan fiction opus the Draco Trilogy. When it was discovered that the DT contained plagiarized passages from Pamela Dean’s The Hidden Land and many, many, many witty quotes and one-liners from popular TV shows (among other other sources) without proper attribution, the fandom exploded in wank. The controversy earned Cassie many enemies from fandom, but hasn’t affected her real-world publishing career. As far as I know, there’s no plagiarism in her original work.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did spend some time in the Harry Potter fandom. However, the Cassie Claire drama had died down by the time I showed up so I had no personal involvement in any of it. I checked out Cassie’s original work out of curiosity and alas, I wasn’t impressed. In 2013, City of Bones was made into a movie, undoubtedly in an effort to ride the paranormal teen romance wave jump-started by Twilight. Unfortunately for Cassie, City of Bones didn’t flop so much as it nosedived straight through the core of the Earth and out the other side, only to have its burnt and disfigured corpse resurrected by ABC Family—excuse me, Freeform—Darth Vader style.


This was many Harry Potter fans’ reaction to the news as well

Shadowhunters shambled to life this week, and lucky for you guys, I’m a Jedi.

OK, not really; I just really like the Star Wars metaphor.

I’ll give Shadowhunters credit for one thing; we know what kind of show we’re in for right out of the gate. An aerial establishing shot tells us we’re in New York city, while a trendy dubstep-flavored pop song assures us that this is a show for young and hip people. An anxious-looking middle-aged Asian guy walks along a dark street. He’s being monitored by a Billie Joe circa American Idiot cosplayer and a young woman who couldn’t decide if she was dressed as Trinity from the Matrix or Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Both of these Hot Topic devotees quickly reveal they’ve got super powers, leaping onto buildings and whatnot to avoid detection (an impressive feat by Trinity lite in her stiletto heels). The Asian guy quickly reveals himself as some kind of shapeshifter, taking the shape of whatever human he bumps into next. He eventually morphs into a beautiful young woman in club wear while the emos we saw earlier, now joined by a third emo with slicked-back blond hair and several tattoos, look on from a bridge above.

"Bro, did you fuck up the directions to the anime con again?"

“Bro, did you fuck up the directions to the anime con again?”

I should mention that the Emo troika have been performing all of these superhuman stunts in plain view of passersby, and no one notices. Since I read the book, I know that the emos are shadowhunters and invisible to normal humans (called mundanes), but at this point the viewer doesn’t. I suspect this was a deliberate move on the writers’ part to mislead the viewer and make the reveal more exciting, but considering how oblivious people tend to be to obvious danger in other teen shows of this genre, I’m not sure it was the most effective choice. At any rate, the blond emo bumps into a ginger girl in the most budget cosplay wig I’ve ever seen, and is shocked that she can see him.

“That ebay seller owes you a refund, sis”

ETA: Apparently it’s not a wig. Yikes. Well, it still looks like one, so my wig jokes stay.

Flashback to 8 hours earlier, and I should mention that this pilot jumps around through time more than the TARDIS in a season of Doctor Who. The main character—ginger girl—is named Clary Fray, and she’s at an interview for an art school. I’m impressed that the interviewer was able to say that name with a straight face.

“This is an interview for art school, not Mary Sue Academy.”

The interview seems to go badly but Clary gets in, because of course she does. She shares the news with her hipster bff Simon over coffee while speaking the kind of dialogue that 40-year-old screenwriters probably think all the cool kids are saying. We get our next indication that this series is gonna suck when both Clary and Simon come down with a case of informed attributes, telling each other how smart and perceptive the other is while discussing crushes. Clary tells Simon his bandmate, Maureen, is crushing on him, while Simon implies that he’s crushing on Clary. Clary’s biscotti disappears which I guess lets us know that she’s got magicks now, or her biscotti has magicks.

A wild subplot appears in the form of a hunky detective named Luke, who is investigating suspicious paranormal-seeming deaths. But wait–Luke is himself paranormal, because he calms down a police dog just by staring at it with glowing green eyes. So Luke is a dog whisperer? The captain shows up, and since an investigation is always an opportune time and place for gossip, she asks Luke why he doesn’t marry a woman named Jocelyn already. We later learn that Jocelyn is Clary’s mom.

Clary swings by an antique shop to get a tarot reading from an attractive young woman named Dot—clearly, she is the show’s interpretation of Clary’s flaky neighbor Dorothea from the books. Because “Dot” apparently sounds way cooler and less anachronistic than “Dorothea.” OK. Dot gives Clary a revealing fishnet top as an eighteenth birthday present, which makes me wonder if there’s something else going on here, seeing as Dot’s young and hot now. Something about this encounter with Clary perturbs Dot and the scene ends with ominous music whole Dot closes the shop.

"Happy 18th birthday, Clary! You're old enough now to be in an adult film."

“Happy 18th birthday, Clary! You’re old enough now to be in an adult film now!”

Clary’s mom, Jocelyn, acts all weird too as she gives Clary a birthday present—a “family heirloom” Jocelyn calls a stele (it’s pronounced “stell-ay”; I only know the spelling from the book). It looks a bit like a fancy butter knife, and between this and the biscotti viewers who didn’t read the books must be wondering if the Frays have a colorful history with baked goods. Clary’s mom is agitated and wants to tell Clary something, but Clary’s got to get ready for Simon and Maureen’s open mic gig. In her room, Clary zips a hoodie over the fishnet top and grabs the stele. I guess if she’s at a coffee house, it’d be useful having an extra knife in case she orders a scone with butter.

“Think of me whenever you make a PB&J.”

Time for another flashback! Let me see, we’ve already flashed back to 8 hours before the opening scene, and now we’re 10 years earlier. It’s like flashbackception up in here. We’re at Central Park now (I assume), and child Clary plays by a pond while Clary’s Mom looks on. Both child Clary and Jocelyn are now sporting matching budget cosplay wigs. The woman sitting next to Jocelyn on the park bench remarks on her and Clary’s resemblance to each other, and Jocelyn says it’s the hair. OK, but they could just shop at the same ebay seller. Suddenly, a loch ness monster looking thing lashes out from the pond at Clary. Jocelyn moves the stele over her forearm (a move we saw Trinity lite doing earlier), her arm glows, and then Jocelyn drives back the monster with a flash of CGI. Meanwhile, the woman seated next to Jocelyn seems blissfully unaware of all this.

Hey, if I were acting in this show, I'd want to slit my wrists with a butter knife, too.

Hey, if I were acting in this show, I’d want to slit my wrists with a butter knife, too.

Still in the flashback, Jocelyn rushes child Clary to a young man wearing a black leather duster, cat-eye cosplay lenses, and an excess of guyliner. Jocelyn instructs emo guy to remove Clary’s memories. I suppose it’s cheaper than the therapy bills Jocelyn would rack up seeing as Clary saw the fucking loch ness monster in Central Park.

Back in the 8-hours-earlier timeline, Luke swings by Jocelyn and Clary’s place to deliver Clary’s birthday present. Jocelyn is brooding over one of Clary’s drawings, a bunch of demons Clary claims are for a graphic novel she and Simon are working on. Luke and Jocelyn share a tense conversation about whatever it is Jocelyn has to tell Clary, and it’s clearly demon-related. Simon then shows up to escort Clary to his gig. Oh, and Luke gave Clary spray paint, because as soon as a character in a bad TV show exhibits a particular characteristic, it’s the only characteristic anyone ever associates with them.

Simon, Clary, and Maureen talk about how mysterious Clary’s Mom is, because we clearly haven’t seen enough clues about that already. Meanwhile, the emo troika are at their headquarters, which I can only describe as “gothic Apple Store” in its aesthetic. The troika are planning a heist to hunt down some shapeshifters killing humans and draining their blood. I’m wondering why they’d have to kill people to get their blood–they couldn’t just rob a blood bank or something? It worked on Buffy. Maybe they’re some twisted supernatural serial killers. For some reason, Trinity lite—whose name is Isabelle—is wearing a white vinyl bondage outfit to hunt shapeshifters, while the two guys are dressed in practical all-black ensembles.

"It was my only outfit that matches the wig, OK?"

“It was my only outfit that matches the wig, OK?”

Back at the coffee house, Clary, Simon, and Maureen gather outside the van. For no apparent reason, Simon changes his shirt so we all get to see that he’s a hipster with chocolate abs. I’m sure he never works out and just got them from hauling around their equipment from coffee house to coffee house. The van happens to be parked right outside of a club called Pandemonium, with a sign that subtly flashes between the club’s name and “Demon.” Cute, real cute.

Now we’re back to the present, and the emo troika are tailing the shapeshifter to the club. Blond guy bumps into Clary and they share the kind of obvious-love-interests witty banter we’re used to in shows like this. Simon and Maureen see Clary talking to thin air and think she’s high or something. I wish I was high. Blondie—whose name we find out is Jace—heads into the club, and Clary goes after him (but not before dramatically unzipping her hoodie to reveal the top Dot gave her, because one must look sexy while rushing headlong into potential danger).

Simon and Maureen follow Clary into the club, where the emo troika are tailing the shapeshifter. Cat eyes is also there. He kicks out two shady-looking guys in suits and sunglasses, telling them Circle members aren’t welcome in his club.

"The 80s called, they want your outfits back"

“The 80s called, they want your outfits back”

I recognize Cat Eyes from the books, and his name is Magnus. I’m not a huge fan of his book counterpart because he just seems like a walking Koreaboo wet dream (I don’t recall if he’s Korean in the books, and he’s played by a Chinese actor here. However, he’s got the K-pop boy aesthetic down pat.)


Right down to the freaky contacts.

If I recall correctly, the character is bisexual in the books, which by itself would be great but when combined with his other traits seems designed more to appeal to fangirl fetishes than actual diversity. The ability of this character to hit every fangirl hot spot just seems too coincidental to me. That being said, Harry Shum Jr. plays him very cool, and he’s actually one of the more enjoyable characters in this shitshow.

To draw out the shapeshifters, Isabelle sheds her coat and wig and does a sexy little dance. This is a minor point, but I have to question the purpose of Jace’s earlier quip that “demons like blondes” when they only notice Isabelle after she ditches the wig. Anyway, the shapeshifter (still in the guise of the pretty young woman) and his cronies show up, the emo troika move in, and they fight. The shadowhunters use a retractable weapon that uncannily resembles a Star Wars light saber—thanks for reminding me of something I’d rather be watching, assholes (well, maybe not the prequels). Clary bumbles into the fight, grabs an abandoned light saber and switches it on. Then—I shit you not—a demon literally walks right into her light saber. I had to rewind because I was laughing so hard I wondered if I’d actually hallucinated. But nope, that’s what happens.

See? I even gifed it for you guys.

See? I even gifed it for you guys.

On second thought, it looks like Jace pushes him, but it’s still hilarious.

Clary is understandably freaked out and runs out of the club, ditching her friends and hailing a cab. While I understand she’s frightened, it’s kind of a dick move ditching your friends in a club full of demons. Clary returns home and spills the whole story to her mother, whom I guess Clary wasn’t as worried would find her certifiably insane as her friends might. Of course, as the viewer, we know Jocelyn knows all about shadowhunters and shit, but Clary doesn’t. Terror aside, Clary seems to be taking the evening’s events extremely well. This is a consistent feature of paranormal TV shows—whenever a human finds out the supernatural are among us, they’re freaked out for maybe half an episode and ultimately accept it pretty easily. In fact, Grimm is one of the only shows I’ve seen that makes an effort to convey human reactions to the paranormal somewhat realistically. After witnessing one too many paranormal incidents, both Hank and Wu genuinely doubt their own sanity until Nick tells them the truth—and even then they still have to be eased into his world. This little nugget of realism in a show about fairy tale creatures and demons and weirdos is a nice little detail that humanizes these characters.

Before Jocelyn can fill Clary in, Dot bursts in announcing that Magnus told her that the Circle (remember the guys Magnus kicked out of his club?) has found Jocelyn. Jocelyn puts an amulet on Clary while Dot opens a portal in the patio doors. Man, I wish my patio doors would lead me somewhere else, like Narnia. Maybe then I could find gainful employment selling Turkish delight or some shit. Jocelyn tells Clary to find Luke and he’ll explain everything. Clary gets sucked into the portal and emerges at the police station.

Meanwhile, Dot has given has given Jocelyn some green potion to take but only if Jocelyn needs it. Jocelyn razes Clary’s room to hide the evidence, because it’s not like burnt-out remains of what was obviously a teenager’s room would imply that Jocelyn had a daughter or at least, that a teenage girl lived here. Maybe the Circle guys could’ve used Clary’s personal effects to track her magically or something? But if so, does magical tracking function like DNA testing, in which case Jocelyn’s personal effects could probably be used to track Clary since there might be similar markers between related people? We’re never told, and I’m fairly certain I’m overthinking this. Anyway, the Circle guys burst in, they fight, and Dot gets thrown out a window and dies. Farewell, Dot, we barely knew ye. Jocelyn is captured and takes the potion, effectively rendering her comatose.

"Shit, is that absinthe? Because I definitely need it for this recap."

“Shit, is that absinthe? Because I definitely need it for this recap.”

At the police station, Clary finds Luke conversing with a man and woman who are clearly Circle agents. They’re after something called the Mortal Cup, and pressure Luke into giving up Jocelyn and Clary. Luke denies any relationship with the Frays, unaware that Clary is eavesdropping. Clary takes Luke at his word and runs out of the station into the rain. It hasn’t rained all evening, but I guess it looks more dramatic like for the purposes of this scene.

We cut to a bunch of ruined buildings against desolate landscape with the subtitle “Chernobyl.” I pause to laugh my ass off. Inside what appears to be an abandoned factory, Henry from Reign nefariously paces in front of a row of cages, holding what looks like a big syringe. Holy shit, Henry really did go to hell! He’s Valentine, the big bad, because nothing strikes fear into viewer’s hearts like a smarmy guy named Valentine. We hear growling and moaning coming from inside the cages. and I guess they’re holding demons or people with severe indigestion.

And here I was thinking we were in Narnia.

And here I was thinking we were in Narnia.

The Circle thugs teleport in with Jocelyn suspended in a CGI halo of magic, or something. One of the thugs insults Jocelyn for hanging with “mundanes” and a “downworlder” (I assume this is Dot; from the book, I recall that downworlders are demons and vampires and other paranormal creatures associated with the dark arts). Valentine flips shit and injects the thug with the syringe, making for one of the most hilarious death scenes since David Arquette died in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie (oop, I guess that was a spoiler).

"This is the last time I use generic astringent!"

“This is the last time I use generic astringent!”

Clary makes her way back to her and her mother’s ruined apartment. Now, I’m not sure how much time has passed since the attack, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple hours or so. Clary has no way of knowing for sure that the danger has passed. Not to mention that during the attack, Jocelyn was super emotional and talking like she might never see Clary again, giving off the impression that these were Very Scary People. So wouldn’t it make more sense for Clary to go somewhere she’d feel safe—like with one of her friends, maybe—rather than return to the scene of a horrific attack alone and unarmed? Like, as viewers, we know Clary’s got magicks, but Clary herself doesn’t, which means it’s highly unlikely she could control her powers even if she could use them. Yeah, she’s real smart and perceptive.

Clary finds the apartment trashed and her mother gone, because this is a teen paranormal show and even the most stupid ass decisions by the main characters have no real consequences. Dot shows up—bitch, I thought you were dead!—asking Clary all sorts of questions about this Mortal Cup thing. Clary, naturally, has no idea what the fuck she’s talking about. Seeing as Clary can’t tell her anything, Dot morphs into some kind of octopus monster and attacks Clary. But before Octodot can move in for the kill, she’s stabbed in the back with a light saber by none other than Jace.


And now I’m reminded of another show I’d rather be watching. Rest in peace, Revolution. You were too good for NBC and this world.

Clary passes out due to Octodot venom and Jace picks her up, saying “I got you” to her unconscious form. Um, no shit? Our hero, Captain Obvious.

Clary’s amulet glows while she sleeps, intercut with scenes of Jocelyn in Valentine’s lair. I guess Clary, or her amulet at least, has sensed a disturbance in the force. Clary wakes up to find Isabelle watching over her and I could definitely think of worse people to be watching over me. Clary’s at the emo troika’s hideout we saw earlier. Jace and Isabelle’s brother, Alec, show up and everyone seems more preoccupied by Jace’s interest in Clary than in, you know, demons attacking and killing people. Isabelle taunts Alec about his big gay crush on Jace, because the love rhombus or whatever that’s happening here isn’t complicated enough.

Jace gives Clary the “yer a wizard”—excuse me, shadowhunter—talk, telling her “all the legends are true.” What legends, huh? Because there are a shit ton of legends out there in every culture all over this earth. You’ve got to be more specific. I should mention that this actor is a dead ringer for Jamie Campbell Bower, who played Jace in the movie. Actually, there’s no compelling reason to mention this except that it is wigging me out.

Simon calls Clary (apparently they still get cell phone signals in the hideout). His “find my friends” app traced her phone to an old abandoned church and he’s waiting outside. Whoever undressed Clary (I hope it was Isabelle, though given the “hero as creepy fuckboy” trend in YA and women’s fiction, it was probably Jace) got rid of her old clothes, so she has to don Isabelle’s fetish wear. Jace explains that Isabelle is “very comfortable with her body.” Look, I’m also very comfortable with my body, but there’s a time and place to don fetish wear and it ain’t an In-N-Out run at midnight, for example. You mean to tell us Isabelle doesn’t own any jeans or t-shirts? Unless the troika are trolling Clary, in which case I heartily approve.

"You should see Isabelle's grocery shopping outfit."

“You should see Isabelle’s grocery shopping outfit.”

Clary has a new tattoo on her neck and bitches Jace out for marking her while she was unconscious. He explains that the tattoo is really a rune, and he drew it to save her life. As in the book, shadowhunters use the stele to draw runes on their skin, which give them powers. Jace reveals that a rune prevents mundanes from seeing him and his friends. If only tats really worked that way in real life, and every drunken college student on spring break would return to school with super powers.

Clary goes outside to talk to Simon. In the book, the old church is a glamour concealing the true appearance of Hogwarts the shadowhunters’ headquarters. But since this is a budget ABC Family Freeform show, it just looks like an old church, or maybe it just looks like one because we’re all mundanes. Although we can see the shadowhunters. I know I’ve been recapping for too long because I just confused myself. Simon flips out at Clary’s outfit and tries to cover her with his jacket, because peeing on her leg would be too obvious, I guess.

The male Circle thug from the police station shows up and attacks Clary, having followed Simon to her. I’m not sure how he knew to follow Simon–if the Circle had just found Jocelyn less than a day ago, then they couldn’t have been monitoring Clary long enough to know that she and Simon were friends. Did they see them together at the club? Because Clary was hardly with Simon at all at Pandemonium. I’m so confused.

Jace dispatches the thug, who becomes visible to Simon when he dies. I guess the runes only work while the subject is alive. Jace reluctantly reveals himself to Simon, who accepts all of this even faster than Clary did. Moving on to more important issues, Jace and Simon have a dick-measuring contest over who gets to protect Clary. She looks about as done with this shit as I am.

"My Mom's been kidnapped, I apparently gots magicks, and now I'm stuck with these two assholes."

“My Mom’s been kidnapped, I gots magicks, and now I’m stuck with these two assholes.”

Back at Chernobyl, Valentine is throwing a Kylo Ren-esque temper tantrum over his thugs’ failure to procure the Mortal Cup. The thug tells Valentine that Jocelyn has a daughter, and we end with Valentine’s ominous declaration that he’d like to talk to the daughter—and by talk, I’m sure he means “torture and/or kill.”

And that’s a wrap for the pilot. Because I don’t love myself, I’m going to keep watching this and recapping it for you until it either gets cancelled or I get bored or both. I hope you enjoyed, and see you next time!