Scene Breakdown: A Moment of Vulnerability in Shadow and Bone’s “The Unsea” Between Inej Ghafa and Kaz Brekker

NETFLIX © 2021

“Crows don’t just remember the faces of people who wronged them. They also remember those who were kind. They tell each other who to look after and who to watch out for.”

Brick by brick. Word for word. Glance after glance. There is so much vulnerability and beauty in this scene, I can write my entire thesis on it. It’s not just a moment between two characters who have rarely opened up to others, but it is a moment of homecoming. It is a moment where layers are stripped and promises are made, but more than that it’s the exhibition of profound gratitude in its most subtle form.

Consequently, few actors have mastered the art of speaking without conversation. I have an entire list, which I can count with my fingers where this is an established skillset that gets better and better with every season. Because the Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom duology has an omniscient narrator, we are given insight into the characters’ inner most personal thoughts in a way that could not have been as evocative on-screen without words actually being spoken. That is why it was crucial for the actors embodying the roles to be able to establish the sense of intimacy on-screen and in such a way that the general audience could pick up on.

From the moment we see them on-screen Inej Ghafa and Kaz Brekker have an established language we can almost immediately pick up on, which Amita Suman and Freddy Carter bring to the surface brilliantly. It’s subtle but boldly telling. There is a very clear push and pull followed by tangible differences between them, and yet there’s a closeness that’s immensely palpable right now. They both have their own separate traumas, but Kaz and Inej rely heavily on each other, which we get glimpses of in how often they speak without words.

And yet, in the midst of all this, while there’s so much they say in silence to show that there is keen awareness between them, thus far it works mainly in favor with how effectively they work together as partners. Inej (still) only has the vaguest idea of what Kaz has done, and Kaz cannot seem to grapple with how much his Wraith means to him. Henceforth, sometimes words are necessary and what stands out about Kaz and Inej from every other pair on the series is the detail that the choice will always be clear.

It’s fortified especially in this scene.

They are both steadfast in their beliefs, but up until this moment, what those beliefs meant for Kaz were not explicitly addressed. The Bastard of the Barrel must remain an enigma, a man to be feared, not one to bare his soul. But somewhere in the darkened woods with a single light coming from the fire, Kaz Brekker divulged as much as he could, and he did so for Inej Ghafa. He did so because losing her is a much more terrifying thought than opening himself up. Damned be the Crow Club, they’ll figure something out. Damned be Pekka Rollins, they’ll figure something out.

Inej matters more and she matters immensely.

It’s the little details that mount their partnership so attentively like the way that Kaz always knows, even without turning back, without needing to double check that Inej is approaching from behind him. She is invisible, stealthy, and undetectable to everyone else, but Kaz Brekker senses her presence, which is easily illuminated through moments where we could see that his breath is catching.

Trepidations are at large and barricading his heart in, there’s not much he can say to the thought of a goodbye–too much and too unbearable.

But the way Inej stands before him, almost childlike and ready to speak up, ready for whatever is ahead, she gives his cane back to him, stating that Jesper fixed it. She hands his armor back to him, and stands waiting, hoping to understand one more time just where his head is at, where his heart is hiding, what this all means.

Jesper could’ve given him the cane himself, but it had to be Inej because so much of this moment is dependant on Kaz needing some sort of strength to hold onto. Something tangible to grip when flesh is out of the question. And I almost really love that it was broken so she could return it to him, a gesture to symbolically illuminate that they will always look out for one another. She’ll trust him with her knives. He’ll trust her with his cane. Jesper is the one who fixed it, but she is the one who returned it.

It’s the detail that we can see and understand that Kaz has been sitting in front of the fire questioning whether or not Inej will be leaving because it’s either food or she must be saying goodbye. Questioning perhaps even himself, the pain in knowing she is hurt, they are on different missions, and the detail that right now, he has no concrete plan, right now, there is nothing he can do. It’s the way in which Freddy Carter makes Kaz look so small with a single look after investigating the cane, and the slight, awakening sadness in his voice as he grips the top of the crow’s head and says: “so, you are leaving” that speaks volumes.

It’s the fact that he can’t look at her then, can’t respond to the question she poses about him having nothing else to say, and Carter makes it clear that Kaz is trying to keep everything bottled up even though the very idea of Inej leaving is the very darkness he can’t bear to wrestle with. We can see his mind race on his face and it’s a marvel to watch. Tell her. Tell her everything. Not yet. Now now.

Amita Suman plays off of Carter’s hesitations so beautifully as she layers Inej’s frustrations with a sense of need. She’d kill for him, he is deserving of that, but you can see the search for something bigger, something tangible that she is trying to latch onto. He told her she isn’t like anyone else, she’s one of a kind, but what exactly does this mean? Inej has no real way of knowing because Kaz doesn’t even understand it fully. And Suman’s body language is laced with so much in this scene, it’s astonishing. She is frustrated, desperate almost, hopeful even in spite of all that she knows about Kaz’s resilience to keep himself guarded because if he gives her a reason to stay, she will.

He has always given her the choice and this is Inej giving it back to him, a moment to open up, a moment to try something–anything.

Kaz is trying so hard not to let his walls down and Inej is clearly hurt by that because for a moment—that’s it. For a moment, he actually does make her believe that there’s nothing else he wants to say, and the flash of pain coupled with disbelief in Inej’s eyes that Suman touches on is so affecting, it shattered me.

It is ultimately why this scene is so easy to appreciate because it frames each of their emotions so poignantly, you can pinpoint the exact moment Kaz realizes he needs to speak up or he’ll lose her for good. Thus, the back and forth continues because he says “you were right” and she stops, hesitates, but insists that he tell her what about, which speaks on their dynamic so exquisitely in the way that their push and pull is never petty (even when it is), but it all matters. It boils down to something bigger.

It’s the cracks in Kaz’s voice, the decision to not just call out that she’s right, but to emphasize that it’s her conviction, no one else’s. You were right. His expression laced with sentiment, the repetition indicating that Inej’s belief is the sole reason he played it over and over in his head. He wouldn’t have bothered if it weren’t for her, he would’ve deemed Alina a fake and moved on his life. She’s real can and for a moment inadvertently equates to just how real Inej is for him. It’s the fact that even if he didn’t say anything more in this scene, it’s about more than just Alina Starkov being a Sun Summoner.

He believes in Inej.

We know admitting such things aren’t easy for Kaz because he makes it clear when he bounces back to stating that he doesn’t actually believe in Saints, but that he’s not going to deny that Inej’s beliefs and thus everything she’s done to let Alina go were the right decisions. It is in a sense, an apology for calling her out at the tavern in episode six for letting Alina go and for questioning her motives. (He is not above apologies, and that’s something we get a glimpse of in episode two where it’s evident he’s about to voice his regrets for the things he said only he’s ambushed by Pekka and co. instead.)

But Dirtyhands returns, he preserves his words and closes himself off again until Inej decides to try one more time, and she asks him what he believes in with a tone that’s so sincere and warm, it’s indicative of why he responds.

It’s the detail that after Inej voices her frustrations about why she even bothered where there’s a quiet pause after vocalizing that he also believes in her. He looks down then, for a quick moment and it’s after he says Jesper and my crows that he finally looks up to see her reaction—to ensure that she heard him because you holds immense power.

Suman’s embodiment of Inej’s reaction here is so fascinating because she doesn’t flock to it—rightfully so, but instead, she questions him further. Inej refuses to even look at him because it’s painfully clear that she believes she won’t get through to him him and her walls go up, vastly and with full force in spite of her small frame. Inej is most guarded in this moment, and it’s almost aching to see it because we know how much she tries–how much she’s tried.

Thus, the shot pans to a close-up of Kaz’s face as he justifies why he named them after crows, and the inability to once again look up at her touches on both his aversions and the detail that shows us Kaz can’t figure out what’s happening to him. But then the camera drags back closer to Inej and allows us to see the hollow corridors that Suman has transported her to. For a moment, they are both somewhere else, but Kaz finally looks up at her, his expression baring purely colossal truth and he says: “No Saint ever watched over me. Not like you have,” and that’s the moment, which courageously and openly reveals that Kaz Brekker has never been more vulnerable with another human being.

The way Suman then brings Inej back from the dark corridors to a place of serenity and understanding that floors me because she’s completely receptive to his vulnerability in the same way that she was to the light they’d seen thus, cementing the detail that she knows when to recognize something real. She doesn’t just hear him, but she searches for the heart beyond his words, she notices the affinity in his voice, and the often hardened edges in his features have softened ever so slightly. She can understand, with full conviction that this is real—what he’s telling her is the truth.

It echoes back to the detail that when she killed for him, when she compromised her beliefs to protect him—he understood the profound gravitas of the act. He saw her, fully and through everything. It touches on something she has clearly wondered, which is the fact that no one has taken the time to choose Kaz and his safety. No one has looked at the boy with the immaculate suits and cane and wondered what he’d gone through. No one has looked beyond, but she’s seen more of him than anyone else has even tried to—she has questioned every look. She has heard the vengeance and darkness in his voice when Pekka Rollins is mentioned. She has understood that there are demons buried within him that no one else has ever wanted to see, cared for, or dared to look past.

His confession is substantial, heavy even, laced with burdens and desires, heartaches and hope, and the intimacy of these words are thus far unmatched. And we don’t just see it, we are shown the weight of it. It’s the way that Kaz grips his cane harder in a moment where it’s painfully clear he has bared so much more than he ever thought possible. It’s the detail that if it weren’t for his haphephobia, if the very evident trepidation did not stand before them, he might have held her hand or moved closer. He might have. He could have. Thereby, in place of, he grips his cane closer, and he puts his head down because he has just revealed a part of him no one has looked into or touched on. Fully clothed, gloves and all, yet Kaz Brekker has never been more vulnerable—never been more exposed.

And the most riveting part is that Inej doesn’t have to say anything along the lines of you’re welcome or to reiterate further that she’ll always have his back. There is more power in their ability to converse without words, to sit there in silence, and we see her grappling with what approach to take, but choosing the one she knows won’t make him feel even more exposed than he already is.

Thus, in seeing his vulnerability and the almost selfish decision he made to touch on how much she means to him, she chooses to bring in the detail that she can’t go back to the Menagerie. That whatever happens, that’s not something she can cope with. In the same way that he needs her to look out for him, she needs him to know that she can no longer go backwards.

Kaz finally looks up at her then, Dirtyhands, the Bastard of the Barrel taking over the boy who’d just spoken to her and firmly with two words promises the world. You won’t. A direct parallel to what we got in episode two when he reassures her that she will go with him because that’s what this partnership is. It’s a promise, unshakeable and true that reassures her of the fact that her agency is his priority. There is nothing he would force her to do if she didn’t want to do it, and there is nothing he wouldn’t do to protect her if that’s what it came down to.

And Inej sees him, she understands him, and most importantly, in this moment, she believes him.

This is where the scene relies further on Freddy Carter and Amita Suman to then fill the gaps in the final moment of silence as Kaz and Inej sit by the fire. The quiet, rosulte nods, the change in both their composure. Once, twice, three times to emphasize that her freedom is of mammoth significance to him. Again, Inej does not have to say words like thank you out loud because in the language Kaz understands best, she shares her gratitude, she shares her conviction, and in silence they both solidify the promises that were just made, reassuring each other of the detail that no matter how many bridges are in their path, they would cross with no hesitations.

Brick by brick. Glance after glance. This shared moment of vulnerability is fortressed by the fire, solidified through the flames, and stored into the night with embers lighting the darkened corridors of their beings. Kaz and Inej need each other. And that’s where so much of the beauty in this scene lies in–the quiet resilience of their souls finding solace in a way neither of them thought possible. Physically distanced from one another and still completely connected in every way two people can be. A small moment, but colossal in its effect. No one is vanishing tonight.

Where they are both skilled and strong on their own, together, they are something else entirely; they are complexities etched into eons of darkness, finally discovering light in the unwavering loyalty and enveloping partnership that’s stirred them profoundly. It’s a moment of shared vulnerability with trepidations aside between two people who have had too much taken from them, but their belief in each other comes as an absolution of sorts.

There are a thousand words being shared in the final few moments of the glistening back and forth that touch on emotions no one has ever seen and parts of their being no one has ever ventured into. For a moment, they aren’t Dirtyhands and the Wraith—they are Kaz and Inej, the two kids who have lost so much, but somewhere in the midst of all the agony, they found each other and a place of alignment, a home in the vast flight towards a kaleidoscope of promises. Underneath the night sky with the stars and the moon sheltering them steady, the embers from the fire paint the stories in their eyes while the slow hums of nature unveils the breathtaking intimacy in their bond.

It’s the kind of vulnerability that starts to shatter the walls built on tarnished innocence and leads them towards something that can and will be healing–something that’s utterly strengthening.

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