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Shadow and Bone 1×04 “Otkazat’sya” Review

Ben Barnes as The Darkling and Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in the Little Palace garden
Cr. ATTILA SZVACSEK/NETFLIX © 2021

“Otkazat’sya”—otherwise known as orphans, the abandoned ones. An appropriately title for an episode that showcases the fact that contrary to what Baghra tells Alina, needing people is not a weakness.  

Shadow and Bone’s “Otkazat’sya” really looks into the idea of loneliness and how it translates into the communities that are built, along with the bonds that are fortified. It looks into why friendships matter and it looks into why these stories, interwoven with each other work so well on the series because it’s seen through all the characters almost obviously. We talk a lot about how asking for help actually requires great courage, and this show is now finally revealing just how true that is because we’re moving towards each of them understanding just how important unity is. 

To kick things off, let’s get into Mal and Alina, and the fact that I really want to love the idea of them as a romantic pair more than I do. I’ve vocalized my disdain towards childhood friends to lovers and I’ve vocalized why it’s so hard for me to actually get into the idea when it’s so much telling and not enough showing. This friendship is so damn beautiful to me because it’s a reflection of what’s true and what’s steadfast even when it seems like it’s not. It’s two people searching for each other and refusing to give up on the possibility of a reunion.

When Baghra gives Alina some weird tea, we’re transported back to their childhood, the attempt to run away and the decision to hurt herself knowing fully that the test won’t recognize her Grisha powers. We also get a flashback of Mal landing himself in jail just to be by her side. So, ultimately—these two, their loyalty is something fierce and their bond is incredible. I just have such a difficult time shipping it so far because there’s nothing to grip onto beyond platonic. But though separated, “Otkazat’sya” is their episode, and I won’t deny the power of their loyalty or how precious they actually are.

In a world where they’ve always been on the outside, Mal and Alina have had each other. And for the first time, while they are each questioning why the other hasn’t written, there’s still a clear picture of their loyalty to one another. And even if Alina doesn’t understand why she hasn’t received any letter yet, removing the scar on her hand can be seen in two ways. It isn’t erasure of Mal, but the erasure of fear and the acceptance of who she is—a Grisha. The second, it was a judgement made too quickly, one she should have slept on a little longer. It stung watching it and hurts knowing that’s a part of her she’s both proud of and cares for that’s now gone. If I were Alina, I wouldn’t have removed it.

It brings us to the bond that’s now being developed with Kirigan through a conversation that actively showcases the fact that even the most powerful of figures need someone in their corner. I know that there are things he’s keeping from her, and I know that lies are interwoven with the truth, but if there’s one thing that’s easy to believe, it’s when he promises that he’d never let Ravka turn against her should they fail. (It’s also easy to believe this knowing that they’d likely turn against him. Or at least that’s what I’d imagine.) And while the end of the season takes us further from this, it’s easy to believe that tucked deep beyond the starvation for power, could have been a man who’s actually felt alone and a man who believes his own words and desires.

Kirigan’s rage and deception is his own doing, yes, but there is a level of sincerity to his words (entirely due to Ben Barnes’ acting choices). It’s the part of him that wants someone to call him by his name, and that’s something that I talk a lot about here because it’s crucial in humanizing someone and grounding them while building on the relationship that’s budding. The set up between Alina and Aleksander as foils of each other, light and dark is often too enticing to deny the appeals of and in our attempt to remain objective and deny the vulnerability Ben Barnes is clearly touching in, what I can touch on is the idea that if there was a redemption, this would be a beautiful piece of it.

But since there isn’t one, the focus remains on the fact that everyone needs someone and that’s far from a weakness. The showcase of vulnerability and the attempt to open up oneself to another person is the most tangible form of courage, which is why what we get in the war room is so riveting because even while Kirigan’s vulnerability calls upon the shadow, the awestruck reaction he has to Alina’s attempt to conjure light speaks on the very relief that momentarily engulfs him. For a moment, he wasn’t the general or the darkling, but he’s Aleksander, the man trapped beneath his thirst for power and searching for someone to break through the pangs of loneliness. 

Danielle Galligan as Nina Zenik and Calahan Skogman as Matthias Helvar in Shadow and Bone's “Otkazat’sya”
COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

Because that’s what they all are—they’re all searching for ways to feel a little less alone and we see that in both platonic relationships and romantic ones. We even get a glimpse of it through Nina and Matthias because there’s a clear detachment there and yet, the search for something more is so palpable, it’s enamoring. They should be enemies and they are, but the way Calahan Skogman touched on Matthias’ lack of desire to kill was so intriguing (even more so than what we get in the war room).

I’ll admit it fully, friends. I’m through and through an enemies to lovers gal. I mean he literally said, I feel nothing about you. Cool, bro. That’ll change. I have a type. I know this. And thus, here we are rooting for development between these two. (And yes, I was on this boat even before I read the Six of Crows duology.) Because isn’t that what happens when two people rigorously challenge each other, especially when it’s the woman challenging a plethora of wrongful beliefs and standing her ground with the man? That’s exactly what happens and it plays into the episode’s (“Otkazat’sya’s) theme gorgeously because while Nina is on a mission for Kirigan, her belief in the fact that Grisha should have choice essentially makes her an outlier to a degree, giving her the opportunity to join something by choice—not for a job or out of duty, but by her own decision making. 

It’s a means of survival for now, but they’re both, in a number of ways, going to have to come to the conclusion that needing someone isn’t a weakness because no one is meant to survive in the world that way. Humanity is meant to be celebrated and partnerships are meant to fortified. 

Kit Young as Jesper Fahey saying goodbye to Milo the Goat in Shadow and Bone's “Otkazat’sya”
Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2021

Thematically dealing with the importance of needing others, The Crows exemplify it best. It is the strength that contributes to making everything they do a success. (Or as close as it’ll come because at times, failure is inevitable.) A heist is anything but fun and thrilling if the team doesn’t work well together. And a heist is anything but successful if each of them don’t trust their teammates fully. They’ve each got a job and they’re needed in ways another person can’t offer.

They can read each other’s minds, trust each other, and understand each other even with as little backstory as they have. There is something unbeatable here and unmatched and it’s entirely due to the fact there are no lies between them. They’re fully transparent with each other even when they don’t disclose much at all, which differs from a lot of the characters because there are no ulterior motives. They have their secrets, but they’d never keep something locked away if it’d benefit the team. And even when there are issues like Jesper’s addiction, we are reminded that it isn’t out of selfish or malicious intent, but rather something he needs to work on internally. None of them would con the other or choose to keep something vital to themselves. They’d never leave each other behind because even while there’s a specific task, completing it doesn’t matter as much as coming out of it safe and together. It’s partnership at its finest and I will never stop screaming about the symmetry between them amidst it all.

Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker and Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa before the audition
Source: Netflix

(We did a scene breakdown here of Inej handing Kaz her knives, and if you’ve read this particular breakdown, you can skip this bit to the conclusion.)

There is a level of intimacy that’s unparalleled in this moment that touches on meticulously placed trust in the physical hands of one’s closest confidant, which ultimately paints a picture of belief. A moment of silence that speaks immeasurably loud—eye contact that hesitates, pleads, and surrenders.  The most intimate moments on Shadow and Bone come to pass most effortlessly in the form of zero physical contact between Kaz Brekker and Inej Ghafa. It’s as close as they get to a physical touch, and the beauty of it all lies in the unveiling weight of the act.

Freddy Carter and Amita Suman show so much in such a quick moment that it’s a riveting display of how methodically their performances advance the story and strengthen the bond between Kaz and Inej.

All fourteen of Inej’s knives are her armor, tucked carefully on her being, they are her fortress and fortitude, named after Saints, and precious in every way. She can throw them when need be, lose them even in great battles perhaps, but willingly allowing someone else to care for them requires trust in its ultimate form. And Kaz Brekker could be, the only other keeper. It requires no words, only the language they seamlessly fortify and enhance. A silent conversation that ensures she can give without reluctance. When Inej must divest of her armor and her blouse for the show, it requires too much out of her. (Suman allows us to see a visible depiction of how Inej is uncomfortable in the cheers and screams because of what she’s been through—the unwanted touches, ogling eyes, and worse.) What once brought Inej joy, learning with her father, finding the balance, now requires far too many uncertainties in the darker world they’re in. But even if she’s exposed, she isn’t alone. 

A choice is given to Inej here. When Kaz turns to her slowly and cautiously, he stops before her and verbally says nothing, but his eyes and physicality tell a different story. You got this, but only if you want it. Inej understands because Inej understands their language. In the similar, perfect unison where they can both tell Jesper to “shut up,” they can speak to each other in a room full of people with no one else deciphering their words. Despite it being a task she doesn’t want, the choice matters, and quoting back his words to him, referring to the understanding that she knows what’s riding on this, she indicates that she can handle it. She’ll do it.

Thereby, when she gives him her knives, she puts her armor in his hands—she trusts in him completely, and she lets him hold pieces of her, knowing with full conviction, he’ll take care of them, and furthermore, he’ll take care of whatever else follows. 

The magnitude of this task, the weight of what she’s physically placing in his gloved hands is integral to crystallizing the detail that their fight is together. It’s a long and winding road full of pandemonium, darkness and complications, but their trust in each other is far from misplaced. It’s real. It’s vulnerable. It’s safe. Inej doesn’t need a net, she has her Saints, but sometimes she needs Kaz Brekker’s faith in her and that’s something she always has. Said out loud or through moments of silence like this, Carter and Suman make it brazenly clear that like magnets, though physically distanced, Kaz and Inej rely heavily on the loyalty they’re drawing, carding, and dealing. Trust is a perpetual presence between them, tucked underneath layers of burdens and traumas, ready to give and take and heal.

But when everybody’s watching Inej Ghafa perform, Kaz Brekker is watching them watch her. He’s scowling, shoulders tensed, cane at the ready, her knives shielded and safely tucked away, he’s ready to do whatever necessary if anyone dares to cross lines. (And the deliberate choice to show us this amidst Inej performing was crucial in revealing his acute awareness of her agency. Her safety.) She won’t vanish, not today, not right now because her armor is safely guarded. 

One day, in the same way that she can trust him with her knives, she can trust him with her heart, the trauma, the pain, and everything else in between. And in the same way that he could reach forward, gloved for now, slowly, intricately, he’ll find the time and place to give all that he’s able to in order to deepen, broaden, and breakthrough. Like magnets, orbiting with precision and care around the other, the trust between them is a treasure of greater depth than all the kruge in the world.

They work better together. They look out for each other, and in an episode where the running theme is the importance of shared vulnerability, their partnership is a showcase that reveals trust in its most profound manifestation.

Jesper even admits to needing Milo. We get it. We miss him too. But hang on, bud. Wylan’s coming soon. The Crows need each other. When Jesper calls them a package deal, even as Kaz makes his own way, it still rings truer than anything else on the show. In everything, they are in this together, and while we know it could get ugly because that’s what happens with people who are as close, it’s these very details that strengthen them as partners and solidify the detail that they’ll always come out stronger.

We’re halfway into the season and “Otkazat’sya” serves as a beautiful showcase of why needing people isn’t a weakness. There’s not a single person that doesn’t have needs and the desire for companionship, however that is achieved. We know someone like Kaz is living through deep trauma and physical contact is difficult for him, but that does not mean that he’s going to live in isolation and thus surrounding himself with people he trusts touches on strength. And the way the episode touched on this through each of the characters was fascinating to see.

Midnight Heists and Further Thoughts 

  • As per usual, I’m here to scream about the little things that translate to bigger things thus meaning that Amita Suman is tirelessly bringing her a-game to each of the episodes and if we look closely, there is a moment right after when she’s finished with her act where she winces from Marco’s unwanted touch. It’s a brief moment, blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s an evident reminder of the fact that Kaz isn’t the only person who’s uncomfortable with unwanted touches. 
  • Also speaking of Kaz, Freddy Carter does the same thing when Arken touches him briefly; he looks down to the place and back up at him with a type of glare that’s actually terrifying.
  • That scene with Mal seeing Morozova’s stag!? CHILLS. Full on, straight up chills. What a stunning beautiful scene especially after the harrowing darkness he experienced in losing his friends and being the only one standing. Oof, that got me, and it got me hard. (But also how in the name of the Sun Summoner does this man continue to survive? What kind of a bullet proof coat does he have on?)
  • Inej’s shirt? Yes please. Drop the shop you bought that from, queen—we need it.
  • Jesper dramatically saying bye to Milo while leaving him a bullet to remember him by isn’t something we’ll get over anytime soon.
  • I also won’t get over Kaz’s act is a sculptor because any time that boy smiles, it needs to be documented, as does the slight smile he had when he first proposed the heist to steal the blue prints.
  • Did anyone else start singing “toss a coin to your witcher” as Kirigan tossed a coin into the fountain or are you normal?
  • Kirigan might be lying and a villain but the man cares about little things—we see you cleaning the edges of the fountain, sir. We see you.
  • STILL NOT OVER THE HEIST NARRATION. STILL NOT OVER SEEING INEJ MOVING BEHIND THE GUARD IN PERFECT SYMMETRY. STILL NOT OVER KAZ DROPPING HIS CANE TO SHOW HER THAT IT’S HIM, BUT MORE THAN THAT THE FACT THAT KAZ KNEW, IT WAS HER. Yes, this needed to be in caps. Don’t at me.
  • Matthias somewhat, slightly feeding Nina? We’re not crying. You’re crying.
  • Jesper’s act with Inej is just … I don’t even know, the most tactfully stunning display of a word that has yet to be invented? I just keep rewatching it on a loop and wondering how in the name of all thing’s amazing did we get so lucky to have such perfect casting for The Crows.
  • Baghra released a hive of bees to help Marie navigate her powers and I just … that is quite literally the most terrifying thing we’ve ever heard and no thank you? I mean, that is straight up villainy. Of all the things, bees? This might actually be worse than spiders. Ron Weasley has no place to complain.
  • Alina, I get you want to blend in, but that black Kefta is stunning. Take it, girl. You can alternate. It’s fine.

What are your thoughts Shadow and Bone’s fourth episode?

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