This Week’s Most Noteworthy Performance: Amita Suman

April 23-May 1
Season One | Shadow and Bone
Amita Suman

NETFLIX © 2021

Shadow and Bone is full of incredible performers left and right who’ve each done a compelling job of bringing their characters to life with range and nuances that have made them even better than they were on paper. This is a series that demanded its characters show more and the performances do. When we say they all understood the assignment, we mean it. 

Nevertheless, from the very first episode to the last, it’s Amita Suman who stands out impeccably, bringing to life parts of her character that would have otherwise been relatively unknown to non-book readers. In our Character Deep Dive for Inej Ghafa, we state: “Suman has masterfully brought a plethora of grace, humility, curiosity, and eons of empathy to Inej. When you look into her eyes, sincerity pours through like heavy rain on a clear night—there is no doubt about Inej’s heart or her intentions. Through her mannerisms and the wide range of emotions, Suman lays everything bare for viewers to see—she has mastered the character’s quips with brilliantly meticulous performances that bring to life thousands of emotions even in silence. I mention it in almost every episode review, but she is easily the performer who stands out almost effortlessly.”

Having gone through training for both Inej’s acrobatic routines and in order to manage the knives, Suman has brought both physical essentials to life organically. However, most inimitably, it’s crucial to touch on the emotional strokes she’s layers the character with. Whether she’s front and center or in the background of a scene, in all eight episodes, Amita Suman excels at delivering a full range of emotions.

As we’ve said, from the very first scene Inej is in, to the last, Suman layers the character with an empathy that’s unmatched on this series. It’s a weighty presence in everything she does, touching on the depths of her character’s heart all while allowing us to see how that’s reflected throughout her growth. Because those who have not read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom likely don’t know Inej’s backstory, it’s entirely up to Suman to show us the ways in which Inej’s trauma is a large part of her arc. While Inej doesn’t actively talk in detail about what happened at the Menagerie, it’s easy to pick up on the terrors because seeing that it’s a pleasure house, and judging by the way Suman carries Inej, we know she was subjected to unwanted sexual acts and likely physical abuse. 

We see the physical reservations first in the second episode (“We’re All Someone’s Monster”) where Inej must visit the Menagerie again because her indenture still hasn’t been paid in full. If Suman’s frustrations with the call weren’t enough to tell us of the atrocities there along with the weight she carries because she still isn’t free, the change in her physicality in Heleen’s presence does the trick. Inej is forced to strip from her knives (the armor she now uses to defend herself and all those who’d need her help in the process), but with her hair down even, Suman makes her look so small and uncomfortable. The look in Inej’s eyes is laced with the stamina she’s grown to fortify and simultaneously so much unease. But, it’s when Heleen tells her she must kill where we really see the darkness creep up in Inej, showing us that this isn’t something she wants to do long before Kaz vocally confirms her refusal.

There is a sense of poise and contentment in Inej when she’s on heists with The Crows, spying for Kaz or even holding her own in argument with him, but gone is that girl when she’s around Heleen. It’s fascinating to see because though she still stands her ground, we get the evident glimpses of the tormented, stolen Suli girl who’s been robbed of her agency with striking, heart crushing embodiment through Suman’s performance. (It’s this very pain that we also see when she’s struggling while trying to kill the conductor.)

We then see Inej’s reservations to unwanted touches in episode four, when she ever so slightly recoils her shoulders back after Marco has touched her following The Winter Fate “audition.” We are given glimpses into her trepidations while Suman continues to layer the character with an equanimity amidst the pain. She’ll show it only somewhat more evidently around those she’s comfortable with, and we get those juxtaposing moments with Kaz and Jesper where she’s given the safe space not to hold too much back. She might not go into detail, but we hear the darkness and pain through her voice when she (separately) tells them that she can’t go back to the Menagerie.

But all that said, Inej doesn’t have to tell us she refuses to kill because it’s something we can easily sense through the empathy Suman seamlessly interweaves into every scene she’s in. Inej might be a spy, a spider, The Wraith, but above all those things, she is the girl who tries to find beauty in the cracks and darkness. She’s the girl whose smile is completely inimitable in the presence of Saints and the girl whose faith is her anchor.

Her first kill doesn’t come in episode two, but it happens in episode five (“Show Me Who You Are”), and it occurs at a quick moment full of a whirlwind of emotions because it’s done to protect Kaz. Suman exhibits Inej’s innermost thoughts so poignantly in this scene, it’s heartbreaking to watch. It’s also reflective of the morals she’s held so tightly onto coupled with the turmoil that she’s done something she never wanted to. However, amidst all this, there’s the undeniable relief deep within her because while she’s done something terrible, Kaz still stands, completely whole in front of her. It’s shocking and harrowing, but it’s entirely transcendent of the detail that there’s nothing she wouldn’t to protect those in her corner.

Inej’s second kill, and perhaps an even darker moment of character embodiment for Suman happens in episode six (“The Heart is an Arrow”). In this scene, she must make the choice to kill while physically injured herself because her loved ones are threatened by the Inferni. Suman thus brings Inej’s gut-wrenching physical and emotional agony to life while showcasing the detail that she inevitably understands that this is something that will likely be asked of her more often than not, because there are threats larger than what she’s been used to controlling. 

Finally, when we say Suman tirelessly brings a wide range of emotions, we mean just that because along with the heavier sentiments, she shows us pure joy in seeing a living Saint and unparalleled honor while being given a new knife. She shows us moments of genuine liberty when she can joke with Kaz and Jesper. (See, “It’s Suli for friendship.” “No, it’s not.”) We get moments of strong partnerships and gorgeous tranquility in the midst of hearty confessions. (See, “The Unsea.”) We also get some of the best, most gif-worthy eye rolls ever. With Inej Ghafa and through Amita Suman, we get range.

There is a tremendous amount of riveting work Amita Suman has done this season, which equates to an embodiment I have yet to see in a fantasy series like this. Inej is incredibly brave, beautifully warm, and meticulously skilled, each requiring different forms of the character shine through, which Suman does incomparably all throughout. Suman goes above and beyond with moments of vulnerability that require speaking in silence, and thus, fleshes out the character further by bringing to light small details that matter exponentially. And after a full season of such breathtaking performances, we can only imagine what she’ll bring to the table next.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Character Deep Dive for Inej Ghafa here, as well.

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