“The Heart is an Arrow” and humanity is so often complex in the same way that it is striking. Shadow and Bone’s sixth episode gives us reunions and answers—it leaves us with questions and a lot of moments of exceptional character development. The show is great in the beginning, but really, the last four episodes are where it sets sail and does so gorgeously even in the wreckage. While the previous episode showed us who a lot of these characters are, this one shows us who they are to each other.
Yes, the path is clear for each of the characters, but for a fantasy show that’s so heavily plot driven, what we are given so far with development for the characters works exquisitely and I’m praying to the Saints that it stays this way. We all know what happened to Game of Thrones when the characters took a backseat to the plot, and I hope this series doesn’t go in that route because I want it to do good, which so far, it is.
“The Heart is an Arrow” is an episode that goes backwards as much as it goes forward and while it’s not ideal, it works in layering the universe. Alina, with Inej’s help escapes from The Crows and sets off on her own, and thus, she is once again subject to racial prejudice from the townspeople. Could Alina’s identity as The Sun Summoner along with her identity as a half-Shu woman could lead to unification within this universe? If she is the answer, could she also be the answer to this very obvious racial divide? The gross part in all this is that racial injustices will never go away entirely, there will always be terrible people here and there that continue their supremist agendas, but as far as the series goes, could she lead to unity and an end to all this? I hope so.
After Alina attacks a man who’d initially attacked her she runs towards the woods and finally reunites with Mal there. I know I’ve vocalized my inability to ship these two because of my own personal bias towards this trope, but … uhm, I actually had some feelings, which is entirely a testament to Jessie Mei Li and Archie Renaux’s vulnerability while discussing Alina’s powers and whether Mal’s afraid of them or not. Here’s the thing, there’s just a lot here that’s being told to me and not a lot that’s shown, but this scene between Alina warming them up with her light was stunning and my heart fluttered a bit.
I will always appreciate a scene where one person rightfully tells someone that while they’ve made mistakes in the past, but they’re trying now, and that’s what Mal essentially promises by telling Alina that he sees her. I felt every ounce of Renaux’s affirmation in that moment and I say this again, I could have shipped the daylights out of these two if the set up was different. And while their past is integral to their present, it’s why the two of them in each other’s lives as the best of friends is everything to me. I never want that to change and I could scream about how beautiful it is constantly because it is. I also want to scream about the desperation in their embrace and the fact that you felt every ounce of just how much they both needed each other. It’s the fact that they’re safe and for a moment, everything can be okay. For a moment, it’s just the two of them and who am I to deny the sweetness in that. (I won’t. I’ll get there one day. I’m somewhat there now.)
Platonic relationships between opposite sexes could and often are so beautiful when given the chance to explore, and theirs is nothing short of special. It’s two people who’ve always believed they were alone, but never truly were because they had each other. It’s Alina especially who’s fought tirelessly for Mal. It’s Mal who’s been scared and nervous, but now sure and full of so much gratitude because he’d find her, and she’d find him. (And I wish the whole I’ll always find you wasn’t already said and done because I can’t unhear how much I don’t love it.)
So much of “The Heart is an Arrow,” appropriately titled, tackles desires and the universal language between human beings—the fact that compassion is a language everyone, even the most jaded of souls can understand. (Also, can we talk about the beautiful theme that’s playing in this scene!? Oof, it’s stunning.)
This includes, The Darkling, who’s having a hard time processing the fact that Alina wouldn’t leave on her own and it’s something he firmly believes, which is interesting to say the least, but yet, so grey in what’s explored throughout. If it weren’t for the layers Ben Barnes was bringing to the character, the sheer frustration and exhaustion in his voice, it’d be harder to believe this. (Because really, let’s look at the way he says “where is she” when facing off with Kaz.) The man is done with everyone’s crap, although not as done as Kaz is by the stupidity everywhere.
We did a scene breakdown of this scene to discuss the fact that Kaz actually sees behind his delusions and his games, so for further on that, read more here.
But let’s talk about Zoya and Darkling for moment, which I will say I hate (and no, I don’t mean dislike, I mean hate) how much this scene pits women against each other. I knew Zoya would be a character with a plethora of nuances and by the end of the season I had a lot of feelings about her, but this scene is weird. I never want to see one woman trying to steer a man away from another. Be friends, ladies. He’s not worth it. We’ll have none of this here. And since I haven’t read the books, I don’t know the deal between Zoya and Darkling is. But what I do know that it doesn’t match Zoya to be this way. I didn’t even know her going in, but there’s a lot about this scene that didn’t sit right with me and it’s one of the few scenes in this episode that lacked the most heart. Also, I get it that fellow is good looking, but still, there’s no need for this.
And now back to our regularly scheduled program of Darkling is very much done with everyone, but he’s not done with Kaz Brekker. Kaz Brekker is done with him. There’s a difference and it’s an explosive one. Literally. Street smarts.
On the other side of the map (don’t ask me about geography, it’s not my forte), a Fjerdan and a Grisha team up with their naked bodies for heat. This show really said, you want “enemies to lovers?” Here, take all the “enemies to lovers” ships, we’ve got plenty. There is so much excellent banter at this moment that while taking notes, I wrote down every single word. Because every single word is that good and this dynamic is so much fun. And while there’s a ton of animosity between them, they are lacking anything but heart by the end.
Matthias and Nina have such a fascinating dynamic because the hatred towards Grisha that’s been embedded in Matthias is so deeply rooted, it’s easy to constantly question his sincerity. It’s easy to see him laugh wholeheartedly and then wonder, wait is it even real? But when he asks Nina why she saved him and she responds with “you’re human and Grisha aren’t monsters,” it strengthens the entire episode’s thematic message beautifully by detailing just how important the preservation of humanity is for these characters.
No, Grisha aren’t monsters and perhaps to a degree, neither is this Fjerdan. He might have ways to go, but there’s a moment where Calahan Skogman makes it clear that something in him has cracked at that gesture. It’s small, but it’s a reflection of the genuine surprise that given the opportunity to kill him, Nina chose to save him instead.
Cut to the cave where their clothes are wet from the water. We know where this is going and you won’t hear us utter a single complaint because yes please. And the banter here is incredible because while Matthias does a lot of denying and claiming that he’s not being phased by Nina, she does the same … until he takes off his shirt. We see you, girl. We see you. We get it. We’d bite our tongue too in that moment.
Matthias finally cozies up with her and Nina uses her powers to warm them up, but it’s the moment following and the utter contentment on his face that had us all screaming I’m sure. The Witch Hunter got in bed with a Witch and liked it. He could deny it all he wants but instead his face told us a different story and it’s the kind of story that reflects on why “enemies to lovers” works so well as a ship because the spark that’s always there is relatively unlike anything else.
Sometimes, all two people need is to be separated from all that defines them in order to find something bigger—bolder, and exponentially better than what they could have imagined. Matthias Helvar set in his ridiculous, patriarchal Fjerdan ways broke and found moments of genuine, infectious laughter. The teasing, the pushing, and the pulling—then there’s the fall. The moment where once again, it’s easy to wonder if it was real, if Matthias meant any of it, if he’d let her drown. And then he pulls her back making it clear that the humanity within him is just as strong as it is in her. The light in his laughter was real and the warmth of their bond even more enamoring.
He offers her his hand then and finally introduces himself as Matthias Helvar. If you’ve read any of my reviews for other shows then you know I’m utter garbage for anyone introducing themselves for the first time. It’s just, chef’s kiss. I’ve never once watched two people introduce themselves with their full names and thought, naw that’s not cute.
It’s everything and more tied into a moment that humanizes both of them so gorgeously because while they were so many things to each other days ago, starting now, they’re Matthias and Nina. They are two human beings who’ve found unexpected solace in the fortunate accident of surviving a crash together. They’re supposed to hate each other. They’re supposed to be sworn enemies, but instead, Matthias gives her his “coat” in a gesture that tells us not only will he care for her now, but he sees that she’s more than just a Grisha. She’s a human being, a woman he’s infatuated by. She’s Nina Zenik–the girl he’s now going to try to protect. It’s a journey that’ll take time to develop, but if this scene isn’t one of the loveliest moments throughout the series than I don’t know what is.
In passing her the warmth from his back, he passed on the promise that they’re in this together. We know where it leads, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a moment that’s huge for them and for their development. It’s a moment of true humanity that gorgeously reveals what can happen when people open their hearts to the possibility of seeing others beyond what’s presented.
This is an episode that gives us a lot of development in twos and with the Darkling facing off with Kaz, it leaves Jesper to Ivan the Heartrender, which leads me to scream about Kit Young putting on one of the best performances throughout “The Heart is an Arrow.” (I’m still key-smashing about the look in his eyes when Ivan seemed to notice that he wasn’t just a sharpshooter.) Jesper knows so much and so little—it’s fun and games and presumably all about the money, but if I knew nothing about him and if I didn’t adore him to bits, I’d look at this scene and question the moments of pain that flashed in his eyes.
Young makes it clear in this moment that there’s so much more to Jesper than the sharpshooter with a gambling addiction who looks good doing everything. Young makes it clear that there are things Jesper doesn’t want us to know, and he makes it clear that we’re not even remotely prepared for when it all comes to the surface.
So, the answer is yes, where The Crows are involved, they always win. I’d say the thing, but not yet. Not yet.
Instead, we’ll write a novel on our Saint Inej Ghafa. The episode title , “The Heart is an Arrow” works for all these stories, but it works best for Inej. If we look back to Six of Crows, there is a Suli saying: “The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true.” No one’s heart is as big as Inej’s and no one’s humanity is as immaculately bared. In the previous episode she showed that there’s nothing she wouldn’t do to protect Kaz, and in this, she kills again at the mere threat of her loved ones being threatened by Polina the Inferni.
Inej fought a fair fight and she wanted Polina to survive but instead, the Inferni made that difficult by threatening her, and we get it—Inej killed her brother. But what’s so riveting about this is that it’s the story of how these cycles turn, along with how the arrows lead to targets they weren’t initially aiming towards.
That said, on this episode of Amita Suman’s performances continue to outdo the rest, Suman crushed me with the tears in her eyes and the palpable heartache in her physicality when she fought while injured to reason with Polina. She wasn’t going to kill. She didn’t want to. There is no part of Inej that’s ever going to feel thrilled about this. There is no part of her that isn’t going to try to reason or resort to measures such as imprisoning than killing. The bad guys, never the good, and perhaps not even, the morally grey. She is The Wraith in many ways, but her heart and soul will always be aimed towards saving, not destroying.
And what’s so crushing about what Inej does is the detail that she still doesn’t know just how monumental what she’s done is for Kaz. The first kill and the second, and likely what’ll come in later seasons too. But before we get into that, let’s get into the arguments. Amita Suman and Freddy Carter are great in moments of vulnerability, but there’s also something so riveting about the two of them holding their own in an argument.
There is a lot Inej Ghafa will do, but she will not betray her faith, and it’s so easy to appreciate that this is an area where she’ll always stand her ground. She values Kaz, she’s patient with him, and she trusts in his plans even when she’s hesitant, but where her faith is concerned, she’ll always choose to stand firm in her beliefs. She’ll choose to actively vocalize it because while so much of her agency was robbed from her at the Menagerie, she’s always had her faith. And in spite of Kaz’s disbelief, she’s never tried to sugarcoat or hide anything in front him.
Thus, going at it with one another through the slow, stoic conversations then following the utter look of horror and rage in Suman’s expression as she states: “is that a threat to send me back to Heleen” was so shuddering. There aren’t any active changes in their tones after, but Kaz doesn’t hold back on the truth and finally blurts that Heleen could get The Crow Club, which immediately snaps Inej into questioning.
And Kaz does what he does best, he walks away after a look of solemn concern that Freddy Carter rarely laces Kaz with (except for when something involves Inej). It’s all for her, and he had to walk away because if he didn’t, it’s too much vulnerability in this moment, which neither are ready for, and Kaz especially doesn’t know how to deal with.
Henceforth, there will be instances that will get in between them working effectively as a crew, and sometimes different calls need to made. This is one of those situations because Alina is a Saint and asking Inej to betray her faith is asking too much of her, which he isn’t even really doing, but vocalizing his frustrations is also part of the transparency that they’re both oddly good at in spite of holding so much in.
But what Kaz doesn’t hold in (despite how much he cannot physically do), is the sheer pain in his expressiveness when Inej jumps down and she’s clearly injured. Freddy Carter has layered Kaz Brekker so remarkably that the different ways in which he says “Inej” are poignantly telling of what’s happening to him internally. And the way he says it after her fall is gut-wrenching. Seldom can you hear pain as evocatively as you can in this scene. (Seriously, go back and rewatch because coupled with the pain in his eyes, this is the first time we’re really seeing Kaz Brekker break.) Jaw clenched tightly, it’s destroying him, and he can’t even touch her. He can’t move in closer to show that he cares or that he’s there too, instead he watches. He nods with conviction, with brimming revere to be of comfort to her as best he can—to say that he understands the weight of her second kill, and if he could somehow take the blood off her hands, if he could make this easier, he would. He knows that it’s the opposite of righteous, the opposite of what she wants and especially after their previous conversation, he knows just how hard it must’ve been. He just doesn’t know how to take care of it, and that’s the heartbreaking element through all this because neither expected that they’d grow so close through this partnership.
Kaz and Jesper then team up to steal the carriage from David, who was really just minding his own damn business reading a book, c’mon guys. But it’s okay, it’s for Inej. No one else matters when Inej is concerned.
David is then left to have to tell Darkling what happened, which he then does by raising a finger and I just … this scene. It’s everything. “You don’t have to raise your. Yes, David.” Iconic. Peak comedy.
There are arrows aimed and hearts are on the line, but with two episodes left, the story makes it much clearer who these characters are along with where their hearts truly lie. There are a plethora of grey areas and a lot to say, but we’ll get there.
Midnight Heists and Further Thoughts
- Mal calling himself a bodyguard to a saint. You know what? Now I’m just angry because I would’ve shipped the daylights out of Malina if it were some sort of bodyguard au. Who’s going write this thing because that’d be glorious.
- Alina makes a comment in this week’s episode about making stupid choices, and I literally wanted to jump into my TV and say first of all, you made choices. They aren’t stupid because they were what you wanted in the moment, so enough of that.
- It’s the way that even Ben Barnes and Freddy Carter have chemistry on this show and I truly do not understand how or why this show intends to torture me this way.
- Kaz Brekker fled the shadow. Let it be known. In an episode where Darkling killed Arken with the Shadow, Kaz Brekker beat him. There is only (one) man.
- Nina calling Matthias a miserable lump of muscle is EVERYTHING.
- Also the way the Darkling says “adorable” in this episode by the end? Honestly, I cannot. A mood. I’m going to use that gif reaction to things that piss me off from this moment on. But also I’m done with the dramatics of this episode and his Cruella De Ville fur coat too.
- I say this again, Mikhael and Dubrov did not need to die and this is why I’ll always hate fantasy.
- I also cannot handle how Matthias and Nina are bickering like they’re already married.
- I damn near lost it when Polina called Inej “Suli trash.” Hi, you’re actually the trash so, good riddance.
- P.S. I have a thing for men and pocket watches. See Anthony Bridgerton and Kaz Brekker.
- “It’s not natural for girls to fight” Matthias, dude. I’ve got more words than Nina could in this moment and I’m ready to fight.
- Nina Zenik knows six languages. YOU GO GIRL.
- Alina using her powers to craft a way out of the carriage was fabulous.
- I want to know where and when The Crows changed and also whether or not Kaz carries hair gel in his satchel. You would not know the man was in complete shambles the night before having seem him now.
- I cannot wait for Inej and Alina to be friends and that little look between them while Inej let her go made my heart grow three sizes.
What are your thoughts on Shadow and Bone’s “The Heart is an Arrow?” Let us know in the comments below.
Gissane (pronounced Geese-enny) or, as people often call her, "Goose," is a Christ fan above all and a romance enthusiast who's taken her Master's degree in English and love for essays into writing lengthy analyses about pop culture.
She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Marvelous Geeks Media and the co-host of Lady Geeks' Society Podcast. She drinks too much coffee, wants to live in a forest, and cries a lot because of her favorite characters. She's a member of The Cherry Picks and can also be found writing features for Looper.