Shadow and Bone 2×02 “Rusalye” Review

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Lewis Tan as Tolya, Anna Leong Brophy as Tamar, Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov, Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev, Patrick Gibson as Nikolai in Shadow and Bone 2x02 "Rusalye"
Cr. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2023

Shadow and Bone 2×02 “Rusalye” Spoilers Ahead

Shadow and Bone Season 2, Episode 2, “Rusalye,” kicks plenty into motion with glaringly obvious truths regarding how many of these characters are entirely in the dark about the paths they’re crossing. While the stories aren’t as interconnected in Season 2 as they were in Season 1, both the Grisha and Crows are on a similar path—Alina thinks the solution is destroying The Fold, and Kaz believes it’s taking down Pekka Rollins. Further, though the Darkling states that “the past is everything,” the events of Shadow and Bone 2×02 “Rusalye” prove otherwise.

The past isn’t everything—the present is, and perhaps the future to a degree, but none of these characters are ready to look back in order to lean forward fully. While they’re each doing everything they can to reach a goal, none are aware of how to look toward the people standing in front of them today. And like “No Shelter But Me,” parts of the episode contain major pacing issues that don’t work as well on their own. Sure, it features plenty of great moments, but the clunky bits don’t allow a concrete theme to burst through. It demands that we search for something bigger, and well—it’s a good thing the rest of the episodes are available to binge because otherwise, it’d be a bit frustrating to wait after this one.

Rusalye: The Sea Whip

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov, Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev in episode of Shadow and Bone 2x02 "Rusalye"
Cr. Dávid Lukács/Netflix © 2023

I’ve said it before and will say it a thousand times if I have to, but casting for Shadow and Bone is top-notch. And while the plot isn’t as intriguing in Siege and Storm, the show’s cast makes all scenes a delight to witness. We can be frustrated with book Mal, but it’s hard to feel the same way when there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Alina on the show. And we’re wasting no time here (which, maybe, we should have a bit). After a brief conversation, Nikolai chooses to believe that Alina and Mal are against the Darkling and agrees to help them find the Sea Whip. It’s a risk they’re all taking for Ravka, but it remains astounding how everyone’s willing to drop everything for a Saint.

And I suppose that’s just it—Alina Starkov is worth it. But anyone who’s read King of Scars and Rule of Wolves knows that the lives of Saints are far more complicated than that. Because isn’t that the gist of religion—complexities and questions and far too much to dissect? While it’s refreshing to see how much they’re all willing to do for her, the detail that it’s happening as quickly as it still feels jarring in the episode. Yet, as Tamar says, “Blood is blood; only fools think otherwise.” And perhaps that’s the theme that should make all of this more believable; only we should’ve gotten a bit more to make it feel earned. For non-book readers (which I used to be), there’s still much to decode with what’s happening and why it matters.

What is this connection between Alina and Kirigin? How long will it last? Why can’t Genya heal him? Will he ever die? Of course, all these answers won’t come in a single episode, but if I had no knowledge of the books, the series is doing very little to show me something more substantial in this area.


Matthias Helvar in Shadow and Bone Season 2 Episode 2 "Rusalye"

Before we break down everything we get with the Crows, it’s critical to talk about what Matthias’ arc will look like. So much of what Shadow and Bone 2×02 “Rusalye” implies is that hope is nonexistent in a place like Hellgate. He shouldn’t even bother to believe. And considering Kaz doesn’t think he can break someone out, the episode almost cements that detail. However, the prison isn’t just external; there’s one inside Matthias’ head too. The episode presents us with a flashback of him and Nina sleeping together, presumably at the inn, and he then tells his cellmate that his sins cannot be forgiven.

Fyerdan faith feels a lot like Christianity, perhaps more so Catholicism in the sense of rules and regulations, but isn’t that what grace is for? Matthias’ character is incredibly complex and fascinating to excavate because while faith is a beautiful thing, entrapment from within isn’t. Forgiveness is a part of all faiths, and no loving God would refuse it, which is entirely why so much of Matthias’ freedom is tied to exploring his admiration and love for Nina.

Because that’s what it is at the end of the day—it’s love, despite all the odds against them. It’s an understanding that though they are meant to hate each other, they find themselves on a path that instead makes them better. And though they aren’t in the same place, much of their love, guilt, and heartaches weave together like an unbearably beautiful tapestry that demands we marvel at it. It’s hard to tell when we’ll get Matthias out, but it’s lovely to know that there have been moments between him and Nina that were theirs and theirs alone.

Bank Heist and Ambush 

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Jack Wolfe as Wylan, Danielle Galligan as Nina Zenik, Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey in episode 202 of Shadow and Bon 2x02 "Rusalye"
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

If there’s one thing the writers consistently get right with the show, it’s the Crows. We might not be partaking in the Ice Court Heist right now, but what we’re getting works best for a TV series of this scale because non-book readers can now understand these characters clear as day. In Season 1, unless you were focused closely on Kaz Brekker, it wasn’t easy to decode that he has some sort of an aversion. The gloves could have meant anything. But with every flashback and this blood feud unraveling with Pekka Rollins, his character motives are more evident than ever. And non-book readers could understand it as closely as those of us who know the ins and outs. (Seriously, just ask my mother, who turned to me and said, okay, I see why he’s your favorite now.)

Through every flashback, the audience has a chance to chip away at his armor. And while his crew isn’t there yet, the fact that we’re close makes every minute with the Crows enamoring to excavate. Kaz Brekker is broken, and a little boy who’s yet to properly grieve for the losses he endured lingers beyond his hard edges. He knows better than to let someone close because opening the barriers around his heart means letting crooks like Jakob Hertzoon in. It’s why he keeps the Crows at arm’s length and why, no matter how desperately he wishes he could, he can’t even let Inej Ghafa in.

Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa Kanej on the roof in episode 202 of Shadow and Bone.
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Still, at the end of the day, he’s a mere human being, and she’s his tell. We’ll jump more into this during “Like Calls to Like,” but he slips just a little bit, courtesy of an astounding performance by Freddy Carter when he shows us that the Wraith is the one person he’ll do anything for. He stays and fights, yes, but the look in his eyes shows us everything we need to see about how extensively this is destroying him. Nevertheless, he’s Kaz Brekker, and he won’t say a word—not yet, anyway. He’ll pretend it’s all part of his selfish vendetta, swallow his heartaches, and push a little further to win this round once and for all. Thankfully, Nina’s presence today makes it a lot more challenging for him to ward off Inej and Jesper, but this is still only the beginning of the great war.

There’s a ton of brutality in this episode where the Crows are concerned, and the detail that it’s happening only for the audience is the part that hurts the most. Because Kaz Brekker firmly believes that Inej Ghafa could take on anyone, except that’s not the case here, and what we see is almost too hard even to watch. It’s especially hard when the scene uses tactics that are close to what sexual assault victims experience, and while I wish it weren’t part of the scene, I understand the importance of it to show the viciousness of how many crosses she’s borne. And it was fine because she could fight back better than anyone else, but God, the hair pull got me so hard. Because that moment right there was the meticulous choice to hurt her in a way that goes beyond a battle of sorts.

And still—she fights. Because this is her beginning too. She is the Wraith in every way, but she’s also just a girl forced to grow up too quickly in a world that’s outright disgusting, a place where all she has is faith and no real ounce of freedom. At least not yet, anyway. It makes Kaz’s silence hurt that much more, but simultaneously, there’s an understanding between them that we know will take them far in exploring the vulnerabilities that bind them.

Shadow and Bone. (L to R) Jack Wolfe as Wylan, Kit Young as Jesper Fahey in episode 202 of Shadow and Bone Season 2 Episode 2 "Rusalye" Wesper under the carriage
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Shadow and Bone 2×02 “Rusalye” isn’t all darkness because at least Jesper Fahey finally remembers Wylan Hendricks—implying, what exactly? We aren’t sure, but stroopwafels were involved, and their chemistry is already so insane that even without the typical romantic comedy “jump to protect the other” moment, we’d have some indication that something passed between the two of them. Something that still remains, nudging them closer.

While the episode gives Jesper another glorious moment to shine as a Durast/Sharp Shooter, it shows us Wylan’s quiet observance and the nature of his character, focusing on the detail that he’s not one to give up on a fight, even when he doesn’t know what’s coming ahead. The Crows work well together because they each bring something substantial to the table despite moments as crazy as this ambush. Still, through the shadows, there’s love coming to the light. And I can’t wait to explore every minute of that something because Kit Young and Jack Wolfe breathe such astounding life into these characters that it’s a marvel to watch.

Midnight Heists and Further Thoughts 

  • KNIVES. DAGGER. BOMB. A+ opening, once again.
  • Patrick Gibson is such an incredible choice for Nikolai, and I will stand by this assessment.
  • Nikola is such a mood in this episode. The whole ship is a delight. I want to stay here.
  • “And a guest of the sun summoner.” Petition for Nikolai not to learn Mal’s name solely because of how hilarious it makes these scenes.
  • The music is up so many notches this season and it’s a whole vibe in nearly every scene.
  • Daisy Head is KILLING it with these performances.
  • Dreggs club is falling apart
  • “Makes you wonder what else he’s willing to destroy.” I—SOB.
  • “Every time you say his name your blood pressure skyrockets.” Did I mention I love Nina? Because I love Nina.
  • ANGER CLOUDS THE JUDGEMENT. Every time Wylan speaks, angels sing.
  • I love a heist with everything in me.
  • Selfishly, I’m glad we have this Helnik footage for fan videos.
  • “Trust is the other side of secrecy, Kaz.” Oh, honey, he’ll learn someday.
  • I really thought we were going to get the “I will have you without armor” scene in Shadow and Bone 2×02 “Rusalye”
  • Dean Lennox Kelly is so good at Pekka Rollins!
  • “Your hope for the future”—it’s going to be really interesting to see how Saints play a role here with Alina’s innate goodness in contrast with the corruption.
  • I love it when we allow actresses to use their real accents. Danielle Galligan using her Irish accent to flirt with the guard was A+
  • Oh, the chemistry is so palpable between Jesper and Wylan
  • Nothing more disgusting than hearing Pekka say “my Wraith”
  • The fight is so well choreographed but STRESS AND PAIN AND STRESS.
  • “give up the fight” bro you’re talking to Inej Ghafa
  • LOVE LOVE LOVE the way Kit Young moves as Jesper!
  • Pekka, shut up about Inej or I WILL FIGHT.
  • Another Wylan bomb to save the day!
  • Check on your Wraith! Can he though? Can he???????!!!

Now streaming on Netflix: What are your thoughts on Shadow and Bone 2×02 “Rusalye?” Let us know in the comments below.


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