This episode had so damn much happen in it that a two part review and analysis is actually required! We begin with a flashback. We see a seemingly younger version of General Kirigan, complete with a very different and dated style of dress and sporting a longer hairstyle. Though we suspect this man could pull off pretty much any hairstyle and still rock it. We see him meeting up with a female Grisha, after embracing he expressed his worry over her safety. She replies that she’s “not as fragile as I once was.” He remarks, “not fragile, but mortal”. We get a taste of the longevity that the Darkling has endured when they go on to speak. We know already in the Grishaverse that the more a Grisha uses their power, the stronger they become, they’re bodies are healthier, and they live longer. But with nearly all Grisha there is a limit, which is never exactly told, but is alluded to. Best guess is Grisha can live over 100 years? Alexander aka the Darkling / the Black Heretic is entirely different. Truly immortal. We get this heavily suggested in both the series and the books.
The present day setting of the timeline in Shadow & Bone, is hundreds of years after the “Black Heretic” created The Fold. When Baghra leads Alina out of the castle, attempting to save her from Alexander she tells Alina “he’s had centuries to master lying to naïve girls. Did he tell you how lonely he was? Give you a glimpse of the wounded boy? He isn’t a boy at all. He is eternal.” Meaning that unless he is somehow killed, he will live forever, his body will never age or decay. All the while he is gaining and growing in strength. He is never just living in the moment, he’s living in a thousand, knowing that he has all the time in the world. Literally.
We then see himself and Luda being confronted by the Kings Army. After initially holding his ground, they capture Luda and kill her in front of him. They seize his hands in a wooden lock, as its known Grisha need their hands free to wield their powers. But at seeing his love slaughtered, his burning vengeance breaks him free. He wields The Cut and instantly severs the heads of the dozen soldiers who oppose him. Even in this flashback, in what is at least several hundred years ago, his power was already irrevocably potent.
After returning to the Grisha hideout in the ruins of a castle, he seeks out his mother, we meet Baghra, but a younger version, with brown hair yet to grey with age. She implores him to acquiesce. “Go. Flee. Go west. Go to Kerch. Wait for the King to die. Then return with a new name. A nobleman’s name. Bide your time until there’s a problem only Grisha can solve. Then the King must embrace us.” Decent advice, and one that with time, he actually does follow. But of course he doesn’t follow it right away. He responds asking what about the Grisha who need help and protection now? They should learn how to fight and defend themselves. Baghra comments that most Grisha aren’t fighters, they fix things, make things. His response is chilling.
What I thoroughly enjoyed about this episode is how much the dig into the repression and subjugation of Grisha in this time. They are considered less than, disposable. Expendable. In this we see where the need and drive came for Alexander to do as he has done. To safeguard Grisha, to make them safer, to gain the respect or alliance with the Monarchy. Creating what eventually became the Second Army. The strongest of the people who were oppressed, decided to take on the mantle of leader and do something to make Grisha safer. Granted, as always does with a rebellion/ revolution, bloodshed is unavoidable. We also have an an informative olive branch of information about Merzost. This is what Morozova used to create his amplifiers like the Stag).
Baghra warns that it’s unpredictable, unstable. “The Small Science feeds us. Morzost feeds on us.” This is quite a stark contrast. When Grisha use their power it feeds them, as earlier discussed their health improves, their longevity. But Morzost is its opposite. Feeding on the Grisha who attempt to use it. Alexander feels the pull to using such magics and tells that all of Morozova’s journals are with them in the archive. His mother forbids him to use it. So of course, the very next scene cuts to him rummaging around the archives for said journals. His confrontation with the soldiers, leads him to using Merzost, planning on remaking their army as his own. But of course, as Baghra said, its unpredictable, unstable. Instead, The Fold is created. And we can see the soldiers turning into the monsters that thrive in the darkness, the Volcra.
After carrying his mother to safety, she sees the dark blight on the land and demands to know what he has done. And in this moment we get a glorious juxtaposition. On the one hand, he’s revealing an epically proportioned creation of his that will change the course of history. But it also seems to be reminiscent of any child showing their mother something, like “Look Mom I made something!” — To be continued in the review part 2.