Among all Grisha in the Netflix fantasy adaptation Shadows and bonesThe sun conjurer Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and the shadow conjurer General Kirigan (Ben Barnes) have the greatest power – which gives them a deep connection through their parallel but coordinated skills.
Of course, the fans send it out.
[Ed. note: This post contains slight spoilers for Shadow and Bone.]
Their character types and their specific relationship – dramatic slides that attract each other but exhibit deeply imbalanced power dynamics – seem designed to inv ite fandom discourse. General Kirigan (or the Darkling, as he is called in Leigh Bardugo’s books) is the villain of the series, who wants to control Alina and her power and use it for himself. But he’s also a brooding, handsome, mysterious character, and at the beginning of the story, his interest in Alina doesn’t seem to have malicious intent. This dynamic is convincing, even if it is questionable.
“I fully understand why she is attracted to Kirigan,” Li tells Polygon. “He makes her feel special and for the first time she feels equal.”
When it came to figuring out the connection between Alina and Kirigan, the show’s creative team and actors knew they’d strike a fine line between seductive and problematic. The power dynamic in the relationship between an older male mentor and a young female protégé is inherently unbalanced in several ways. Li and Barnes were both aware of how easily their relationship could be read as predatory.
“Both Ben and Jesse had some thoughts and feelings about this relationship,” showrunner Eric Heisserer told Polygon. “Ben is very aware of the consent and active participation. We got to a point where we felt it would be healthier for the portrayal of Alina to take the first step. And that moment seemed a little more electric [than the equivalent scene in the books]. ”
In the book, the Darkling kisses her spontaneously, Alina is overwhelmed and nervous and wonders about his real intentions. Later, after demonstrating their powers at the Winter Festival, he pulls them into an empty room and they make out passionately. When Alina has the feeling that the encounter is breaking new ground, she withdraws in horror because she feels angry at his actions. Through steamy kisses, he explains that he wants her badly, but wanting things makes him weak. After teasing her, Alina is completely ready to get dirty – before they are interrupted and ponder fearfully for a moment before they leave.
On the show, however, Alina is the one who initiates her first kiss. It happens after she decides to use her own powers and help Ravka (so she thinks) and Kirigan tells this. When he admits it means a lot to him, she steps forward and kisses him. Later, when they slip away after the Winter Festival, the scene feels less like someone taking advantage of a vulnerable young girl and more like two equals. When interrupted, they giggle in embarrassment and reluctantly part.
Because Alina is a more active participant in the seduction, the scene right after she learns Kirigan’s real intentions – that he was actually the one who created the shadow fold centuries ago and that he plans to use her power to use it as a weapon instead control it to disperse – hits even harder.
“It feels more like betrayal,” explains Li. “She got involved in this [attraction]and it’s your choice. She has agency, she is not a blushing virgin who has been taken advantage of. She makes that decision. And she was betrayed. “
The relationship between Alina and her best friend Mal is based on a deep friendship that eventually turns into a romance. Li says Mal represents Alina’s home and heart and that he is all “good and strong and moral.” But Alina has a dark side, a weakness and a desire to be loved, which draws her to Kirigan. This relationship has always been intentionally unbalanced, which is what Bardugo intended from the start.
“I have my own views as to why I wrote this relationship the way I did, and what it means that there is such a large age gap between two participants in a relationship, especially when one is acting as a mentor. “She says.” But I liked the changes that were made to these seduction scenes [for the show]because I was already embarrassed to know what that dynamic was. I want the audience to go on the journey with me [Alina] in their understanding of him as a whole person, not just as an antagonist. “
Kirigan is a multifaceted antagonist with a certain Byronic appeal. His relationship with Alina is full of ulterior motives, although compelling and exhilarating. At the end of the day, however, he’s still the hardest in history. (On one oft-quoted line, after refusing to join Alina, Alina says dramatically, “Good. Make me your bad guy.”) But as Barnes himself says, it’s perfectly fine for viewers – and even closed expect – The relationship is both fascinating and disturbing.
“When power is abused, it is important to highlight. [Kirigan] definitely does, while there is also a gray area where he begins to have feelings for her and really care about her, despite his best efforts to deceive her. [It’s important to] spark the discussion and make it relevant in 2021 instead of kicking back in ancient tropes, ”he explains. “It should be problematic. We should be able to mark it as problematic and still find it interesting. “
Shadows and bones is available to stream on Netflix.