The Unicorn Scale: Shadowhunters

12/8/2017

Based on The Mortal Instruments, a young adult book series by Cassandra Clare, Freeform’s “Shadowhunters” is notable for celebrating sexual diversity. The show includes an asexual vampire, a gay Shadowhunter, as well as the star of this Unicorn Scale, bi warlock Magnus Bane. If you’re unfamiliar with the Unicorn Scale, here’s a quick rundown.

(Caution: spoilers ahead).

The Shadowhunters universe gets pretty complicated, but here are the basics. There are two realms, the mundane world and the shadow world. The mundane world contains everything as we know it, including regular humans (“mundanes”), while the shadow world is home to Shadowhunters (special warriors who hunt demons), as well as Downworlders (vampires, werewolves, faeries, and warlocks). The show follows Clary, a young woman who has just discovered that she is a Shadowhunter, as well her crew of new Shadowhunter and Downworlder friends.

Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of Brooklyn, sometimes uses his powers to assist Shadowhunters on their missions. Magnus is hundreds of years old, though he doesn’t look it (his character is played by the dazzlingly handsome Harry Shum Jr). Magnus’ bisexuality was explicitly referred to in the book series, so many fans were hopeful that the same would be true of the show. Luckily, Magnus is just as fabulous on screen as he is on the page.

What I Liked:

Magnus is a well-rounded character, manages to avoid most of the dreaded bisexuality tropes, and has a complex backstory that’s still being revealed as the show progresses. Magnus’ bisexuality is presented organically, through lines of dialogue that mention his past relationships with men and women. He is compassionate, witty, and loyal, and often uses his badass warlock powers to save the day.

Magnus’ relationship with Shadowhunter Alec Lightwood is a fan-favorite, but isn’t the only thing that defines him. Their relationship is filled with the same ups and downs as any straight relationship on the show – fights, misunderstandings, physical affection, tender moments – and drives character development for both Alec and Magnus.

It’s also worth noting that bi men are not frequently represented on television (see GLAAD’s Where We Are On TV report), so it’s certainly a breath of fresh air to see a bi man of color. And of course, it would be remiss not to mention Magnus’ bold fashion sense and great use of eyeliner.

What I didn’t like:

I love Magnus, so I’ll have to get nitpicky here. In the book series, Magnus explicitly refers to himself as a “freewheeling bisexual,” while he never actually uses the B-word on the show, as of season 2. I hope that the word bisexual will appear in dialogue in a future season.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of bi characters fall into the “immortal bisexual” trope – Jack Harkness from “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood,” Kieren Walker from “In the Flesh,” and Bo from “Lost Girl” just to name a few. There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving a bi character magic powers or immortality, but it’s interesting to me that this is a trend. It feels like a way of othering bisexuality by distancing it from humanity. In the Shadowhunters universe, warlocks are part human and part demon, which further complicates things – why is it someone with demonic heritage rather than angelic heritage who is bi? It’s a question worth asking, although Magnus himself is never portrayed as evil.

The Rating:

I have to give “Shadowhunters” a solid 3.5 unicorns. Magnus Bane is a bisexual man of color who brings a lot to the show, and his relationship with Alec is complex and believable. I’m hoping that in future seasons, the show will use the word bisexual and raise its rating to 4 unicorns.

Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson is a feminist, cat lady, and bisexual activist. She has an MFA in creative writing, and her work has been featured in Selfish Magazine, The Minetta Review, the Journal of Bisexuality, and more. She is currently a board member for the San Gabriel Valley LGBTQ Center