With the Shadowhunters season 3 finale looming in just over 24 hours, now does feel like the right time to showcase one of its greatest performers. With that very thing in mind, we are here within our CarterMatt Emmy Hopefuls series to spotlight the work of Harry Shum Jr., a man who can bring you both hope and heartache within the span of a few short minutes.
Is Shum an underdog? Most likely, though the same could be said for most shows that are out of the traditional Emmy mold — Shadowhunters is not on a premium cable network, and the assumption (wrong as it may be) is that it caters mostly to a young-adult audience. What many voters are missing out on with this perspective is a story that is deeply nuanced, inspirational, but also action-packed and romantic. It combines more genres, styles, and themes into single episodes than some other shows do in seasons.
With Harry, he was routinely presented throughout the past ten episodes with extraordinary acting challenges. For starters, the notion of playing an immortal character is tough — every actor seeks out familiar touchstones for their performances, but it is hard to find one when you are playing the part of someone who, quite frankly, cannot die. How do you relate to that and perceive that? Finding the right touchstones and the right mood to carry that performance is tough — and then, season 3 added the twist of Magnus losing his magic, rendering him for a time mortal and changing the very fabric of the man. Shum had to transform Magnus into someone more fearful, insecure, and concerned with both his life and love. You saw a man astray within his own mind, struggling to understand who he was and what values mattered to him.
Often in season 3, you could see Magnus’ pain within his body language and his eyes just as much as within his dialogue. He didn’t want to give up on himself, but a metaphorical stone had been dropped heavy upon his soul and he didn’t know how to move it. He was despondent, but perhaps the most important thing was that he wasn’t always despondent. He did find ways to sprinkle in hope even during some of his character’s darkest times — hence some of the lovely, romantic scenes with Matthew Daddario’s Alec. There was something joyous in seeing Magnus celebrate the little things as a mortal, including visiting the market and getting together some orange juice.
Within the final episodes of season 3 proper, unfortunately, Magnus’ condition worsened and the story became even more painful — it was difficult to see the relationship temporarily end, even if we understood a part of Alec’s motive. What we also understood is how Shum took on the task brilliantly of trying to make Magnus’ story of heartbreak something memorable and haunting. He thought he was adrift when he didn’t have his powers, but when he did and he no longer had Alec, he was a man totally lost at sea. He could not escape his own memories and pain and just seeing the contrast between a happier Magnus and one distraught and desperate was striking.
All of Harry’s work this season was a thing of beauty — you could sense his commitment to his words, his actions, his facial expressions, and above all else his commitment to finding the humanity in this extraordinary man in a supernatural world. The true magic in Magnus Bane comes in how he makes us feel, and how after watching him you can understand every word he says and every movement he makes. This was fantastic work by Shum throughout the season and, even if it’s not met with any major awards-show recognition, we do think that fans will remember and consider it worthy for many years to come.
What do you think about Harry Shum Jr.’s performance across Shadowhunters season 3, and do you find it Emmy worthy? Be sure to share right away in the comments, and remember to stay tuned for more insight.