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Performers Of The Month - August Winner: Outstanding Actress - Katherine McNamara

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This article is a collaboration from SpoilerTV writers: Abi Baker (article lead writer), Jamie Coudeville (contributing writer), DJRiter (editor), and Aimee Hicks (article coder).

Shadowhunters is a show that can easily be dismissed. Maybe it’s the premise, maybe it’s the network that the show airs on, or maybe it’s how it’s marketed; either way, it is a show that is regularly dismissed as something simplistic or dismissed as a show that can only appeal to a certain demographic. That absolutely is not the case. Shadowhunters is a show that is firmly and completely rooted in fantasy - the characters, storylines and setting all demonstrate that - but that doesn’t stop the show from regularly making allegorical references to things that happen in the real world, whether that be race relations, gender roles or the idea of family, all of which have played heavily throughout this season but especially in this episode. There were definitely some growing pains in Season One which was reflected somewhat in both the writing and the performances and characters, however a change in showrunner and simply time for the actors to become more acquainted with their characters led to a much-improved Season Two, culminating in some great performances in the finale - Beside Still Water.

One of the actors who absolutely shined in this episode was Katherine McNamara, who absolutely deserves the title of the Most Outstanding Actress of August. In Beside Still Water, McNamara ensured that Clary encompassed a dynamic range of emotions that felt completely genuine to watch, and portrayed someone who was strong and confident, then also terrified and somewhat hopeless, to vengeful and brutal, all in the space of forty minutes. She managed to show the audience a multifaceted performance that stayed true to who the character of Clary is, whilst also showing sides of a character that the audience knows incredibly well but hasn’t seen yet. To still be discovering aspects of a lead character two seasons into the show and to be seeing this character go through a journey of strength and self-discovery makes her performance extremely note-worthy.

In this episode, it’s incredibly obvious that McNamara has put her entire heart into her performance. Her character, Clary goes through harrowing loss in this episode, as the man she has feelings for is killed in front of her by her own father. In order to avenge his death, and to save the lives of millions of people, she then has to kill her father and find a way to use the summoning of an angel to her advantage and to rectify the awful situation that her father has put her and the others in.

It’s somewhat difficult to talk about her performance without referencing Dominic Sherwood (who is Outstanding Actor Performer of The Month for August), as they play so incredibly well off each other in the multiple scenes that they share. Beside Still Water gave McNamara the backdrop and material to act out some incredibly emotional scenes and she absolutely nailed it. In one of the major scenes in this episode, both Clary and Jace find themselves betrayed by other Shadowhunters, their own people who they thought they could trust, and as a result of finding out about this betrayal, Clary is about to be killed. As the voices die down, and the scene resonates with a slow instrumental, we see Clary go from defiant to a sad resignation. She is fully under the belief that she is about to die, that she will be sacrificed as a message and for a greater cause, and she accepts that. To see her be incredibly strong even when she is at one of her weakest moments is really emotional and whilst it was unlikely that the show would kill off their lead character, it still didn’t stop this scene from packing a punch.

As we know, Jace ends up breaking free of his chains due to his angelic powers and gives Clary the opportunity to break free of hers, which allows her to showcase her physical strength as opposed to the emotional strength that we just got to see. This contrast in sides of Clary that we get to see in just a short amount of time is one of the reasons why McNamara won this month, and why the show as a whole is going from strength to strength with every episode (as most of the cast get the same opportunities to show their strengths and vulnerabilities).

The relationship between Clary and Jace is something that was on a bit of a back burner in Season Two, as they thought they were siblings and therefore dated other people. This episode saw them paired up once again for a mission and had them face several close calls, which had them realizing the importance of the other and the high regard they have for one another. This episode beautifully highlighted the intense chemistry and acting bond between Katherine McNamara and Dominic Sherwood.

Clary and Jace are both on the hunt for Valentine in this episode to cease his plans to kill the Downworlders. They’re successful in finding him, but Valentine is one step ahead, and just when the audience thinks that the main characters might be getting somewhere, Valentine shockingly and quickly kills Jace. His death comes when Clary has hope that they might be able to stop Valentine, and this is rapidly overtaken by the utter powerlessness she feels at seeing Jace die in front of her and not being able to do anything to stop it. She masterfully acts out Clary’s desperation with a little bit of slowly fading optimism. Maybe Jace will be okay, maybe there’ll be something out there to save him. It’s easy to be invested in Clary’s emotions and idealism and also hope that Jace will be okay, but as the time passes by and it becomes undeniably evident that this isn’t something that will be fixed, Clary devolves into uncontrollable sadness. More hearts than Clary’s are breaking in that moment.

Viewers have seen Clary lose people close to her before. She lost her mom earlier this season, but the reaction seen in that episode and the reaction in this episode are miles apart. That’s all because of how much McNamara has improved as an actress in just a short space of time. These are real genuine tears and it’s completely impossible not to be swept up in them and feel the sadness that is radiating from her. This is a girl who has lost all hope and is utterly devastated, and the effects of it are completely inescapable for anyone watching. It’s possible that even half a season ago we wouldn’t have seen this level of reaction of acting, which just demonstrates how far she has come as a performer. Clary’s reaction is harrowing and visceral and the brief shot of her holding Jace’s hand adds just that little bit more to the grief that she’s clearly feeling.

Clary’s loyalty to her fellow Shadowhunters, her found family, and to doing the right thing leads her to notice that Jace still has his stele, and that she can use this to free herself and stop Valentine, which she manages to do. We’ve seen glimpses of her uninhibited rage earlier, but this is now more controlled because she knows she’s the last chance of stopping Valentine from committing mass genocide. In a test of speed and strength, she breaks free of her bonds and attacks Valentine, halting him in his tracks. We’ve seen Clary in training sessions before, and we’ve seen her fighting with weapons, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen her fight someone with her bare hands. She’s ruthless in this scene, and her sheer determination at putting a stop to Valentine is evident in how she never gives up even when he has the upper hand. This immense strength that flows through Clary is a direct result of the strength in the actress portraying her. McNamara pours her heart and soul into this character making it easy for the audience to root for Clary to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds that she’s always confronted with.

The moment where Clary kills Valentine was a long time coming. All the rage that had been building up since her mother’s death, and now Jace’s were clearly evident. McNamara did a very good job of showcasing both the rage, desperation, and hopelessness that Clary is feeling in that moment. This is a real turning point for the character. She’s never quite gone this dark before. Both she and the people who worked on that scene really managed to portray the brutality in that moment. As Valentine was dying, there was a moment of shock in her eyes, when Clary realized the gravity of what she’d done. There wasn’t time to focus too much on that but she’ll have to deal with the consequences eventually.

McNamara manages to show so much in just her eyes; how when she’s fighting Valentine she’s completely in the zone and consumed by the need to stop him any way she can, and how once he is dying and there’s no way he is able to fight back, her eyes widen as she fully comes to terms with what she’s done. It’s incredible how she is able to speak volumes without saying any words at all. There is a moment of the battle within her as well - how she can only pause to let herself feel the loss of her father contrasted with the victory she’s feeling before she has to pull herself away and together and take care of the summoning of Raziel. She truly shows that Clary can be a leader when she wants to be, and it’s such a far cry from the uninformed girl that we knew in Season One. She shows strength in spades in this episode in many different forms and it’s such a delight to see her grow into the hero that we know she should be.

Some people may not agree with the decision that Clary makes when she decides to resurrect Jace, but she’s coming from a place where she has lost almost all of her family. Valentine isn’t an immediate threat anymore, and with everything she’s been through in such a short amount of time, it’s not surprising that Clary came to that decision. It’s almost a split-second decision, but the way this scene is acted could make one think that this is what Clary believes to be the right choice. She rushes to Jace once the deed is done, and in a beautifully acted scene shows Clary’s surprise at her wish actually coming true. You can see her eyes slowly widen as Jace starts to stir, and the slow exhale and shift of her eyebrows as she tries to comprehend that he really has come back to her. The way she tells Jace that she doesn’t want anything else in the world, so assured, shows that McNamara brings a lot to the chemistry that she and Sherwood have together.

Finally, as a reprieve from all the dramatic scenes that she has had to act out in this episode, we finally get to see her smile and be happy around her friends, getting a chance to bask in the victory of a world without the threat of Valentine. It’s nice to see her get her friendship back on track with Simon, as after their breakup things were definitely a little bit hard for them and they didn’t quite seem to be on the same page as they were in Season One. Whilst there were other scenes to be chosen from this episode, the difference between the tears we saw earlier, and the smiles and lightness that we see here is just a nice divergence and again shows the range of emotions that McNamara can bring to her character.

Katherine McNamara has proven in this episode that when she’s given emotional material she can perform outstandingly, and the improvements she’s made with her acting and portrayal of Clary since the show has begun is absolutely remarkable. The depth and range of reactions and emotions that we saw from her as Clary in this episode make her absolutely worthy of the title of the Most Outstanding Actress of August. It’s going to be great to see where her character and storyline will go in season three. What were your favorite scenes involving her in this episode? Please feel free to discuss them below.

PLEASE READ: Please keep comments on topic and just discussing the performances of the winner.

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