Okay, I’m still squeeing, but having watched the scene 580 times so far, I think there’s a lot more to this than just two men in love confessing their feelings to each other in the wake of some truly earth-shaking fear and waves of relief. As much as we would love this to be a fanfic-style HEA (happily ever after), we all know the sadists in the SH producers/writers room are not EVER going to let that happen. One way or the other, we will be staring down the barrel of conflict and pain when we come back in 2B.
Let’s look at this with a slightly different eye. I wish I had any editing skills whatsoever and could slow it down. The first, most important thing we have to remember is that TINY details count, especially with these two amazing actors. Both Harry and Matt are adept at acting with their eyes and expressions (it’s part of what I adore so much about Harry and Harry as Magnus). Every jaw clench, every eye twitch means something. It’s not an accident.
Now. Let’s take a look at the scene again, watching the smallest details, especially the guys’ expressions. I know you can’t STAND to watch this awful moment one more (thousand) time, but please do it. For science. 😉
Alec starts off looking truly terrified, and breathing hard in both panic and probably after scouring the entire Institute in 5 minutes, desperate to find out if Magnus was killed by the Soul Sword. He’s obviously losing his shit. But the clouds open, the sun shines in, and a choir of angels sing as Magnus grabs his arm.
BAM. Rib-crushing hug. Relief. (Damn, Matt Daddario got some long-ass arms. That boy is one long, tall drinka water!) They pull apart. Magnus reports that Madzie is safe, and he took her to Catarina, where she is cared for. Watch Alec. He is very much, “Oh, right, Madzie, yeah. I’m glad.” Because he’s a nice person, and he does care about the lives of Downworlders, and that cute little girl especially. After all, she did save his life. Twice.
But also notice, he cares about the life of this Downworlder more. He’s obviously glad Madzie is okay, but he’s still got ice running through his veins from the idea that Magnus might have perished. Remember, the last time they spoke, they got in a fight, and Alec had some harsh words for Magnus about Izzy. Can you imagine how Alec would have felt if that was the last time he ever saw his warlock? So yes, on a human level, on a compassionate level, he is very glad Madzie is okay. But he is obviously more glad that Magnus is okay, because now he has the chance to say the things that need to be said, that he feared he would never get to say. He now has felt proof that things could be over for one or both of them at any moment, and whatever they were fighting about just wasn’t important in the face of that.
(Matt really brings it here, too.) Alec has shown that he feels safe talking to Magnus about pretty much anything, and he doesn’t hold back expressing his absolute panic. He doesn’t say, “I was so scared.” He says, “I was terrified.” Not only that, but he predicated this expression by saying, “In every mission I’ve ever been on, I’ve never felt that type of fear. Ever.” That is a HUGE deal, coming from a lifelong, highly trained soldier who has probably seen some pretty horrible things, and worked to close off his emotions so he could do his job and battle through. Of course he’s felt fear, but remember his line from season 1?
Emotions are nothing but a distraction. You are ruled by them. We’re taught how to control them.
All soldiers feel fear just like anyone else (unless they’re nuts). A good soldier battles past that, as Alec always has. But what he feels for Magnus is so brand new, so all-encompassing. It’s probably the only full-out, heart-squeezing, gut-wrenching passion, desire, just pure feeling of a romantic kind he’s ever felt for anyone. The only real love he’s ever had outside his siblings (I include Jace in that.) The idea of having that ripped away from him is something utterly abhorrent to him. He can obviously imagine it, or he wouldn’t be that scared to begin with. He saw all those bodies in that room. The minute he realized what had happened, you know the picture that immediately popped into his mind. But he wasn’t willing to accept it. He had to know.
Now, Harry Shum Jr. can perform an entire scene just with his facial expressions. This is a good example from season 1:
Then there’s this one, which is the moment I fell in absolute love with Harry’s Magnus Bane:
You can literally SEE his vulnerability in that single expression.
So when you watch him in this scene, what shows on his face is not an accident. I noticed right away that his expression is tight, almost closed. He does not break into a smile. His face doesn’t even soften very much when he says I love you, too. The fact is, he probably does love Alec, more than he ever expected or wanted to. But there are things that are dragging on this confession:
> A whole bunch of Downworlders and Shadowhunters alike just died horrible deaths. And it’s not over yet, since the sword is still out there.
> Magnus expressed his fear of moving too fast and his vulnerability way back in episode 7 the first time they allegedly had sex (behind carefully closed hetero doors). He is afraid of the way things are moving. He has been down this road before, and he knows how painfully it can end. Remember:
For almost a century I’ve closed myself off to feeling anything for anyone, man or woman. You’ve unlocked something in me.
There’s a reason for that. Probably a lot of very good reasons. Magnus has had his heart broken so many times in his long, long life: people leave him, people die, his family rejected him in the most awful, heinous possible ways. Love has not been kind to Magnus Bane. And he loves this young Shadowhunter. He connected with him instantly (I mean, the first few times he saw Alec, I think Magnus was just like, “Booyah, hello, nurse! I’m gonna climb that boy like Mount Everest.” But the first time they touched in Raising Hell, you saw his expression… and Alec’s. Something powerful snapped to life between them in that moment. Something real and alive that took Magnus by complete surprise.)
and that connection has only grown since.
I think Magnus is afraid that Alec is rushing things. Because of what they just went through, because Alec feels like he’s stunted somehow, abnormal, far behind all of his friends and family, because Alec is feeling that wonderful, terrible, heart-pounding, soul-crushing first love that swallows everything else in your life, and many times leaves you irrational, without the careful thought and common sense you might usually possess. Jace said it best in Love is a Devil:
Look, I’ve been there. You know, it’s a whirlwind fling, burns so hot all it can do is flame out.
Magnus has most assuredly been there too. First love is almost never last love, and it seems to me in this scene that you can just see that reticence, that hesitation. Magnus feels the love, but he’s not sure about the timing, the situation, what happens next.
> The last time they saw each other, Alec was angry and they got in a fight. Of course Magnus understands why, and can’t really blame him. More than likely, Magnus feels guilty and foolish for not seeing clearly, not accepting, what his instincts said was right in front of him. He believed Izzy’s lies because he wanted to, for Izzy’s sake and for Alec’s. That argument that he and Alec had is not resolved. The reason behind it is not resolved. And however much he loves Alec, he also cares about Raphael, and the whole situation was just left boiling on the stove. Anyone with any wisdom knows, saying “I love you,” doesn’t make your problems go away.
> In the same vein, it must worry him that since he and Alec have been together, he has not followed his instincts or been as sharp as he might usually be. Magnus has not survived this long by letting people pull the wool over his eyes, or letting details slip by him because he’s so distracted by his personal life. Meliorn actually made an important point by saying that the Downworld Council was compromised. Magnus almost ended up in whatever passes as a Downworlder prison for the Clave by killing Raj (SHUT UP RAJ!) when he tried to stop Magnus from helping Alec. That act also almost got Raphael killed. Magnus gave in to making love with Alec, again in spite of what his instincts told him. He was so focused on throwing the perfect party for Max, he missed the distraction of Iris’ magic before it was too late, and his spell book was gone.
In the current climate, Magnus Bane, High Warlock of Brooklyn, not being at 100% could be deadly for the entire world, and he has to know that somewhere deep inside.
> Magnus has a ton of things on his plate too. Where is his spell book, for example? Having that out in the world is serious business. He also had to send the vampire he thought of as his “rock,” the one who saved his life, to Idris for trial by the Clave. That has to still weigh on him.
> Did I mention the coming war? That the Downworld could still be destroyed, everyone he cares about (including Alec) could still die, and there are no guarantees. After his centuries of life, no one knows that better than Magnus.
So, “I love you,” and “I love you, too.” Millions of fangirls and fanboys everywhere scream, squee, dance, faint, and perish. (Including me. OUR BOYS! #AlecLovesMagnusLovesAlec!) Another SMASH kiss from Alec, AND THEN FOREHEADS TOGETHER, THE CUTEST MOST INTIMATE THING EVER. A little smile from Magnus. THEN MORE HUGGING. And they aren’t just holding each other here — they are CLUTCHING EACH OTHER, HOLDING ON FOR DEAR LIFE. Magnus closes his eyes and pushes everything else away, just celebrating the moment.
But watch Alec.While he clutches Magnus, his eyes are open for a few seconds, and you can see his mental gears grinding. He is, as Izzy pointed out for us a few episodes ago, an over-thinker. He’s very type A, and very much can’t let things go once they get hold of him.
In writing, you learn from screenwriters and playwrights that if a gun appears in the first act, it must go off in the third. While the acts parallel may not exactly work here, very little of importance in the Shadowhunters universe is left with loose ends untied. Remember Aldertree’s story earlier in the episode about what happened to him and his werewolf girlfriend, and how he doesn’t believe a relationship between Shadowhunters and Downworlders can ever work out. Despite the absolute silliness of comparing a werewolf to a warlock, you still saw that story hit home with Alec. He got that look on his face, and we know that sunk in. Just like in season 1’s Morning Star, when Camille taunted Magnus about how Alec would age and die. Alec brought that up later, and while Magnus brushed it off at the time, you just know that nasty earworm is still rattling around in Alec’s subconscious somewhere.
Now he has a new one. And as he’s holding his beloved, his first love, you see that look again. He’s holding Magnus and he’s wondering, is Aldertree right? Is it impossible for he and Magnus to make their relationship work, because, as Alec pointed out after their first date, they are so different? “From completely different worlds” and even “different centuries?”
I loved this scene more than anything else in Season 2, but I think it also portends more than just the “simple declaration” Matt teased us with. It foretells trouble for Malec ahead.
But for now: SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!