Episode 3×18 brought Halloween to the New York Institute and a lot of change to some of the characters: Clary gave in to her dark side and sided with Jonathan, Asmodeus made his way to Earth, and Alec broke up with Magnus. For this week’s Shadowhunters Debriefs (a collaboration between SDN and Basic Shadowhunters Stuff) we got the chance to talk to Shadowhunters writer Taylor Mallory, who penned the episode, and ask her some burning questions about it. Check out the following interview to find out how Taylor initially started working on Shadowhunters, what her thoughts behind that Malec breakup were and why she considered herself the Hermione Granger of the Shadowhunters writers room.
You have been part of Shadowhunters since Season 1, how did your role on the show evolve over the seasons?
I started as “writers’ assistant,” which basically means I got to sit and listen to the writers discuss every episode and plot point from episode 1×01 onward. My job was to take meticulous notes on the conversation, all day every day. Which sounds exhausting, but because I loved the source material and the genre of the show so much, I had a blast. My love of the books also allowed me to speak up whenever a writer had a question about the Shadowhunters universe (e.g.: Which materials hurt vampires vs. werewolves? Which historical figures could Magnus have had an affair with based on the timeline? Etc). Occasionally I’d have to hop on the phone to answer questions from set about how a prop or rune should look. Ed Decter, the Season 1 showrunner, was encouraging and kind about hearing my thoughts, and over the course of the season I was able to contribute more and more little ideas in the room.
That continued into Season 2, when Todd and Darren came on. They very generously gave me an episode to write as an assistant, which was mind-blowing. And even better? It was based on the Seelie Court chapter from City of Ashes – one of my all-time favorite chapters! In Season 3, I was promoted to staff writer and the lovely Zoe Broad took over as writers’ assistant. It was hard adjusting to not taking notes. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my hands (just put them on the table? doodle?!), so I’d often write on the whiteboard/note cards. I was lucky enough to write two episodes in Season 3 – and fly to set to oversee the filming of each. After spending so much time talking about these scenes and characters, and watching dailies for every episode, I finally got to see it up close. It was my first chance to bond with our incredible cast and crew in Toronto, and I loved every second.
Which type of scenes are your favorite ones to write in general?
NOT fight scenes! The choreography can be kind of dull and mechanical to write out, and it often changes when we’re on set and have to incorporate the actual space. I really love writing banter between characters, because it’s such a fun way to explore relationship dynamics. For example: Simon and Jace squabbling on the way to the Seelie Court, and Clary just rolling her eyes. Emotional scenes can be tough to write, because I try to put myself in the characters’ heads when I’m writing them, and I can get a little emotionally drained. But they’re probably the most rewarding scenes to see on screen. I loved watching Clace kiss in the Seelie Court, and Simon’s face afterward; or Simon’s mom looking at him like a monster after he drank from Becky… man, I really enjoy torturing Alberto, huh?
Which part of the writing process is your favorite?
Probably breaking the story, when the whole writers’ room is working together to put note cards on the board. It’s just pure creativity and teamwork (and lots of laughs). I get lonely writing by myself in my office, and often wander back into the room to say hey.
I also love the table read. It can be terrifying (when it’s your script), but it’s also a great way to hear what really works and what doesn’t. And occasionally, the actors will improvise lines or deliver them in a fun way that makes us adjust something in the script.
What kind of stories/experiences are you inspired by?
I was definitely a TV fanatic growing up. I loved watching a cast of characters grow over years, rather than the two hours typically allotted in a film. Buffy The Vampire Slayer was my gateway drug. I watched every episode obsessively, owned the DVDs, even memorized the episode titles. I loved how Joss Whedon and his writers balanced humor with such dark stories. Other shows that inspired me: Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, and Veronica Mars.
I also try to draw upon real life experiences as much as possible. I have a really tight relationship with my older brother and sister, so sibling storylines are always written from a place close to my heart. Same with single parent stories. My parents split up (amicably) right when I was working on episode 2×14, so all of Maryse’s scenes with her kids were really important for me to get right. I felt like I was honoring my mom. We had a good hug and cry after watching the episode.
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? And what made you initially want to be part of Shadowhunters?
I started writing short stories when I was 11 years old. I’d been a Harry Potter fan for a few years, but then my sister Morgan introduced me to this amazing fanfiction written by “Cassandra Claire.” I obsessively read “The Draco Trilogy” for years. She’d post a chapter each week. And it got me writing my own Harry Potter fanfiction. One of my stories is still online today, and NO WAY am I telling you guys my pen name. #sorrynotsorry.
In high school, I still loved reading books. I devoured The Mortal Instruments books when they came out. But between doing theater at school and watching a ton of TV at home, I realized I preferred working with dialogue. My senior year, I randomly got to write scripts for these spoof videos that would play at the start of school assemblies. They were parodies of popular movies and TV shows at the time. Listening to my peers – hundreds of them – laugh at stuff I’d written was life-changing. I knew I wanted to be a writer after that.
When I graduated from college, I started working at an entertainment agency in Beverly Hills. I found out Shadowhunters was being made into a show, and I jumped at the chance to submit my resume. Thankfully, I knew someone through the agency who could put my CV at the top of the pile. The rest is history!
How did working on Shadowhunters differ from your other/past projects?
I’ve only worked on one other TV show: a CBS comedy called The Crazy Ones. I was a production intern, and I had the chance to rotate through the different departments. All except the writers’ room, sadly. It was a great experience. I even got to meet Robin Williams (a legend, and truly kind human being) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (my idol, BUFFY). But I was only there for a few months, so I felt like a tourist. In comparison, Shadowhunters really felt like my family.
Was there any scene that you remember being particularly difficult on Shadowhunters? If so, why?
Production-wise, I was only on set for my episodes (3×09 and 3×18). And shooting the exteriors of The Gard in 3×09 felt the most challenging to me. Though our director Matt Hastings handled it like an absolute pro. I think it was about 25°F outside, so everyone was freezing. And it was Thanksgiving, a sad holiday for Americans to miss out on. I remember having dinner at craft services with Kat and Stephanie (Iris Rouse) and a few others – all thankful for our jobs and each other, but not for the weather.
Is there a particular story you would have loved to tell, or scene you would have wanted to write, if the show had continued?
I wish we’d been able to devote an entire season to the events of book 6. And to several romantic relationships that were just starting to bloom in season 3. I absolutely love a slow burn, because it’s so rewarding when that couple finally gets together.
The Shadowhunters cast are known to have improvised some of the scenes. Is it something that was encouraged and if so, can you think of any notable examples (even if they didn’t make it into the final cut)?
It was always welcome, particularly at table reads. Because if we think the pitch works, we’ll actually put it in the script. But sometimes, ad libs happen organically on set. The one I remember really clearly was from my first episode (2×14). Simon’s line, “Have you been to middle school?” was not in the script. But it was too good not to include!
Which is your favorite episode (or just favorite moment) from each season (up until the 3A finale)?
I’m going to be indulgent and pick an episode AND moment from each season!
S1: My favorite episode is probably “Bad Blood” (1×08). I have a soft spot for mundane Simon, and his death and rebirth are so devastating to watch. Favorite moment from S1? Too easy. The Malec wedding kiss with “War of Hearts” swelling in the background. Iconic!
2A: My favorite episode is probably the finale, “By the Light of Dawn” (2×10). So many incredible payoffs for the whole series happen in that episode: Jace learning the truth about Clary, Simon becoming a Daylighter, Alec and Magnus saying “I love you.” Plus, a ton of book homage. I was particularly pleased that Simon’s throat slash from City of Ashes made it in. Favorite moment: Jace giving Simon dating advice in 2×07. The origins of “Book Club”!
2B: For nostalgic reasons, I have to say “The Fair Folk” (2×14). I can’t separate the material from the experience of writing and watching it. My first episode EVER! And it was a juicy one: introducing the Seelie realm, breaking up Climon, starting the Downworld Council, etc. Favorite moment: The entire Lake Lyn sequence in 2×20.
3A: My favorite episode is “A Heart of Darkness” (3×08). Like I said, I have a weakness for sibling storylines. And the Lightwood reunion really got me. Three go in, three come out, one Taylor sobs. My favorite moment: Maia and Jordan’s final confrontation in 3×07. An incredibly tricky scene, but Celeste wrote it with such nuance and heart. And Alisha and Chai really nailed the complex emotion and trauma between their characters.
Did you have a favorite character whose scenes you enjoyed working on the most?
Ugh, don’t make me choose! ☹
Simon is probably my favorite to write for, because I relate most to him. He’s a proud nerd with a close relationship to his mom and sister. And even as a vampire, he’s so incredibly human. The circumstances are usually pretty fantastical, but Simon always keeps the emotional stakes real and grounded.
I love Maia for similar reasons. She’s real and fierce, and I wish I could’ve written more for her character. Alisha is only in one of my three episodes (3×18). *Sad face*
Was there a character that challenged you more than others?
I think Magnus was probably the toughest for me to write. He’s such a beloved character, and every word out of his mouth has to be so clever and charming and perfect. That’s a tough standard! But to quote the man himself, I love a challenge.
What was your favorite thing about being part of the Shadowhunters writer’s room?
The friendships. Is that cheesy? I don’t care. I’ve made some lifelong friends in that room. And when you spend 8-10 hours a day together, just sitting around a table talking, you get to know each other really well. When the show ended, it was like a shock to the system. Where’s my family!? We still hang out and chat on a group text. We love each other lots.
What do you think was your most important contribution to the writer’s room? What do you think you brought to the table?
I think I was the Hermione Granger of the room. I tried to always have my hand raised with a pitch (which ranged from very helpful to very annoying, I’m sure). I made a point of reading and re-reading the books so that I always had the source material in mind for any use – from big plot moments to tiny Easter eggs. But beyond The Mortal Instruments, I’m an avid consumer of YA shows and books. So I tried my hardest to contribute ideas that I felt other YA consumers would love to see.
Is there anything that you have pitched that made it into the show that you’re really pleased about?
Here’s a silly one: From day one, I relentlessly pitched getting Luke’s bookstore from the novels into the show. It popped up in 1×10, the AU episode. Then again in 2×17 as Elliot’s shop. And then in 3B, it became Maryse’s book shop. I’m delighted that my pestering worked!
Is there a scene or a line that was deleted that you really wish had made the cut?
Jokes always tend to get cut first, because they don’t affect the narrative much and are easy to lose. There was a promo that included a cut Simon/Jace exchange from 2×14: “Why is everything a competition for you?” “Is it really a competition if I always win?” Lines like that are always a bummer to cut, but the episode still totally works without them.
In 2×14, there was also an awesome Maryse/Valentine scene that we had to cut. Thankfully, Freeform released it as a deleted scene online, so people still got to see it. Maryse and Valentine have an extremely complicated past. He’s like a cult leader she used to worship. It was cathartic to see her confront that.
Thinking back to when you first joined the Shadowhunters writers room, what piece of advice would you have given yourself?
Let people finish their thoughts before launching into your own! (#Hermione)
Also, treasure every damn moment.
What is your favorite memory from working on Shadowhunters?
I’m going to blatantly copy Pete Binswanger and make a list:
Dancing with the cast and writers at the S1 premiere party, while the pilot played on a big screen nearby. Hearing Todd and Darren tell me that I was getting a freelance episode, and doing a happy dance in my shower than night. Watching said episode in the Season 3 writers room, and hearing Aisha say, “That’s a great episode, man.” (I nearly cried.) Going to WonderCon and ComicCon with the whole writers’ room. Getting to show my mom, dad, sister, and niece around the set in Toronto. Meeting Broadway legend Javier Muñoz and trying really hard not to sing Hamilton lyrics to him (then singing Hamilton lyrics with Matt Hastings later). Walking James the dog to Philz Coffee with the writers every day at lunch. Receiving cookies and pies from random cast members popping in, trying to spy on our whiteboards. (Joke’s on them: we always knew to clear off any big spoilers beforehand.) The list goes on…
What was the most important thing you gained from your experience working on Shadowhunters? What are you most proud of?
Biggest gain: Evolving from assistant to writer. It’s standard to be a writers’ assistant for many years before getting promoted. Your show has to last long enough for you to get the chance; and then you need to have bosses nice enough to even consider your personal success. All three showrunners on Shadowhunters were so supportive and encouraging. I also learned so much from my fellow writers. They’re brilliant, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
What am I most proud of? Being part of the Shadowhunters legacy. I can’t believe the passion of our fans. The #SaveShadowhunters campaign not only showcased our fans’ love, but also their creativity. I’m so inspired by this famdom, and I always will be.
Favorite flavor of La Croix?
How was Shadowhunters 3×18 initially plotted out, and was there anything major that ended up changing from the initial concept to what we saw on our screens?
We knew really early on that the episode was going to be Halloween-themed, and we debated how much Halloween to include. Many, many costume ideas were pitched. But then, the room had this idea that Halloween was like Shadow World Pride – the one day when everyone could let their glamours down. So suddenly, it didn’t make much sense to have our core characters in costume. Magnus seems like an obvious exception, but with his emotional state at this point in the season, we just couldn’t really see him glamming up. Similarly, our pop culture geek Simon would normally wear a costume. But we chose to put the spotlight on Becky dressing up as a vampire to show her sisterly support. The “coming out of the closet/coffin” analogy is an important one for this show. Be proud of who you are! The people who love and accept you unconditionally are your true family.
Is there a scene or a line that was deleted that you really wish had made the cut?
There was a Luke and Maryse scene that was sadly cut early in the script process because of scheduling issues. I was bummed, because I’m a hardcore Luke and Maryse shipper. (Laryse? Maruke? Marcian?!) And of course I wanted more Luke in my episode, ‘cause who wouldn’t? But the change meant more time with Maryse and Magnus, which I really enjoyed writing and watching.
What was your favorite moment from the episode and why?
So hard to choose! I really love all the sibling interactions. My favorites are probably 1) when Becky points out that Simon and Isabelle are totally a thing, and 2) when Alec confides in Isabelle about his deal with Asmodeus. One is light and hilarious, the other is brutal and honest. But both are clear indications of how well both brother/sister pairs understand each other. Later, when Izzy says siblings “know us best,” she’s totally right.
I also enjoyed writing our first glimpse of “Dark Clary.” Seeing her standing over Jace with that bloody pipe in her hand? Terrifying! Team Evil, here we come…
What was the most challenging part of this episode?
The logistics of all the supernatural stuff. Clary’s dream sequence was a long day, on a huge white platform with wind machines and fake snow. And Dom and Luke were wearing those silly neon sticks on their backs to help our VFX team create their wings. But I was really pleased with the results. Unsurprisingly, it’s a book homage to Clary’s recurring dreams about Jace and Jonathan as battling angels. Our show rarely gets to be so trippy and metaphorical. It was a beautiful way to visually depict Clary’s shift into darkness. Clary is drawn in by Jonathan, who represents the power of the demonic twinning rune. When she takes his hand, she doesn’t understand the repercussions. She believes she’s dreaming, not losing a battle over her own soul.
The demon fight scenes were also heavily reliant on VFX. It takes so much time to set those shots up – to storyboard and choreograph them. I have to credit my awesome director Josh Butler for having the vision and patience to make them come together so well. (Also, the actors and crew for not laughing hysterically at the ridiculous stand-ins for the demons.)
3×18 included one of the most heartbreaking moments on the show so far – Alec ended his relationship with Magnus. Could you walk us through your thoughts when writing that scene, what were the challenges and goals you had with it?
I can’t stress enough how terrified I was when Todd and Darren assigned this episode to me. The breakup is an absolutely devastating moment in Book 5, but it’s also an important tent pole of the series. The writers knew we wanted to adapt it in some way. Given the progression of 3B, we decided to invert the purpose of the break up: Alec is trying to restore Magnus’s magic, instead of taking it away. That change excited me, because I love when the show pays homage to a book scene but also twists it in a way that will surprise book fans.
I spent more time writing and rewriting this scene than any other – in any episode I’ve done. I knew I had to get it right. Every line Alec says is based in truth, because he knows Magnus will see through any pure lie. Alec is a notoriously bad liar, but he has to sell this moment. This is bigger than his own happily ever after; this is to save his lover’s life. Magnus’s magic is like a piece of his heart, almost like a parabatai bond. And part of loving Magnus is knowing that.
Do I agree with Alec’s methods? No. Just like his book counterpart, his mistake is taking this decision into his own hands at all. But in the moment, he believes he’s doing the right thing.
Were there any changes on the day of filming this scene? Or anything you can share about the filming with Matt and Harry?
I remember when Matt and Harry came onto set to rehearse the scene, Matt approached me and asked, “Did you write this?” I nodded, and he sincerely replied, “It’s a really good scene.” I was so relieved to get that seal of approval from him – from someone who knows and loves these characters so much. I hope fans are as forgiving!
Why did you choose a breakup as the subject of the trade for the magic? Did you play with any other ideas about what Asmodeus could want in exchange for Magnus’ magic?
The writers decided pretty early on that Magnus’s magic would be restored after a Malec breakup. But the machinations did shift over time. We considered having Alec or Magnus give up their memories of one another as a price. Asmodeus loves eating up memories, after all. (We explore the issue of memory in 3×19 instead – no spoilers!) We also considered having Asmodeus undermine their relationship through sneakier means, tricking them into distrusting each other.
But in the end, we thought Asmodeus’s straight forward ultimatum was the biggest gut punch. It meant Alec and Magnus were fully themselves, fully aware, during the break up. When Alec says, “There is no fixing this,” it’s not just to cover up his deal with Asmodeus; he’s also acknowledging that there is no perfect solution to their problem, and he’s devastated.
Can you share anything that happened during filming?
One fun BTS: I met Luke Baines for the first time. He’s nothing like Jonathan. He’s the funniest, loveliest guy. And I remember our meeting clearly, because I was wearing my “Sunnydale High ’99” sweatshirt (a Christmas gift from my sister). Without introducing himself, he rushed up and asked, “Where did you get your sweatshirt!?” I thought he was just being nice, but he literally made me find the link and text it to him. As Buffy stans, we bonded fast.
One gross BTS: In the sewers, those demon eggs on the walls STUNK! The amazing set decoration department used these bizarre, exotic fruits to decorate the inside of the eggs. They looked amazing, but after a few days they started to rot. So every time Josh called cut, the cast and crew would rush out of that area to get some fresh air. I will miss many things about Shadowhunters, but I will NOT miss that smell.
We hope you enjoyed this interview! A big thank you goes to Taylor Mallory for taking the time to answer our questions and the many interesting replies. If you’d like to catch up on our previous interviews, check out our website or Basic Shadowhunters Stuff.
Shadowhunters airs on Freeform on Mondays at 8PM EST and is available the following day to stream on Hulu and Netflix International.