For a long time, all of the streaming services were doing the "drop the whole season at once" thing when it came to their shows. It seemed like that was going to be the norm going forward, but we actually seem to be going back to weekly releases on streaming services, and by sheer coincidence, this writer hasn't watched a show that hasn't been weekly in well over a year. So sitting down to watch the first episode and the first episode only of Shadow and Bone on Netflix was a stark reminder that shows that drop their entire season at once are often paced extremely different from shows that are weekly. That is not a dig at the show in a good or bad way, but it is a different way of watching a show and one that needs to be remembered. It also makes judging just the first episode rather tough because it was nothing but an hour of setup and worldbuilding right out of the gate.
Netflix is always looking for the Next Big Thing, and they scored rather big with The Witcher, but considering the amount of money they are throwing at shows these days, they need more than one big hit to sustain themselves. Shadows and Bone is based on a book series and is leaning into the high fantasy but also appears to be a rather steampunk kind of vibe. Just as a note, I have not read the books and also haven't seen a single trailer for this series, so I was going in almost completely blank for this one. It's a different perspective because not everyone is on sites like Bleeding Cool and reading all of Ray Flook's awesome TV coverage when they boot up Netflix over the weekend. So knowing nothing about the series, we watched the first episode, and now after the first episode, we feel like we know everything and nothing at the same time.
The first hour of Shadow and Bone is absolutely nothing but setup and worldbuilding which is both a good and bad thing. It's a good thing in that we have a lot of time to see to what kind of world we're dealing with, we see some "show don't tell" when it comes to the bigotry that Alina needs to deal with, which is pretty well done, and we see the fold and how it affects people and the world. The lines concerning money are probably some of the best examples of "show don't tell" when it comes to how the fold impacts this world. Money from an area beyond the fold is basically worthless because the chances of being able to actually spend it are so minuscule.
Unfortunately, this is also one of those shows with a massive cast, and trying to keep track of who everyone is and where they are, and what they are doing in this first episode is tricky. Aside from Alina, our hero, the rest of the names of the characters and the places and what the magic users are called, and what exactly is going on with this war, are all things that either went in one ear and out of the other or will be explained in later episodes. It's something that happens with shows that need to have their own version of magic users and the like. Sometimes it takes a little time for the audience to catch onto what everything means, and several writers have already made entire glossaries about the various terms in this world. It's not any different from learning all of the terminologies in Star Wars in the sense that by the end of this, we're going to understand all of this, but in the beginning, we are a little confused.
Netflix's Shadow and Bone episode one sets up a lot of interesting things, but there isn't much there aside from set-up. There was barely a beginning, middle, and end to the episode itself. However, this is a Netflix show, so the seasons are paced differently from a show that is released weekly. It's probably a show that will benefit from watching it in several episode chunks rather than trying to spread it out over the course of several days. The foundation seems pretty solid, so we can hope the later episodes are a little less clunky with exposition as the series stop explaining the world and lets the story evolve.