Warning: This article contains spoilers of His Dark Materials season two episode five!
In this week’s episode of His Dark Materials, Lyra and Will’s main focus is to get the alethiometer back from Boreal. Meanwhile both Mary and Mrs. Coulter make some quite life-changing discoveries!
Starting with the storyline, I definitely feel that we are finally beginning to be drawn into an original take on the fantasy series. The first season was very much so a reflection of The Golden Compass (2007). Therefore, I felt I was watching a literal remake of the first movie, with some addition in terms of detail. However, now that we have moved onto the story-line from the second book of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy, the series is becoming a lot more interesting to watch due to the lack of expectations and knowledge of what is to come.
Moreover, I quite like how writers Jack Thorne and Francesca Gardiner have moved away from the filler episodes. These episodes have been extremely useful for those of us who haven’t read the books and therefore lack knowledge on certain topics (such as the background behind the Subtle Knife). However, this move to action-filled narratives has made the series a lot more enjoyable to watch. It is interesting that we are beginning to see how each of the characters are interlinked and dependent on each other. Individually, we see each character on a unique journey that seems completely seperate from the others. However, as this story progresses we are finally seeing how character’s actions have a great impact on each other and the narrative. For example, in this episode, we got a glimpse of what is going on back at the Magisterium. In particular, we see how Cardinal MacPhail (Will Keen) is struggling without the guidance of Mrs. Coulter, which shows just how important and powerful she is, particularly for the Magisterium. Her abscence is resulting in the downfall of the Magisterium which could negatively affect the story-line.
Speaking of Mrs. Coulter, there was a lot to unpack in this episode about her character. First and foremost, we see her very bluntly reject Boreal’s offer to be with her, marking her as a strong independent character. Moreover, it is quite sad to see that in her discovery of Will’s Oxford, she learns the patriarchal flaws in her own Oxford that prevented her from reaching her full academic potential. As if this isn’t enough, it is interesting to see how the one thing she wants (Lyra), is one other thing she is unable to have power over. Ruth Wilson does a perfect job at portraying Mrs. Coulter through her conflicting narrative. Most of the time we see Mrs Coulter as this all-powerful, cruel villain that happily inflicts pain on anyone who disobeys her- including Lyra. However, at other points, we see Mrs. Coulter as a caring mother, desperate to take care of her child.
I quite like how director Leanne Welham illustrated this motherly side at the start of the episode through shots of Mrs. Coutler longing after another mother with her child- clearly demonstrating how getting Lyra back is important to her. This side to her is interesting as when she confronts Lyra later in this episode she fails to empathize with Lyra and ends up coming across as dictatorial. It seems that Mrs. Coulter struggles to be who she wants to be for Lyra due to her taking on this cruel, power-driven persona for so long. I feel like this has definitely been a result of her childhood. A key part of this episode that I thought evidenced her trauma was when she left her Daemon behind at Boreal’s. It is still unclear how she is able to part from Ozymandias, but in doing so we see how she is easily able to shut off her emotions, perhaps due to her childhood traumas. I feel like Gardiner and Welham did well to demonstrate this theme of emptiness throughout the episode, not only in the narrative but also within the cinematography. Particularly through the use of bland colors throughout this episode, but also through the use of long shots of individual characters that suggest a sense of emotional struggle.
Lastly, an exciting area within this episode is that we see Mary being instructed to keep Will and Lyra safe by the Angels (Dust/Dark Matter). In doing so, the episode ends with Mary venturing to the third world. I must say I was extremely on edge at this point due to it being night and Mary being an adult. Will she get caught by the Spectres or will she remain safe?
Overall, this episode was done very well. I quite liked how the episode addresses a few societal issues such as feminism and mental health. These themes were particularly evident within Mrs. Coulter’s complex character, thus adding to the interesting narrative of His Dark Materials. Furthermore, the story is finally progressing and leading us closer to the season finale. It seems that many of the characters are heading in the same direction: Lyra, Will, Mary, Lee Scoreby, Will’s father, Iorek and Mrs Coulter. Currently, they do not have a destination, but each has the intention of keeping Lyra and Will safe. I am curious as to what will be the main conflict within this finale, will it be Mrs. Coulter like in last season, Boreal, the Spectres, or the Magisterium? Moreover, we are yet to see Lord Asriel, despite the many mentions of his name throughout this second season… Will Asriel appear in this season, and if so when?