Alright getting into episode five of His Dark Materials and it’s safe to say the show is going in some new directions. Some thrilling, some a little disappointing, but all of them are going to keep us guessing.
Even the title of this episode, “The Lost Boy” sets us on edge. Which boy are they talking about? Roger? Billy? The newly revealed Will Parry?
Of course, they were never going to let us off easy and just tell us which one it was until deep into this episode. Instead, we open with Lyra, the Gyptian crew, Iorek, and Lee trekking off deeper into the north. Now we’ve got mountains and landscapes plenty and some semblance of a plan to storm Bolvangar and rescue the children, but before our crew can even come close Lyra needs to take a detour. While questioning the alethiometer about the defenses at Bolvangar the device also tells her that she needs to visit a nearby fishing village, that there she will find a ghost, and that it is essential that she go.
Now, since they are the closest thing to decent adults in this series and since they are gearing up to go to war over the already twenty-seven lost children, Farder Coram and Lord Faa are not eager to let Lyra, a wanted child and the only reader of the alethiometer, to just wander off into an unknown town to confront a supernatural being. Of course, not one to be told no, Lyra rallies Ma Costa to her side in a truly Mrs-Coulter-esque fashion, and once Iorek agrees to go with her and protect her the matter is settled. He even sheds the armor he was ready to kill an entire village for in the last episode, just so she can ride on his back. Don’t let his constant threat of violence fool you, he’s a softie.
At the haunted fishing village, at last, Lyra and Pan head forward on their own. While I do feel the need to note that the snow looked pretty fake here, we do get a very useful short scene wherein Pan pushes Lyra to abandon the plan as they approach the shed but Lyra insists they master their fear like Iorek would. Since dæmons are parts of the human soul this little scene is a great display of Lyra’s inner conflict and the role of dæmons as she is caught between the childlike instinct to flee from the unknown against the yearning to continue the adventure. It’s especially poignant given who we find in the shed: Billy Costa.
Bald, bleeding, and barely alive, Lyra is absolutely disgusted to see he’s lost his dæmon, Ratters. This is what they are doing to the children at Bolvangar, separating them from their dæmons, although we aren’t told why yet. She and Iorek rush him back to camp but there’s nothing to be done, and all Ma Costa and Tony can do is ease his way out of this world and back to Ratters. In a very relatable move, Iorek leaves the scene because he is uncomfortable with emotions, but it’s a devastating twist to the rest of the Gyptian crew. Billy was the flag they rallied their army around, they were on their way to save him, and now he’s dead after enduring unspeakable torture. All of which leads to the conclusion that if they weren’t ready to turn this into an all-out cut-throat war they sure are now.
But there is a missing detail in this story line here the rest of us were mourning over too. While in the books the child Lyra found in the shed was not Billy, he was still torn from his dæmon and when she found him he was fiercely clutching a dead fish because he was so desperate to have a dæmon at his side again. That little detail would have made the significance of dæmons to their human counterparts so much more telling, and it’s a shame they chose not to include it. The relationship between humans and dæmons has been demonstrated before but remains vague for those new to the series, and despite having a massive budget, tight production costs mean that most character’s dæmons are not even seen on screen until they’re needed, including Pan. Not to mention the fact that it seems like they’ve chosen to take some liberties with the dæmons, even replacing Seraphina’s goose with a falcon, which might not seem like much but was a major insight into her character originally.
Does this ruin the series? No, but it’s worth mentioning for anyone who seems lost in all the rules of this world that it is understandably difficult to follow along.
Despite this dæmon hiccup, the episode held several strong points including Lee Scoresby bonding with Lyra and comforting her after Billy’s death, and Farder Coram and Seraphina’s reunion in which James Cosmo gives another stellar performance of a man clearly still in love with the woman he lost years ago. Like I’ve said before, the show is so well cast it makes up for whatever shortfalls we’ve seen so far.
After all, we didn’t even expect to see Will Parry until season two, but Amir Wilson perfectly captures the stoic yet caring child of the series. In this episode we saw Lord Boreal is stalking Will and his mother, trying to discover what John Parry was up to and how he traveled between worlds. Of course, Will and his mentally distressed mother know nothing about this but as Boreal creeps on the edges of their lives our anxiety sets in, this is already more of Will’s life than we thought we’d see and who knows where the producers will choose to take it from here. One thing is certain, things are speeding up to a collision, and soon.
Case in point, the tartars attack the Gyptian campsite in the middle of the night, killing several members of the Gyptian crew and kidnapping Lyra and taking her back to Bolvangar. There, a team of nurses who look like they came straight from Gilead assess her as a Category A, ready for immediate treatment, and while we don’t know exactly what that means from what we know of this child prison it’s going to be horrifying. So, once again, Lyra is on her own, the clock is on, and all bets are off. If you thought you knew where this was headed chances are you’ve already been proven wrong and so we’re all stuck in the same boat, waiting for next week’s episode to see how and if she’ll get out of this one.