Now, let’s not mince words.
The last episode of His Dark Materials, the one that was supposed to be the climax of action and suspense for the whole season, was a poorly executed blunder. But have the creators of their show redeemed themselves with this seventh episode of the first season?
The answer: only sort of.
We start with Mrs. Coulter absorbing the wreckage of Bolvangar and the destruction of her personal war-crime-esque pet project. Between her screams, the violent rages, and the destitute setting it really feels like we’re watching The Handmaid’s Tale for a second. It doesn’t help that she’s once again determined to find Lyra, the child who was taken from her and has disappeared once again. Though, it’s worth saying that if nothing else was accomplished with this intro, the scene with Mrs. Coulter strangling the nurse Clara for no apparent reason and then apologizing to her really just shows that it was a good decision on Asriel’s part to take their child away from her.
Speaking of that rascal, last we left Lyra she fell from Lee’s balloon into the snowy landscape below. This week we found out she survived, somehow, I mean she must have fallen hundreds of feet and is still in one piece. At first, she’s holding her side as if she’s broken a rib but in a few minutes it’s like she’s miraculously healed, which for the sake of the episode we will forgive but it is just another instance of this series cutting corners to move the plot forward.
So she’s all alone in this bleak winterscape when she hears a bear, one she thinks is her friend Iorek when actually it’s one of the armored bears of Svalbard who captures her and takes her to the current bear king, Iofur. After consulting her fellow prisoner and recent madman, Jotham Santelia, Lyra learns that her father, Lord Asriel, is also a prisoner of the bear king and that he managed to negotiate his release to a laboratory on the top of the mountain where he can continue his studies into Dust. Because of course he did. We haven’t seen Asriel since the first episode but if there’s anything to remember about him it’s his flair for the dramatic and his almost magical powers of persuasion.
Deciding to follow in her father’s footsteps, Lyra begins to concoct a plan of escape. After consulting the alethiometer she knows Iorek is on his way to rescue her, which surprises no one since Lyra is pretty much the only person that grumpy old bear has a soft spot for. With the overly explanatory narrative of Jotham, which was clearly used to cut down on the nuanced plot and get this whole bear fight staged and done within one episode, Lyra also comes to know that Iofur hates Iorek for having almost been king and that his greatest desire is to be human, daemon and all.
Never one to pass up on cleverly manipulating someone’s weakness, Lyra demands to be brought to Iofur where she hides Pan and convinces him that she is actually Iorek’s child daemon, a gift from none other than Mrs. Coulter of course and that she would like to be his daemon instead. A feat that can only be accomplished if he can defeat Iorek in single combat. This may have been more believable if they kept the detail from the book about Iofur being so desperate for a daemon that he carried around a doll and pretending that it was one, but we’ve discussed the show cutting corners above so we’ll just move on here.
Now while this plan does succeed in Iofur challenging Iorek himself, instead of just having his bear army descend upon him, Lyra is still terrified and guilt-ridden about it. She can’t stand the thought of her friend getting hurt or dying and even turns away from the fight to cover her ears and close her eyes, really the way any child would when someone they love is in danger.
Luckily for her, as lively as the bear fight is, it’s short-lived. Iofur is dead, Iorek is hurt but he has regained his throne. His first act? To make Lyra an honorary bear and give her a new name, Lyra Silvertongue. It’s a tender and heartfelt scene that has become the hallmark of this show. Sure, there are little plot holes here and there and the rhythm of the story is not quite right, but this phenomenal cast you still get these very powerful well-acted scenes that carry each episode.
Until they have to move on to the next adventure at least.
In this case, it’s teaming up again with Roger, who also survived the balloon crash and was hiding out in the frozen wilderness apparently. I will say this second take on a Lyra/Roger reunion was much better than the one we got in the last episode. I mean they looked genuinely happy to see each other and hugged and everything.
In no time at all, Iorek transports them to the top of the mountain where Roger reassures a nervous Lyra that he will be here for her no matter how seeing her father goes. Cue the heartbreak. When Asriel sets eyes on his daughter he breaks into a terrified panic, screaming that he did not send for her and that she must leave. It is only when his daemon, Stelmaria, points out Roger’s presence does he begin to calm down. Actually, calm isn’t the right word. Instead of panic, his face breaks out in a creepy wolfish like grin as if all his problems are about to be solved by Roger. The episode ends with them in his care, though from that reception we can guess it’s not going to be the safe home base that would save them from the Magisterium and Mrs. Coulter who are en route to their location.
Turning away from Lyra for a moment, a good portion of this episode was dedicated to Will Parry as well. But if Lyra’s story is being raced through, Will’s is really being dragged out. We open on Lord Boreal stalking Will and his mother Elaine for the third or fourth time in a row. Honestly, I’ve lost count. He confronts Elaine again, she gets upset and goes to Will, who doesn’t believe her, just like last time.
Boreal finally upped the stakes by telling his cronies he wants Elaine’s private letters to John, by any means necessary. Only too happy to oblige like the creeps they are, they break into the house and while Will scurries his mother to safety at his coach’s house he returns to get things in order for her. Only when Will takes one of the robbers by surprise and punches him he trips and falls from the balcony onto the lower floor, presumably dead. Will, in total fear, makes a run for it. Now, if this seems like Will’s story went from zero to sixty in a matter of seconds just know that it’s meant to tease out his role and push him into his next storyline that will finally deal with Dust, other worlds, and Lyra.
But that’s to be continued.
As far as the series goes this episode was definitely stronger than the last and had more plausible scenes. It fluctuated between a shaky battle of the bears and dragging on about a boy in our world whose importance hasn’t fully been explained yet, and somehow still managed to give us some heartfelt and worthwhile moments of good television. If you were wavering about this series this episode may have convinced you to give it a final shot. After all, the finale will air next week and whether or not you know what’s coming just trust me when I say be sure to grab a box of tissues before you start it.