Whether you are a new fan of the series of a die-hard lover of the book trilogy, there’s really no argument to the fact that the new His Dark Materials television series is riddled with these little rough patches that keep you from fully getting into the fantasy aspect that should be this show’s trademark. Yet, what it is also full of is these high-suspense, anxiety-inducing scenes and passing details that keep hooking us into watching the next episode.
With this week’s finale, we finally got to witness the long-awaited betrayal against Lyra that the Dean of Jordan College hinted at back at the very first episode. On the one hand, it was a relief to have our patience rewarded, on the other hand, it was terrible. Just the worst. Even if you knew what was coming it was so vivid that it was hard to watch.
But before we get into that let’s tackle the nitty-gritty of this season finale.
Last we left Lyra and Roger they just reached Lord Asriel’s laboratory on the top of the mountain, and after a very on brand dramatic reception we know Asriel does not want Lyra there but for some reason is very excited to have Roger there. And oh boy do both kids really know this. When Lyra confronts Asriel about him being her father it’s far from the long-awaited feel-good moment we were hoping for. If anything Asriel seems annoyed at her for bringing it up and berates her for leaving Jordan College, nor does he want the alethiometer she came across the world to bring him. He insists it belongs to her. I mean Mrs. Coulter wasn’t a great parent either but Asriel is not much better. In his defense, he does know this, which is probably why he left Lyra at Jordan in the first place.
Thankfully, as Lyra reminds him, others love and look out for her, even telling Asriel that she will no longer take his last name and will instead go by Lyra Silvertongue, the name Iorek gave her last episode. It’s a defining moment for this character played by a talented-beyond-her-years, Dafne Keen. The driving plot this season was Lyra getting to her father and being reunited with him and now that she’s here and it’s not going the way she thought it would she’s ready to end the fantasy of becoming father-daughter adventurers and stand as her own person, apart from Asriel or Marissa Coulter. There’s even a very thoughtful moment where Lyra discusses this with Roger and he offers to pretend that they’re “both still orphans.”
Speaking of Roger he is properly skeeved out by Asriel’s erratic manner towards him and his wolf-like smile. Keep in mind this child was just released from the child prison at Bolvangar, he’s known real danger and he senses it again here with Asriel. Adorably, that won’t stop him from being a kid and trying to make Lyra feel better by building her a fort for them to play in together. It’s one of those warm scenes that keep the episode light even when it seems like the worst is coming for these two poor kids.
And yes by the worst I did mean Mrs. Coulter and the Magisterium who are en route to Asriel’s laboratory. Mrs. Coulter even graduated to carrying her own personal gun.
Although, if anything, Mrs. Coulter is looking a lot more human in this episode. In a talk with Lyra, Asriel finally fleshes out everything we need to know about Dust. The Magisterium believes that it is the physical version of sin that settles on humans as they go through puberty and their daemons can no longer change shape. Meaning that when Mrs. Coulter undertook her experiment in cutting away children’s daemons it wasn’t for some sadistic torture, it was to preserve their sinless souls into adulthood. Of course, this doesn’t justify her actions, especially to Asriel who is enraged by the entire institution of the Magisterium.
However, there is one piece of information Asriel let slip that spells out the coming horror. When a child is severed from their daemon there is a significant release of energy and Dust. On the eve before he sends Lyra away, Asriel wakes Roger and takes him up the mountain, promising all the while that Lyra will be joining them soon. When Lyra wakes and sees Roger missing she realizes what her father plans to do with Roger. With a loyal Iorek nearby, she races to the top of the mountain to catch them just as the Magisterium is closing in.
Now if you’ve watched the other episodes you might think this is just another high-stakes clock race that we’ve seen before. That Lyra will arrive just in the nick of time and persuade her father not to cut Roger and his daemon, and Lyra is so close Roger can see her, he’s crying out for her, and then Asriel shoves him into the cage. The blade comes down and a surge of energy throws Lyra back as a spiral of light bursts towards the aurora sky. Asriel has succeeded, in sacrificing Roger he’s created a portal to a parallel world.
Even Marissa Coulter is impressed when she catches him on the top of that mountain. It’s hard to picture these two characters together, much less as lovers, but in a very well-played scene, Asriel explains his adventure to Mrs. Coulter, kisses her, and asks her to come with him. It’s a very emotionally taut scene we didn’t expect but that really flesh out these characters. Especially when Mrs. Coulter throws her next curveball and refuses to go with him because she wants to be with Lyra in this world. Maybe she is the better parent here.
Asriel ascends into the unknown portal as she walks away, and when they are both gone Lyra scurries up the mountain to bring Roger out of the cage. Cradling his dead body she is clearly at a loss. She came around the world, she saved him from Bolvangar and here he is killed by none other than her own father. As Pan echoes, with Roger dead, they are all alone now and they have to figure out what they are going to do. They can’t let these terrible adults win, and so there is only one thing to do, follow Asriel in the portal and find Dust and protect it from them.
While ending season finales with the main character left in the unknown can be irksome it actually felt natural and perfectly appropriate for this finale. It paralleled well with Will Parry, who has been avoiding the police and everyone else since the break-in at his home, also ending the episode by stumbling onto the portal hidden in his own world. Together this means that Lyra and Will will finally be getting the meeting we’ve been waiting for since Will popped up earlier than expected. With season two already confirmed this finale was a safe place to leave the storyline that will also lead many people to watch the coming second season. Though the series had some serious shortfalls, overall season one of His Dark Materials was a well done entertaining series and it’s produced enough goodwill that we can hope season two will iron out some of these errors and be even better.