His Dark Materials S2E2 “The Cave”

A large explosive with people walking the background

The following contains spoilers through His Dark Materials S2E2 on HBO.

Welcome, dear reader, as we continue to review Season 2 of HBO’s His Dark Materials with Episode 2, “The Cave.” The title refers to Mary Malone’s computer, which she uses to investigate dust, or as it’s known in her universe, shadow particles. She calls her computer the Cave after Plato’s “allegory of the cave.” Plato imagines prisoners chained in a cave for their entire life, who perceive the shadows cast on a wall as reality, unaware of the real-world objects casting those shadows. Becoming a true philosopher involves escaping from the cave to understand the true nature of reality.

Turns out that last week’s cliffhanger ending was not, in fact, a cliffhanger ending. More like a preview of things to come. The Spectre was merely sniffing out Will. Taking an interest in him because he’s close to “the change,” but not so interested as to attack him just yet. What a tease.

This episode was another setup episode for the most part. Mrs. Coulter moves MacPhail into the “top job.” Lyra finally meets Mary Malone and pulls her into the story. The Magisterium takes some decisive moves against the witches. With all these pieces in place, expect the action to ramp up in the next episode. Only five more episodes to go, which seems like it can’t possibly be enough, but it’s also the equivalent duration of two feature films.

His Dark Materials S2E2 - Will's mum, sitting in a chair, smiles at her phone held in her hand
Will’s mum is safe.


We start out with Will giving Lyra a lesson on how to “blend in.” Followed quickly by the two strolling down the middle of the road in broad daylight, right past a watching Lord Boreal. Lyra is also so excited that she can’t help but run everywhere, through crowds and crowded buildings, with Will barely in tow and Pan sticking his head out every five seconds. Stealth score: 0.

They split up so Will can go check on his mum. Turns out, she’s doing fine hiding out with Will’s coach. No traps have been laid for Will there, which is a good thing since this time he combines both bad habits and runs down the middle of the street after sneaking a glimpse of her.

No traps at his lawyer’s office either, as he learns of his estranged grandparents who live right there in Oxford. Here at last is the trap, as we find out there was probably a very good reason they were estranged. Will is well justified this time in running away from them as fast as his legs can carry him.

Eventually, Will accepts the reading of the alethiometer that his mum is safe and he needs to turn his focus towards finding his dad. This gives us the most heartbreaking moment of S2E2 when he realizes he’s going to have to leave her, just like his dad did.

His Dark Materials S2E2 - Mary Malone peeks out from behind her window blind
Introducing Mary Malone


Lyra is initially taken aback that there’s no Jordan College in this world’s Oxford, but she finds a little bit of comforting familiarity in a nearby museum. After getting some instructions from the alethiometer, she has a not-so-chance run in with Boreal. He apparently chose to follow her instead of Will, though how he managed to keep up through all the manic running will forever be a mystery. Whether he saw her using the alethiometer remains to be seen.

Lyra finds her way to the Dark Matter Research Unit, manned by the surprisingly female scholar Mary Malone. Lyra takes the advice of the alethiometer to the extreme, not just telling Mary the truth, but pouring her heart out to her about everything that’s happened recently. She tops it off with a reading from the alethiometer that correctly answers that Mary was a nun before becoming a physicist, cementing her trust.

Mary reveals that she has been using the Cave to communicate with shadow particles. Her greatest success came when, “in a moment of madness,” she connected herself to the machine and let her mind wander. Lyra blows that paltry success away, getting the machine to talk to her in pictograms. Initially, using the same images as the alethiometer, but quickly expands to utilize additional ones outside that set. Through Lyra, the dust relays to Mary that she has something important to do, and she’ll need her I-Ching box where she’s going.

His Dark Materials S2E2 - Lord Boreal and Mrs. Coulter dressed in funeral blacks wave to someone off screen
Boreal and Coulter are deep in mourning

Mrs. Coulter

There’s been a lot of speculation that perhaps Mrs. Coulter is herself a witch. She seems to know a lot about them, and she is, after all, a powerful woman who seduces with her “soft, deceitful ways” and “steals men’s seed” to produce offspring that she then abandons. The obvious argument against this idea is that her dæmon did not take the form of a bird, even though we have seen her get a highly suspect distance away from him.

So I have a theory, and since I haven’t really heard anyone else say this, I’m going to plant my flag on this one right here and now. I think Mrs. Coulter is the *daughter* of a witch. For whatever reason (probably the innate darkness in her heart), her dæmon settled as a golden monkey. This would explain the disdain she has shown for her dæmon in the past. I wasn’t aware of this until I did a little digging, but her dæmon has very purposely not been named in all of the His Dark Materials books. Very strange, right?

So, in my potentially crazy head canon, when this anomalous settling happened, she was shunned and sent away. Perhaps as a final act of defiance, she went through the separation ritual anyway on her own, giving her that particular ability, which she keeps well hidden. She certainly seems to harbor some animosity towards the witches, culminating in her recommending to MacPhail that he show strength by bombing their sacred ground.

I think watching Mrs. Coulter in this episode in particular has been very telling. As bits and pieces of witch lore are doled out through the interrogation of Dr. Lanselius, she seems lost in thought. She already knew quite a bit as evidenced in last episode’s interrogation scene.

This might also explain a bit of Lyra’s abilities, such as being able to read the alethiometer. Her witch heritage could be a contributing factor. Perhaps it’s even a necessary ingredient in the prophecy, and why Seraphina can normally sense her, as Ruta was able to sense the young witch held captive on the submarine.

Father MacPhail at a podium addressing Magisterium in a huge auditorium
Father MacPhail addresses the entire Magisterium

Quick Takes

A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:

  • The mystery of Will’s everlasting cell phone is finally solved, and as I predicted last week, he’s got a backpack full of batteries.
  • MacPhail says it was a unanimous vote for him to become Cardinal. That means that even Father Graves voted for him. Dang.
  • Will finds out he has grandparents at the same time we do, because they were not part of the original novel. That bit was added for the series, though they do have a brief mention in one of the other books outside the original trilogy.
  • Interesting that Mrs. Coulter was snapped out of her reverie during Father MacPhail’s eulogy by the word “knife.” Does she know of the Subtle Knife, like Lord Boreal?
  • Thorold says that Asriel never mentioned the prophecy. Does he know of it?
  • Last week’s odd editing choice was obsessively cutting back to Ruta Skadi flying through dark storm clouds. This week it was Mrs. Counter walking. Walking here, there, and everywhere. Lots of walking scenes.
  • On a similar note, last week I said red was Mrs. Coulter’s color. Turns out it is black actually, judging by this week. (Or, you know, any color really.)
  • Might be just me, but the Cave gave me definite vibes of the machine at the heart of the series Devs.
  • There was an interesting parallel between Dr. Lanselius calling the witches’ separation ritual beautiful in reaction to the Father Graves calling it “barbaric,” and Mary Malone saying that dark matter is quite beautiful despite some people being afraid of what they don’t understand.
  • MacPhail was getting much more informal with Mrs. Coulter all episode, calling her by her first name, Marisa, now that they are in cahoots. She throws that in his face at the end, punctuated with her use of his first name, Hugh. That was just delicious.
  • Here lately, the alethiometer has been giving Lyra information well beyond any question she’s asking.
MacPhail and his dæmon kneel in front of a candle
The Magisterium bombs the witches’ holy ground, MacPhail gives himself an ouchie–seems equivalent

Best lines of the episode:

  • “No capes!”
  • “Unbelievable. (Muffled) It stinks of old goat!”
  • “They don’t have the word ‘wait’ either.”
  • “It’s saying… not to lie to the scholar.” “How are you going to manage that?”
  • “I think you’d make a better cardinal than either of them.”
  • “Well, what kind of physicist are you after? Will I do?”
  • “What kind of woman raised Father Graves do you think?”
  • “Graves is a man of big words. Be a man of big actions.”
  • “Yes. A necessary sin. But still a sin.”
  • “I’m going to have to leave her, aren’t I? Just like my dad did.”
  • “I gave you every chance to escape. And yet, here you are.”
  • “Don’t you see? This…is a curse. A web of my design in which you are both the spider and the fly.”
  • “Good luck. Hugh.”
Lyra, Will and Pan sit on a bench in a lush garden
Will and Lyra sit on “their bench” in the botanical gardens

In The News

Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week related to His Dark Materials:

  • ScreenRant did a nice little breakdown of the symbols Lyra produced on the screen while she was connected to Mary Malone’s Cave.
  • I missed this one last week. Writer Jack Thorne has a nice interview with Metro, in which he talks about the upcoming season (only slight spoilers) and also confirms that we probably won’t ever be seeing that cut episode featuring Lord Asriel.
  • The BBC put out a cute little video on YouTube with the cast of His Dark Materials playing “two truths and a lie.”
  • The BBC also has a cute “Discover Your Dæmon” feature, in which you follow a “choose your own adventure” style story and find out what sort of dæmon you would have in Lyra’s world.

That’s all for this week. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episodes, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below. Remember that 25YL will provide continuing coverage of His Dark Materials throughout Season 2 and beyond.

All images courtesy of HBO

Written by Brien Allen

Brien Allen is the last of the original crazy people who responded to this nutjob on Facebook wanting to start an online blog prior to Twin Peaks S3. Some of his other favorite shows have been Vr.5, Buffy, Lost, Stargate: Universe, The OA, and Counterpart. He's an OG BBSer, Trekkie, Blue Blaze Irregular, and former semi-professional improviser. He is also a staunch defender of putting two spaces after a period, but has been told to shut up and color.


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  1. I think the show will reveal she’s part-witch too. I was theorizing maybe her father might be the son of a witch like Dr. Lanselius was.

    Show is definitely an improvement over the first. I could do with less of the witches, though.

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