The following contains spoilers for His Dark Materials S3E1, “The Enchanted Sleeper,” and S3E2, “The Break” (both written by Jack Thorne & Amelia Spencer and directed by Amit Gupta).
Welcome back, dear reader, as we begin our coverage of the long-awaited final season of His Dark Materials. It’s been two years since we left Lyra and Will in fairly dire straits. Will was reunited with his father, John Parry, only to watch him die before his eyes. Lee Scoresby also gave his life to foster that reunion, in probably the most heartbreaking moment of the series thus far. And Lyra was abducted and whisked away by her mother, Mrs. Coulter.
These first two episodes of Season 3 are largely set up for the remaining episodes. Everyone seems to be searching for someone else. Will and the Magisterium are both search for Lyra, with very different intents in mind. Lyra is searching for Roger in her dreams. Lord Asriel and Ruta Skadi are searching for warriors and allies for the impending war on the Authority. Even Iorek is searching for one of his lost polar bears. A lot happens, and yet considering that the season is already one-fourth complete, not very much has happened.
We begin Season 3 the same way we began Season 2, with Roger calling out to Lyra in the dark. In her “enchanted” dreaming, she is hunting for Roger in a murky grey world filled with murky grey people shuffling around everywhere. Roger needs her help, but every time she gets close, he is carried further away from her by unseen hands. In their final exchange before she is awakened, Lyra asks Roger where he is and he answers, “the Land of the Dead.” Now we’re getting somewhere.
Mrs. Coulter has brought her daughter to a remote chapel built into the cliffside of a remote island. She has literally backed herself into a corner, with no apparent escape plan other than hoping that Will finds them. Overall, it’s a fairly deranged plan, considering that she knows the Magisterium has an alethiometer of their own and thus will definitely locate Lyra eventually. Her confused act of motherhood seems to be putting Mrs. Coulter off her ‘A’ game throughout these two episodes.
Father President MacPhail recruits a new second in command, Father Gomez, to lead the search for Lyra. Father Gomez shares the same understanding of how best to motivate people, and MacPhail points him like a loaded gun towards Fra Pavel. Sure enough, with a new clarity of mind, the elderly alethiometrist finds their quarry and Gomez sets off with a few zeppelins full of Magisterium troops to capture the girl.
As Will travels between worlds looking for Lyra, he is being followed by a pair of angels who have in turn been looking for him. Upon confrontation, the angels explain their mission to recruit Will to join the impending war with the Authority. Will remains resolute that he must rescue Lyra first, forcing the angels to split up. Balthamos stays with Will to assist—and hopefully speed along—his quest. Meanwhile, Baruch will return to Lord Asriel to let him know they have succeeded in finding Æsahaettr.
As they close in on Lyra, Will and Balthamos run across Iorek Byrnison. As usual, he’s at odds with the local humans and about to start a fight that will probably result in a lot of people getting hurt or killed. Will steps in and challenges Iorek to a duel, which the bear reluctantly agrees to. Will demonstrates the Subtle Knife, slicing through Iorek’s sky-metal helmet like it was butter, and Iorek is forced to yield, unable to fight the “too strange” weapon.
Upon his arrival at the chapel, Mrs. Coulter tries to convince Will that she’s not the bad guy here and that she’s been acting to protect Lyra all along. This seemingly backfires on her when Will decides he can leave Lyra in her capable hands and head off to join the war effort. Stunned at someone else betraying her for a change, she is further knocked off kilter by the arrival of Magisterium warships.
While Mrs. Coulter attempts an uncharacteristically weak ploy to throw Father Gomez off the scent, Will returns to the chapel, sneaking between worlds. Mrs. Coulter spots him and, much relieved, gets back to true form, smacking Gomez upside the head with a rock. Once again, she thinks Will is here to join her effort to protect Lyra, and, once again, Will disavows her of that plan. As he tries to slice between worlds to make their escape, Coulter gets inside his head and ruins his concentration with thoughts of his own mother. With that, we get the “break” of the Episode 2 title, as the Subtle Knife shatters into several pieces.
There’s quite a bit of Lord Asriel in these two episodes, making up for the lost Asriel-centric episode of Season 2. He uses the Intention Craft (the title of Episode 3, so we’ll learn more about this later) to travel between worlds to rescue and recruit Commander Ogunwe. On his world, Ogunwe is battling against the Temple, his world’s equivalent of the Magisterium. Like the Gobblers of Asriel’s world, they are severing children from their souls, and the Commander’s daughter is one of the victims. Through that connection, Asriel convinces him to redirect his effort towards the angelic power behind both of their human enemies, the Authority.
We learned from the opening monologue that the Authority is not really the Creator / Father / Almighty. He is just an angel who has declared himself such, ruling with the most powerful of the angels, Enoch (a.k.a. Metatron), at his side. The angels who rebelled against his rule were defeated and kicked out of the Kingdom of Heaven to live in the spaces between worlds as Dust. Where, as they told Mary Malone last season, they have been nudging humanity along a path towards this impending second rebellion and their eventual vengeance.
Baruch arrives at the camp engaged in an aerial battle against another angel, Alarbus. He relays his message to Lord Asriel just before dying and passing into Dust. Asriel questions the captured Alarbus and learns that his real enemy is Metatron. The “dark angel” has taken control of the Kingdom of Heaven as the Authority’s regent. He plans to lead a new permanent inquisition, spanning all worlds, to bring about the end of free will for all conscious beings.
A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:
- The tiny assassins that assist Lord Asriel in his rescue of Ogunwe are called Gallevespians. Philip Pullman makes heroes of witches, fallen angels, and now even fairies in his retold mythology.
- In the novel The Amber Spyglass, the Gallevespians ride dragonflies, but here for the screen adaptation they have been given mechanical wings.
- Mary Malone continues to comfort all the little girls left behind in world after world. She’s always so lovely.
- Will’s rescue of Lyra, literally cutting between worlds and spying on his enemies, mirrors the heist they pulled off on Lord Boreal last season.
- The contrast between Lord Asriel as a father who will put his daughter in jeopardy if it serves his purpose and Commander Ogunwe knowing to the day how long he has been separated from his daughters is striking.
- Coulter whacks Father Gomez in the head with the same rock she allowed her daemon to hit her with.
- The release schedule for this season between HBO and BBC is more than a bit jacked up. HBO is going to continue releasing the episodes in pairs between now and December 26th (and that is the schedule we will follow for our coverage). BBC is going to dump the entire series Netflix-style on Dec 18th to their iPlayer for streaming, while simultaneously releasing the episodes one per week on their broadcast channel BBC One, which will take them out into February. The ensuing chaos is likely to make the avoidance of spoilers from one source or another virtually impossible.
- The sharp eyes of r/HisDarkMaterialsHBO on Reddit caught that the subtitles indicate Ama, the young girl who Mrs. Coulter enlists to keep her secret, is speaking ASL, American Sign Language. In fact, she is speaking BSL, British Sign Language. Per Den of Geek, the young actress Amber Fitzgerald-Woolfe is actually deaf and she is, of course, British.
- Also pointed out on Reddit, Father Gomez reaching out to feign touching Fra Pavel’s daemon is considered a sexual taboo in their world. This subtle gesture shows us just how twisted he has become after having done “pre-emptive penance every day of [his] adult life.”
Best lines of the episode:
- “I am Lord Asriel Belacqua. I intend to march upon the Kingdom of Heaven, and I should very much like you to join me.”
- “Fear is a gift. It allows people to learn.”
- “Trying to decide if you’re a madman or a genius.” “Well, I rather hoped the two could coexist.”
- “When is Lyra not in danger?”
- “Yesterday I believed that angels were merely symbols and witches were villains in children’s stories. Yet, here I am.”
- “I have no concept of time.” “Good for you. You’ll be comfortable then.”
- “Are you going to another world?” “A few more, I think.”
- “Your daughter is the mother of all sin?” “They believe so. But they believe a great deal of fanciful nonsense.”
- “MacPhail likes to think he knows what he’s doing, but he prevaricates. Dithers. Don’t you think?”
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:
- The Verge had a nice article interviewing several of the primary actors about their thoughts and feelings as the series comes to a close.
- The soundtrack for Season 3 has already been released (Spotify), but beware that the track titles may contain spoilers. The Dust podcast does an impressive deep dive into the first five tracks that is truly enlightening for the musical novice.
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 TV Obsessive will provide continuing coverage of His Dark Materials throughout Season 3.
All images courtesy of HBO