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His Dark Materials Coulter

His Dark Materials returns with the fantastic Theft

My favorite series at the moment is His Dark Materials, based on the novels by Phillip Pullman. This cross between urban and high fantasy with serious forays into discussion on religion was a surprise hit last year. His Dark Materials is a high-concept series produced in cooperation between HBO and BBC. It stars Dafne Keen as Lyra, a young woman whose destiny might have implications for humanity across numerous dimensions. In fact, His Dark Materials benefits from a large ensemble cats and high production values. After a fantastic season one finale the series again needs to find footing for its story. This episode, entitled “Theft” sets out to do just that.

The transitioning of His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials Lee Scoresby

This episode of His Dark Materials is a transitional one. The effects of Asriel opening the portal to other worlds has now affected pretty much everybody in the story. So now we see them reacting to those events. The witches lead by Serafina Pekkala have suffered a devastating bombardment by the Magisterium, as have the armored bears. While both factions will feature largely in the story the creative staff have made it clear their powers are limited. So no Deus Ex Machina is to be expected. Meanwhile Lyra and Will continue to travel between Cittàgazze and our Oxford using the portal. Lyra briefly sneaks off from Will to talk to Mary Malone, the physicist, again. However, this is not her Oxford and acts as a fish out of water. Lord Boreal’s henchmen track her down before she and the physicist can complete their experiment.

His Dark Materials Lyra in Oxford

In the end Lyra manages to escape, but loses the Alethiometer to Lord Boreal, who also promptly sends a message to Mrs. Coulter. That message in turn prompts her to release Lee Scoresby after he has fallen on hard times in a northern town far away from the civilized world. Oddly enough Lee gets a lot of screen time in this episode. Just as with the other characters he needed to find his cause for this second season. Initially there was this idea that he should go find this magical artifact to aid Lyra. While he remains interested in finding Grumman, who own the artifact, supposedly, he changes his mind when he hemmed in by the Magisterium. After briefly being beaten up by Mrs. Coulter, as she is just travelling through town, he decides directly finding Lyra might be a better idea. Perhaps he will travel by Grumman anyway.

The dark deal with Lord Boreal

All this leads back to Lyra and Will. Will wants to ask the Alethiometer questions regarding his father, Grumman. This becomes his new quest after he has a conversation about the tower with one of the girls in Cittagàzze. But Lyra has lost the Alethiometer and Oxford is not safe for either of them. And so, Will and Lyra make another very dubious decision in a season that has been full of them. Instead of cutting their losses they search for Lord Boreal’s house in Oxford. In a very creepy home filled with artifacts Boreal forces a deal on Will and Lyra. He will give them the Alethiometer in return for the knife said to be hidden in the tower at the middle of Cittagàzze. A tower in which Will earlier in the episode saw a made walking in.

His Dark Materials Lyra and Will at the cinema

Although this deal would be interesting for both parties it does beg several questions. How does all this portal travel work if Will and Lyra use the Oxford portal to travel between that city and Cittagàzze while Lord Boreal uses the same portal to travel between this Oxford and Oxford Magisterium world. Because if he could travel to Cittagàzze he could access the tower himself. I suppose rules must exist for the benefit of the story. No doubt the spectral forces that occupy Cittagàzze might factor into it as well. I do hope these points will be clarified otherwise the plot points might come off as being random. I also suppose neither Will and Lyra as stupid enough to actually give the knife to Lord Boreal if they ever retrieve it. That point is underlined when Lyra does eventually recognize Lord Boreal as a guest at her mother’s party.

Lyra needs to step up her game

These plot twists hopefully force some Lyra to look upon the world with new eyes. Her constant running towards danger might have been charming in the first but now it could her and Will killed. After Roger’s death I had expected she would be more careful but her careless escapades in Oxford suggests otherwise. Now that Lyra has lost the Alethiometer she will once again be forced to rely on her wits, and on Will. While this was by no means the best episode of His Dark Materials it did what it had to do, it propelled the story forward. Some of those developments did feel arbitrary, I hope this can be cleaned up. The side-story of Lee Scoresby searching for Grumman felt slow at times, as this Lyra’s travails in Oxford. However, by the end of the episode both those storylines had been resolved.

His Dark Materials Lord Boreal

His Dark Materials will return next Sunday with the episode “Tower of the Angels“. Three guesses what that will be about. See you here next Monday for the review of this excellent series by the BBC and HBO. If you like reading about His Dark Materials then don’t forget to fill out the subscription widget on the right