We open on the devastation of Bolvangar and Mrs Coulter’s primal scream. She comes upon Sister Clara in the yard and attacks her, discovering that she doesn’t know where Lyra went.
Lyra finds herself at the bottom of a ravine. Injured but alive and confronted by the bears of Svalbard. She meets a scholar, Jotham Santelia (Asheq Akhtar), in Svalbard’s prison who tells her that Asriel has been released to serve at Iofur’s side and that no one is coming to save her.
She devises a plan to masquerade as Iorek’s daemon who wishes to serve his usurper. She uses the alethiometer to answer Iofur Raknison’s questions and tells him that only by defeating Iorek in single combat can she become his.
In our world, Boreal returns to the Parry household and tries to convince Elaine that he currently works for British Intelligence and that her husband is alive and well. He presses her on the matter of the funds that John Parry sends her and leaves only when she catches a glimpse of his snake daemon.
When Iorek arrives, he is surprised that Lyra was able to trick him. After all, bears cannot be tricked. The bear kings fight. Iofur Raknison falls for Iorek’s feint and is killed. Iorek christens Lyra “Silvertongue” for her trickery. Lyra is reunited with Roger and they plan to bring the alethiometer to her father.
Father MacPhail comes North to chastise Mrs Coulter for her failures at Bolvangar. She turns the table, saying that no one else knows more about Asriel or Dust than she does, and offers to spearhead the hunt for her former lover.
Will and Elaine return home to find their place ransacked. Fearing that of the police see her in such an unfit state they will remand him to state care, Will takes his mother to Mr. Hanway’s house. He then goes to straighten up and picks out the cache of hidden letters from his mother’s hiding place. While at home, he hears Boreal’s men return and readies himself to put his boxing skills to use. Will startles Thomas who falls over the upstairs railing to his death. Will considers returning to his mother and Mr. Hanway but runs off into the night.
Serafina finds the crashed Lee Scoresby and tells him that he still has a part to play, handing him back his gun.
Iorek takes Lyra and Will to Asriel’s research station where the two children are greeted by her father’s research assistant, Thorold (Gary Lewis). Asriel is horrified to see Lyra but strangely perks up when he sees that Roger is with her.
So. After the heights of last week’s battle of Bolvangar, it might have been inevitable that the following episode would be a bit of a letdown. The fact that it is a penultimate episode that features a lot of table setting for the finale also affected the pace.
But there were elements that seemed oddly rushed for an episode with a lot of downtime. Everything having to do with Svalbard felt like it was happening in double-time. And, aside from a very entertaining bit of tension between Lyra and Iofur Raknison, the entire thing whizzes by. This is a bit of an issue especially where the reveal of Raknison’s weakness is concerned. The idea that the usurper king’s desire to be human is what made him susceptible to trickery was mentioned much to the detriment of the overall themes of the series.
While Mrs Coulter’s post-destruction primal scream and Lord Asriel’s change of demeanor upon seeing Roger both serve to ratchet up the tension for the final episode, they are relatively small moments against the onslaught of exposition.
Episodes like this also serve to unfortunately highlight some of the weakness within the cast. I am finding Miranda to have some of the necessary traits we’d expected Scoresby to have, but often seems stiff, over-the-top, or a strange combination of the two, making his scenes somewhat difficult to take pleasure in.
The contrast between the two different worlds seems to be a stylistic one as well aesthetic. The acting in the Boreal/Parry scenes feels very naturalistic and subtle compared with what takes place in Lyra’s world. While this is an interesting idea, if does make some of Lyra’s scenes a bit harder to watch.
Overall, though His Dark Materials feels a bit staid as it moves towards the finale. One hopes it serves as a calm before the storm and makes the finale all the more exciting.
What did you think of a dense and dry episode as we head into the last stretch?
Tyler Dean is a professor of Victorian Gothic Literature. He holds a doctorate from the University of California Irvine and teaches at a handful of Southern California colleges. He is one half of the Lincoln & Welles podcast available on Apple Podcasts or through your favorite podcatcher. More of his writing can be found at his website and his fantastical bestiary can be found on Facebook at @presumptivebestiary.