The funny thing about major prestige television shows like His Dark Materials is that seasons often get ordered in bulk, so season two of the show actually finished filming before season one even aired on HBO in the U.S.
Which means that we can do a couple of things here! We can talk about how the first season wrapped, what worked and what didn’t, and what to anticipate in season two. So much to do! Such little time! Let’s get going, like Lord Asriel purposefully striding forward into another world with nary a glance behind him to his lover or his daughter. Deuces!
SOME SPOILERS BELOW FOR THIS FIRST SEASON, AND FOR POTENTIAL PLOT POINTS IN UPCOMING SEASONS, AND FOR PHILIP PULLMAN’S BOOKS IN GENERAL!
HOW DID SEASON ONE OF HIS DARK MATERIALS END?
Because of my ongoing battle with the Cold That Will Not End, I skipped recapping the final two episodes of the season, “The Fight to the Death” and “Betrayal.” My bad! But the major narrative developments in those two episodes were the following:
- We learn that Lord Asriel’s last name, at least in the show universe, is in fact Belacqua! You think this isn’t a big deal, but it is, because I do not think that at any point in any of Philip Pullman’s books, he is ever referred to as anything but “Asriel” or “Lord Asriel”! THIS IS SIGNIFICANT!
- Other name updates: Lyra, after helping Iorek Byrnison reclaim his throne (in a scene I wished had retained the ritual of the book, with the bears wearing their armor while they dueled; if their armors are their souls, why would they lose them for this fight?), is renamed Lyra Silvertongue by the king. His killing of Iofur, who had been Mrs. Coulter’s puppet, sets in motion retribution by the Magisterium, who travel to Svalbard for a major showdown with the bears.
- We see little of Serafina and Lee, but she reminds him “The battles are just beginning. The great war is coming soon,” and that he’ll have a continued part to play with Lyra.
- Will kills a man while defending his home and his mother from Boreal, retrieving letters that his father John Parry—who ends up being the same person as Stanislaus Grumman—had written his mother. And after leaving his mother in the care of his boxing coach, Will leaves, ending up at the very same window into another world that Boreal uses to cross over.
- Ahem, speaking of other worlds: Lord Asriel kills Roger, harnessing the energy generated when a child is separated from their daemon—as Mrs. Coulter learned in Bolvangar—and using the Aurora Borealis to tear apart the veil between worlds and create an entry into the Multiverse, or all the potentially billions of worlds that are existing at the same time. The reveal that there are other worlds is what has the Magisterium so terrified because it threatens both their religious teachings and their solidified power, and I think the show did a good job communicating that at the end.
- And we also get a clearer idea of what the Magisterium believes Dust to be: original sin, which settles on children as they near puberty, infecting them into corrupt adulthood. Their understanding of Dust as a malevolent force, and their desire to control it, was laid out pretty clearly by Asriel, and so when Lyra decides to follow her father into another world in search of the stuff in order to defend it from the Magisterium, that moment resonated.
WHAT WORKED ABOUT SEASON ONE?
Look, yeah, I’ve been pretty critical of season one, and I know there’s a broad array of reactions out there: certain people who read these recaps have let me know in comments that they’re really liking the show; friends of mine who have also read the books have been similarly disappointed by various pacing and plot changes; we all read how Lord Castleton feels, which is a little bit skeptical about when the show actually grabs you. But for all my complaints, I have enjoyed some of it! I swear!
- Iorek was good! Can’t go wrong with a gigantic polar bear! I’m not sure the show really communicated all the details of Iofur’s vision for Svalbard vs. Iorek’s, but hey! I guess that’s fine!
- Ariyon Bakare as Boreal was good! I think his casting was one of the most exciting changes the show made, and he is exceptional and terrifying.
- Clarke Peters was good! Every show should have Clarke Peters!
- Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy were excellently cast! I’ve said before and I maintain that Wilson was the MVP of this season, and I think McAvoy’s return in the penultimate and season finale episodes really reminded us of how terrifyingly intense McAvoy can be. His transformation from the anguished “I did not send for you!” to the predatory way he looked at Roger was pretty solid. And that scene where Asriel’s and Marisa’s daemons are embracing while they talked in front of the pathway into another world? That was one of the only scenes in this first season that I think really captured the relationships between daemons and people.
- I wish Serafina had more to do, but that scene where she killed a bunch of people at Bolvangar was enjoyable!
- The bond between Lyra and Roger was legit. The show sort of telegraphs that something awful is going to happen to Roger given how joyous their reunion was, playing in a fort in Lord Asriel’s Svalbard compound and everything, but I believed the deep guilt Lyra felt for his death.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK ABOUT SEASON ONE?
- Lin-Manuel Miranda. I’m sorry, he’s not my Lee Scoresby. His vibe felt entirely off from the rest of the cast, and I really don’t understand why the show went in his direction for the character when he’s so markedly different from everyone else’s energy. For those who enjoyed his performance, I’m happy for you, but I am not one of you. However, I share with you my favorite LMM moment:
- I initially wondered how hard the show would go on adapting the clearly anti-religion and anti-Catholic Church angle of Pullman’s novels because of comments from the cast and crew seemingly walking back those elements before the show aired, but my concern about that faded over the course of the season. It seems, rightfully so, that the show is at least somewhat interested in making clear that the fanaticism of the Magisterium is tied to religious motivations. But what I am worried about is whether the show will pivot into some explanation like, “Love can help counter the cruelty of the Church,” which is sort of a pat explanation—a lot like the one provided in the Harry Potter franchise—and doesn’t necessarily sync up with Pullman’s book conclusion, which is far more about sacrifice and personal loss. And I see that already with how the show is changing Mrs. Coulter, which is my next bullet point!
- While I adored Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter, I’m surprised by her final motivations for turning away from Asriel. In The Golden Compass, it’s because Mrs. Coulter is still concerned with her position, her reputation, and her identity as an agent of the Magisterium; in fact, she tells Asriel of Lyra, “She’s more yours than mine, Asriel,” before refusing to go with him into another world. But in the show, she’s suddenly such a concerned mother that she can’t leave Lyra behind: “I want her with everything I have.” Was it necessary to make this change, or is this just because the show thought, “Well, Ma Costa is gone, so we need another maternal figure to care for Lyra?” I know that Mrs. Coulter eventually makes this turn at the beginning of The Amber Spyglass, but it feels too soon now.
- I’m not sure the show has quite shown us who Will Parry is yet—so much of Will’s characterization in the book is built on his inner musings, and his memories of his childhood with his mother and his need to defend her from bullies, the authorities, and numerous other meddling parties—but I really liked seeing Elaine Parry face off against Boreal. Her “I’m frightened of everything. Being frightened of you is just one more thing” was perfect. But do we know who Will is, truly, as a character, or do we just know—because the show has told us already—that his fate is tied up with Lyra’s?
- Speaking of Lyra, I don’t think the show ever really laid the groundwork for the character she needs to be on Svalbard: an excellent liar or a seasoned manipulator. We see her try to lie to Mrs. Coulter once and get called out for it, and her lies at Bolvangar don’t have as much weight in the show as they do in the novel. Her ability to weave a story—and the mistakes she can make because of her own sureness of herself—are really important in The Subtle Knife, and I’m not sure the show has truly built that foundation. And after a certain point, didn’t the alethiometer just feel like an afterthought?
- Nor do I think the show has fully communicated the daemon/person relationship yet. For the most part this season, Pan seemed more like a sidekick than a soul, especially because the show made him somewhat tentative in his own dealing with Lyra. I think the only characters who really seem to have a bond are Mrs. Coulter and the golden monkey; you grasp how much he serves as an outer representation of her disgust and fury. But everyone else’s daemons? I’m not so sure.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN SEASON TWO?
- More worlds! The show has already started adapting portions of The Subtle Knife, which mostly follows the perspectives of Lyra, Will, Lee Scoresby, and Serafina Pekkala as they explore new worlds that are open to them thanks to Asriel. Expect Lyra to lose some of the boisterousness of her characterization this season as she deals with Roger’s loss, and expect Will to show some more fierceness than what we’ve seen. I was surprised that the show had Will lose that boxing match—one of the memories we learn in the book is that he nearly killed a boy who mocked his mother, and I expected some more volatility from the character. We’ll see how they mold him moving forward.
- Potentially more Asriel! So much of the first two books in Pullman’s series are more about what Asriel is doing vs. who he is, and you don’t really get a true sense of what he’s up to until late in the second book. But if you have McAvoy, don’t you want to use McAvoy? I wonder how much screen time he could potentially get written in for?
- More Lee! Scoresby gets a mission of his own related to protecting Lyra, one that connects him to a character to whom we’ve already been introduced but with whom we haven’t spent much time yet. You may know him as a hot priest?
- No more Gyptians, I’m afraid. The majority of their time in the narrative is done, but we should get a number of new characters, in particular a female scientist who forms a bond with Lyra that will be of particular importance in the third book of Pullman’s trilogy, The Amber Spyglass.
QUESTIONS FOR OTHER BOOK READERS!
- I’m curious about the show having Will use the same window as Boreal uses, because in the books, Boreal is unable to pass through Cittàgazze thanks to the Specters. But Boreal also mentions the Tower of Angels, so, clearly they plan on adapting that location. Maybe the show will have each window serve as a gateway into the Multiverse itself, instead of particular worlds? But that wouldn’t work given what we’ve seen Boreal do. I don’t know!
- For real though, what’s up with Mrs. Coulter right now? In The Subtle Knife, she still ends up working for the Magisterium for the most part, and trying to get closer to Boreal to find out what he knows about a weapon that could help Asriel. Does the show maintain her animosity toward Asriel, or shift her to wanting to find Lyra instead?
- It really felt like the show skimped on its CGI budget when it came to the witches, but a significant portion of the second book is Serafina and the other witches (Rita Skudi!!) flying around and exploring other worlds, including the one where Cittàgazze is. How does that change?
- How the hell do you cast Rita Skudi? Seriously. I don’t even know. Crowdsource suggestions, please! (Maybe you just bring back Eva Green?)
- WHEN DO WE GET THE ANGELS?
Thanks for following along with us during this first season of His Dark Materials! Go off in the comments if you so choose!
Header Image Source: HBO Media Relations