First: My apologies for not writing about last week’s His Dark Materials episode “Armour,” in which we met Lin-Manuel Miranda’s version of Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby. I had some things I wanted to say, but nearly all of them were critical, and I thought to myself, “Nah, I’m good.” I think LMM is acting like he’s in an entirely different show than the rest of the His Dark Materials cast, and I mourn that Sam Elliott couldn’t have just been recast, and I get the sense that the sharpshooter version of Lee is not going to be who LMM plays, and this weirdly goofy version of Hester is not something I particularly enjoy. BUT at a certain point, like Lord Castleton wrote in his piece about His Dark Materials a few weeks ago, I have to accept that this show is not made specifically for me. Rude, but it is what it is. And if y’all are into LMM as Lee, then have at it, I suppose.
We get more of Lee—and a lot more all around, from all sides of this sprawling plot—in last night’s fifth episode, “The Lost Boy.” We’re past the halfway point of this first season now, and once again writer Jack Thorne is pulling elements together that you wouldn’t expect: from the latter half of Philip Pullman’s first book in this series, The Golden Compass, plus its sequel The Subtle Knife, and even some allusions to La Belle Sauvage, the first book in his Book of Dust series. (Fun fact: Last week when I failed you all by not writing about “Armour,” I was reading La Belle Sauvage! It was very good!) Thorne is really jumping into all kinds of world building here, and some of it really works—hello, Serafina Pekkala!—and some of it doesn’t quite click yet. Does it make sense to share all the details of the prophecy about Lyra yet? Or to introduce Will, and to already tell us that he and Lyra will have an important connection? That feels like too much information! But maybe I’m just missing Mrs. Coulter. Ruth Wilson has really become the low-key MVP of this season for me, and I pine for her evil energy.
After the events of “Armour”—in which Lyra and Farder Coram meet the Witches’ Consul Dr. Martin Lanselius (Iranian-British actor Omid Djalili!), and Lyra shows off her increasing skill with the alethiometer, and we finally see some sparks in her personality thanks to her sparring with Lee and exiled Svalbard polar bear Iorek Byrnison—we move deeper into the North in “The Lost Boy.” His Dark Materials reminded me a bit here of Game of Thrones in how fast and loose it is playing with the Gyptians’ journey (do we have a clear idea of how much time has passed?), but Lyra is now extremely comfortable with the alethiometer, and is even able to pick up on another message it is communicating to her: that there’s a ghost she needs to meet.
There’s a strange amount of procrastination in getting Lyra to the fishing village—and I was surprised that the show makes Farder Coram the source of disapproval for Lyra’s foray, given that in the books and La Belle Sauvage in particular, he is one of the characters most trusting of the golden compass and the answers it provides—but I think that character swap was to give Ma Costa more to do. To be true, Dafne Keen and Anne-Marie Duff have a really lovely dynamic, and I appreciated their increased time together. And it’s a startling shock when we realize that the ghost Lyra is trying to find is little Billy Costa, whom we met in the season’s first episode, now without his daemon, Ratter.
This is what the Gobblers do; this is what the “oblation” in their organization name refers to; this is the separation for which Mrs. Coulter is responsible. Although I don’t think the show has quite nailed down for viewers that daemons are people’s souls, the performance of young Tyler Howitt as Billy was pretty heartbreaking. He’s lost. He’s alone. And when he passes away in Ma Costa’s arms, leading her and older brother Tony to swear vengeance, I was moved.
Did anything else in this episode carry that much emotional weight? I think the decades-late reunion between Farder Coram and his onetime witch lover Serafina Pekkala did, although the conversation started out rocky for me. WE GET IT, CORAM, THE PEOPLE TAKING THE CHILDREN ARE BAD. WE GET IT, SERAFINA, THERE ARE OTHER WORLDS IN THE NORTHERN LIGHTS. The exposition-heavy nature of this conversation did not feel very indicative of their emotional intimacy, at least at first. But once the memories of their son came to the surface of that altercation, I was all-in! I felt their loss as parents! And they sure made actress Ruta Gedmintas look like Eva Green, didn’t they? The scar-looking tattoos (or tattoo-looking scars?) were a nice touch!
But: The Will Parry stuff. I am so, so torn on the Will Parry stuff. I am still a little boggled that the show confirmed other worlds so early, and Thorne leans into that this episode, adding even more stuff that I think flatly reveals what were thrilling surprises in the book. First is the prophecy about Lyra that Serafina’s daemon Kaisa shares in the opening moments of the episode:
“They speak of a child who is destined to bring the end of destiny. If told what she must do, she will fail, but she won’t walk alone.”
Then there’s the reveal that Will is who will walk alongside Lyra, and that he’s John Parry’s/Stanislaus Grumman’s son, and that he has no idea what his father was up to in Alaska, but that he’s meant to “take up his mantle.” These! Are! All! Major! Things! From! The Subtle Knife!
And although I know logically that the structure of the show probably would not follow the structure of the books—which is that The Golden Compass is entirely from Lyra’s perspective, and then The Subtle Knife is entirely from Will’s perspective, until the two children meet—I feel like a lot of the joy of these connections that are methodically revealed in text are just sort of being thrown out here.
Still, Amir Wilson is great casting; that kid has presence! Those eyebrows! And I’m a little curious about how they tell Will’s story in the remaining three episodes of the season, honestly. Does he face off against Boreal? Do he and Lyra meet because of Boreal? And when do we see James McAvoy again? You’re going to show me that man’s very sexy grey hair swoop, and then take it away? What the hell, His Dark Materials?
ODDS AND ENDS
+ Another bit of exposition from Kaisa, this time about Lord Asriel: “The Magisterium think he intends to use dust in some way in order to make a bridge between this world and the world beyond the Aurora.” Remember what he was up to in the first episode? You need to remember!
+ After the events of “Armour,” I’m becoming increasingly hopeful—not confident, mind you, but no longer entirely pessimistic—that the show will make increasingly clear that the Magisterium is the Catholic Church. Boreal suggesting that Fra Pavel was a child molester was a sort of fucked-up way to make that connection for us as viewers, but if you have read Pullman’s books, you probably also perked up at the mention of the Consistorial Court, a component of La Belle Sauvage.
+ That shot in “Armour” of Mrs. Coulter in the all-red fuck-off pantsuit, waltzing into the Magisterium’s building? That sold the entire character for me. A+ costume work.
+ I love how John Faa says “Bolvanger,” with each syllable enunciated. And I liked how the show makes immediately clear when Lyra arrives there that something is wrong—that the doctor reaches for Pan, against the great taboo of touching other people’s daemons, and that they immediately try to assess how old she is, and whether her daemon has settled on a form yet. Those are ominous vibes! Hester’s response to Lee’s description of what the Gobblers can do really communicated the fear of separation, I think.
+ Am I the only person who assumed the Tartars were brown people when reading the books? And now I learn they’re Finnish? Where is my representation!
+ James Cosmo’s delivery of “There has never been a moment when I have not thought of you or of him,” excuse me, my heart broke.
+ I kind of wish the witches rode on cloud pine, as they do in the books? I’m not quite used to Serafina’s free floating after only one scene, although that was beautifully composed.
+ I am a nerdy book reader and I wanted that scene of Lyra trying, and failing, to trick Iorek, dammit!
+ Lyra when she says “No, but I hope I’m doing the right thing all the same” before she goes into the shack where Billy Costa is hiding is the most the TV character has felt like the book character to me. Keen has had way better material to work with over the past two episodes.
+ Ma Costa’s “We have to kill”—she is not fucking around. I wonder what the show will do with her in upcoming episodes, since her presence in the North is entirely a show construct? Maybe a showdown with Mrs. Coulter? Sort of like Mrs. Weasley against Bellatrix Lestrange?
+ “The Bare Necessities” DID go through my head during this moment, I admit, because Disney has poisoned my brain forever.
Image sources (in order of posting): HBO Media Relations, HBO Media Relations, HBO Media Relations