REVIEW: His Dark Materials continues to dazzle as it returns for Season Two

by | Nov 8, 2020 | All, Reviews

 

In the second series of His Dark Materials, Lord Asriel
(James McAvoy
has opened a bridge to a new world, and, distraught over the
death of 
her best friend, Lyra (Dafne Keen) follows Asriel into the
unknown. In 
a strange and mysterious abandoned city, she meets Will (Amir
Wilson
), 
a boy from our world who is also running from a troubled past. Lyra and Will learn their destinies are tied to reuniting
Will with 
his father but find their path is constantly thwarted as a
war begins 
to brew around them. Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson)
searches 
for Lyra, determined to bring her home by any means necessary.



Beginning with a recap of the previous series, the new season
of His 
Dark Materials has its audience on its toes from the very
start. The 
world is in chaos following Lord Asriel’s
sacrifice of 
his daughter Lyra’s young friend Roger Parry in order to open
a bridge 
between worlds.

Asriel hopes that by opening this bridge he can explore new
worlds 
including one photographed by the expedition of lost explorer Stanislaus Grumman alias Colonel John Parry (Andrew Scott).
As Lyra 
searches for her father she finds herself meeting Will, son of Colonel Parry who has fled from our world to this one
through 
Asriel’s bridge. Will is escaping from the attempt by agents
of the 
Magisterium who were attempting to find out exactly what his
father 
knew. Together they discover that the world they have arrived on
has been 
attacked by Spectres, creatures who can only attack adults in
order to 
remove their life force.

Whilst Lyra and Will deal with their own problems, the
Magisterium, who have declared it heresy to suggest there are other worlds
out 
there, must deal with the political fallout of Asriel’s
portal making 
the evidence of other worlds existing abundantly clear to
everyone. 
This sudden shifting in the sands of certainty brings panic
to the 
Magisterium which is evident throughout the episodes; they
appear 
twitchy and uncertain how to act when faced with such a
calamitous 
threat to their domination. Mrs Coulter, Lyra’s mother and one of the
Magisterium’s 
top agents attempt to help calm the situation by
interrogation one of 
the captured Witches, Katja Sirkka (Marama Corlett) in order
to find 
out where both Lyra and Asriel are and to bring them back.


As with any great fantasy epic, such as The Lord of the Rings
or CS 
Lewis’ Narnia novels, His Dark Materials involves multiple
characters 
in multiple locations all acting towards a greater goal. This
not only 
complicates the plot but also allows for diversity of storytelling and tone. 
This is perfectly demonstrated in the first episode of the
new season 
of His Dark Materials. We have wonder from Lyra when she
arrives in a 
new world, political intrigue with Mrs Coulter and Father
MacPhail 
(Will Keen) and a touch of comic relief from Lee Scoresby
(Lin Manuel 
Miranda). These various elements never jar, and it is a
testament to 
Jack Thorne’s skill as a writer that he is able to juggle
each element 
without ever making the audience feel confused or
disenchanted.


Indeed, like the audience, Lyra, is still
reeling from 
the ending of the first season in which it was revealed that
Lyra’s 
parents were working together in order to discover the truth
behind 
dust. By following him through the rip he has created in
space and 
time, Lyra enters a new world – splitting the action between
her home 
world and the new one she arrives in. 
This allows not only for the episode to have momentum –
continually 
switching between one subplot to another allows the episode
to never 
feel stayed or repetitive – but it also allows two of our
central 
characters to properly connect.



Whilst we had been following Lyra and Will’s stories
throughout the 
first season, they did not meet until now and the clash of
cultures 
that we see in the episode between the pair provides necessary characterisation from both. Will’s initial inability to
comprehend 
what Pan (Kit Connor) is helps set up the relationship between
them. 
Lyra is not only more used to being flung into bizarre
situations but 
also knows how to convince people she is on her side.


Both Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson bounce well off one another
which 
makes this dynamic all the more compelling. Thorne’s words
become 
electric when delivered by them and this really sells the
episode to 
the viewer – we aren’t seeing abstract characters but real
people


interacting in a fantastical world. This believability helps
sell both 
the series and this episode, the true magic of His Dark
Materials lies 
in the intertwining of the ordinary and the unbelievable.

Whilst Will and Lyra are exploring the new world they find
themselves 
in, Lee Scoresby is attempting to meet with the leader of one
of the 
covens of witches, Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) in order
to 
figure out how they can retrieve Lyra and continue with their

opposition to the Magisterium. However perhaps the most
interesting 
sub plot is that involving Mrs Coulter. As
always  Ruth Wilson 
smoulders with ambition and her exchange with Father MacPhail
in the 
corridor about ensuring his succession to a higher rank in the Magisterium reeks with Macbethian connotations.

The ending of the episode is particularly strong with the juxtaposition of Lyra discovering that Will is “a murderer
but the 
good kind” and Will being unaware that a Spectre behind him,
implying 
that he may soon fall prey to it. This not only ensures that
the 
audience are on the edge of their seats waiting for the
episode to end 
but also changes the power dynamic in the relationship
between Lyra 
and Will – she now knows something about him that he is
attempting to 
hide from her.



The performances from all the cast are as per usual
extraordinarily 
good but once again Ruth Wilson steals the show as the
sublime and 
seductive Mrs Coulter – never has villainy looked so good.
Wilson 
dominates any scene she is in and easily manipulates those
around her.


She exudes an effervescent coolness that is present
throughout, 
regardless of whether she is conspiring or torturing a
prisoner. 
Wilson’s burning rage is ever present in ever sequence as
well and it 
lingers behind her eyes. That so much can be told about a
character by 
the way the actor holds themselves or even by looking at
their eyes is 
evidence of a truly remarkable performance and Ruth Wilson
gives a 
truly remarkable performance as Mrs Coulter.



The first episode of the second season of His Dark Materials
is a 
whirlwind tour de force by cast and crew. It not only reminds
viewers 
what they found so engaging about the series in the first
place but 
also allows them to once again become tense with expectation
as to


what is yet to come. The interweaving of the various subplots
give the 
episode variety and it is certainly not a chore to sit. It is
truly a 
first rate piece of television that is certain to be enjoyed
for years 
to come.

His Dark Materials continues on Sunday Nights on BBC One. 


Contributed by Will Barber Taylor. 

Will Barber-Taylor

Will Barber-Taylor

08/11/2020

Will Barber Taylor started writing about Doctor Who and other TV shows back in 2011 and hasn't stopped since. He is the co host of the Debated Podcast and the proud owner of three names and a cat called Mildred."

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