Beginning with Lyra (Dafne Keen), Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda), Ioerek (Joe Tandberg) and the Gyptians moving towards to land where the Witches say that the Magisterium are keeping the missing children, Balvanga, in hopes of attacking and freeing the children. Lyra discovers from the alethoimeter that Tartars are guarding the children. However, it also tells Lyra that she must travel to the next village in the valley of Balvanga as something ghostly is waiting for her that she must confront. As this is happening, Farder Coram (James Cosmo) meets with the Queen of the Witches, Seraphina (Ruta Gedmintas) in hopes of finding out more about whether the Witches are fully behind the Gyptians quest.
Meanwhile, Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) is watching Will Parry (Amir Wilson) and his ill mother Elaine (Nina Sosanya) in hopes of learning more about Will’s father, Colonel John Parry (Andrew Scott) who travelled into Boreal’s world and has been investigating the properties of dust. Boreal attempts to elicit information from Eileen causing her to go and see her son in a state of great distress. Returning home, they discover that someone has been in their home and rifling through John Parry’s possessions. The interlinking of the sequences with Will Parry and those of our main characters are done well and Jack Thorne easily weaves the fantastical pressures that Lyra faces elegantly in with the more grounded ones that Will does. This allows the audience to not only comprehend the similarities between the two but also the differences – though Will is struggling to cope with his mother’s mental health issues and the bullying he is receiving at school, he is not in the same life or death situation that faces Lyra and her friends.
Following the alethoimeter’s guidance, Lyra and Ioerek discover the fate of the children taken by the Magisterium – that they are taking their daemons away from them. Lyra finds Billy Costa (Tyler Howitt) bereft and almost ghost-like, abandoned by the Magisterium.
It soon becomes clear that the Magisterium’s experiments are in order to understand how to control the population more than they already do and that deprived of their daemon, people are likely to die – as Billy does not long after returning to his mother. Deciding that the only course of action is to retaliate against the Magisterium before more children undergo what happened to Billy Costa, the Gyptians begin to prepare themselves for battle. Thorne handles the sequence centred on Billy’s death exceedingly well and allows the raw emotion of Ma Costa (Anne-Marie Duff) to shine through in a way that is all too realistic and tragic. Whilst the death of Billy Costa occurs in fantastical circumstances, the sheer horror of the death of a child is one that brings the episode crashing down to earth; it is a fear that any parent can understand and one that any person can empathise with.
Before the Gyptians can attack, however, they are pre-emptively attacked and Lyra is taken prisoner by the same group of scientists who have been working for Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) and cutting daemons out of their people.
The fifth episode is a return to form for the series. Though the previous episode allowed us to be introduced to two key characters, Lee Scoresby and Ioerek, it also seemed to be a breathing space for our characters. After three episodes that were so full of movement, both in terms of our characters exploring their world but also in regard to the plot, this sudden pause had a somewhat jarring effect.
However, the fifth episode instantly remedies this by picking up our story with Lyra travelling to find her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd),) and Ma Costa’ son Billy with their goal seemingly within reach. Intersecting this with Will Parry’s story was a clever decision by writer Jack Thorne as it allows the audience to not only remember how strange Lyra’s world is but to introduce Will in a way that does not seem contrived. Hence, he is not suddenly thrown into the plot but rather organically enters it as part of the ongoing subplot to find out how much Asriel (James McAvoy) and Parry know about the properties of Dust. Similarly, the fact the episode continues its high octane pace throughout right until the cliff-hanger ensures that the audience does not feel as if it is waiting for the latest development to occur; the plot moves at such a speed that it ensures that the audience keeps on the edge of their seats.
There are some particularly brilliant performances in this episode. Though he does not appear in it much, Lin Manuel Miranda’s rendition of Lee Scoresby is charming. Miranda plays the part with depth and humour, allowing us to chuckle when he plays up his funny side but we also believe it when he advises Lyra to leave the Gyptians to care for Billy Costa – Scoresby has depth and an understanding of human tragedy which Miranda brings out well.
James Cosmo similarly gives a heartfelt performance when meeting with Seraphina (Ruta Gedmintas). His character, Farder Coram had a long relationship with Seraphina and Cosmo perfectly expresses the shock and hurt he feels at seeing her again and how much he misses their son. It is a truly emotive moment and one Cosmo excels at making believable.
Amir Wilson gives an excellent performance as Will Parry. Troubled by bullying and his mother’s mental health issues he has to look after her whilst trying to lead a fairly normal life at the same time. Wilson bring a true sensitivity to the part and ensures that Parry expresses himself perfectly and realistically. When his mother comes into his boxing training and interrupts in a state of confusion, he is both angry and upset and Wilson plays this emotional contradiction excellently. He is perfectly believable as Parry and brings a sense of inner strength to the part.
The latest episode of His Dark Materials not only reminds us of the darkness of Lyra’s world but also how imaginative and fantastic it is. The use of CGI in this episode is particularly impressive and helps cement the magical and mystical world Lyra lives in. Contrasting that with the more grounded and realistic world of Will Parry allows the episode to not only demonstrate the similarities and differences between Will and Lyra but also between their worlds. It is an enjoyable and engaging chapter in the His Dark Materials Saga and one that is sure to be talked about for a long time yet.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor
His Dark Materials Continues Sunday at 8.00pm on BBC One.