The finale begins with Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson), Father MacPhail (Will Keen) and other agents of the Magisterium travelling towards the North in order to confront Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) over his experiments with dust. As the Magisterium journeys towards Asriel’s position, McPhail questions Mrs Coulter’s loyalty – to which she suggests that he envies her and Asriel. Coulter’s haughty contempt for McPhail is key to their relationship and writer Jack Thorne perfectly plays upon it in this opening sequence, allowing the audience to see the full extent of their relationship; that whilst they need one another there is an underlying hatred which injects tension into whatever scene they both feature in.
Meanwhile, Lyra confronts Asriel with the fact he is her father and why he abandoned her at Jordan College; Asriel rejects her attempt to form a bond with him as it will only cause them both more pain. She reveals to Asriel that she has brought him the alethiometer however he tells her to keep it as he no longer needs it. Whilst Lyra feels bitter about this, she spends time with Roger and realises that whilst she may be sad at what has occurred between her and her father, she at least found her friend.
The sequences between Lyra and Asriel are touching in their frankness; both know that they cannot go back to the relationship that they once had and must attempt to form a new bond now that Lyra knows she is his daughter. Whilst this episode is naturally packed with exposition and action, these character moments between Lyra and Asriel as brilliantly rendered and give us a real sense of how both of them have changed over the course of the series – Lyra has become much more assertive and Asriel has allowed his emotions to come out.
As Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) attempts to find out more about Colonel John Parry’s (Andrew Scott) fate, he learns that Parry’s son Will (Amir Wilson) will be the key to leading Boreal to obtaining a dagger; a dagger guarded by angels. Boreal instructs his agents in our world to find Will who has fled from his home after accidentally killing one of Boreal agents who was breaking into his house.
Lyra and Asriel discuss Asriel’s work and his investigation into what Dust is. Asriel learns from Lyra that Mrs Coulter ensured Lyra was not separated from her daemon Pan (Kit Connor) during Lyra’s visit to Balvanga to rescue Roger (Lewin Lloyd). Lyra soon discovers what Asriel intends to do with Roger – cut him his daemon in order to gain enough energy to cross between worlds. Lyra asks for Iorek’s (Joe Tandberg) assistance in order to find her father and Roger before it is too late.
Iorek and Lyra go in pursuit of Asriel, Mrs Coulter and the rest of the Magisterium’s forces arrive at Asriel’s laboratory. Coulter deduces that Asriel is heading up onto the mountain range to conduct his final experiments with Dust.
As the Bears and the Magisterium go in pursuit of Asriel, they become engaged in a pitched battle – however Iorek and Lyra are able to make their way through the carnage to get to Asriel. Lyra is, however, too late to save Roger and witnesses Asiel’s harnessing of his dust in order to create a portal between worlds. Pan convinces Lyra that Dust may need protecting before her parents destroy it, leading to Lyra crossing into another world…
The finale of His Dark Materials has been building for a while with Lyra’s journey to save her friend Roger and find her father almost completed in the previous episode, it seemed as if Lyra would get the happy ending, she deserved. This was, of course, not to be. Anyone familiar with the novels would know that Roger was not due a long and fruitful life after his adventures, yet this fits in perfectly with Philip Pullman’s coming of age story. His Dark Materials is not a series about children having adventures and then coming home in time for tea. It is a series about growing up; about realising that people you idolise are human and are as susceptible as anyone else to the inadequacies of human nature. Jack Thorne conveys this dismay and sense of betrayal that Lyra feels throughout this episode beautifully and gives it a strong emotional punch for the audience. Like Lyra we have been invested in her journey and like her we are shocked at Asriel’s seeming betrayal. Thorne ensures though, that we never feel as if Asriel and Mrs Coulter are bad people – rather that they want the best for their world even if they must do terrible things to achieve it. It is this subtlety that makes Thorne’s scripts in particular and His Dark Materials, in general, such an engaging TV series. It weaves fantastical creatures and concepts with real-world emotions to make a truly compelling and imaginative show.
James McAvoy gives a particularly excellent performance in this episode. His character has been largely absent from the series, due to being in the North and then being kidnapped by the bears. However, when he does appear on screen his brooding presence dominates whatever scene he is in. McAvoy invests in his performance of Asriel a determination that is marked on his face every moment. He cannot and will not let anything stand in his way – a characteristic most apparent in the scene in which he explains his research to Lyra and in his final confrontation with Mrs Coulter. Both scenes show McAvoy’s eyes alive with resolve; an infectious desire to get his work done whatever the cost. This gives his character not only a menacing side but a believability; he truly looks like a man driven nearly to the point of madness to achieve his aims.
His Dark Materials has been an engaging and adventurous series that has ensured that it is an entertaining series whilst also being faithful to the books it takes inspiration from. It is without doubt one of this decade’s most inventive fantasy series and one that will grip viewers for years to come. The second series, if it is as thoughtful and experimental as the first is certain to be a classic of its genre.
Contributed by Will Barber-Taylor