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His Dark Materials takes a detour to armored bear territory, with mixed results (newbies)

Illustration for article titled His Dark Materials takes a detour to armored bear territory, with mixed results (newbies)
Photo: Courtesy of HBO
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It is deeply unfortunate that as terrible as Lyra’s mother is, His Dark Materials is at great pains to remind us that her father is…also bad. Is the man incapable of giving a hug?


But let’s get to that later. The majority of the episode is focused on Armored Bear Court Intrigue, and specifically unseating Iofur Raknison, the bad king of the bears, and replacing him with Iorek Byrnison, the good king of the bears. And we are following the court intrigue right now because Lyra fell out of a hot air balloon, survived, and got picked up by an armored bear.

It all feels a bit disjointed after the urgency of the Save Roger campaign, which is not helped by further unnecessary scenes of Lord Boreal being creepy in London. What possible purpose did the scene of him stepping menacingly through the portal serve? It separates the scenes of Lyra encountering the bear, and going into the bear fort, but does almost nothing dramatically. We know Boreal has been slipping into London, so seeing him walk in again didn’t provide us with new information. This episode did finally push some forward momentum on Will’s story, but it was so brief and abrupt that it’s hard to see why this couldn’t have all been established in one episode. What was the point of all the wandering around? Maybe the skulking will turn out to be really meaningful at some later point, but up to this point it’s been like watching someone else go bird watching.

The bear intrigue is most notable for Lyra’s demonstration of an ability to improvise and lie really spontaneously, and really usefully. The random researcher in the prison cell with her provides about 30 seconds of exposition, and then she’s off to the races, telling Iofur exactly what he needs to hear to give Iorek safe passage into the bear fort. The eventual bear fight was impressive, with the periodic glimpses of Lyra providing an important perspective on just how large they are. But after all the armor talk, why weren’t they wearing their armor? The action is clear enough to distinguish between the two of them, but why didn’t they fight with their suits on? And the tasteful pan away during the killing blow was oddly squeamish of the show. We already saw Iorek get dragged by his neck. It’s not like we need to see Iofur’s brains dripping dramatically onto the floor, but it’s an odd moment to switch to Lyra’s perspective.

Meanwhile, over in Coulter-town, she’s not doing so hot. A single child has completely derailed her experiments, and she’s deeply on the outs with the Magisterium. Father MacPhail lets himself be talked into bringing her on the trip to kill Asriel, but at this point, it’s hard not to wonder what he’s thinking. She has repeatedly made bad decisions that have now led to this point where they’re going to fight a difficult, costly battle in the north. What intel does he really think they’re going to need on Asriel at this late point?

But one way or another, everyone is now heading for Asriel’s lab up in the north, where he has been hiding out for a while doing his heretical experiments, and where he seems concerningly invested in Roger’s appearance. If you were Roger, you would probably head right back outside at this point, right?


Stray observations

  • I will admit to not being overly familiar with British television practices, but how many YouTube clips are there from 2006 of random military figures talking about going exploring? Is the BBC maintaining a very thorough online archive?
  • The tragic worker from Bolvangar does not inspire too much sympathy from Mrs. Coulter, who snaps that they’ve taken her daemon, not her brain. But obviously taking the daemon did this to her. It is perhaps a bit beside the point by now, considering the state of the experiment, but what was the ideal conclusion of this process supposed to look like?
  • Everyone else is worried about Will’s cat now, right? Is someone going to go back and retrieve it from the murder house? Similarly, perhaps someone could release that researcher from bear prison?
  • Much as I’m enjoying Mrs. Coulter, the show is treading a little close to having her be so unstable that it doesn’t make sense for her to occupy the position of power she has, given how patriarchal this society clearly is. Only a woman of rare control would make it that far, and while she sometimes demonstrates that skill, she also does a lot of screaming and breaking things.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Lisa is a writer and editor based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.