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Lyra steps back onto center stage in a rambunctious His Dark Materials (newbies)

Image: Courtesy of HBO
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Has anyone’s eye ever twinkled as much as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s every single moment he’s onscreen? His appearance as Lee Scoresby adds a needed jolt of levity to His Dark Materials, and he’s clearly having a ball while he’s at it. Minus Lyra, who is a child, he’s the only person on the show so far who doesn’t treat every moment as a life or death decision.

Granted, everyone else is still super serious all the time, and one of the highlights of “Armour” is watching him negotiate with the perpetually stern John Faa, who has no idea who he is or why he expects to come with the gyptians. That’s thanks to Lyra, who finally gets to make some decisions of her own, due to her newfound skill with the alethiometer, which is so impressive that she convinces a series of entities to help her cause. 

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One of them is giant angry bear Iorek Byrnison, who appears to be a sort of down-on-his-luck berserker Viking, but in polar bear form. The show also seems to be drawing a very clear contrast between Iorek, who wears rusty looking utilitarian armor, and his rival, Iofur Raknison, whose army is quite glossy, and far less practical looking. His interest in being part of the world of men is clearly intended to be a sign of his unfitness. If war is a vital part of armored bear culture, joining the black robed solemnity of the Magisterium would seem to be the opposite of how a bear is supposed to behave. There’s something quite unsettling about the scene where Mrs. Coulter (or as people who want to immediately be humiliated call her, “Marisa”) negotiates a baptism with him. She’s so clearly promising him something that will horrify both people and bears. It’s a quick way of demonstrating that this bear leader is BAD, and that we should be rooting for Iorek, as sad and destructive as we quickly see him to be. 

Image: Courtesy of HBO

This episode also does a good job of reminding us that Lyra is actually on an adventure. While earlier episodes have provided near-nonstop exposition about this world and its various competing factions, this one focuses more on traditional quest events. We learn that she’s some sort of Chosen One, and she assembles her merry band of companions. She’s presented with a path, and then immediately makes choices that shape it more to her liking. Other people finally start to acknowledge that she’s worthy of the attention she’s attracting. It’s a whole hero’s journey thing!

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Of course, that doesn’t mean that the episode isn’t still saddled with some exposition. Did it stick out to anyone else that Dr. Lanselius said the phrase “cloud pine” approximately 300 times in about 45 seconds? He may yet turn out to be a more significant character, but that whole scene felt like treading water, an unnecessary layer added to build up the drama of Serafina Pekkala’s eventual entrance. Her name is said even more times than cloud pine, which makes it unfortunate that this isn’t some kind of Beetlejuice situation, where she’d be summoned by it. What is the point of introducing Lanselius as some sort of witch summoner? How many more times is someone going to need to summon a witch? Plus, with the bears and the witches added to the mix, we’re reaching a critical mass of competing factions converging on the mess Mrs. Coulter has created up north. You can remember that ALL gyptians hate the Magisterium, but SOME bears and SOME witches like it but not everyone in the latter two groups, right? Great! Glad we’ve settled that. 

Speaking of Mrs. Coulter’s messes, her style may be brutal and leave a trail of destruction a mile wide, but you can’t argue with the results. Or you can? Lord Boreal seems to have some concerns about what she’s doing, which would possibly be news to her. The Magisterium has an awful lot of people working at cross purposes, it would appear.

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Stray observations

  • Can we all agree that Pantalaimon should spend a lot more time as cute lil fuzzy fox? 
  • Yes, OF COURSE Miranda makes his grand entrance singing.
  • The next time I intentionally do a lot of damage and then get called out for it, I will also be responding “Yes, it was very unfortunate,” as though it was impossible for it to have turned out any other way.
  • I’m still confused about daemons. Over here in our world, we have all these things about not judging a book by its cover, but it seems very easy to judge people by their daemons in this world? Like, we got two more sinister figures who had creepy crawlies as daemons in this episode. Sysselman had a lizard and Lanselius had a menacing snake. Plus, all the guards at the Magisterium have big mean looking dogs with them. And then Lee, who is a pleasant rascal, has a hare. These all seem like big tells! In this world you become a good or bad guy permanently at bat mitzvah age when your critter picks a shape.
  • Was there possibly a slightly less heavy-handed way to make clear homosexuality isn’t accepted in this world?
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About the author

Lisa Weidenfeld

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