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In His Dark Materials, Lyra Uncovers a Major Secret... and So Do We

By Beth Elderkin on at

His Dark Materials has no intention of slowing down. The sophomore episode of the new Philip Pullman adaptation continues to raise the stakes, with Lyra on a mission to find Roger and snuff out the truth about Mrs. Coulter. Through all the conspiracies, investigations, and ultimate betrayals, His Dark Materials also includes a major departure from the books – one that might be the smartest choice the series ever makes.

In “The Idea of North,” Lyra (Dafne Keen) has left Jordan College in Oxford for a bigger and brighter future with Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) in London, but something dark lingers underneath the surface. As much as Mrs. Coulter promises she has her “best men” searching for Roger, it becomes clear that she has no interest in finding him or helping her young assistant. All she cares about is moulding Lyra into the perfect obedient girl, whether it’s picking her outfits or chastising her for random outbursts that are typical of young kids.

The one thing Mrs. Coulter values above everything else is control, and you can see it in everything she does. How she suggests Lyra change her hairstyle while giving her a bath, or the way she gently tucks her keys into her bra during Father MacPhail’s visit. Wilson embodies the spirit of Mrs. Coulter with every look, movement, and gesture – a woman who has tricked herself into believing she’s composed and in control, when in truth she’s a forest, always one careless campfire away from bursting into flames. In fact, it’s when Lyra points this out that Mrs. Coulter attacks her.

We see this in how Mrs. Coulter has her daemon attack Pantalaimon, which in turn causes Lyra intense pain, and then when she blurts out that Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) is actually Lyra’s father. It’s a revelation that isn’t given nearly enough time – especially for Lyra, who mostly acts stunned and unable to process – but it’s not exactly a surprise, given how we saw Lord Asriel bring her to the college to protect her.

And finally, when we learn that Mrs. Coulter is the leader of the General Oblation Board, whom the rest of the world knows as “ The Gobblers.” These are the mysterious boogeymen who’ve been kidnapping children like Billy Costa and Roger, for a purpose we still don’t understand. This revelation is where the depth of Mrs. Coulter’s cruelty, and Wilson’s mastery of this role, are fully exposed. She comes face-to-face with the kidnapped children, including Roger, telling them they’re taking a trip North and promising to send letters to their parents (and Lyra) so they won’t worry. Then, she throws the letters into a furnace, gazing into the flames as if entranced by their beauty. That’s the legacy of Mrs. Coulter. Fire and fury.

The episode ends with Lyra running away and getting kidnapped by the Gobblers, putting herself in the clutches of the enemy that she now knows is being controlled by Mrs. Coulter. But the gyptians are hot on the trail, searching for their missing children, so hopefully Lyra won’t be in trouble for long.

Mrs. Coulter is paid a visit.

The other main storyline involves Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare), whose role has been expanded from the source material. He heads to Jordan College to ask the Master if he can examine the head of Stanislaus Grumman, which Lord Asriel had brought to persuade the scholars to give him money for his research. Lord Boreal doesn’t believe that Grumman is really dead. Instead, he thinks he’s in another world. How would Lord Boreal know about the existence of other worlds, something the Magisterium calls blasphemy? Because he’s been there.

Lord Asriel was right on the money: There are multiple realities, and Lord Boreal has known about these worlds long enough to carve out a life in two of them. We see him walk through some form of doorway between realities and wind up in our world, the “real” world – where he has a car, a smartphone, and an informant whom he tasks with finding where Grumman is hiding.

This is a departure from the books, at least sequentially, and one I was thrilled beyond measure to see happen. You see, even though Will Parry’s introduction doesn’t take place until the second book, The Subtle Knife, his story happens concurrently with Lyra’s in The Golden Compass. I was curious how they were going to handle this in the show, because all the advertisements for His Dark Materials have focused on Lyra’s story. They gave no indication we were going to see Will’s world this season...especially not this early. Quelle surprise!

In my opinion, this was definitely the right call. Bringing the two storylines together this early was a brilliant move, saving time and letting us get to know both of our heroes, with Lord Boreal serving as the constant between them. I cannot wait to see them bring Will (Amir Wilson) into the show, and I’m looking forward to how this earlier introduction affects the series as a whole.

The Master doesn’t take too kindly to intrusion.

Random Musings:

  • My favourite moment of the episode (apart from the multiple worlds reveal) was what happened after Lyra told Mrs. Coulter how much she loved running on rooftops at Jordan College. Mrs. Coulter looked out over the abyss and shared how she’s never liked heights, because “I could never get away from the occasional urge to jump.” That moment was terrifying, as it showed us how there’s much of Mrs. Coulter we don’t know or understand.
  • I like that we spend some time with Roger and Billy as they comfort each other during a very scary point in their lives. And that moment when Ma Costa held Billy’s sweater vest broke my heart.
  • Still more background actors without daemons. Still weird.
  • That moment Mrs. Coulter uses her golden monkey daemon to attack Pantalaimon is an uncomfortable scene of child abuse that I felt the book didn’t properly acknowledge. The series did a better job of showing how this moment affected Lyra psychologically, with Keen keenly portraying the anger, pain, and fear that Mrs. Coulter brought to their relationship through her actions.
  • Fellow His Dark Materials book fans: Anyone else freak out when the priest with the beetle daemon showed up? He may be called Father Garret (David Langham) in this version, but we all know who he is...and what he’s going to do. I’m already getting chills.