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Lyra learns not all prisons look like prisons in a menacing His Dark Materials (newbies)

Illustration for article titled Lyra learns not all prisons look like prisons in a menacing His Dark Materials (newbies)
Image: Courtesy of HBO

“I don’t think I understand any grown-ups at all,” says Lyra near the end of this episode of His Dark Materials, and after everything she’s been through, it’s not hard to see why. There’s not a single adult in her life who’s proven to be trustworthy in recent days. Even before the revelation that Asriel is her father, it’s not like he was going to win Uncle of the Year. And the glamorous new life that Mrs. Coulter offers lasts an awfully short amount of time before she shows what she’s really like.


The reveal that Mrs. Coulter is not what she initially appeared to be is not exactly the most shocking turn of events, but thanks to Ruth Wilson’s fascinatingly disturbed performance, the result is still incredibly menacing. Sure, you knew Mrs. Coulter was going to be bad, but would you have guessed that she was in conflict with her own soul? The relationships with daemons are a little bit of a tough sell on the show—you have to suspend some disbelief to watch a person talk to a CGI animal—but Wilson crafts such a dark, layered character that her scenes with the golden monkey offer the show’s best portrayal yet of what the animal means to the person. She’s a person at war with herself, and despite her vicious control over everything in her life, she’s nonetheless far more nuanced than she should be, based on the villainy we glimpse from her here. It’s immediately the most interesting performance on the show. How often is a person smiling a sign that they’re at their most evil?

Despite Lyra’s constant proximity to menace this episode, she’s quite resourceful. She’s often scared, but never so much that she doesn’t keep moving forward, whether to make a run for it or to try to learn more about her new guardian. Even after the horrible scene where Mrs. Coulter unleashes the monkey on Pantalaimon, Lyra isn’t cowed. And she’s awfully rebellious in her interactions with Mrs. Coulter, even as she begins to suspect she’s in a very nice prison.

Or at least she was. How’s Mrs. Coulter going to feel once she realizes the Gobblers have picked up Lyra? Whether or not Mrs. Coulter is even capable of empathy is basically an open-ended question right now, given that she’s imprisoning children for some kind of nefarious purpose.

And of course, this leaves out the biggest reveal of the episode, which is that the Magisterium not only knows that Lord Asriel’s discovery is real, it knows how to travel to other worlds. But for such a big reveal, there’s not a lot to be seen there. Carlo Boreal (if you knew what this character’s name was without resorting to IMDb/the credits, I’m impressed) mostly seems to travel between worlds in order to go on a leisurely stroll and to pay off his parking tickets. Both of which are things I do in this world as well, but which perhaps we can agree do not make for the most compelling television. Why show him there only to have him return without accomplishing anything visible? It’s jarring to suddenly see cell phones and double decker buses, but the only real development is seeing that humans in that world are awfully intrigued by daemons.

In fact, he’s there so briefly that he returns home in time to kill one of Mrs. Coulter’s party guests for her. It all adds up to a bit of overkill on the Coulter front—she goes from “huh, seems like something might be up there” to “PURE EVIL” all in one episode.


Still, the journalist’s effort gets Lyra out the door, even if she doesn’t get very far. But she might have gotten just far enough to get herself reunited with Roger.

Stray observations

  • That journalist seems definitely dead now, but I think we should all be aware that her character is quite memorably named Adele Starminster, per my reading of the credits, which is the only way I learn half of these people’s names.
  • I have a variety of new daemon questions, such as, can daemons talk to other people? Are they always the opposite gender of the human? Why are some people’s daemons so fragile when others are so powerful? Why do the bad guys of the Magisterium exclusively have creepy crawlies as daemons? Do you get shortlisted for a job there if you turn 13 and your daemon settles as a cockroach?
  • For your benefit, I have googled oblation, the name of the fancy board Mrs. Coulter works with, and it is “the act of making a religious offering.”
  • The gyptians are still…there. Ma Costa needs something to do besides perform her grief over and over again.
  • Even before Mrs. Coulter got super evil, I had written down “I can never get away from the occasional urge to jump” along with the note “what is wrong w/adults in Lyra’s life”. Can someone just be normal and responsible around this child, at least briefly?

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