His Dark Materials: 1.03 The Spies
After two weeks of world building, the third episode slowed things down a notch and served to flesh out a number of characters as Lyra found herself freed from the Gobbla who took her at the end of the last episode and in the company of the boat-dwelling Gyptians. We've already seen a lot of Lyra reacting to the events around her and while there were more revelations to come this week, we saw the first hints of her driving the story forward.
While fans of Phillip Pullman's books will no doubt have expected the truths about Mrs Coulter revealed to Lyra this week, for viewers like myself going into the series cold, it was a decent step forward in the development of her relationship with Lyra - if a little expected. It certainly adds a small measure of sympathy to her character; the brilliant Ruth Wilson conveyed a moment of vulnerability as she retrod Lyra's adventurous ability to climb across great heights.
But she also makes for a wonderful, multi faceted villain. Ignoring The terms of scholastic sanctuary to raid Jordan College for blasphemous material on behalf of the Magisterium and then using illegal dark arts to track Lyra down, Wilson convey a quiet ruthlessness to the character, particularly in the scene where she disturb the Gyptian mean attempting to steal her secrets. Mr Coulter might care for Lyra but he is also a woman who isn't afraid to kill to meet her own ends.
Once again, Dafne Keen is the heart of the story. Unlike the books, not every scene is shown from Lyra's perspective; child safety regulations limit the time Keen can film - allowing for other material like Boreal's trip into our world to be carried over from the second book. But Lyra is very much the driving force of the story, the big steps forward for the audience largely experienced through her. Welcomed into the home of the Gyptians, the motherly bond with Anne-Marie Duff's Ma Costa was incredibly endearing, giving Lyra something she had never really experienced before. I'm also glad to see Ma respect Lyra enough to reveal the truth about her birth.
I also liked the bond built with James Cosmo's Farder Corman; there were enough hints about her legacy here to keep the audience hooked; reveal too much, too soon and future twists and turns are diminished. On the flip side, one of the most frustrating things about serialised TV shows are seeing characters keeping secrets hidden for unnecessary 'reasons'. I'm intrigued about the alethiometer's purpose and what Lyra's abilities really are. At this stage in the show, there's a nice momentum building.
Keeping the show largely grounded in London for a second week, allowed His Dark Materials to breath and flesh out some characters and new dynamics, furthering the mystery and give enough bread crumbs to the audience before the big push north next week. The Spies was another solid, entertaining bit of fantasy drama, one that has my whole family hooked. I'm looking forward to what the next few weeks brings.