His Dark Materials: 1.04 Armour
The arrival in the north added some real momentum as new faces were introduced and the armoured bears made their introduction on the show. Having done a great job of building this fantastical world in the first three episodes, Armour added new mysteries and wonders, emerging as the strongest episode yet.
The debut of Iorek Brynison (brought to life with delightful gruffness by Joe Tandberg) was one of the key successes to the episode. The daemons have been perfectly captured, the CGI good enough to maintain the illusion and the voices as engaging as the human cast. New rabbit daemon Hester (voiced by Cristela Alonzo) was another stand out this week, but the bears are something else entirely. Being able to buy in to talking bears that cannot forge their own armour requires a certain suspension of disbelief. But we also needed to buy into Iorek's plight; a bear tricked into getting drunk and becoming enslaved. Adding in his steely demeanour and that's a hard take to make the audience live him too.
Fortunately, Iorek was wonderful on screen. His interactions with Lyra were fun, the fierce young girl proving to be more than a match for the giant bear, while there was an interesting back story between Iorek and new character Lee Scoresby. And how could you not love his attack on the Magisterium stronghold to take back his armour and flatten the odious Syssellman in the process? I'm looking forward to seeing his journey with Lyra in future episodes.
Scoresby was another fun addition to the show. A dashing Han Solo-esque aeronaut with a hot air balloon, sarcastic rabbit for company and a bit of a gambling addiction, Lin-Manuel Miranda brought a lot of charm to the role. There's a danger that everything can become overly seriousness - kidnapped kids and political machinations are hardly make for light viewing - and Scoresby fits in nicely to add another element of fun to the proceedings. His interactions with Lyra were another delight, particularly her ability to negotiate the use of his services and steal his bacon simultaneously!
Dafne Keen has delivered a strong performance so far as Lyra, but this week she truly felt in her element, facing up to an armoured bear, negotiating alliances and even putting Gyptian king John Gas in her place. There was something truly magical at her ability to outwit and outclass every adult; His Dark Materials relies heavily on the characterisation of Lyra and thanks to Keen's performance, it is an astounding success. Even the quieter moments were majestically handled. Her bond with James Cosmo's Farder Coram continues to grow and the scene where he recalled the death of his son was heartbreaking and sensitively handled by both actors.
The involvement of witches added another exciting element to this world. Coram's past with head witch Serafina adds some fascinating depth to his character that I am looking forward to seeing explored further. Omid Djalili's Doctor Lenselius, a middle man between the Gyptians and witches, was another lively addition to the show, with some great interplay too between the Doctor and Lyra. The casting in this series continue to impress and the fourth episode had some of the best additions yet.
There was less of Ruth Wilson's Mrs Coulter this week, but what we saw certainly cemented her role as the primary villain of the series. An attempt by the Magisterium to remove her control of the General Ablation Board, saw her deftly wrestle back control with the promise of an imprisoned Lord Asriel, demand to gain access to the secrets of an alethiometer and then later manipulate the king of the armoured bears. I'm intrigued by the apparent revelation that she doesn't know who Lyra is though. It's great to see the pieces coming together, including Coulter's role in Iorek Brynison's downfall and Wilson is superb in the role.
Armour was the strongest episode of His Dark Materials yet, adding a sense of wonder and greater mystery and introducing even more intriguing characters in Iorek Brynison and Lee Scoresby. The show has taken the time to fully develop this magical world and now we're starting to see that confident world building pay off. Any show that can introduce a talking bear and immediately make him my favourite character is well worth a watch. And His Dark Materials is quickly becoming essential Sunday night viewing...