His Dark Materials: 1.05 The Lost Boy
The confidence His Dark Materials has had in its world building really starts to pay off in the latest episode. A few more breadcrumbs are revealed about the upcoming conflict, while the harrowing truth about what is happening to the kidnapped children is revealed in the most tragic way possible. And after teasing the links to our world, we suddenly get an entire sub plot surrounding Amir Wilson's Will Parry and his mentally unwell mother (Nina Sossanya).
Five episodes in, this could all feel a little rushed and halfhearted. But The Lost Boy manages to achieve that balance between brevity and depth in it's storytelling. The journeys of Lyra and Will are both given enough attention to feel absorbing and fleshed out. It means there isn't any room for other events concerning the Magesterium and Mrs Coulter is notably absent, but the narrowed focus pays off. It is also an episode of many meanings; is the 'lost boy' Billy, or the absent Will or new character Will? Depending on where the show takes us, all have a valid claim to the episode's title.
Will is an interesting character, the son of a woman from our Earth and the mysterious, unseen Colonel John Parry, a man from the world of magic and daemons, who 'vanished' on an expedition thirteen years ago. There's a lot of interesting back story here just waiting to be explored. I'm intrigued to understand whether Will's mother was made mentally unwell by her connection to his father; her paranoia concerning the men watching her is clearly necessary. I suspect there's more tragedy in her and Will's past to be revealed.
Sossanyna, the latest veteran British actor on the show, delivers a heart-breaking performance, particularly the scene where she stumbles into Will's school, so obviously distraught following her encounter with Lord Boreal. Wilson delivers a lovely, understated performance as Will. A little older than Lyra, he carries a quieter conviction than her and is clearly carrying a lot of hurt as he cares for his mother, treated to talk of his deceased father and taunted over his mother's condition by a classmate. It's early days for this storyline, but as a viewer with no in depth knowledge of the books on which they are based, I'm fascinated by how his story connects to Lyra's.
Talking of which, Dafne Keen puts in another astonishing performance as Lyra, outclassing every TV veteran around her. Keen really is carrying the show on her shoulders and doing a phenomenal job at it too. Learning of the secrets to be found at a nearby village, she is filled with passion and determination to uncover what the alethiometer is trying to tell her. Her journey across the snow, riding Iorek Byrnison was stunning; Lorne Balfe's rousing score over the sweeping shot of the snow and mountains was utterly gorgeous.
Contrasting this journey into the North was the arrival at the abandoned village in the snow, which was packed with tension and a sense of horror. For the first time, it became clear why His Dark Materials has been given the 8pm slot; the threat of ghosts and the discovery within the hut are sure to worry younger viewers, while the later attack on the camp, with all its visceral brutality, is not something for small children to watch.
The discovery of what is being done to the children was truly awful, framed through the return of Billy Costa. The scene where his Ma and Tony comforted his body and sent him to sleep was superbly done but not easy to watch. With the fate of so many children in the balance, including Will, the stakes feel higher going into the final three episodes of the series. Equally packed with emotion was Farder Coram's reunion with Serafina, building on the story about the loss of their son last week, this was a tender, beautiful moment filled with a huge amount of sadness. The show really encapsulates 'family viewing.' There's enough wonder to keep children engaged with some decent character narratives to engage with older viewers.
His Dark Materials continues to build and build into essential television viewing. It still feels as if there is much more to come, that moment to really make it stand out, but the characters and storylines continue to feel more enriched week after week. Dafne Keen continues to be a revelation too; a true stand-out performance over numerous British acting stalwarts. And with this week's disturbing cliffhanger, I think we'll see plenty more greatness from her next week too as her story takes a somewhat darker turn...