His Dark Materials: 1.08 The Betrayal
Spoilers beware as we delve into the final episode of His Dark Materials series one...
Like father, like mother. Lord Asriel has never been the warmest of parental figures to Lyra and he failed to welcome her with open arms last week. More insidiously, we discovered this week while he was so glad to see Roger. Because like Mrs Coulter, he was willing to sacrifice a child for the greater good.
Despite the promise of an action-packed finale, The Betrayal was a somewhat subdued episode. There were moments of thrilling action; the arial assault on the armoured bears by the Magesterium looked spectacular as armoured troops parachuted in through the snow and Lyra frantically dodged a rain of bullets in the snow. But the core of the episode was Lyra's broken relationship with her father, right down to that haunting betrayal.
James McAvoy succeeded however in balancing Asriel' s arrogance with a hint of compassion. Like Lyra's mother, there was a sense he cared for his daughter, even respected her for her actions and the scene where he finally began to open up to Lyra was well done, both McAvoy and Dafne Keen giving their all and coveying the tortured emotion of their strained reunion. Likewise, there was a deep sense of history conveyed in his reunion with Mrs Coulter on the mountaintop, that kiss full of passion. I half expected Lyra's parents to team up against the Magesterium.
But the heart of The Betrayal was the friendship between Roger and Lyra. Both Lewin Lloyd and Keen manage to bring a certain amount of wisdom to their performances, children who have experienced life beyond their years and share a special bond that has carried them all the way from their days at Jordan College. Lloyd in particularly has brought so much wide-eyed enthusiasm to the role of Roger, it makes the character's fate all the more heart breaking. Keen might absolutely be the star of the show and Ruth Wilson a force of nature as Mrs Coulter, but Lloyd is not far behind and I will miss him in series two.
As someone who hasn't read the books, I came into this final episode fully unprepared for the titular betrayal and it didn't disappoint. This wasn't a casual broken promise, this was Lyra's father acting just as much a villain as her mother. That final epic sequence on the mountaintop as the war with the bears raged below, was tense and disturbing, committing to Asriel's terrible actions for the greater good despite the audience's belief that he couldn't possibly be that wrong. His Lyra, Asriel had been built up as this force for good against the evil Magesterium. Lyra arriving too late to save Roger, Asriel's conviction as he committed murder to open the gateway and his reunion with Coulter, made for a powerful, emotional climax to the first series, capped by that horrible moment that Lyra held Roger in her arms, a grim replay of her discovery of Billy a few episodes earlier.
Meanwhile, the real world events saw Will Parry find his way to the portal with the world of magic. On reflection, like a lot of series one's storylines, his role in His Dark Materials so far has been merely set up, though no we know he can lead the Magesterium to the knife (the clue of course being the title of the second book). I'm intrigued to see his reaction to stepping into our world while - I presume - Lyra finds her way into ours.
I am delighted that His Dark Materials has gained a second series. Not only has it been essential family viewing in my house, there are far too many unanswered questions as the first series draws to a close - so much so, that it would have been a crushing disappointment has the BBC not picked it up for a second series renewal. We're only just getting our first hints at what dust really is, what Boreal's plans are and Will's involvement is. What Asirel and Coulter's next steps are, what Iorek and his bears will do next and what the Magesterium will do in the wake of the events that have taken place. What about Serafina and the witches? Lee Scoresby's role as Lyra's ally (he was sorely missing from the finale) and the Gyptian population? If there's one fault I can lay at the feet of The Betrayal, it's that it doesn't quite feel like a finale. Though maybe that's the point. The story is just beginning and there are two more novels to adapt (though Will's journey it seems has been lifted from book two).
This small gripe aside, His Dark Materials has been wonderful viewing, full of and mystery and magic and great characters. The world building has been superb and Dafne Keen has been amazing as Lyra. I'm excited to continue the journey next year, with series two already promised by BBC One. I am sure there are many more treats in store - and hopefully some answers - when His Dark Materials returns...