His Dark Materials: 2.06 Malice
The convergence of almost every key player at the Cittàgaze raised the stakes for a thrilling penultimate episode that took series two to another level. Last week I complained that His Dark Materials was falling short of becoming great television. Well, this week, Malice certainly started to deliver.
Serafina and witches arrived just in time to save Lyra and Will from Angelica and the other children out for revenge. Despite being out for blood, any violence was born out of fear. They have been abandoned, lost everyone that loved and are just trying to survive. The encounter with Mary in the empty streets of the Cittàgaze was heartbreaking. The moment Paula asked for a hug, they weren't bitter rivals, they were frightened children who just wanted to feel loved and comforted.
At least they didn't run into Coulter, who arrived in the city with Boreal, in search of Lyra. The screen in which she was surrounded by the spectres was haunting; surviving not by showing a lack of fear, but by hiding her own humanity. The visuals of the spectres themselves, floating through the stunningly recreated streets of the Cittàgaze was stunning. His Dark Materials has delivered some beautiful sequences and this was on of the show's best. One of the most chilling too.
"Boreal, I don't need you. You would only hold me back. You are not, nor have you ever been, my equal."
It was a powerful moment, topped by her betrayal of Boreal. His assertions that she was his equal came crashing down when he discovered she had poisoned him. The coldness in which she revealed he was far from being her equal, and then spending the evening next to his corpse drinking wine, was Coulter at her most villainous and Ruth Wilson sold every minute of it. I almost felt sorry for Boreal, realising that his own deceit and and admiration of Coulter was for nothing; she had used him like everyone else. In the answer of who was scarier - Coulter or the Spectres - Coulter certainly won.
There were was a real sense of urgency as Serfaina and the witches led Lyra and Will into the forested mountains above the Cittàgaze. The search for a cure to Will's injury provided plenty of tension, though I had to wonder in all his training of Will, why Giacomo Paradisi didn't mention that a cut from the Subtle Knife would cause such infection, particularly as Paradisi had revealed the same old injury that led him to becoming the bearer? I also loved the respectful dynamic between Serafina and Lyra; I forgot that they had not actually met, given Lyra's trust in the witches to save them. With the mystery of Lyra's prophecised true name - something that gave Cardinal MacPhail and the Magesterium real cause for alarm - it feels as if this new alliance is just the start of something grander.
In addition to Mary, Coulter, Boreal and the Witches, the other arrivals in this new realm were John Parry and Lee Scoresby, who soon found themselves under threat from the pursuing Magesterium air ships. The battle in the skies was spectacular stuff as John sent lighting and birds to take down the enemy as the balloon raced towards the top of the mountain in the storm. From the exciting visuals to the dramatic cliffhanger, this sequence ended Malice on a high, setting the stage for an emotional reunion in the finale.
This episode was His Dark Materials at its best. Like series one, it took the penultimate episode to really start to bring everything together. One of my issues with the show is that there is plenty of gourgeous world building and character work, but it seems to build and build without any big pay off. Going into the finale, it feels like that pay off may start to happen. Between John about to get a surprise reunion with his son, the prophecy surrounding Lyra and Coulter's ability to control the Spectres, the stage is set for an explosive finale. Let's hope it delivers.