His Dark Materials: 1.02 The Idea of the North

Plenty of world building in the second episode, as Lyra adjusts to her new home in London.

The second episode of His Dark Materials continues to pack in plenty of mystery and intrigue, focusing primarily on the relationship between Lyra and Mrs Counter, while laying the groundwork for bigger things to come. In the space of one hour, there are revelations concerning Lyra’s heritage, a trip to another world, murder at the hands of the Magisterium and the fate of the captured children is revealed.

It’s fascinating world building, all driven by the dazzling performances from Dafne Keen and Ruth Wilson. Given that the eight episodes have a whole book to cover, it’s no surprise that Lyra’s new home in London is short lived. The hints at the darkness behind Coulter’s actions remain just that – hints. Though it’s no surprise that when her involvement in the missing children is revealed; this is a woman with dark allies and plenty of secrets and Wilson plays her brilliantly, studying Lyta’s every move intently, testing her. It’s what made the scene where she has her daemon attack Lyra’s so disturbing; it was so unexpected.

Keen too is a revelation. She absolutely carries the show; she can be both fierce and vulnerable and you are with her every step of the way, from her experiences of wonder upon her arrival in London to her sense of betrayal at Coulter’ s hands and the subsequent truth about her uncle. Her relationship with her young, shape-changing daemon is a joy to watch too – one of His Dark Materials‘ biggest successes is it’s ability to make these talking animals feels as real as the human characters.

There was plenty to digest this week, particularly the ruthless Lord Carlo Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) who has managed to traverse dimensions into our world. His role in the series is just as intriguing as Coulter’s. Father MacPhail (Will Keen), the face of the Magisterium on the show, is an equally dangerous and mysterious figure. Like Boreal, his alliance with Coulter makes him another fascinating figure. While fans of the novels will likely be familiar with their nefarious plans, for a casual viewer like myself, the web of mystery unfolding makes for a fascinating viewing experience.

After the expansive introduction of last week’s opening episode, this week was a much more focused affair, with Coulter’s manipulation of Lyra and the young heroine’s dangerous voyage of discovery the core of the story. James McAvoy’s Lord Asriel was absent this week and there are a number of big stars glimpsed in last week’s trailer that are yet to make their debut. But part of the joy of watching the series is the groundwork for the bigger events to come. It’s not essential television yet, but the foundation is there and I’m looking forward to what the next six weeks bring.


Updated: Nov 11, 2019

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