In this week’s episode of His Dark Materials, Lyra goes to London with the glamorous Mrs. Coulter and learns the truth about who she really is.
Last week’s premiere of His Dark Materials introduced viewers to author Philip Pullman’s exciting and complex world of dæmons and Dust as Lyra began her adventure, heading with the illustrious Mrs. Coulter to London after her best friend Roger was kidnapped.
“The Idea of the North” begins with Lyra and Pan arriving at Mrs. Coulter’s stunning penthouse apartment in London. After the humble lodgings of Jordan College, Lyra’s glamorous new bedroom — which looks more like a hotel room than a child’s room — is quite the upgrade.
Dafne Keen plays the moment up in one of the episode’s lighter moments as she gladly swan dives onto the bed. “It is a lot more comfortable than Oxford,” Pan says. “And it’s our new home. Roger’s, too. When she finds him,” Lyra replies.
Of course, while Lyra is living it up with Mrs. Coulter, poor Roger is in a dirty, barren building with all of the other stolen children. At least he’s found a friend, Billy Costa, and they are both alive — for now. Roger tells Billy he knows Lyra won’t stop looking for them, but Lyra is busy being plied with clothes and other distractions by Mrs. Coulter.
No matter how much Mrs. Coulter tries to distract her, Lyra can’t forget about her friend, speaking to not only the true love and kinship between Lyra and Roger, but also Lyra’s brave and loyal spirit. Regardless, Mrs. Coulter insists she will find Roger for her.
The two seem to be growing closer as Mrs. Coulter gives Lyra a bath and washes her hair. She suggests Lyra do something different with her hair to accentuate her face more, and Lyra tells a silly story about how it used to be long and she and Roger tied it into a rope to climb out of a well.
Her hair still in Mrs. Coulter’s hand, there’s the slightest tinge of anger as the woman tells Lyra not to lie, and possibly threatens to hurt her. The dæmons show more than their humans as Pan twitches in fear and Mrs. Coulter’s golden monkey watches excitedly. Like any orphan rescued into an impossible situation, Lyra wants to believe it can be true for a little while longer and tells Pan Mrs. Coulter is being nice to them.
Meanwhile, Lord Boreal is on Lord Asriel’s trail due to the Magisterium’s belief that his study of Dust is heretical. Sneaking into Jordan College’s crypt, he finds the skull that Lord Asriel presented as Stan Grumman’s to the scholars and determines that Asriel was lying.
In a stunning turn of events, Lord Boreal goes into another world. A tiny glimmering sliver, just big enough to walk through takes Boreal into “our” London.
It’s clear he’s done this before as he gets into a car with multiple parking tickets on it and powers on a smart phone to text someone. He meets up with someone in our London and asks him to find a man who has been researching multiple worlds (presumably Stan Grumman).
Fans of the books know that a multiverse is part of His Dark Materials. (This is also explained in the prologue before the first episode.) But this is a departure from the books, as there isn’t any explicit travel into another world until the end of the first book, The Golden Compass.
I think this is a brilliant place to depart. There is so much story to weave together with these books that it makes more sense to tell it collectively rather than linearly. For fans of the books, it will come across as an awesome “aha moment,” while it will hopefully allow newcomers a better understanding of this dense show.
The cinematography for His Dark Materials is absolutely beautiful. It certainly stacks up with the other “prestige” shows on HBO. It seems like any scene with Lord Boreal is particularly stunning and creepy, but the fight scene between the golden monkey and Pan was also incredibly scary and thrilling.
Back in London, Mrs. Coulter is still grooming Lyra, who isn’t very interested in reading. “Can’t you mold me into someone who reads some books, but who travels mostly, who adventures, who looks for people who are lost?” she asks her new mentor. It’s a great line of dialogue that concisely communicates who Lyra is and what she wants. By allowing Ruth Wilson to react to this line with barely a muscle twitch, the quiet boil also continues.
To make matters worse, Lyra accidentally mentions Dust, and Mrs. Coulter’s golden monkey starts to growl. With a silent shake of his head, Pan warns her not to disclose the truth of who she learned about Dust from. The episode does a great job at showing the silent communication between humans and their dæmons.
The Magisterium visits Mrs. Coulter. She tells Lyra to stay in her room, but of course, Lyra must investigate as she grows more and more suspicious of who Mrs. Coulter really is.
Mrs. Coulter lays it on hilariously thick for the Magisterium, who warn her that the General Oblation Board is attracting too much attention and will be shut down if she can’t keep it in hand. One of the Magisterium finds Lyra spying outside the door, and Marisa kicks them out.
Lyra and Pan run back to her room. Pan reminds Lyra of the alethiometer, that the Master warned them to keep it secret from the Magisterium, so Lyra quickly finds a bag for it and puts it on.
After the men leave, Mrs. Coulter tries to put her face back together and apologize, but Lyra tells her she knows she’s angry. Mrs. Coulter notices the shoulder bag she’s carrying, but Lyra won’t tell her what’s in it, smoothly lying that she likes wearing it.
With one small flinch, Mrs. Coulter sicks the golden monkey on Pan in a vicious fight, sending Lyra into a world of pain. Pan turns into a bobcat to try to defend himself, but the monkey pins him down.
“You can’t treat me like this. My uncle won’t let you,” Lyra cries. In a moment of outrage, she reveals that Lord Asriel is actually Lyra’s father. A heartbroken and confused Lyra is upset that Asriel lied to her for so long and asks Mrs. Coulter who her mother is, but she shrugs off the question. (This is another minor departure from the books as Lyra learns about her true relation to Lord Asriel from the Gyptians.)
Lyra goes back to her room, sobbing over the alethiometer, asking it where Roger is, and where “my Lord Asriel is,” but nothing happens. When she finally gives up, it ticks and moves a bit, but she doesn’t see it.
The next morning, Mrs. Coulter tells Lyra she thinks Roger has probably been at Jordan College this whole time since she can’t seem to find him anywhere. Lyra says someone would have told her, but Mrs. Coulter insists that people forget you once you move on.
In a glimmer of the undaunted girl to come, Lyra stares her down and says, “You’re lying.” When Mrs. Coulter brushes her off and tells her to eat, Lyra stabs her fruit. It’s an incredible piece of acting for Wilson and for Keen, who can hold her own with the Golden Globe winner!
That afternoon, Mrs. Coulter leaves for an errand, locking Lyra inside since the elevator requires a key. Lyra and Pan decide to snoop, but her study is locked, too. “Since when did a locked door stop us?” Pan asks, and they soon discover that the golden monkey has been spying and eavesdropping on Lyra and Pan through the walls by crawling through the air vents.
As Lyra breaks into her study, Mrs. Coulter goes to visit the children she’s kidnapped. In her most saccharine voice, she tells them she’s taking them all on a great adventure and they should write letters to their families before they leave. In a moment of pure, delicious evil, she burns all the letters on her way out.
In the study, Lyra finds all the papers for the General Oblation Board along with Mrs. Coulter’s plans for the North. Pan hears the elevator arriving and Lyra manages to make it back to her bedroom just in time.
That night after taping up the vents in her bedroom, she tells Pan, “I don’t think I understand any grown-ups at all.” Lyra, knowing she has some part to play, but unsure of what it is yet, clearly has a lot to figure out.
The next day, Mrs. Coulter, wearing a stunning backless green dress, is having a big party and Lyra has dressed up, walking around and serving champagne to the guests.
A woman at the party pulls Lyra aside and tells her that Mrs. Coulter is the head of the Gobblers — the General Oblation Board. Lyra walks away to get ice, trying to stay calm as Mrs. Coulter realizes that the woman she was speaking to is in fact a journalist who crashed the party.
Knowing who Mrs. Coulter is now, Lyra makes a run for it and goes out the window. As we know, she’s a pro at scaling buildings. The golden monkey screeches as she escapes and it’s hard to tell if Mrs. Coulter looks angry or heartbroken.
As soon as Lyra leaves, all she can think about is finding Roger. She and Pan crouch down in the street, exhausted and heartbroken. Pan tells her to try and rest. But then he hears something and starts to wander off. As Lyra follows, someone grabs her from behind…
Another action-packed episode of His Dark Materials, and we’re a quarter of the way through the season. Next week’s episode only promises for more adventure as Mrs. Coulter leads a manhunt for Lyra.