His Dark Materials season 2 episode 3: How did it compare to the books?

Photo: Lin-Manuel Miranda in His Dark Materials: Season 1.. Image Courtesy of HBO
Photo: Lin-Manuel Miranda in His Dark Materials: Season 1.. Image Courtesy of HBO /

Whether you’re a fan of the books or not, read on to find out how the third episode of His Dark Materials season 2 differed from the source material.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for His Dark Materials season 2 episode 3, “Theft.”

This week’s episode of HBO’s His Dark Materials saw Lyra and Will finding further misadventure in Will’s Oxford as their paths crossed with Boreal who tricked Lyra and stole her alethiometer. However, much of the action once again took place elsewhere in “Theft.”

Similar to last week, “Theft” saw an expansive storyline featuring Mrs. Coulter and Lee Scoresby that differed from the books. As seen in “The Cave,” Mrs. Coulter left the Magisterium to look for Lyra, leading her to cross paths with Lee as he did the same.

In The Subtle Knife (this season’s source material), Lee did search for Stanislaus Grumman and have a violent interaction with a man who deemed Dr. Grumman a heretic, escaping the situation without incident. However, “Theft” used the fight to send Lee to a Magisterium-owned prison, giving Marisa access to a further roughed-up Lee after she arrived.

The following scene was entirely concocted for the series and didn’t exist in the books at all. It seemed to serve a few different purposes: first, to continue giving airtime to the adult top-billed actors who otherwise wouldn’t have screen time, and second, to provide humanizing character moments for Mrs. Coulter and Lee.

As for filling airtime, depending on your relationship with the books, adaptation, and actors, you may like this choice just fine. However, it feels like unnecessary fluff that distracts from who the story is really about: Will and Lyra (regardless of how incredible Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda were in the scene).

In regard to story, the writers seemed to have a goal for each character that differed from the books.

For Lee Scoresby, none of the backstory about his father being abusive existed in the books. Perhaps the writers felt that more was needed to show why he is so determined to protect Lyra, but Miranda’s performance is all that’s truly needed. (And if all else fails, some expository dialogue between Lee and his dæmon, Hester, is always welcome.)

Similarly, Marisa’s child abuse backstory revealed in “Theft” did not exist in Philip Pullman’s original works. Pullman was always very comfortable to leave her as a charming and mercurial villain with the reader never quite knowing where her loyalties lay, something the adaptation hasn’t quite smoothed out in this second season.

However, “Theft” very clearly depicted Marisa as having left the Magisterium behind to find and, by all appearances, protect Lyra from the witches’ prophecy, another distinction from the books, as a continuation of the choices made in last week’s episode.

While in the books, Marisa does love Lyra and claim that she has her best interests at heart, she remains loyal to the Magisterium throughout The Subtle Knife. This raises questions about what course her character will take this season and how it will impact Lyra and the rest of the characters in His Dark Materials.

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What did you think about Lee Scoresby and Mrs. Coulter’s touching scene? Tell us in the comments below!