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His Dark Materials Discussion: 'Betrayal' ends the season with a devastating loss
As the first season of His Dark Materials comes to a close, our dear weasel Lyra is forced to reckon with some next-level pain. The season finale, "Betrayal," is aptly named, and relationships are severed in ways that make reconciliation seem impossible. However, the whole impetus of the series — what is Dust and why are people willing to kill over it? — is brought to a head in this episode as Asriel shares a bit more of his work with his daughter.
Yes, he now knows that she knows that he's her father, but is that going to make this academic bad boy be a bit more paternal? Survey says: not on your life (or Roger's)! This whole season has been about the ending of Lyra's childhood, and this episode stamps out that innocence for good.
We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer and we are feeling THE MOST right now, y'all.
Warning: This discussion contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 8 of His Dark Materials.
Discovering the Aurora
Alyssa: This episode is unbearably tense from the get-go, with Mrs. Coulter and the Magesterium preparing for war against Asriel and whatever he’s found on that mountain. Asriel is in the final preparations for his nefarious plan too, but he’s briefly distracted by Lyra’s presence in his lab. He’s impressed that she’s brought Iorek and the panserbjorn, but he’s still frustrated that she’s there at all. Even more frustrated when she tells him that she knows that he’s her father and she actually wants to talk about it. Kids and their insane demands!
Jessica: It’s so hard to say this because it’s James McAvoy, but Lord Asriel is a dirtbag. He’s clearly planning to do something terrible to his daughter’s best friend. He’s pissed off that she came to save his ass. And, despite laughing at her joke about his taste in women being worse than his taste in bears, he immediately shuts down her attempt to bond with him because … sentimentality? Plus he calls her out for crying. Not cool, dude.
Alyssa: Definitely a dirtbag. Still, this scene shows how much Lyra has grown over this season. While she was so desperate for his love and approval in the pilot, now she is LYRA SILVERTONGUE and she doesn’t want his name. I was so annoyed that he seemed offended when she no longer wanted his name, but dude, you have been actively trying to shed her from your life forever. Why would you care about that now? He also refuses the alethiometer and Lyra is understandably angry. She risked her hide to find him and help him and it was all for nothing? Not exactly the reunion she was hoping for.
Jessica: Yeah, Asriel is a high-key narcissist and we should’ve pegged that from the beginning. The fact that our sweet weasel can’t even enjoy the first hot bath she’s had in weeks because he hurt her feelings is reason enough to throw him off his damn mountain. Luckily, Roger is there to awkwardly moonwalk his way right into Lyra’s heart, telling her all they need is each other, offering her a peanut butter jelly sandwich and a warm hug. Everyone, get you a friend like Roger.
Alyssa: Things certainly went to hell in a hurry, but I liked these small moments between Lyra and Roger where they just got to be kids for a minute, eating snacks and hanging out in blanket forts. However, the sense of menace is never truly gone, because Roger is a smart kid and he knows a feral grin when he sees one. He was thoroughly creeped out by Asriel’s delight in seeing him, as he should be. These poor kids. Talking about being orphans with a sense of wistfulness. The world so often does wrong by children, be it in this world or our own. Their affirmations of friendship got me misty-eyed, knowing what’s coming.
Jessica: And we get a better glimpse of that when Asriel, in another face-palming parenting move, wakes Lyra up in the middle of the night to say his goodbyes. The two chat about his experiments and the nature of Dust. I honestly enjoyed this convo because I think, if you’re not a book reader, this retelling of the story of Adam and Eve and how the Magisterium see Dust as Original Sin felt really informative and helped explain the mania surrounding Asriel and Mrs. Coulter’s experiments. Preserving souls, building bridges to other worlds, challenging the nature of the Authority, and freeing people from the oppression of the Magisterium are all big concepts so learning the origins of these ideals makes what comes next feel as important and life-changing as it’s meant to be.
Alyssa: Yeah, I loved this scene as well. It really drove home why the Magesterium was so obsessed with Asriel’s work and so fearful of Dust. The books offer a lot of criticism for organized religion, and this whole exchange is a great example. The idea that “we are born guilty and have to spend our lives atoning for eating an apple....” Whew. I felt that. This scene also revealed that Asriel is still pretty in love with Mrs. Coulter, right? When Lyra tells him that her mother saved her from being split from Pan, he’s obviously moved, telling Lyra that she was the “product of something extraordinary.” Where’s your hatred for sentiment now, Asriel?
Life On The Run
Jessica: Yeah, Asriel definitely still carries a torch for Mrs. Coulter and who can blame him? The woman might be batsh*t but she’s got great style. While Lyra and her dad contemplate setting off to chart new world, Will is in ours trying to outrun the Magisterium, or really, Lord Boreal. Boreal learned that the alethiometer predicted that Grumman’s son will lead him to his discovery. No one at the Magisterium but Boreal knows about Will, so he hightails it back to our world to find the kid who’s currently on the run. I have to say, even though they’re the bad guys, I feel a bit of sympathy for Boreal’s henchman. I would not want to piss that guy off, or his snake.
Alyssa: Everything about this particular storyline was steeped in some deep lore, and I loved it. The tower of angels, the important knife, magical quests. Hell. Yeah. Honestly, this whole episode felt like a gift to book readers. I don’t agree about Boreal’s henchmen, though. These dudes are using their resources to do bad sh*t! Plus, anyone who poses a threat to sweet Will is a lost cause in my book. Will is doing his best to keep a low profile, but considering the entire Oxford police force is on the lookout for him, that is no easy task.
Jessica: You can only ride a bus for so long. He eventually hops off at a pretty familiar location and hides in a park, the same park that Boreal enters our world through. I think we all know where this is going. But first, was it just me or did there seem to be some kind of link between Lyra and Will. She was having a very intense dream when the show cut to her, right after Will was shown on the bus. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part.
Alyssa: I think you’re right. This episode really worked to highlight the innate connection between Lyra and Will that is going to be huge going forward with the series. They don’t know it yet, but these two will be very important to each other very soon. Honestly, bringing Will into the story earlier was one of the best decisions they made this season because it just makes me more excited for what’s to come. Passing through that gateway between worlds is a huge step for Will, bigger than he could even begin to know.
A Devastating Confrontation
Jessica: While Will’s exploration felt a bit hopeful, things at Asriel’s lab only get worse when Lyra wakes up to find her father and Roger gone. She brushes off his assistant’s pleas to stay with him as the Magisterium is coming and Asriel entrusted Lyra to his care, but our Silvertongued badass will not be deterred. She rounds up Iorek and the bears and heads for the mountain, correctly guessing that Asriel plans to split Roger from his daemon, using the burst of energy to create a bridge to another world. Again, Worst Dad of the Year award is safely in the bag for Asriel at this point.
Alyssa: He’s just the worst. He lured Roger away with the promise of a surprise for Lyra like the predator that he is. Asriel may claim to want to free people from under the Magesterium’s thumb, but he certainly isn’t above causing a boatload of pain on his own quest. While Lyra and Iorek are on their way to confront Asriel on the mountain, Mrs. Coulter arrives at Asriel’s lab and faces off against Thorold. While she’s frustrated that everyone has cleared out from the camp, she tells Thorold what he ultimately already knows: Asriel is too ambitious and reckless, and he doesn’t care who he hurts in his quest for knowledge. As the Magesterium closes in on Asriel, they do the truly unforgivable: the open fire on the bears.
Jessica: Cowards, the lot of em. Luckily, the bears have their armor so the casualties aren’t catastrophic but the loss of even one is too much for my heart to take right now. Iorek manages to get Lyra halfway up the mountain, the pass is too dangerous for both of them so she climbs the rest of the way herself. At the same time, Asriel’s stuffed poor Roger and his daemon into their respective cages and he’s manually operating a makeshift intercision machine which basically means this whole splicing process is being dragged out to the nth degree and I’m now an emotional wreck.
Alyssa: Salcillia’s pleas to Roger broke my godd*mn heart. Asriel attempts to convince Roger (and himself) that he is just a casualty of a bigger war as he splits them apart. The energy released from the intercision worked with the aurora to open the division between worlds, giving Asriel what he needs for the next stage in his quest of finding the castle in the sky. As he is finishing up the experiment, Mrs. Coulter arrives. The moment we’ve been waiting for! McAvoy and Wilson really bring it in this scene, convincing viewers that they really were in love once, and might be still.
Jessica: He definitely has a hold on her, which is something that Magisterium twat alluded to earlier in the episode. She tries to resist but Mrs. Coulter is nothing if not ambitious. They have a quick makeout scene, her daemon finally gets some love, and Asriel begs her to join him on his quest. For a moment, it looks like she might say yes but to everyone’s shock (read, my shock) she refuses because her daughter remains in this world and there’s nothing she wants more than Lyra. Girl, you had Lyra and you treated her like sh*t.
Alyssa: There really is a war raging inside Mrs. Coulter. She’s devoted herself to her mission, and it was easier for her to turn her back on Lyra when she wasn’t in her life, but now that Lyra is there and in need, she feels that maternal call once again. She may not show it well or in the way that Lyra needs, but Mrs. Coulter definitely cares. Still, Lyra is wise enough to hide from her mother, because even being alone in the tundra is safer than being with Mrs. Coulter. After Coulter clears out and Asriel heads through the gate, Lyra is left to mourn Roger alone with Pan. The guilt she feels is immense, and I just want to hug her and let her know that this isn’t her fault. The adults around her have failed, not her.
Jessica: Lyra is the sweetest little biscuit and she does not deserve any of this. She’s been through so much but the loss of Roger really seems to break her. She spends a few moments crying over his dead body before Pan offers up a plan. If Dust is so important, and if all adults are liars (honestly, a safe bet at this point) then maybe it needs to be protected. They’ve seen what trying to prevent Dust from settling on kids means, so this makes a lot of sense. Lyra and Pan follow Asriel into another world, intent on getting to the source before he can, just as Will crosses over in the park. It’s the kind of edge-of-your-seat ending that really makes me hate how long a show’s hiatus usually is.
Alyssa: They definitely end on a pretty unbearable cliffhanger! Ultimately, I really enjoyed this season. I wish the daemons had been a bigger deal, but I understand budgetary restraints. I am hoping that now that HBO is involved in the production, we’ll see more of them in Season 2. Throw your money at them, HBO! Things are going to escalate quickly next season, but I am mostly just excited to see Lyra and Will meet. Their whole deal is the heart of this story. Also, more Lee Scoresby, please and thank you.
Jessica: More Lee Scoresby is always a correct ask, but yes, it’s time for Will and Lyra to meet and for their shared part in this adventure to begin. They’re both in desperate need of a friend and they’ll complement each other so well. Also, I’m curious to see where Asriel will go now that he’s done this truly terrible thing to discover more about Dust. It feels like a point-of-no-return kind of thing for him. My only real request is that HBO not make us wait too long for a second season.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.