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SYFY WIRE His Dark Materials

His Dark Materials Discussion: 'The Daemon Cages' sets up a new chapter

By Jessica Toomer & Alyssa Fikse

His Dark Materials gives fans a satisfyingly climactic resolution to a season-long mission with "The Daemon Cages."

Lyra navigates life at The Station as she rallies the orphans to fight back before they can be separated from their daemons. We get a glimpse of the fanatical beliefs fueling these experiments and see the return of Mrs. Coulter, who's not pleased to discover Lyra is one of the children on the chopping block. Everything comes to head when Lyra enacts her plan to free the hostages and the Gyptians arrive to dole out some deserved vengeance.

Steady yourself, this is going to be a bumpy ride.

Warning: This discussion contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 6 of His Dark Materials.


The Arrival of Lizzie Brooks

Alyssa: Honestly, what a brutal beginning. Things in Bolvangar are just as bad, or possibly worse, as we anticipated. Lyra catches a glimpse of Roger, but these children have more presence of mind than I would have, so they manage to keep their emotions in check and pretend they don't know each other. Smart. Lyra, undercover as "Lizzie Brooks," gets a taste of what's going on pretty much immediately when poor little Bridget and her rabbit daemon are taken away to the intercision machine. It's all terrible and creepy and I hate it. I'm supposed to hate it, so good on you, show, but I will probably have nightmares about this.

Jessica: So. Many. Nightmares. On top of the indignity of having to wear those horrible jumpsuits, Lyra's forced to spend her first day isolated from Roger, eating in the cafeteria at a table for one. It brought up too many traumatic memories from middle school to dig into here but just know, on top of the whole experimental killing thing, this is the absolute worst thing a child can go through. But our girl is resourceful and smart and she's ready to fight. Can someone make me an "I Want To Be Like Lyra Belacqua When I Grow Up" t-shirt?

Alyssa: God, Lyra is just on top of things always. She isn't afraid to sass the doctors who are taking her vitals, a.k.a. Measuring Dust, and she pretty quickly gets a read on these cowards. Dr. Rendal may claim that The Station is "not a child chop house," but pretty much everything points to that being simply untrue. When the alarm goes off, Lyra and Roger create a diversion and sneak away to find the children that have been split from their daemons, and it is truly devastating. These poor, empty kids. It breaks my damn heart. But it gives Lyra and Roger the motivation that they need to speed up the escape process as much as possible. What did you think about the conversation between the doctors? The mental leaps they made to justify their study were just astounding to me.

Jessica: You know you have no soul when the thought of your "work being recognized" is enough to persuade you to kill innocent children. These docs believe they can cure the world of sin by splitting children — who are still pure — from their daemons which sounds wild and also, completely on track with other bonkers radical religious ideology. I don't know which evil scientist needs to hear this but the ends almost never justify the means.

Alyssa: That's basically the Magesterium's entire M.O., as we see in the brief glimpse of the Parrys who are still under the watch of Boreal's spies. This organization will stop at nothing, and as quickly as the Gyptians are trying to cross the mountains and reach them, it's basically up these children to save themselves. I loved that Lyra brought the other girls into her plan immediately, spelling out exactly what would happen to them if they didn't escape. However, things take a turn for the even worse when Mrs. Coulter and her golden monkey rock up to Bolvangar. Yes, she's super evil, but I'm glad she's back. Ruth Wilson really is killing it.


Escaping The Station

Jessica: The sheer power this woman exudes frightens both grown adults and small children. It's truly something to aspire to. Of course, Lyra is worried that Mrs. Coulter will discover her at the station so she gets her new friends to help hide her. #GirlPower But the scientist are eager to prove their work actually means something so they take Lyra and Pan to the intercision room and we're forced to watch that horrible guillotine be raised before Mrs. Coulter walks in, hears her child screaming, and has a complete meltdown. Just thinking about it brings me the worst kind of anxiety. Once Mrs. Coulter saves Lyra, the two have a chat back in her rooms and woof, it's tense.

Alyssa: I know that I should be concerned about these children and I truly am, but I truly lost my sh*t when they hurt Pan. I realize that I am a monster and I'm dealing with it. But yes, Mrs. Coulter taps into that previously hidden well of motherly affection and saves Lyra. She then tries to force some chamomile down her throat and is faced with some very awkward questioning from her daughter. I did feel for her when she explained that she left Lyra not because she didn't love her but because she didn't think it would be good for either of them. She also mentioned that Asriel had his own ideas of how things should be done, and I definitely got the impression that he made decisions for both of them that Marissa wasn't truly on board with. Basically, it was Marriage Story: Fantasy Edition.

Jessica: Except I'm choosing a clear side in this war. And it's Lyra's. She doesn't belong to Asriel or Mrs. Coulter, no matter what claim either adult says they have and while I genuinely feel for Mrs. Coulter because of the sh*t she's been put through by the men in her life, I just can't get down with splitting daemons from their humans. Hearing her explain the reasoning behind these experiments was just mind-boggling. Apparently, the adults blame their daemons for their terrible angst and hormones during puberty which explains so much about Mrs. Coulter's relationship to her monkey. They believe without the daemons whispering bad thoughts into their heads, these kids can grow up without sin and remain pure. It's a leap but Mrs. Coulter's fanatical belief in this theory is born from some real trauma — her affair, Lyra's birth, and the horrible consequences she faced in the aftermath. She wants to prevent that from happening to another young girl, like her daughter. It would almost be sweet if we weren't killing kids to make it happen. Once again, this show reminds us that the patriarchy is the absolute worst.

Alyssa: Right, there is the whole "killing kids" thing that makes it particularly troublesome. Lyra asks the most important question — If it's so great, why did you stop it from happening to me? — and she gets the classic privileged answer: we're using them as guinea pigs, sacrificing the few to serve the many. Lyra can have the procedure when it's perfected. Lyra knows this is a horrific worldview, but she manages to keep her head yet again and play Mrs. Coulter like a fiddle. She pretends to be all-in on being her daughter because she saved her and Asriel didn't and even fakes handing over the alethiometer. Luckily, Lyra is the quickest thinker around and hands over the imprisoned spy fly instead. I love our wild genius girl.

Jessica: She really is the best. She locks her mother in her room with a primal scream that I felt deep in my bones and then proceeds to ready her gang of orphans for war. Calling it now, "Cause Some Chaos" is the new motto of 2020. While Lyra sends Roger to free the children who've already been separated from their daemons, she and Pan head to the intercision room to destroy the machine, which works a little too well and begins to take the whole station down. Luckily for Lyra, the Gyptians, Lee Scoresby, and Iorek F***ing Byrnison arrive to deal with the raiders. Seraphina also shows up and does some witchy ass-kicking that's just delightful to watch and Mrs. Coulter, wisely, chooses to slink away in the aftermath. It's all very exciting and climactic and begs the question: Now that we've accomplished our main goal, what's next?


The Next Adventure

Alyssa: It's a really tense scene, but incredibly satisfying. It was fun to see Iorek Byrnison is action — Scoresby too! — and it's clear that while the bear may have been down on his luck when they found him, he's still a fighter and worth every penny that they paid for his services. While it's true, the Gyptians have accomplished their goal, there is still a lot to be done. Yes, the imminent danger is over, but what are they going to do with all of these kids? Ma Costa is certain that they can find all of their parents, but John Fa raises the excellent yet devastating point that the children that have had their daemons removed might not be welcome back into their homes. Ma Costa explains matter-of-factly that those children will simply join the Gyptians like it's the most obvious thing in the world, and I loved her for it. These poor children have been put through literal hell and it's nice to know that no matter what they have a relatively safe place to land.

Jessica: The last thing these kids need is someone punishing them for the trauma they've suffered. Again, Ma Costa is the MVP. Did we expect anything less? While the Gyptians are making the long walk home with the children in tow, Lyra, Roger, Iorek, and Lee take to the skies. Lyra still needs to find and save her dad, who's being held hostage by more armored bears, and Lee loves this little weasel so he's not going to let her go alone. Guys, when he had that conversation with Seraphina about his fondness for our scrappy girl, I almost lost it. Lin-Manuel Miranda in leather is nice but my new sexuality is Lin-Manuel Miranda being so soft.

Alyssa: Your eternal horniness will never cease to impress me, honestly. You are an inspiration, Jess. But you are correct, LMM accepting his new role as Lyra's father figure was truly moving. This is a girl who has been used by pretty much everyone around her, and he realizes that he needs to be different. He needs to protect her for her own sake, not for what she means for his bigger plans. Yes, Seraphina tells him that Lyra is The Chosen One and that her importance has been foretold as the girl who will change the world, but Lee sees through that and realizes that Lyra just needs someone in her corner. I don't think that kind of altruism comes naturally to a scoundrel like Lee, but scoundrels with hearts of gold are the bread and butter of endearing storytelling. Lee knows the stakes, he accepts them, and he's ready to take Lyra to the end of the world and back.

Jessica: Lee Scoresby can butter my bread anytime he damn well pleases. But first, he's got to survive the Cliff-ghasts, which are these disfigured winged monsters hell-bent on bringing down his precious balloon. He and Iorek put up a good fight but they're quickly surrounded by these beasts and they're thousands of miles in the air with nowhere to hide so you know it's going to end badly. And by badly we mean it ends with Lyra being thrown out of the airship and Lee looking completely devastated. His Dark Materials, how could you do this to us?!


What's Next

Alyssa: His Dark Materials really is not afraid to end on a cliffhanger, isn't it? Honestly, this pattern makes me so afraid for the end of the season. While this part of the story is starting to wrap up — only two episodes left — there are some huge moments on the way that I am so excited to see. Next week is going to be all about Svalbard, and we're going to see hella armored bears. Particularly fighting armored bears. I. Can't. Wait. This show has done a pretty good job capturing the scope of things, so I have faith that they'll nail the epic scale of the fight between Iorek and the usurper Iofur. Hell yeah, panserbjørne!

Jessica: As long as we get a glimpse of James McAvoy's salt-and-pepper locks and a good bear fight, I'll consider this first season a major success.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.