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His Dark Materials Discussion: 'The Idea of the North' uncovers a dark truth
In Episode 2 of HBO's His Dark Materials, our heroine learns there are some truths you're better off not knowing.
Lyra joins Mrs. Coulter in London, living a plush life filled with satin pyjamas and extravagant lunches but her fairytale quickly ends when she learns the truth about her origins and Mrs. Coulter's work for the Magisterium. As Lyra navigates the confusing, complicated world of adults, the Magisterium hunts Asriel and makes a trip to modern London while the Gyptians grow closer to finding the missing kids and the Gobblers who took them.
We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer and we're here demanding someone give Lyra the love she deserves — and Mrs. Coulter's daemon monkey a good a**-kicking.
Warning: This discussion contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 2 of His Dark Materials.
A Gilded Cage
Jessica: So Lyra's gone to live with Mrs. Coulter in London and she's got a better pad that Beyonce, y'all. Marble floors. Golden elevators. This woman is living the high life (literally). It's nice to see Lyra surrounded by comfort, enjoying a girl's brunch al fresco on the rooftop of her penthouse suite, but then Mrs. Coulter just has to ruin it with talk of heights and the occasional urge to jump. Behind the mask, there are some dark thoughts and that's what's truly terrifying about Mrs. Coulter. You can never get a read on her. Lyra, honey, watch out.
Alyssa: Mrs. Coulter is lovebombing Lyra is a huge way at the beginning of this episode. Who wouldn't be taken in by a fancy apartment, an endless supply of satin jammies, and trips to the Arctic Institute to see an ARMORED BEAR SKULL. While it seems obvious to us that her intentions are obviously quite sinister, she knows how to play preteen Lyra like a fiddle. Mrs. Coulter's mask is pretty tightly secured, but there is the occasional slip. However, as long as she keeps telling Lyra that she has the desire and ability to help her be extraordinary, I can't blame this child for seeing Mrs. Coulter as a means to an end, as well as a source of some long denied maternal affection. Did I mention the glorious satin pyjama sets?!
Jessica: The appeal of luxurious sleepwear cannot be overstated. But yes, Mrs. Coulter knows that Lyra is starved for attention and love and she's heaping it on the poor girl in between fittings and etiquette lessons. When Lyra began complaining about the lack of give in her new dress and her desire to run, I felt that deep in my bones. This girl just wants to enjoy her childhood, not serve cocktails at fancy dinner parties. Unfortunately for Lyra, Mrs. Coulter has dreams of molding her into a mini-version of herself which, "No thanks." I think Lyra begins to clue into how wrong this situation is when she discovers Mrs. Coulter's daemon has been spying on her, and is able to be so far away from the woman. It should be painful. It's not natural. Again, Lyra, watch the f*** out!
Alyssa: Honestly, if you weren't creeped out by the golden monkey before, this was the episode that made it impossible to wish that creature anything but ill. After a couple of dudes from the Magesterium come to visit Mrs. Coulter and basically tell her that they won't protect her if her "activities" draw too much attention, Lyra and Pan realize that she is not someone who can be trusted. They decide to keep the alitheometer in a chic crossbody bag for the time being, but Mrs. Coulter is suspicious immediately because it's insane to carry around a purse in your own home. That suspicion turns to violence when the golden monkey attacks Pan (and by extension Lyra), causing me to lose my everloving s***. Leave our two sweet weasels alone!!!
Jessica: All the feminist lessons in the world can't make up for the violation Mrs. Coulter and her pet monkey committed against Lyra and Pan. It was painful to watch, but also a great way of displaying the physical bond between a daemon and their human, something to remember for later in the episode. Honestly, as chilling as that monkey is, I kind of feel bad for him?? Mrs. Coulter seems to abuse him whenever things aren't going her way, taking out her and anger and frustration on the poor creature. Again, their relationship just isn't natural and it's her doing. I don't think we're ever given a thorough explanation of why that relationship is so abnormal in the books, but watching it play out on screen drives the point home: Mrs. Coulter has ISSUES, you guys.
Alyssa: That is a more than fair assessment. Speaking of people with issues, in her rage, Mrs. Coulter reveals a pretty terrible secret to Lyra: Lord Asriel is actually her father. After years of leaving her behind and lying to her about her true origins, Asriel isn't her uncle at all. POOR. LYRA. This information is enough to derail an adult, let alone a child. Absolutely brutal. Mrs. Coulter calls him a liar with all the venom that she can muster, and honestly, she's right. After Mrs. Coulter tells Lyra that "our origins don't define us," Lyra flees to her room and attempts to read her alitheometer. It doesn't go great, but it does move slightly. Progress!
Between Two Worlds
Jessica: Sorry to James McAvoy but that silver streak won't save you from the sense of betrayal Lyra feels. She's absolutely devastated by the news that her dear old uncle has gaslit her for her entire life. Mrs. Coulter isn't much better but she was right about one thing: Lyra was not safe at Jordan College. After news of Asriel's blasphemous Powerpoint presentation reaches the Magisterium, the dudes in robes send Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) to investigate. He wants to examine that skull dammit and he won't be deterred. After The Master explains it's already been treated and placed in the crypt, Lord Boreal goes digging and discovers that (insert shocked gasp here) that skull doesn't belong to the explorer Stanislaus Grumman.
Alyssa: Lies on lies on lies! So yeah, Boreal has this critical information, and that means only bad things for the scholars at Jordan College. Back at their headquarters, Father MacPhail and Cardinal Sturrock have a profoundly creepy discussion of how they're going to hide the fact that they know all about the missing children and make many references to something called the General Oblation Board. It's all very sinister. Additionally, after Boreal makes that discovery, he "needs to cross," which means that he passes through a crack into another world. One that looks very much like modern Britain.
Jessica: You're telling me these dudes in power have access to other worlds, know the truth about Dust, and just don't want anyone else to have knowledge of it so that they can safeguard their tyrannical influence over the masses using religion as a cover? Again, I AM SHOCKED! JK, that sounds exactly like something an organization called The Magisterium would do. So Lord Boreal is living that 21st-century life, texting his bros, getting his caffeine fix, ignoring parking tickets. He and his snake give me the heebie-jeebies but you've got to admire his commitment to the cause. Personally, if I had the ability to jump between worlds, I'm staying in the one that has better coffee.
Alyssa: Not to sound like the ultimate millennial, but imagine having an iPhone and having to leave it behind in another world most of the time. Between that and the parking tickets, my anxiety would be through the roof. I could probably get over it if I had an awesome daemon, but the point remains. So yeah, Boreal tells his other world contact to find Grumman, because he is pretty sure that he and Asriel have some sort of explorers' code going on. Looking for a dude that can jump between infinite worlds feels like a fool's errand, but his ginger spy doesn't seem particularly deterred.
Uncovering The Truth
Jessica: Look, the pay must be exceptional and in this economy, you just can't turn down work. Even if your employer is a guy who walks around with a snake and hails from an alternate universe. While Lord Boreal is looking for the right skeleton, the Gyptians are hunting the Gobblers. They're this close to finding Roger, Billy, and the rest of the stolen children but this is a group of baby-snatchers that knows what it's doing. They move the kids constantly and it looks like they're prepping them for their final journey North, where I'm sure, terrible things are going to happen.
Alyssa: The Gyptians are doing their best, but damn, the Gobblers are always one (or five) steps ahead. Also, can I say that James Cosmo's casting as Farder Coram is absolutely perfect? I don't know what it is about him, but I always trust him implicitly. But yeah, they nearly find the children but are once again outmatched. Still, they do find Billy's tiny sweater vest (sob), so they at least have enough information to know that they're on the right path. It's all very tragic. They just can't keep up with a force with so many resources at their disposal. Man, that sounds suspiciously like another major organization with a terrible history of mistreating children…
Jessica: Yikes on bikes. But yes, there are plenty of parallels in Pullman's work and the show does a good job of teasing vital information but making the audience connect the dots, much like Lyra is forced to do when she discovers that Mrs. Coulter works for something known as the General Oblation Board. Alyssa, you know I love a good acronym so I couldn't help but appreciate this reveal. Lyra doesn't clue in right away that the GOB is actually the GOBBLERS, but she knows from the blueprints she finds in Mrs. Coulter's office that they're up to no good. There are sketches of humans and the daemons being put in different cages. Talk of splicing with a "knife." It's all very troubling stuff for a young girl to reckon with, but Lyra's determined to figure it out.
Alyssa: Lyra does her best to recon with a time crunch and a trip through the vents, but yeah, it is a rough situation, to say the least. Splitting children from their daemons is pretty horrific work, plus the knowledge that Mrs. Coulter knows exactly where Roger is and has continuously lied to Lyra about his whereabouts. This realization leads Lyra to declare that she doesn't "understand any grown-ups at all." Which, honestly, same. But our girl wises up quickly, so she plugs her vents and keeps her ears pricked for the pitter-patter of monkey paws. Everything comes to a head, though when Mrs. Coulter throws a dinner party wearing the most gorgeous green dress since Atonement, and Boreal and some other Magesterium cronies attend.
Jessica: And this is why I struggle with hating Mrs. Coulter. The wardrobe! Any woman with that level of impeccable fashion sense has to be redeemable, right? Unfortunately, while Lyra is serving champagne at the soiree, she's approached by a journalist intent on uncovering what Mrs. Coulter and the GOB is up to. She reveals that Mrs. Coulter is actually behind the Gobblers, something we found out a bit earlier in the episode when she paid the kids a visit, had them write letters to their family, then threw those letters into the fire. The news that her new benefactor kidnapped her best friend is just too much for Lyra, who uses the distraction of the party and its guest to make her escape. Sadly, the journalist wasn't so lucky. Boreal squashed her daemon butterfly quite easily, killing them both and cementing his status as "bad dude I would not f*** with."
Alyssa: The highly breakable nature of some of these daemons is a real cause for concern. A butterfly! Butterflies are so easily smashed! This seems like it would be a real danger for anyone unlucky enough to get that fragile of a soul creature. And while Lyra might have been able to escape from Mrs. Coulter's place using her parkour skills that she perfected scuttling over the rooftops of Jordan College, her freedom is extremely short-lived. While she and Pan huddle for some warmth in an alleyway, that terrifying fox daemon turns up and Lyra is snatched by the Gobblers. And cut to black. Absolutely brutal ending.
Jessica: Heartbreaking. But at least she'll (hopefully) be reunited with Roger. And also, we're going North Alyssa! After hearing about it for two episodes, I'm ready to heap on layers of fur and explore this vast, blasphemous wilderness. I have complete faith that Lyra will be able to escape the Gobblers and rescue her friends, but she'll need some help so please, bring on the armored bears and Lin-Manuel Miranda with his rabbit. Like, now.
Alyssa: I have to be very careful with this section of our recaps because I've read the books so I know generally what's coming. That being said, I am in complete agreement. Heading North is when the book kicked things into the next gear, so I am ready for that leg of Lyra's journey to begin. Seeing the armored bear skull in this episode only made me more anxious to see the "real" thing, so please, introduce Iorek Byrnison sooner rather than later, please and thank you. But mostly, I am so excited to see how Lyra works through all of the information that's been thrown at her in this episode alone. This is the fire that tries girls' souls and all that. I just want to wrap her up in a blanket and make her a cup of tea, so I hope someone does that for her as my proxy. #ProtectLyraBelacqua2019
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.