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His Dark Materials has been offering another fan-favorite genre property adaptation on HBO, and early reviews were dazzled by this version of the Philip Pullman story. The story of magic, kids, and (of course) giant armored polar bears had its first season come to a close yesterday with its eighth episode, “Betrayal.” Lyra’s childhood is kaput now, so what comes next? A big ol’ cliffhanger, that’s for sure.
The reviews are now in, and critics are (ironically) bullish about how the season wrapped up and the groundwork it laid for the next storytelling phase. Here’s what they’re saying:
EW’s Lauren Morgan highlights a “blisteringly good” James McAvoy as Dafne Keen’s Lyra navigates her parents’ sins in the action-packed finale. The scenes between the father and daughter are “the most compelling of the episode,” though perhaps the most emotionally destructive. But after a wheel-spinning last few episodes, it’s been nice to actually get to some action—and the finale quite literally goes to new worlds with Will and Lyra pursuing Lord Asriel.
Tom Jorgensen at IGN was excited by the finale, writing that the show has plenty of complex fantasy storylines to care for over its early days, but “by the end, weaves all those threads together into an intriguing web that we’re only just beginning to understand by the end of the first season.” He also praises the creative choice to include Will, the protagonist from the series’ second book, in the first season. That decision and some of its more confident cliffhangers make the season capper a satisfying and tantalizing tease: “With a few of the key players all seemingly through the looking glass by the end of the season finale, how the events in each of these worlds relate to each other is one of the more exciting mysteries left to unravel as the show moves forward.”
At Rolling Stone, Sean T. Collins explains that a finale filled with “beautiful, terrible things” is at its best when Roger and Lyra are simply being kids. Kids who have certainly seen some rough stuff (especially in Roger’s case—sorry, Roger fans), but kids nonetheless. One of these kids, Keen, is especially impressive for holding her own during her scenes with McAvoy, Collins writes. While the early days of the season were perhaps overly complicated, the finale solidifies its emotional core and thematic discipline. Its darkness, seen best in its willingness not only to kill a child but to linger over it, could prove that His Dark Materials “just might be exactly the fantasy we need right now.”
TVInsider’s Martin Holmes, impressed by the finale, writes that the finale “has no trouble grappling with some pretty weighty material, particularly concerning theological ambiguities.” This comes as a counter to the rest of the season, which is more interested in getting all of its story out and tied together well. The “perfectly fitting” topics for the current world, including issues of truth, radicalism, and more, supplement a “distressing ending” that’s “heartwrenching to watch.” With “brilliant performances from Dafne Keen and Ruth Wilson” leading the way for a show whose back half has much improved, Holmes is optimistic about its future.
Finally, at io9, Beth Elderkin wrote that the “fantastic season finale is what the show should’ve been all along.” While highlighting the hit-and-miss nature of the show, Elderkin raved about the season capper’s “engaging and emotional” power that set up a second season with a lot more personal oomph than the first season’s exposition-laden early days. With exciting drama and high stakes, the season finale handed crushing scenes out like hotcakes, culminating in “the promise of a new world, and a better show.”
Fans can expect the HBO/BBC co-production Season Two to take a note from these positive reviews whenever it may return.