Just four episodes in and HBO's His Dark Materials is already gifting fans a glimpse at a beloved character who more than makes his mark in the book series.
That's right, Iorek Byrnison is here, and while he's been struggling a bit in the North without his suit of armor, Lyra is determined to recruit him to her cause. First, she's got to make nice with a witch counsel in order to gain more support for the Gyptians' cause, and then she must befriend Lee Scoresby (hello Lin-Manuel Miranda in a fedora), an aeronaut and old friend of the grumpy bear. While Mrs. Coulter plans her own expedition north, allying herself with a different panserbjorne, Lyra and Iorek team up to retrieve his valuables and start their trek to The Station.
We're Alyssa Fikse and Jessica Toomer, and we're here to ask the question everyone is already thinking: What is Dudley Dursley doing here?
Warning: This discussion contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 4 of His Dark Materials.
New Allies In The North
Alyssa: This is the episode that I was waiting for. I have thoroughly enjoyed the first three, but the introduction of Lee Scoresby, Hester, and Iorek Byrnison (as well as the first major mentions of the witches) made my heart SING. I will admit that I was a little concerned about Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee, but while his vibe is different than Sam Elliott’s (one of the only highlights from the film), I think he pulled it off. So, the Gyptian fleet rolls up to the oil port, and Trollesund, Lyra, and Farder Coram go on an important mission: to see the witch counsel and to make their case. This man is their connection to the witches, who they desperately need on their side if they’re going to find the lost children.
Jessica: HBO has hacked my computer and downloaded my fanfiction search history. How else were they able to get their hands on my brand of kink: Lin-Manuel Miranda singing a jolly tune while operating a hot air balloon in a full leather get-up? While Miranda is giving off completely different vibes, I’m loving his Western outlaw feel. He’s clearly having fun in the role and he’s got great chemistry with Dafne Keen. But yes, before our aeronaut meets our little weasels, Lyra and Farder Coram pay the counsel a visit, where he reveals he knows she has an alethiometer and he wants her to prove she can read it. The test: find the sprig used to call the witch Seraphina — it’s like a supernatural phone number programmed for just one witch that takes the form of a pine needle — and he’ll help them. She does, of course, but I’m a little confused. Lyra just learned how to use the thing last episode. How much has she been practicing on this trip north, because she seems hella confident?
Alyssa: It’s more than confidence. When she describes how she can read the alethiometer to Farder Coram, it sounds more like instinct than anything else. My main concern is Lyra reading the alethiometer in the middle of the street in a town crawling with Magisterium officers. Girl! Activate stealth mode or something! After she finds the right sprig of cloud pine, she asks the witches’ counsel what question they haven’t asked but should. She’s a smart one, our Lyra. What the counsel tells her shouldn’t come as a surprise: they’ve got gumption, but they need muscle and should enlist the help of an armored bear. Luckily for them and unluckily for the bear, there is just such a creature trapped in Trollesund. Iorek Byrnison! The poor bear is toiling away in a scrapyard without his armor after a drunken escapade destroyed a large part of the town. The poor fellow is doing penance, and he isn’t particularly interested in helping the Gyptians. Still, who couldn’t be impressed by Lyra barely flinching in the face of a menacing bear?
Jessica: The sheer nerve of this child puts the rest of us to shame. Iorek is a scarred, grumpy old bear who seems a breath away from swiping Lyra’s head from her shoulders and she still has the courage to suggest he’s a coward like the rest of the townspeople who seem pretty chill about the whole “kidnapping children” plot happening right under their noses. Living in back alleys on scraps hasn’t been kind to poor Iorek and he turns down Lyra’s offer. He’s been through too much. He’s just doing his best, you guys! But may I say how impressed I am with the CGI for this bear? It was make or break for the show because Iorek is such a recognizable character, and I think they did a fantastic job.
Alyssa: Not to gush too much, but Iorek was everything I wanted him to be. The CGI looked GREAT — honestly, this is what we should have gotten with the direwolves — and his general feeling of sadness and failure was palpable. In order to reach the highs that he does later in the season, we have to see him in the lows, and the poor bear is low. While Iorek isn’t immediately on board to help, they do get word from Seraphina Pekkala, one of the leaders of a witch’s clan who has a tragic backstory with Farder Coram. While we don’t see her yet, we do see her daemon, a hawk called Kaisa, who informs Farder Coram that they shouldn’t count on all of the witches since some of the clans are allied with the Magesterium, but Seraphina will come if he calls. Coram informs Lyra that they were in love once and had a son who died, and their different ways of dealing with their grief led them down different paths. My heart, it breaks.
Jessica: It’s all very sad and explains Fader Coram’s resolve to get these missing children back but we don’t have too much time to dwell on those painful memories because war is coming and while the Gyptians are prepping in the North, Mrs. Coulter is doing some planning of her own. I’ll say it again: She’s a formidable adversary and Lyra needs to be on her guard when it comes to her mother.
Mrs. Coulter’s Punishment
Alyssa: Mrs. Coulter becomes more terrifying with every episode. She’s so cold and menacing that I am almost starting to pity her daemon monkey. When she slapped his little paw away! He just wanted to hold her hand! As someone who would do anything to get a daemon, I take great offense at how much she appears to hate hers. Anyway, Mrs. Coulter is summoned before the Magesterium in a truly glorious burgundy suit, but not even the suit can distract them from the reason for her being there. She overstepped the line at Jordan College, so of course, these men are going to scream about scholastic sanctuary again.
Jessica: As much as I admire Mrs. Coulter’s ability to manage these men in power, the way she treats her daemon cannot stand! Is she some kind of witch? The disconnect between them, the way she can have him so far from her, it’s all so odd and off-putting. Even more creepy though are these Magisterium dudes. They clearly resent Mrs. Coulter’s presence in their perfectly preserved sanctuary of masculinity and you can feel their glee at enacting a bit of punishment on this woman who, gosh darn it, just won’t accept her place in life! Screw you and your tacky housecoats, my dudes! The Cardinal had planned to teach Mrs. Coulter a lesson by stripping her of her duties with the Oblation board but, of course, she’s got a Plan B. She’s captured Lord Asriel in the north and she has her own army of armored bears watching over him. If there’s one thing these guys hate more than a woman assuming a role of power, it’s a heretic doing the same, so a bargain is struck exchanging Asriel for her continued reign over the experiments at The Station and a quick trip to ask the alethiometer a question.
Alyssa: I am always torn about Mrs. Coulter. She is super evil, but I also feel like she’s just trying to grab a little power for herself in the face of a very patriarchal society, and who doesn’t want that? However, she is also determined to uphold that corrupt system because it benefits her to the detriment of others, and that’s the rub. She uses her one question to the alethiometer to ask it something that she should probably know: Who is Lyra Belacqua? However, in this episode, we find out that there is a prophecy about a child and Farder Coram thinks that Lyra could be that child, so Mrs. Coulter probably has the same suspicion. Eventually, she heads North as well and does so in such style that I felt deeply ashamed of the sweats and giant sweaters that I lean on when the winter months roll around.
Jessica: Right?! There is envy and hatred warring within every time she pops up on-screen in a beautiful silk dress and fur cap. Sigh. One interesting bit of information we learned from Mrs. Coulter’s time at the Magisterium is just how remarkable it is that Lyra can read the alethiometer the way she does. When Mrs. Coulter goes to Fra Pavel to ask her question, he warns it could take weeks to discover the answer because he’s working from a set of texts. It’s not intuitive for him, or grownups in general, I’m assuming, and so Lyra’s abilities with the device are even more extraordinary — and valuable depending on who controls her.
Alyssa: Everyone is after Lyra, but she’s not the only one on the run. Lord Boreal is still searching for what Grumman/John Parry was searching for, and he wants to ask Fra Pavel and his alethiometer about it. He threatens Pavel, claiming that he’ll reveal his “filthy predilections” if he doesn’t comply. Additionally, we see Mrs. Coulter visiting the Northern jail where Asriel is being held, and she speaks with another panserbjorne, Iofur Raknison. While Iorek may have been stripped of his armor, Iofur’s is quite fancy, so he’s clearly a bear that can be bought. Mrs. Coulter promises that he’ll be the “first and only” bear to be admitted into the Magisterium if he keeps Asriel imprisoned, and it’s a promise that the bear cannot resist.
Jessica: He’s got the bling but he needs that baptism, y’all! This bear is already insufferable but he seems to have Mrs. Coulter on edge a bit. She can only manipulate him so much. However, she does get her way in the end, acting as Asriel’s jailer in exchange for getting Iofur a place in the room where it happens (I had to Alyssa!). While I do love to see Mrs. Coulter scheme and plot, I’m glad our moments with her were brief because the real action is happening up north. Lin-Manuel Miranda is sporting a thickened stache and a fedora and he’s causing all kinds of trouble. I may love him already.
Joining The Cause
Alyssa: Listen, how did we make it this far into the post without making a Hamilton reference? I’m honestly a little disappointed in us. He’s not throwing away his shot while he’s exploring this oil port. He owes Iorek a debt and he aims to settle that debt. Can I say that I am already obsessed with his relationship with his rabbit daemon, Hester? These two have such a lived-in, believable bond already. So, Lee runs into Lyra, who may or may not imply that she knows where Iorek is, but our beloved sass master doesn’t give him the time of day since he doesn’t further her mission. She’s looking for a mind at work!
Jessica: She’s a regular Angelica Schuyler and I love it. I also love that this show has turned Lin-Manuel Miranda into an action hero with a rabbit sidekick. Imagination is a truly wonderful thing. Alas, while Lee wants to catch up with his old buddy, he’s forced to scour the city at night to do it because Lyra is not interested in playing tour guide. He does eventually find his friend, eating scraps behind a butcher shop, and Iorek’s none too pleased that he’s paid him a visit. He’s enslaved to this town as punishment for his crimes, his armor is missing, he’s not at his best and he’s a bit embarrassed about it. Of course, because Lee owes him a life debt, he goes looking for the men who stole Iorek’s armor and who does he find? Dudley Dursley, Alyssa! Let the His Dark Materials/Harry Potter crossover fanfic writing commence!
Alyssa: I knew I recognized that guy! Still playing a sniveling coward. Lee doesn’t get far with Dudley, a.k.a. Mr. Syssellman, who doesn’t care to hear that Iorek was tricked or that a bear cannot be a slave. Syssellman is in deep with the Magesterium, so he’s going to do what they ask no matter what. Having hit a seemingly dead end, Scoresby gets into some fight, picks a few pockets, and gets swindled by Lyra. After she finds out from Lee that Iorek’s armor is like his daemon, she takes the alethiometer to Iorek so they can finally track it down. I’m not sure why he didn’t think to check in the Magersterium’s headquarters, but that doesn’t matter. He takes back what’s his and it’s epic as hell.
Jessica: If you thought an unarmored bear is impressive, just wait till you see Iorek decked out in full garb. It’s the kind of statement-making piece that makes grown men piss themselves, which is what I’m guessing Syssellman did when Iorek swatted his guards away like flies and nearly crushed his skull with one paw. Luckily for him, Lyra and Lee work together to quell some of Iorek’s anger at the Magisterium who tricked him into losing his armor so they could work him in the junkyard. Now that he’s no longer traipsing around in his birthday suit, he’s ready to move on and join the fight, as is Lee, and once Lyra makes her case to John Faa, the Gyptians accept their help and we’ve finally got a crew assembled. Alyssa, you know I love a good quest, and this new trio of Lee, Lyra, and Iorek seems like they’ll deliver us one hell of a good time.
Alyssa: The quest continues! There are so many things coming that I am practically humming with excitement about. The introduction of Iofur has me psyched about BEAR FIGHTS, I can’t wait to see the witches soon, and honestly, we’re long overdue for an Asriel sighting. You can’t just give us a salt-and-pepper McAvoy in leather and then snatch him away! But mostly I’m excited to see Lyra continue to grow in confidence and skill with the alethiometer. She has so much to learn, and I can’t wait to see her crack it.
Jessica: Gift me a rugged, roughed up Asriel behind bars and my thirst will be quenched — for one episode, at least. But yes, I’m ready for bear brawls and more snarky interactions between Lee and Lyra. I’m also hoping we get a glimpse of Roger and what the hell is going down at the Station because man, am I worried about our sweet beansprout.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors', and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.