His Dark Materials: Season 2/ Episode 5 “The Scholar” – Recap/ Review (with Spoilers)

With a knife that can cut into other dimensions in hand, Will and Lyra plan to take back the alethiometer. However, with Mrs. Coulter not part of the plan, will they succeed?

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Lyra and Will looking forward

With a knife that can cut into other dimensions in hand, Will and Lyra plan to take back the alethiometer. However, with Mrs. Coulter not part of the plan, will they succeed?

Director(s) Leanne Welham
Writer(s) Francesca Gardiner
Aired (BBC One) 12/6/2020

This content contains pertinent spoilers. Also, images and text may contain affiliate links, which, if a purchase is made, we’ll earn money or products from the company.


Meanwhile, At The Magisterium – Cardinal MacPhail, Father Graves, Fra Pavel

As Carlo and Mrs. Coulter explore Will’s Oxford together, Cardinal MacPhail deals with the witches’ retaliation, alongside Father Graves remaining a thorn in his side. It is not just because of how the Magisterium is being seen as weak, but also because of his interest in Mrs. Coulter. Which, with Mrs. Coulter having something on MacPhail, means Father Graves had to be taken out.

Yet, placing a man who was your chief opposition for Cardinal in a cell, surely that won’t backfire, right? Well, if it does, it won’t be immediate and, honestly, seems to not be at the top of the Cardinal’s list. Instead, he is interested in what Mrs. Coulter is doing and tasks Fra Pavel to use the alethiometer to see.

One Life Stolen, Another Given – Carlo, Mrs. Coulter, Mary, Xaphania

Carlo bringing Mrs. Coulter to Will’s world is a conflicting experience for Mrs. Coulter. On the one hand, the technology and advancements of Will’s Oxford are amusing but don’t necessarily entertain Mrs. Coulter much. After all, she is really there for Lyra, not to be wooed by Carlo through being shown a whole new world.

However, one thing that does impress Mrs. Coulter is Mary, or rather what Mary is allowed to do and capable of. You see, in the world Lyra and Mrs. Coulter know, the glass ceiling for women is actually the basement, if not the first floor. So the heights Mary has reached as a doctor, having her own office, publishing papers under her own name, and things like that, it is stunning to Mrs. Coulter since that was never available to her.

Mrs. Coulter realizing Carlo's intentions and ignorance

I mean, lest we forget, an affair nearly ruined her career, and it still leads to whispers. Never mind she is the only woman in her field, and that hasn’t, and likely won’t change. Even if another woman was top of their class, like Mrs. Coulter.

Yet, while Mrs. Coulter sulks and internally screams about the life she could have had, Mary finds herself speaking with Xaphania again. Someone who pushes her to be a serpent, to protect Lyra and Will, and it notes she’ll be protected. Mind you, Xaphania is saying that Mary should go to where the specters are, that suck the souls of adults in seconds. Also, to be a serpent, which, considering Xaphania is an angel, is a peculiar thing to ask a human to be.

But with His Dark Materials just starting to bring in religious figures we’re familiar with, who knows if we might be taking this too seriously.

Nature vs. Nurture – Lyra, Mrs. Coulter, Carlo, Will

Getting back the alethiometer is no easy task. Carlo has shown himself to be untrustworthy, and his association with Mrs. Coulter pushes the idea he is capable of violence. So with that in mind, Lyra wants to distract him while Will opens a window, steals the alethiometer, and that be it.

Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple due to Mrs. Coulter, still dealing with the life she didn’t have, being in the basement, and her daemon catching Will. Thus leading to Carlo and Will fighting over the Subtle knife while Mrs. Coulter is trying to win Lyra back.

That situation is weird to watch for multiple reasons. One, it has Pan beating the hell out of Mrs. Coulter’s daemon, as it did to them in season 1. Alongside that, Mrs. Coulter firmly establishes that either she is a witch or has studied them to the point of her person being separate from her daemon. Meaning she can separate her pain from its and be an extraordinary distance without any issues.

This comes as a shock to Laura, while Will is struggling with taking on the bigger Carlo. Yet, thankfully, Will is able to subdue Carlo long enough to cut a window, Lyra get the alethiometer, and Pan to jump through the window back to Cittagazze.


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Mary Being Long Term

No pun intended, there is something about Mary. Unlike many of the smaller characters on the show, she doesn’t necessarily rely on the big names to make you see her value. Be it because she has been developed with a backstory you can get into, or her working with Xaphania makes her feel like the star of her own show rather than a supporting player in Will and Lyra’s? Either way, it should be interesting to see if she surpasses Lee and the shell of a character he has become or will get a storyline more so on the level of Iorek.

Mrs. Coulter Reminding Carlo She Is More Than What Most Men Ever Have Seen Her As Or Planned For Her

One of the reasons we enjoy Mrs. Coulter so much is that she is one of the few villainous characters with layers to her. Yes, she tortured and killed children, beat the hell out of Pan through her daemon, and can be an utter monster. However, she isn’t one dimensional. Throughout the series, she has been developed steadily. Be it through noting how her affair with Asriel ruined her, the limitation put on her due to being a woman, and still making headway despite, and then there is what we learn in this episode.

Her separating from her daemon, who for some reason rarely, if ever, talks, was a head-turner. Especially Mrs. Coulter hinting that she is a witch. That was a bit of a shocker, but it also makes sense. She could easily be a deeply embedded agent for the witches, trying to take down the Magisterium from the inside. Now, who is her mother and planned this out? Hard to say.

Mrs. Coulter dealing with the freedoms and opportunities she was denied in life.

But, it does push you to further understand why she wants to be there for Lyra. For if Mrs. Coulter, similar to Dr. Lanselius, was raised by witches then lived with her father, it could explain so much. It could explain the abuse she went through, which was hinted by Lee, and why she wants Lyra close, for she didn’t get to be and stay close with her mother. So she wants that vicarious experience.

Yet, with wanting to be with her daughter but possibly having this mission, you can see the need to be extreme to cover up her desire to have it all and the challenge of doing so.

Lyra Recognizing Her Own Darkness

Like Mrs. Coulter, why we enjoy Lyra is because of the combination between a character you can see the writers are invested in, with the right talent to play out their writing, and fill in what may not have been in the script. That is shown through us seeing Lyra’s dark side and Pan’s in extension, as there is talk of violence and having Pan play that out.

Through that experience, we are reminded that what is seen as mischievous in Lyra’s current form could evolve into something dangerous. For everyone is the hero of their own story and a potential villain, or nuisance, in another’s. So down the line, depending on how long this series goes, who knows if Lyra may not flip sides if someone presents her with an idea or logic strong enough to convince her.

Angelica’s Passion

Straight up, Bella Ramsey is underutilized on this show. It’s nice to see her, but the passion and talent she has, it leaves you wanting more but upset because you know you won’t get it. A prime example being when she is upset with Will, and you don’t just see her physical form lunge at him but this energy. And even through the screen, you feel it to the point you’re left surprised she didn’t harm Will because you were allowed to connect with her passion without effort.

Angelica upset about what happened to her friend.

Low Point

Who Cares About The Magisterium?

Without Mrs. Coulter, there is no draw when it comes to the Magisterium. None of the actors have that certain something, and if they do, it is bridled due to the way the men are expected to act. Add in the past criticism that the Magisterium just isn’t made to come off that formidable, and it really makes their pending destruction seem long overdue. If just to save screentime.


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Mary Being Long Term - 85%
Mrs. Coulter Reminding Carlo She Is More Than What Most Men Ever Have Seen Her As Or Planned For Her - 88%
Lyra Recognizing Her Own Darkness - 84%
Angelica's Passion - 83%
Who Cares About The Magisterium? - 66%


As storylines begin to converge, both Mrs. Coulter and Lyra find themselves almost swapping personas as Mrs. Coulter finds herself becoming the vulnerable one and Lyra the heartless.

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