While the men of His Dark Materials are borderline liabilities to the show’s greatness, the women, more than enough, make up for what nearly every male character lacks.
|Network||BBC One & HBO|
|Aired||11/8/2020 to 12/20/2020|
|Genre(s)||Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Young Adult, Religious|
|Mrs. Coulter||Ruth Wilson|
|Lord Asriel||James McAvoy|
|Dr. Lanselius||Omid Djalili|
This content contains pertinent spoilers.
Together with Will, Lyra transverses through multiple worlds to search for Will’s father, John, and later begins to follow the fate she and Will don’t even know they are destined for. All the while, Mrs. Coulter searches for her daughter, Lord Asriel is nowhere to be found, The Magisterium fears losing grasp of their world, and Carlo? Well, he tries to present himself as Mrs. Coulter’s equal and learns how foolish of an idea that was.
Since the beginning of the show, Dafne Keen has been one of the two central pillars that have made His Dark Materials great, and in season 2, she continues that role. In season 1, it felt like an origin story, the start of a great hero, and in season 2, now after experiencing a significant loss, you can see a less bold Lyra. Someone who, especially as she grows closer to Will, still holds a sense of adventure but now also a sense of responsibility as well. Not just due to Will often being in an unfamiliar world, but him being Lyra’s new Roger.
With that in mind, you see both a fear and desire to grow close and even rely on Will, which is a challenge for Lyra. One could even say, while Lyra’s friendship which Roger showed her what she was capable of as an adventurer, Lyra’s friendship with Will allowed her to see who she could be under a set of new eyes.
This is perhaps what fosters Lyra’s growth as much as trying to heal from Roger’s death. For while Lee, Serafina, and many others seek out Lyra, it isn’t until near the end of the season they get anywhere close. Until then, Lyra is forced to use her wits, her curiosity, learn to trust people, and even keep herself from being consumed by the darkness in her heart.
This is seen when she faces off against Mrs. Coulter, and while Keen has largely been a gift to this show due to her charisma and charm, it’s in tapping into Lyra’s darker emotions you realize she can go beyond likable traits. Like Lyra’s mother, there is this ability to go further to get what they want. As Keen faces off with Mrs. Coulter and Pan beats the hell out of Mrs. Coulter’s daemon, it further pushes you to believe, as Lyra hits puberty and begins to change beyond the physical, we may meet a nearly whole new person in season 3. Someone far more complicated than the girl we once knew.
A Deeper Look Into The Relationships & Psyche of Mrs. Coulter
Alongside Keen’s Lyra, Wilson’s Mrs. Marisa Coulter is vital on His Dark Materials. For what Lyra does for the overall show, Mrs. Coulter hones in on making the adults, the men especially, less of a liability and more so supporting players who can have some sort of value. One example is, while in her world, she participates in the death and rise of a new cardinal. Now, considering how dry everything dealing with The Magisterium is, you recognize how much they needed her this season.
But even beyond them, Mrs. Coulter spends a good amount of time with Carlo and greatly bolsters his character and even Lee, they only share one scene, but in that scene, she dominates. Now, this isn’t to say Wilson doesn’t know how to share a moment and allow the others to shine. It’s just her performance, the writers’ investment in the character, it eclipses nearly everyone but Lyra and Wilson relishes in this. Leaving most benefitting from being in the same scene, but it’s like a shark and remora relationship. They benefit from the situation far more than she does, and she could easily eat them alive in the moment if she wanted to.
Though setting aside how Mrs. Coulter was forced to bolster the position of underserving men, we must also talk about her as an individual, including her daemon. From discovering a possibly abusive upbringing to finally addressing the odd relationship with her daemon, even mentions of perhaps being a witch, Mrs. Coulter’s personal growth was also a notable part of this season. Mind you, it was subtle and not dwelled upon, yet it did allow us to see beyond the perfected façade for a moment.
An Excellent Ending To The Season, And For Many Characters
As said in the finale, how things end with this season, with them killing off multiple characters, confirming Lyra is Eve, Lord Asriel finally showing up, and making an alliance with angels – it’s ace. This is not something we often feel shows are doing since cancellations come swiftly, so making assumptions that you will come back seems almost foolish. Yet, with BBC One and HBO backing the show, you can see the team at His Dark Materials has full plans to tease and give a crescendo that will get you hyped and demanding more.
Heck, even having Roger speak at the end was a nice touch. For now, there is a reason to watch the credits. Something most shows don’t really push you to do beyond seeing the next episode preview that, honestly, you can wait on YouTube for.
Nothing about the Magisterium makes you want to see or hear more. The death and rise of a new Cardinal are only interesting because the witches quickly pulled that off, and Mrs. Coulter played politics. But once there aren’t women around, they are such a dry part of the show that you feel like your eyes and ears just got rubbed by sandpaper.
For one, not a single actor has any type of charisma or oomph. There also isn’t any character that doesn’t come off as a sniveling coward fearful of losing what little power they have. And with every reminder that the Magisterium has numbers but really aren’t as all-powerful as they are said to be, it just makes you roll your eyes.
Unlike in season 1, there wasn’t an army of people and bears fighting them. It’s the witches who killed their cardinal and took out their airships. It’s John who took down two airships with some birds. Now, this isn’t to downplay them killing off characters and bombing the hell out of a homeland for witches. However, their retaliation didn’t compensate for the embarrassment of the initial attack.
On The Fence
Not Much Being Done With Angelica
Bella Ramsey gave it her all for what was essentially a bit part. One that often didn’t seem essential, could be played by anyone, yet Ramsey, as she did on Game of Thrones, brought it. She solidified that His Dark Materials is a female-driven show from the biggest to smallest roles. Because, just her going off on Will about this teen boy who was supposed to protect her character, Angelica, and her friend Paola, that was something.
In that moment, you could almost imagine an alternate world where Ramsey was cast as Lyra, and while it wouldn’t be the same, it would still have an impact.
As much as the witches made a more robust appearance than season one, especially as they expanded beyond Serafina, they remained these mysterious figures. Yes, we were made more aware of their powers, the role they play, and through Dr. Lanselius, how they raise their young, but like with Mrs. Coulter’s past, it felt like you got a glimpse of the whole truth and then got snatched back.
Like Carlo, and his relationship with Mrs. Coulter, you could submit Will was only really at his best when around Lyra, with very few exceptions. For this season, the exception came in the last episode, when he was with his father, but beyond that? Like when he was checking on his mother and met his grandparents, we were reminded that the reason his world revolves around Lyra isn’t just because she is the star – but the show actually works when it is handled that way. Because, as much as you could imagine great things for Wilson, again, this show isn’t really about boys and men having strong and notable roles. Hence why the only guy with any sort of oomph, James McAvoy, was held off until the end.
Mary & The Angels
With Lyra being Eve, a biblical figure, one could assume the angels’ investment in Mary is because she is supposed to be Mary Magdalene or the Mary who birthed Jesus. For the idea behind Lyra bringing sin, and the freedom she is supposed to herald, so comes the question if Mary is supposed to bear witness or be part of the birth of a new world?
After all, she is a scientist, one of the kindest adults Lyra has met so far, certainly one of the most innocent we know, and we can’t discount she used to be a nun either. And the only reason this is being placed in the “On The Fence” is because, like Angelica, you can see more could have been done here. But, unlike Angelica, which was more so an actress who was wasted in a small part, Mary’s issue is this season was her origin story. So we won’t really know what role she’ll play until the third and final season.
Rating: Positive (Watch This)
Truly the only flaw with His Dark Materials is that the men don’t keep up with the women. Whether you are talking about Lyra’s journey through different worlds or her emotional growth, or Mrs. Coulter becoming as powerful as she should have been decades ago, those two carried the entire season. And even when it comes to smaller parts like Mary and Angelica, it really pushes you to realize how much this show relies on its female characters and utterly flips the script on what you expect from fantasy/ adventure programming.
Hence the positive label – even if barely. His Dark Materials setups more than enough for its next and last season to really be one for the ages. And if it would just allow or have these men step up and not use the women as a crutch, it could truly be one of the best series that left before it could overstay its welcome.
Things We’d Like To See Next Season
- After the credits, Lyra is talking to Roger in the season finale – how exactly did they meet is a good question? Alongside, is she going to snatch a Roger from another dimension and bring him to her world? Assuming there are multiple Rogers, Lyras, and such
- More charismatic members of The Magisterium
- Diving more into Mrs. Coulter’s youth and relationship with her parents
- Lord Asriel’s journey to the land of angels
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