Over the course of His Dark Materials‘ first season, Lyra has suffered betrayals from those who should have loved and protected her. Unfortunately, the worst betrayal of her young life is still to come.
As the Magisterium forces head north, Father MacPhail is rallying the troops against Lord Asriel’s heresy as Mrs. Coulter loads a revolver seemingly intended for her ex-lover. Asriel, meanwhile, takes stock of the Aurora with his daemon Stelmaria, who notes that its strength and the presence of the child means it’s time for his plan to take place. Asriel doesn’t exactly look pleased but knows that she’s right. Whatever he means to do, it must happen now.
Though Lyra was thrown off by her father’s initial response to her arrival, she comes to see him and sweetly smiles, anticipating a real reunion now that she knows the truth of their relationship. Her smile quickly dissolves when she realizes he doesn’t want her there. A hurt Lyra confronts him with the fact that she knows the truth. Not understanding why he withheld this information, she tells him she would have been proud to have a great man like him as her father. Asriel seems stunned that she knows and then asks quickly if she knows who her mother is. Lyra tartly responds, “Your choice in women is almost as bad as your choice in bears.” They both laugh, having a moment of true connection before Asriel shuts it down. James McAvoy, who is blisteringly good here, delicately threads the needle between obviously caring for his daughter and being driven by a greater obsession.
While Lyra has come to understand that her mother is a monster, it’s heartbreaking to watch her realize that her father is as well. Lord Asriel will never be a soft man, scoffing at the sentiment his daughter is dying to show him but Lyra stills loves this complicated man and doesn’t seem to know what to do with that love now. When he tells her Lyra Belacqua is too strong to cry, she tries to hurt him back by telling him she no longer goes by his name but by Lyra Silvertongue, which feels like her true name since it was given to her by someone who actually loves her. Crushed by his disregard, she tries to hand over the alethiometer and announces she will soon be on her way with Roger. When Asriel gives it back to her, saying it belongs to her and that he doesn’t need it, this seems to be the last straw for Lyra. She tells him furiously everything she’s suffered to bring it to him and mocks that he calls himself a father. His cold response? “I’ve never called myself a father,” which sends Lyra fleeing away in tears.
Lyra’s mother, meanwhile, draws closer to them both on the Magisterium’s airships where Father MacPhail confronts her over her past relationship with Asriel. He seems repulsed that such a promising woman was brought low by her base lust for a man that was not her husband, but Ruth Wilson and Will Keen’s weird chemistry adds an off-kilter dimension to the scene. It would not have been surprising if the two had sex, but Coulter seems disgusted that MacPhail isn’t the type of person she and Asriel are. He’s envious of their conviction and sureness of step and that’s his true sin.
In other Magisterium news, Fra Pavel, the organization’s alethiometer reader, finally has an answer to Lord Boreal’s question about what Stanislaus Grumman had discovered. He tells him that it was a knife (a subtle one, perhaps) in a tower surrounded by angels and Grumman’s son will lead him to it. Since Grumman didn’t have any children in their world, Pavel thinks more questions are needed, but Boreal realizes that since John Parry did indeed have a son, he must locate Will as soon as possible.
Will remains on the run after his murder of Boreal’s henchman, Thomas, and checks the news for any word of the murder while avoiding the police’s notice. Despite this, Will’s plotline still feels a bit aimless since the show hasn’t given Amir Wilson much opportunity to show his personality and has stuck poor Ariyon Bakare in a car for most of the season. Despite the feeling that we’ve been spinning wheels for a few episodes, we do learn that Boreal’s other henchman is actually a police officer who puts out an APB for Will at Boreal’s urging.
Back at Asriel’s lab, Lyra is still devastated by her father’s disregard, crying in the bath before Roger comes to console her. The boy, who has been Lyra’s best friend in the world, confesses that Lord Asriel makes him uneasy, remembering how the man looked at him like a wolf when they arrived. Claiming that parents are more trouble than they are worth, he tells Lyra that they can pretend they are both orphans if that helps. As Pan and Roger’s daemon, Salcilia, scamper about, Lyra confesses she’s still upset that her father wouldn’t take the alethiometer after all the trouble she went through to get it to him. When Roger suggests she ask it about Asriel’s true feelings and what lies in their future, she decides against it and the friends share a warm exchange as Roger confesses he’s glad she changed his life by bringing him on this adventure. It’s one of the last moments of calm before the storm comes to engulf them.
Though Lord Asriel planned to leave on his mysterious journey without saying goodbye to Lyra, he wakes her in the middle of the night and they have as much of a heart-to-heart as he’s capable of having. As with the earlier scene between them, it’s one of the most compelling of the episode. He talks to her about the mystery of Dust and how the Magisterium believes that it is sin and that’s why they are so afraid of it because it’s falling on humanity and infecting souls with evil. Since it only settles on humans during puberty, they connected it to original sin and Asriel is outraged because Dust is simply an elementary particle that the Magisterium has been using to control and oppress society. And it’s time for their control to end.
Lyra confesses this is what her mother has been doing and how horrible it was to witness what happened to the severed children at Bolvangar. Asriel seems surprised to learn that Coulter stopped Lyra from suffering that fate, but Lyra says her mother had no compunction about damaging others. Asriel remarks on the power of the relationship between human and daemon, but when he starts talking about the enormous energy the bond releases when severed, Lyra looks rightly alarmed. When he asks her what the most important question about Dust is, he’s proud of her when she says it’s where Dust comes from. As they look out on the Aurora, he talks about building a bridge to those other worlds so they can find the true source of Dust. He seems to want her to join him but when she demures, he tells her that Dust is what makes the alethiometer work. The device is hers and, making up for his earlier coldness, he tells her that he is glad she came. As he leaves, he confides, “You don’t come from nothing, Lyra. You’re the product of something extraordinary.”
While that might have been a heartwarming moment, what comes next makes Asriel’s betrayal of his daughter even more horrifying. When she wakes the following morning, her father has disappeared with Roger. Though Asriel’s servant, Thorold wants to take her to safety since the Magisterium is about to arrive. Lyra realizes what her father is about to do to her friend and calls Iorek, who comes to her side with the rest of the bears. Thus begins the duel race between Lyra and the Magisterium to reach Asriel first. As Lyra and the bears charge toward the Aurora, Coulter and MacPhail storm Asriel’s lab where the latter is knocked out by Thorold. He lets Coulter escape and she takes charge of the Magisterium forces and commands them to fire on the bears below. Lyra is caught in the crossfire but Iorek helps her escape and takes her as far as he can before she must continue on alone.
And just what is Asriel preparing to do as he tricks Roger into joining him at the site where the Aurora is strongest? Well, once Roger sees a pair of duel cages, he knows he’s in serious danger but can’t escape before Asriel throws him screaming into one and his daemon into the other. Asriel apologizes to Roger, telling the poor boy that he’s a casualty of this war — and revealing he’s just as much of a dangerous fanatic as his ex-lover. Since Asriel’s device is a rudimentary version of the one at Bolvangar, he must bring the blade down himself in an agonizingly slow and brutal matter. Roger screams while Salcilia tries to get out of the cage but can’t. Lyra makes it to the cage and sees Roger’s terrified face right as her father makes the final cut and the energy from severing Roger’s daemon knocks her off the cliff and tears the veil between worlds open in a spectacular display of light.
Asriel doesn’t give much thought to the now dead Roger as he feels the warmth of another world’s sun on his face for the first time. He’s about to head into this new world when Mrs. Coulter comes upon him. Though she’s armed, she doesn’t draw her weapon — but he does, telling her he can’t be stopped and that the Magisterium’s centuries of oppression ends now. He asks her to feel the sun on her face and to come with him to fight a war against the Authority, which is God itself. He wants to create a new republic of Heaven and he wants her to help him do it. As their daemons paw at each other, they kiss passionately and it’s obvious the enormous attraction that still exists between the two. He tells her she can lie about everything but her ambition and how she wants to change the world. Coulter notes that their child is in this world and her place is with her and that is not a lie (this is a change from the book where Coulter stays behind but not for her daughter’s sake). Asriel is surprised she wants Lyra after all this time, but Coulter says she wants her with everything she has. She bids Asriel goodbye and he disappears into the other world.
Lyra still wants nothing to do with her mother and hides until she leaves. Once alone, she takes Roger’s dead body out of the cage and cries, cradling it as she realizes this is all her fault. She doesn’t know what to do now, but Pan suggests that Dust might be good and might need protecting from her father. Though she’s scared they will be alone, Pan reminds her they have always been alone. And with the parents she has, he’s absolutely right. They vow that Roger’s death will not be in vain as they realize what they must do.
As Lyra prepares to enter the other world, Will, with the help of a familiar-looking cat, discovers one of these pathways between worlds in his own. Showing that Lyra won’t be alone for long, he steps through to the other world as Lyra follows her father’s path to the city in the sky. What will Lyra find there and how long will it take until she discovers Will? Well, you’ll just have to wait until season two to find out.
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