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His Dark Materials - The Cave - Review: "Will's Oxford"



Author’s Note: I am reviewing this episode in conjunction with the UK release dates – this episode has not premiered yet in the USA and as a result there are full spoilers here. Do not read if you haven’t watched the episode yet.

Ever since Will arrived on His Dark Materials, it seemed that Lyra was destined to return to his version of Oxford, a world so different from hers even in the 1990s when The Subtle Knife was first released. Since then the difference has only increased, and Lyra, almost from the word go, feels out of her depth and alone: she’s almost hit by a car after rushing out onto a street, expecting to know where she’s going only to be met with disappointment. Instead of Jordan, she runs into a building site. Instead of the Alethiometer, Will has a phone – which tells him where to go and can call people. It would have been easy for His Dark Materials to embrace the more pop-culture references of the present day but The Cave, for all its high-tech Dark Matter particles, feels timeless, just like any good fantasy adaption should. It’s a slower second chapter than the bombastic premiere but that is an important thing, it allows the writers to give Lyra and Will some breathing room, take stock and grow as characters and explore the differences between them and what makes them tick.

Lyra is a child from another world: the alethiometer tells her to tell Mary Malone the truth, so she blurts out everything about who she is, her real name, where she’s from, everything but the daemon Pan who does a very good job at staying hidden. Mary, fantastically played by the brilliant Simone Kirby, takes Lyra up on her outlandish struggles and shows her The Cave, a computer designed to aid her studies in dark matter that are only enhanced by Lyra when she brings her knowledge of Dust and what makes it work to the table. His Dark Materials is leaning fully into the theory of the multiverse in this episode in a way that few shows do, explaining the science behind what makes it work and doing so in a captivating way.

Will meanwhile goes on his own path, separated from Lyra as a wanted fugitive in this episode, he can’t just stroll into the gates of Oxford University as easily as Lyra. He goes to his grandparents, who he has only just found out about on his father’s side, but they don’t seem too keen to take him in and are instead very much happy to turn him over to Lord Carlo Boreal, who is able to cross worlds without as much of a second thought. Much of this episode is geared towards putting the Magisterium back in the game and showing Mrs. Coulter where Lyra is and what she’s done, giving her a mission for the rest of the series, to find her daughter. Utilising the tension between the Witches and the Magisterium, Mrs. Coulter is able to capitalise on her manipulative abilities to rise up the ranks further and maintain her position of power, so she can operate from the shadows. War is coming to Lyra’s world, and the obliteration of the Witches’ homelands despite Serafina being keen to restore order and peace is very much something that sets the wheels in motion in a frightening new way.

The fallout between Lyra and Will this episode when Lyra accused him of being a murderer “but the good kind” is something that Lyra doesn’t take too easily. Their scene in the park was beautiful as they both reconciled with each other: Will is still coming to terms with who he is now and Lyra isn’t keen to make what happened to Roger happen to Will, at all costs. She feels like she has a duty to set things right and sees Will as her way of doing that. And of course, there’s the issue of Lyra’s lateness: Lyra stays too long with Mary Malone, leaving Will out in the open as a wanted fugitive (will she keep her promise about returning to Mary’s work the following day?) And of course, now Lyra has Lord Boreal’s card, not knowing who he is or what he’s capable of. It seems only a matter of time before he plays a larger role in her life, for good or ill. Mary too: her background as a Nun is important not to overlook.

As usual His Dark Materials is very good at keeping audiences in the dark until next week’s episode, only leaving us wanting more in return. The wait for a new episode, week after week, is only becoming more and more unbearable because of it.

His Dark Materials continues next Sunday on BBC One.


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