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His Dark Materials - Malice & Æsahættr - Double Review: "Eve"

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His Dark Materials 2.06 – Malice – Review:

Malice saw the penultimate episode of His Dark Materials once more pick up the pace in an excellent way, with Lyra and Will, Lee and Will’s father, converging on the same place at the heart of the show as all the storylines slowly merged into one. Lyra and Will earn their rescue from the witches, who are able to intervene and rescue them from being attacked by the angry mob of children who blame them for the deaths of one of their own, and Will is starting to think that they might be right: after all, he took the knife off the boy who met his end and if the boy still had the knife, then he might have been able to stay safe from the spectres and live a relatively normal life. That’s a lot of doubt to have hanging over one particular person, especially someone as young as Will. The set-piece with the children led by Angelica at the start felt like a George A. Romero movie, the kids surrounded by an angry mob. Bella Ramsey has been an excellent addition to this series and is able to make a character like Angelica feel incredibly scary when wronged, even to someone like Lyra who’s used to getting the better of adults and outmatching them at their own game. Adding villains their own age allows for an interesting battle, and proves just how out of their depth Lyra and Will truly are. Amir Wilson brings excellent depth to the tortured inner demons of Will, and is able to take what he’s learnt from his stint on The Letter for the King, his fantasy show for Netflix, and apply it here where he feels much more confident. The bonding between Lyra and Will, in some cases subtle, most cases not, showed just how far they’ve come since the start, too.

This may be Lyra’s story as a collective whole and this season may have been primarily more of Will’s journey than Lyra’s, but the danger of casting an actress as good as Ruth Wilson is that she’s able to out act pretty much everyone across the board and leave a lasting impression on the audience. This was another best episode of the season contender as it showcased just what made Mrs. Coulter so deadly, why Lyra was always right to fear her: Mrs. Coulter can control the spectres, bend them to her will, by simply shutting out the human part of her body. She has the upper hand on Lord Boreal from the get go, able to manipulate him when he thinks he is the manipulator, reject his advances of a shared union with a mutual interest and remind him that there has always only been one person in charge: Mrs. Coulter.

And so ends the tale of Lord Boreal, who failed to get the knife back from Will in the previous episode. Like most of the cast, the role of Boreal was brilliantly cast and it was a joy to watch Ruth Wilson go head-to-head with Ariyon Bakare this time out (BBC’s Must Watch podcast had an excellent interview with him ahead of the series’ launch that I’d strongly recommend going back and listening to if you haven’t already), and Bakare brings a sinister air of collectiveness and calmness to His Dark Materials that only makes his villain all the more threatening, and once again shows how terrifying Mrs. Coulter is if she’s able to get the better out of him. But this show has never been one to keep characters beyond their welcome, and once Mrs. Coulter no longer sees a need for him, he’s quickly tossed aside. Like everybody in her life, Lord Boreal is only a means to an end for Mrs. Coulter.

Lyra being “tempted by the serpent” is a thread that has been brought up before and we get a brilliant scene in this episode between Cardinal MacPhail and Fra Pavel at the scheming heart of the Magisterium’s politics, where they learn the truth, and who her real name is. It seems by the end of this season: everyone knows Lyra’s real name but Lyra, she has an important part to play in ending destiny and in order for her to succeed it must remain that way, but it only feels like a matter of time before somebody slips up and tells her the truth. Lyra is the new Eve, confirmed in the finale, and if Mary is the serpent instead of Mrs. Coulter as would be the obvious choice… how does Mary become the serpent? And what role does Mrs. Coulter have left to play in the grand scheme of things? Either way, I loved her daemon’s reaction to “They consume what makes us human so I just hid that from them,” it’s a real shame that we haven’t seen it speak yet and it feels like there’s a real divide between both Mrs. Coulter and her daemon in a way that hasn’t really been replicated among any other character, not even Lord Boreal.

The Magisterium advancing North means that it isn’t long before they catch up with the dynamic duo of Lee Scorseby and Jopari, who soon find themselves battling multiple airships. Thanks to Jopari’s Shaman powers, he’s able to bring them down but not without a cost, Lee’s hot air balloon is destroyed in the chaos, grounding him and Jopari this close to the end. They’re not that far behind Lyra too, staying above Cittàgazze but coming dangerously close to getting caught in the chaos with the spectres below. The dynamic that Lin Manuel-Miranda and Andrew Scott is superb as ever with the two-sharing instant chemistry, and Scott’s delivery of Jopari’s riddles clearly makes Lee so out of his depth around him, especially with Manuel-Miranda’s tendency to overplay the comic-relief role of his character.

And finally, Mary is closer and closer to answers than she was before having left her world behind. In the wake of the chaos of Cittàgazze blissfully unaware of its dangers, she teams up with Angelica and Paula not knowing that they just tried to kill Lyra and Will. Their team-up is one of the more unlikely ones this season but both girls are keen for a mother figure after going without one for so long, especially one so unbothered by the Spectres. The hug that both Mary and Angelica share makes Angelica one of the more brilliantly complex characters on this season of His Dark Materials, and their dynamic, although short-lived, was one of the more entertaining ones of this season of a show that has been so filled with excellent character pairings: it’s rare that one has felt out of place.

His Dark Materials 2.07 – Æsahættr – Review:

After six episodes of pretty much set-up, things finally came to a head in the second series finale, originally meant to be eight episodes but reduced to seven after they were unable to film a Lord Asriel-centric episode that would have worked as a nice bridging of the gap for the storylines. That’s why in part, Æsahættr feels a little anticlimactic in places, especially with Asriel showing up for a brief cameo at the end in a landscape that looks straight out of the final act of Ready Player One, calling to arms an army from across the universe to take on the one true enemy: The Authority, and restore balance and freedom to the universe. Granted, it’s not the show’s fault that this is an incomplete season, and that’s why I’m not so bothered about the almost anticlimactic feeling of Æsahættr as I would have been otherwise, it’s a mostly pretty solid episode that builds on the consistent payoff of every episode that the show was building towards.

Firstly, let’s talk about the big moment in this episode that the finale really nailed: Lee’s death. It was heartbreaking, and although Lin Manuel-Miranda hasn’t always felt at home in the role of Lee Scoresby, he’s able to deliver his last stand against the Magisterium perfectly. The way they set up him alerting The Witches I kept expecting them to do something in this final episode and sweep in at the last moment to save him, but the fact that they just… didn’t, is a bold twist that left his final moments remarkably tender and quiet. He couldn’t have wished for a more beautifully-looking place for his death too, as the standoff against the Magisterium guards served as a highlight for me, not just of the episode but of the whole series. Dying so close to Lyra but knowing he did as much as he possibly could to achieve his goal? It’s the way Lee would have wanted to go out. He also doesn’t succeed, as moments later, with Will talking to her father, Lyra is just… captured by Mrs. Coulter, who’s able to outmatch the remaining Witches, killing one in Cittàgazze with the aid of the Spectres and killing another who is left behind to protect Lyra.

I do feel like a lot of this season was edited really poorly and this final showdown, set mainly to Jack Thorne’s script, felt forced and awkward, a lot less successful and impactful than the big moments that led up to it, for all the talk about how good The Witches were, the fact that they didn’t even get to do anything made it all the more pointless: why bring them along at all if all they’re going to do is just feed exposition about prophecies? I’ll be honest, I was expecting a lot more from Æsahættr, which falls into the trap of the problem that the book managed to avoid: it feels like the stereotypical second act in a trilogy that’s built primarily to set-up the third book (or in this case, season), and not much else… it’s all about getting people to places that they need to be for it to happen in a very A-to-B way. There’s plenty of exposition and whilst the peaks of the show really are peaks, it struggles in a lot of other elements that made all the more disappointing by just how abrupt the finale felt. Even the death of Jopari felt extremely sudden and abrupt: it was a lot more awkward than Lee’s last hurrah and that’s a testament to just how awkwardly everything feels put together in the editing department, the transition between scenes doesn’t feel smooth.

It’s no coincidence that the best episodes of the series have been Jack Thorne-less as he’s a writer who relies on formula almost to a fault and bringing on some fresh blood was the best thing that could have happened to this second season. Hopefully he plays a more reduced role in Season 3, as like with J.J. Abrams, he’s a writer that never feels confident in the final act especially if this finale is anything to go by. It’s such a shame as the peaks of The Virtues are something that he’s never quite been able to replicate in his adapted work. At least hopefully he learns from the rare moments that this season has put wrong, and builds on it for Season 3, now confirmed to be the last outing of the show in an appropriate manner. You can rest easy His Dark Materials fans, we’re finally getting that completed trilogy adaption!

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