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His Dark Materials - No Way Out + The Abyss - Reviews

24 Dec 2022

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Episode 5, No Way Out:

The fifth episode of His Dark Materials takes us into the underworld and the land of the dead; the darkest place in the worlds created by Phillip Pullman. It’s a way to explore the past and bring it back into the light; a way for Lyra and Will to say their goodbyes, encounter those in the past who have helped them along their journey.

After meeting a group of dead characters and journeying deeper in – both Lyra and Will are separated, put through a series of trials. Lyra sees Pan, but a ghost, a vision of Pan – it’s the tricks being played on them. Both led astray – Will is quickly separated. Lyra’s worst fears is present, made manifest in Pan: her guilt of playing the hero has led her here. Whatever it was saying, Will says – it wasn’t true, Lyra is still a good person. This is a pretty hellish vision of the land of the dead – and Lyra makes a statement clear: this can’t be where we all go, forever.

The search for Roger has driven much of the first half of this series and it’s an emotional moment when she finally does see him. How much of Roger’s death was Lyra’s fault, after all? The guilt lies heavy on her – she took him to Asriel to die. And there was that teaser at the beginning of the episode – just because Lyra is looking for Roger doesn’t mean that he wants to be found.

Roger’s changed, so much – and so has Lyra. Their reunion is subtle, tender-hearted and emotional – much of this episode allows Lyra to let her feelings come to light – she shouldn’t have taken him to Asriel, but Roger claims it’s not Lyra’s fault – he wanted to go. It’s an emotional moment and really well done – this is what The Amber Spyglass was building towards in its big, final climax; and Roger and Will finally get the chance to meet – however briefly.

There’s something off about this particular Land of the Dead that Lyra spots instantly and says that they’re breaking Roger out of here as soon as possible. But when Lyra didn’t come; Roger lost all hope – forever – he no longer wants to go back to the real world in the shape or form that he is at the moment. It’s something that was expected even if Lyra could perform the impossible: and they don’t know what they would happen to them when they leave.

Will’s good-natured instinct brings out the best in Lyra – and reminds her of the promise to Pan. Her suggestion is to make a window, a crack from one world to the next: but the subtle knife doesn’t work – the brilliant sound design ensures that there are distinct sounds being made, but Will can only feel knife. And then we see it, the creatures, brought to life – the guardians of the Land of the Dead.

And just like Lyra, it’s Will’s turn to be questioned. To be fed nightmares. Not only is he asked what kind of son abandons his own mother; but she would be fed nightmares too – they shall scream at his inner sleep. Lyra is questioned too – she’s destroyed the lives of everyone that she cares about; if only Will had never met her – and we can see why the child who they helped turned away from them so quickly. This time, it’s Lyra’s turn to stand up – and to confront the creatures. She believed she could defeat them – stand up to them; the true strength of Lyra and Will and everything they’ve been through unstoppable together.

And now, they have a solution to escape the land of the dead: with the subtle knife on higher ground.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter and Roke are struggling with their current environment whilst Father Gomez and Macphail scheme to enact their plan to defeat The Serpent – who they think is Lyra, in another world – but we’ve had some hints that it’s Mary Malone; now – in her own, Indiana Jones-world hopping-esque story, exploring the rivers of another world altogether. Mary’s storyline has remained separated from the likes of Lyra and her world of daemons, and it’s slowly coming to a head – the little clues that remind us of her chosen destiny; like Lyra she has much of a role to play in the grand scheme of things. Sooner or later, we could do with some movement here, but it’s fantastic to see her bond with the animal that she’s with in her building quest that showcase the true variety of Phillip Pullman’s rich universe, creating a mirror – a spyglass – the Amber Spyglass – that sees dust and makes it visible in the world. At last she can see, and the trees – and the animals – are dying.

And then we see Roger again; but to him, Jordan College is gone. Lyra reminds him of its existence – and how they snuck into the wine cellar together. His memory comes back, and it hits you right in the heart when it does – the flashbacks to the early episodes when these characters are reminded of them in their childhood is beautifully touching, and just shows how far both Roger and Lyra have come since. The Dead are watching too; they want to listen – the characters are telling stories of the past, and it brings out their memories – the best in them – prompting Lyra to lead a speech to them. No longer it’s about just Roger’s death – this isn’t life after death, it’s a prison camp, and Will has a way out for them, even if they don’t know what happens next. In this world it’s just thoughts. Out there, real things matter; and stories are the way out.

Episode 5 is what the show has been building towards; emotional storytelling at its absolute peak. The dynamic between Roger and Lyra is rebuilt like it never truly went away; and – the encounter allows them both to examine their past lives; how they met Iorek. As they speak, the dead listen.

But The Magisterium have means of their own and Mrs. Coulter’s captivity leads her to be a victim of her own experiments, her own grand designs – The Amber Spyglass brings the events of the third series fully back around to the events of Northern Lights as she’s forced to reckon with the guilt of her actions. Ruth Wilson’s character is one of the most well developed of the series and I really love the arc that she’s undergone here, so much – fighting against Mrs. Coulter’s own technology which she’s having explained to her by Macphail; who uses a lock of Lyra’s hair to locate her – but does it work, if she’s already in the land of the dead?

And speaking of, the Dead have made their judgement call. They’re ready to leave – but the creatures have other ideas. This time: Lyra’s not listening. She believes the creatures have no power here, and she’s right. Beyond memories and reams – Lyra’s ability to talk to the creatures and ask their names showcases her brilliance as a character. And then we get the reunion: it’s Lee Scoresby, conjured by the memory that Lyra was talking about him. I never thought I’d be happier to see Lin Manuel-Miranda again, but His Dark Materials pulls that out perfectly.

And now the Regent is made aware: of Asriel’s interference to challenge him. The stakes are raised, as high as ever. Unlike the bearers before, the knifebearer hasn’t been corrupted yet. This time, the Regent believes: it’s time to warn them.

Everyone delivers their A-Game in this episode; it’s the best acted episode of the series thus so far – bringing real The Last Jedi comparisons in how the series looped its story together – all these events happening at the same time, spread across all the worlds: ambitiousness personified on the grandest of scales. Dr. Cooper’s heroic stand-up to Father Macphail triggers a quiet rebellion – ultimately futile, but important all the same: this is the chef’s kiss of the moment, before she’s taken out with Mrs. Coulter helpless to watch. Even Roke is felled; but Mrs. Coulter is freed at last; and finally gets the upper hand – as a beam of light is unleashed on the worlds.

And then the warning, beaming down – the incision amplified on a global scale:


Buckle up; we’re in the endgame now.

Episode 6, The Abyss:

The Abyss picks up in the aftermath of episode five with some pretty big moments being felt across the board. Episode five was the biggest moment that kickstarted the second half of the series and it’s felt everywhere, the ramifications of the rift in two. We see the immediate aftermath on the ground and in the skies:

Mrs. Coulter tries to deal with it her own way; but even her daemon disobeys her. The monkey has followed her forcibly through every turn and now even it leaving her is something that Ruth Wilson pulls off brilliantly with a devastating command of authority. It’s pretty clear that her and Lord Asriel are two sides of the same coin; both egotistical and arrogance driven, as Asriel’s been not only uncaring about the supposed loss of Lyra when Mrs. Coulter tells him of what she’s learnt, but also: the fate of the daemon that belonged to Ruta Skadi, whose death brings back an old friend – that of Serafina Pekkala, anguished by the loss of Skadi’s daemon. But to Asriel, each death is an opportunity – the hole opened in the ground by Metatron could be Metatron’s own undoing, as if even dust is destroyed by it – why not the Authority?

The quest to continue the great escape from the land of the dead involves a classic jump across a small gap; in which Will doubts his belief, but pairing Will and Roger together presents a fun competition for Lyra: they both deeply care for her; and it’s clear that Will likes her. Lee Scoresby finds the whole thing amusing but is willing to help out an old friend – he finds out that John Parry was Will’s father under a different name, and with the two having worked together in the past, believes – although it might be hard for him to locate the man – it possible. If Lyra’s reunion with her parents is still to come, then surely, at least, Will can have his? It’s a fascinating back half of a season, so many reunions and so many interesting resurfaces that it feels like the connection of the dots being drawn – after a spread of three series across three different books, everything’s together at last for one grand finale.

Lord Asriel now goes to Iorek who is not happy with him to say the least – one of the joys of this finale has been pairing up characters who haven’t interacted before and the series writing them as though they’d known each other all along, first Will and Roger, now Iorek and Asriel – Iorek angry at Asriel for robbing him of his food supplies by creating a daemon weapon for his bears; Asriel steadfast as ever. He wants to know about Lyra, Iorek more of a father to her than Asriel ever was. Asriel still doesn’t know the full circumstances of her death however, and she may still be alive – going to the land of the dead alive is very different from ending up there voluntarily.

Lyra going to the land of the dead alive raises plenty of questions: if we are judged by the authority and sent to the land of the dead where has Lyra ended up? Neither – is the answer, and therein lies yet another answer to the defeat of the Authority. The Dead go to the Land but cannot escape, an everlasting prison – perfect for the Angels. Asriel sees this as an opportunity – and recognises that her daughter is staging a prison break. McAvoy sells this completely with the enthusiasm that only someone as deranged as Asriel can pull off – and does it excellently.

Serafina and Mrs. Coulter get a chance to share the same screen together; still believing that Lyra is dead, but Serafina is refusing to give Mrs. Coulter what she wants and strike her down. It’s a chilling scene – both superbly acted again, just His Dark Materials is a triumph that comes from its completely committed actors selling *everything* - no less than when they would in a show. Mrs. Coulter’s realisation of her loss is proof that she did love Lyra, and Serafina did understand more than Mrs. Coulter knew: they share a similar path, both given hope by Lyra that she would change the world – all of these characters drawn together by one person, Lyra. This has become a recurring theme of this season – characters being brought together, changed by their connection to Lyra, we’ve had both Iorek and Mrs. Coulter now, through means of their own.

Lyra’s escape continues – she’s pulled back into the abyss, but is rescued, by one of the creatures that attacked them earlier. This is an excellent bit of CGI and visual effects work by the way – I should point out the whole season has just been fantastic, filmed and shot mostly in Cardiff – giving lieu to a stellar backdrop of a variety of scenes. Names just can’t be given; but Gracious Wings is the name given to the creature by Lyra – who tells the creature that hers was given to her – by Iorek. Gracious Wings guides Will and Lyra to safety – believing that Gracious Wings’ story cannot be told if their name isn’t known. The creature believes that true stories feed them – they didn’t know anything beyond lies and wickedness. A solution is presented then: to get out, the dead’s life story must be told to creatures like Gracious Wings.

And then we get the reunions, as if we didn’t have enough this season. First Asriel tells Mrs. Coulter that Lyra is still alive; and the Witches prophecy is now half right – she will defeat death and become Eve. And then second the big one, Will and his father, John Parry – John, who had precious little moments of screentime with Will alive, is impressed – Will’s far greater than he ever expected. Roger has an emotional heart to heart with Lyra too – the characters getting to convey their feelings and their goals – worries and thoughts. This is the best His Dark Materials has been at giving its characters real aspirations in an age; with Roger and Lyra understanding that they won’t be going the same way once they escape the land of the dead. There’s no Oxford reunion for them. And then comes the heartbreak – setting up for the finale to come – John warns Will that staying in Lyra’s world will be devastating. No matter the temptations, he must resist – but he’s done a great thing of wonder: every character who has died, trapped in purgatory – will be freed. These are small scenes, emotionally scored and given the powerful punch that they need to stand greater than they are - it was such a good move to bring back the two fan favourite characters from the previous seasons, their absences this time out haven’t really been felt, but it gives Will and Lyra a chance to say their goodbyes ahead of the final battle that is yet to come – a mission that to Serafina, is far more important than even the rebellion against heaven.

No more Roger, no more Lee, more John Parry. That’s it – the end of the for them, but they’re no longer trapped in purgatory. In terms of emotional endings, His Dark Materials knows how to go out with a bang. And we’re not even at the end yet. There’s still the other part of the prophecy to be told.