Martin Carr reviews the first episode of His Dark Materials season 2…
Opening in sumptuous fashion this season two premiere hints at a vast canvas of infinite possibilities. Conjoined by an elemental gateway two worlds become one as audiences continue to accompany Lyra on her journey of discovery. Airships, submersibles and ethereal apparitions carve their own path defined by strength of purpose. Religion, fantasy and burgeoning adulthood continue forming the backbone of this audacious adaptation, which remains about much more than just dust and daemons.
Ideologies, ethical debates and an inherent loss of innocence remain the cornerstone of what season two will explore. Dramatically this first foray represents a call to arms and rallying of reinforcements, against seemingly insurmountable odds. Dafne Keen’s Lyra continues walking the line between naïve curiosity and measured pragmatism. Each obstacle she encounters providing solutions, every encounter an avenue to salvation.
This first fifty minutes may well feature essential character introductions, but it also picks up with regulars including Ruth Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Lee Scoresby. There is a comfort in the familiarity and gravitas to the associations which inherently give these events momentum. Thematically darkness and light are perfectly balanced as Jack Thorne shares conversations, shapes character dynamics and tees up emotional pay offs.
Production design is similarly exceptional throughout and Joel Collins provides dramatic continuity, blending character and location materials seamlessly. Interlinked terra cotta tenements, stone etched town steps and cobbled walkways breathe an authenticity into every moment. Elsewhere unforgiving metals clash with an inner sanctum opulence of polished wood panelling, as man and machine meet in the middle.
Our ensemble cast instil this world with a pulse which ensures season two comes from a place of depth and scale. Whether we are talking about craggy outcrops perpetually enveloped by cloud cover, undersea interrogations or moments of poignant revelation this opener continues to deliver. Purists may choose to pick holes but any exclusions are always done with structure front and centre. Jack Thorne has worked wonders piecing this mosaic of plot points together in a way which remains faithful, but also avoids blow for blow replication.
Chemistry between our principle protagonists also feels genuine and on more than one occasion honestly touching. Beyond that the more contemporary issues of identity, both formative and otherwise, are carefully touched on without feeling heavy handed. From this position of strength moving into episode two, it becomes apparent that HBO and the BBC have lost none of their boundary broadening bravado. This world feels tangible, these people in danger and there seems no limit to what audiences may discover come November.
His Dark Materials Season 2 premieres on the BBC on November 8th and on HBO on November 16th.