Martin Carr reviews the second episode of His Dark Materials season 2…
Episode two feels fragmented. Momentum is tethered by the thinnest rope to a narrative which sees Lyra cross over into an unfamiliar Oxford. Observed by interested parties with nefarious intentions ‘The Cave’ makes connections between people and other more significant elements. Meanwhile in a tentative fashion new cast members are being drip fed into this broad canvas bestselling adventure, which makes things feel understandably truncated.
Literal witch hunts and interrogations via tribunal take centre stage, while a concerned mother pulls strings within the Magisterium to further hinder our heroine. In the main action is low key, conversations veiled and outcomes ambiguous. Confrontations, whispered exchanges and unlawful incarcerations begin to erode any advantages Lyra may have accrued through season one.
Those to make an impression include Simone Kirby’s Mary Malone, a defiant Omid Djalili as Doctor Laselius and Anyon Bakare’s Boreal. By turns perplexed, dignified and devious alongside a dangerously deviant Mrs.Coulter they leave the most lasting impression. It is also good to finally see Amir Wilson’s Will Parry get some screen time rather than being relegated to a narrative afterthought.
For those expecting something awe-inspiring ‘The Cave’ is unlikely to deliver, as it has some serious storytelling to accomplish. Trying to strike a balance between character progress and the broader impact of Magisterium interferences, was always destined to create problems. Dealing with multiple dimensions, continual tonal shifts and an unwieldy narrative meant this sense of fragmentation was inevitable.
His Dark Materials deals with some serious topics and anyone familiar with the author will know his feelings towards them. Symbolism within this season and the last was widespread whether linked to religion or something more tangible. Freedom of thought and deed are central to the themes which run through these books as are matters of individuality. A desire to dream, explore and believe in the fantastic are all tied into that pivotal adolescent moment. Those years where we reside in limbo between two worlds before the pressures of reality come home to roost. It is that which Pullman wishes to explore, retain and celebrate when things like belief have yet to cloud our judgement turning naiveté into cynicism.
In the final moments as napalm rains down onto an unsuspecting populous illuminated by an iridescent full moon, only then does the impact of religious doctrine show it’s truly colours. Self-promotion, made for selfish reasons and based on misguided loyalties only guarantee an uncertain future. Some actions are beyond redemption and afford no room for atonement especially where genocide is concerned.