Martin Carr reviews the penultimate episode of His Dark Materials season 2…
In this penultimate episode witches and aeronauts jockey for attention with shamans and spectres. Wounds begin weeping and treachery runs deep as a certified allegiance gets dissolved in a cold blooded fashion. Cardinals and their cohorts make ruthless advances while celestial observers enter the fray. Zeppelins and hot air balloons come to loggerheads and our intrepid duo finally run into allies who prove essential to success.
This then is ‘Malice’ where audiences finally get more time with Lee Scoresby and Stanislaus Grumman. Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Scott are in formidable foe hunting form sharing screen time, besting adversaries and swopping verbal salvos making you glad you tuned in. Subtle one liners and slices of sarcasm define their conversations, whilst in acting terms each leaves room for the other without suffering diminishment.
World building on this scale requires gumption, gusto and no small amount of gall. Craggy mountain passes, terra cotta burnished sun kissed cities and creations from mythical imagination are imbued with life. Ruta Gedmintas embodies the ethereal Serafina while Jade Anouka stands defiant as Ruta, swearing fealty to her coven and battling the Magisterium relentlessly. Will Keen’s Cardinal MacPhail is equally reticent in his desire to see this insurrection thwarted, yet remains a mere marionette play thing for idle hands.
Under the nose of Magisterium airships Will and Lyra are ushered away, concealed from harm and draw closer to their destiny. Lord Boreal and Mrs. Coulter continue playing footie, each manipulating the other through emotional blackmail. Neither gaining the upper hand in a partnership which is perpetually destined to come apart. Ariyon Bakare and Ruth Wilson have an easy chemistry characterised by distrust, which never feels warm yet increasingly clinical and calculating.
Elsewhere the lone traveller Mary Malone enters this world like a new born. Burdened with knowledge and an adventurer’s spirit she has much to accomplish. What that might be remains unclear but her innate maternal instincts draw Mary from the path, beguiled by lost children bereft of parental guidance and in need of salvation.
With an overdue reunion in the offing and Lord Asriel nowhere to be seen, it begs the question of what exactly can be achieved in episode seven. So far James McAvoy has been conspicuously absent from proceedings dramatically or otherwise. There have been COVID related reasons for this, but beyond that season two has felt distinctly hollow without his presence. As this sophomore effort draws to a close and The Subtle Knife makes way for The Amber Spyglass fates hang in the balance.