We’re two weeks into His Dark Materials and I still can’t get used to the joy of seeing daemons brought to life on my TV every Sunday. Tonight’s episode played more fluidly with the source material and featured some uneven performances. It’s great things are getting shaken up a bit for viewers in-the-know, but there’s a nervousness in my stomach akin to watching someone pick up your favourite possession with dirty hands and hoping they don’t make a mess of it.
Ruth Wilson was, without doubt, the star of the episode. Mrs. Coulter held my interest in every scene, and whenever she wasn’t present I was wondering what she was up to. This is almost to the detriment of other characters, as she shines so much brighter than the Gyptian crew and the Magisterium, both of which are less engaging by comparison. She’s coming across like someone who Lyra should genuinely be afraid of, which is exactly the point. As great as she is, I am hoping characters like Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Iorek Byrnison (that polar bear fella in all the trailers) manage to share the spotlight equally with her when they’re eventually introduced.
Whilst Mrs. Coulter rose to even greater heights in episode two, I was a little bit let down by Dafne Keen’s Lyra after such a great performance last week. Tonight, the delivery of some of her lines felt awkward to me, and the reaction to her finding out Lord Asriel was her father was just a bit too cringey.
All of the scenes in London are just how I pictured them in my head. They’re nailing everything about Mrs. Coulter’s storyline and it’s so satisfying to watch come together. Then you’ve got scenes featuring the Gyptians and it’s so different to what I imagined, at times it feels like I’m suddenly watching a different show for a few minutes. So far I find the Gyptians to be the weakest part of the series – they’re not very engaging, and none of the characters are really piquing my interest. Which makes me slightly nervous for the next episode, when I imagine they will feature slightly more heavily.
Surprisingly I didn’t notice the absence of James McAvoy until the very end of the episode, which is great as he’s probably the biggest name attached to this project and it’s nice to see them not relying on him too heavily. One of the reasons the first book worked well was how mysterious Lord Asriel always was – a figure constantly being chased throughout the book but so rarely seen. I’ll be totally fine if the series takes the same approach.
There were a few major eyeroll moments in this episode for me, particularly the Creepiest Lady of the Year telling the kidnapped children they were about to go on a ‘fun adventure’ in the least convincing delivery I have ever heard. How thick are these kids meant to be? There was also that bizarre moment when Pan eagerly tells Lyra that the elevator has been left unlocked during the party, so they could finally escape… After which Lyra promptly proceeds to leg it out of the window??
My favourite moment of the episode was when the Golden Monkey attacked Pantalaimon. That CGI was fantastic, and I could have watched so much more of the fight between the daemons. I’m loving the way they make Pan transform so quickly into different animals, and I react far more to him being in danger than I do to seeing Lyra herself in peril. (Is it obvious I prefer pets over kids?) I can’t for the life of me remember what Pan eventually settles as, and I am really looking forward to finding out. Just imagine how devvo’d you’d be if your daemon settled as a mole-rat and that’s what you’re stuck with through adulthood. Life’s ultimate slap in the face.
I had to sit up and pay attention when windows to our own dimension were already being used in episode two. This is the first big departure from the books, as we shouldn’t really be seeing this until book two if you’re staying faithful to the original. At this point I really don’t know how I feel about this… I am glad they’re keeping book-readers on their toes over what to expect each week, and it’s interesting to see the story from points of view that aren’t Lyra’s. But by putting in heavy things like this now, things that the books slowly build up to, they’re kind of cheapening bigger moments later on in the series. At the moment I’m just holding my breath to see what else they change in the next couple of weeks, as it’s too early to make any big judgement calls right now.
I’m finding myself wondering how non-book-readers are finding the series so far, particularly when it comes to ‘twists’ like Mrs. Coulter being in charge of the Gobblers. Is this actually coming across as a twist to you, or is it just a constant stream of information being given to you? More importantly… How much sense is the series making to people who have no knowledge of the books?
The journalist getting murdered outside the party was a dark moment that I feel didn’t quite get conveyed accurately… Will new viewers really understand how bad it is to touch another person’s daemon in the first place? I recall the books really making this an explicit fact, that touching someone’s daemon was strictly taboo and something outright horrendous to do. I don’t think that came across when viewing the episode alone.
Overall episode two featured higher highs and lower lows than last week. Everything is still looking great, and I want Ruth Wilson to be in every single scene just for the sake of it. But interestingly enough it’s her that is also causing me the most concern – she’s just so great that I’m looking at everyone else and waiting for them to step up to the plate. Hopefully next week’s performances are a little more even.