Tonight’s episode was missing two things: Ruth Wilson and a dead fish. We did finally get to meet Will (WHAT?!) and Serafina Pekkala (Yes Queen) but the ball was dropped on a pretty key scene, and it’s left me feeling a bit worried about the emotional payoffs throughout the rest of the season.
I am about to go on a Billy Costa RANT so before we do, let’s quickly mention Will and how great it is to see so much of The Subtle Knife already being shown off in Season 1! I’m not immediately sold on Will himself, but I also had my doubts about Dafne Keen’s Lyra that are now fading away, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. I think the changes they’re making here are really going to help the pacing of the series in the long-run as we get closer to season two.
We need to talk about the biggest scene of the episode – Lyra finding Billy Costa. This scene was altered considerably from the books. In Northern Lights, Lyra comes to a town where the residents speak fearfully of a child without a daemon. There, she finds Tony Costa (Not Billy), clutching a dead fish in a desperate attempt to replace his cut-away daemon. Tony asks over and over where his daemon, Ratta, is. This is all Tony can talk about, and Lyra finds the sight of him disgusting – she even has to take a moment to overcome her revulsion in order to help Tony and take him back to the Gyptians.
After Tony dies in Northern Lights, one of the Gyptians throws away the dead fish he was clutching, and it’s only Lyra who understands what the fish represented to Tony – she calls the Gyptians out on not understanding this and buries Tony with her own tribute to Ratta. These scenes were so important in the book to develop Lyra’s character, to show the horrors of getting your daemon cut away, to really hammer the point home to readers that what the Gobblers are doing is horrific.
What happened in tonight’s episode? Billy Costa essentially sleepwalks for a bit before kicking the bucket. Lyra herself didn’t even seem too shocked about Billy not having a daemon, and it’s only Pan who really conveys some stress over the sight of a child without a daemon. This is supposed to be like seeing someone without their head! Has the show really conveyed this to new viewers? I don’t think so.
For this scene to have worked, the show needed to really establish that daemons are an extension of your own being and a key part of what makes a person whole. We needed more scenes that showed daemons and humans being uncomfortable when being far away from each other, more scenes of humans hurting when daemons were hurt, more scenes featuring daemons overall.
Just before Lyra found Billy Costa, my partner asked me, “Where is Pan right now?” I said he must be hiding in her coat. And that’s the problem. If we’re not being shown daemons alongside our core cast constantly, how are we supposed to know it’s a big deal when we see another character without an animal beside them?
Billy Costa’s funeral scene itself was well done and really showed off the sense of community the Gyptians have. Although, the most emotional aspect of it for me was seeing the daemons bow their heads in sadness – is this the mark of a good show, or is it slightly concerning that the best displays of emotion are coming from CGI animals rather than the actors themselves?
Meanwhile, I am loving seeing the relationship between Lyra and Iorek develop. It’s the little things in particular that I’m enjoying, like having Lyra tell Pan, “Don’t let Iorek see how nervous I am,” as she approaches the shed in the abandoned village. Lyra is cheeky and often undermines the adults she has spoken to thus far, but when it comes to Iorek she is respectful of him and demonstrates an eagerness to impress him. And that scene of Lyra riding a polar bear through fields of snow is just so iconic and instantly a great, classic shot that will stick around in viewers minds once the season has finished. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the best thing about this show so far is how well they’re doing the visuals!
I’m excited to see Bolvanger next week, but again, they really need to stress the importance of daemons to make any future emotional scenes work well. As it stands, I don’t believe new viewers will fully ‘get’ the horrors of what’s happening in the North. I have no doubt they’re going to nail big scenes like the fight between Iorek and Iofur. My concerns are pretty much solely over the more emotional scenes in the future that I really hope don’t fall flat. Please be good. Please be good. Please be good.