I came into episode 7 expecting to see a polar bear get his jaw punched off. I was expecting to see armoured bears cheer as two vicious beasts attacked each other with all their might. I was also wanting a really exciting episode that would leave audiences feeling excited to see the end of Season 1 next week. I ended up watching something… different? If there’s one word I would use to describe my experience so far watching His Dark Materials, it would be unpredictable.
Overall tonight’s episode felt slower and less engaging than last week’s thrilling rollercoaster ride. We’re supposed to be ramping up to a season finale but I can’t help but feel the pace just stuttered tonight – particularly due to some weird editing decisions. Why cut away from Svalbard for 10 seconds just to show us Lord Boreal stepping through a portal, only to cut us straight back to Svalbard again? It’s an unnecessary interruption to Lyra’s story and I really don’t see how it helped the narrative of the episode.
The more I think about tonight’s episode, the more I don’t see what the harm would have been in saving some of these Will scenes for the beginning of season 2, and devoting more time to fleshing out season 1 instead? You have all this great lore to explore, this new world that is eerily similar to our own, and instead we’re being stretched thinner by being shown scenes in our own, familiar world. The scenes in our world have kept book-readers on their toes in terms of what to expect, but I do feel that overall it’s been a detriment to season 1 as a whole.
Speaking of the scenes in our world, you really had to suspend your disbelief when a teacher let a student drop his Mum off at their house before returning to the scene of a break-in.
Talking about Svalbard itself, what was up with the actor in the jail cell?! Sometimes the actors in this show can feel like they’ve been taken straight out of a pantomime! Like I’ve said before, I find it’s mostly the Magisterium casting that is suffering from this problem. I’m not sure how much of it is due to the writing and how much of it is due to weaker actors being cast alongside stunners like Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
That bear fight was…. Underwhelming. I know without doubt book-readers will be disappointed seeing it – as for brand new viewers, I think it will just seem like a slightly unnecessary side-story that was shoehorned in? It’s a shame, as for me it was probably the most memorable scene of Northern Lights. For new viewers, I don’t think Iofur was built up as a villain whatsoever before getting killed, so he ends up just feeling like some inconsequential roadblock to Lyra getting to Lord Asriel. Which I suppose is what he ultimately is in the books, but it’s handled considerably better.
Particularly when it came to the climax of the bear fight, both me and my partner turned to each other and simultaneously said: “What a cop-out.” There’s only so many times you can make excuses for things like budget reasons. The brutality of the bear fight was iconic, and in shying away from how vicious it should have been they’ve essentially made these scenes forgettable to new viewers. I was all ready to see Iorek punch Iofur’s bottom jaw clean off, and instead I just got to watch Dafne Keen cover her ears. This fight ranks alongside the death of Billy Costa as the two biggest let-downs of season 1 for me.
Looking back on this post, I sound overly negative about tonight’s episode. It just felt like a lot of filler for an episode so close to the season’s conclusion, and like I mentioned earlier, this season has been… Unpredictable and uneven. More on that next week when we’ve got a whole season to look at in its entirety – tonight’s pitfalls were just highlighted further due to last week being such a thrilling hour of TV.
Regardless of them dropping the ball several times on key scenes over the last few episodes, it’s great to see James Macavoy back now (FINALLY!) and I’m excited to see how they handle the finale next week. Although James, you might want to play it a little cooler around Roger, mate.