Well, we made it. Sadly, in tonight’s finale there was no screaming Ruth Wilson, nor did we get to see Serafina Pekkala tear any shit up. But somehow this finale still managed to be pretty damn good, and most amazingly of all – very true to the books.
The first half of tonight’s finale felt very exposition-heavy, which I’ll admit didn’t really fit the pace one would expect from a series finale… But it was a breath of fresh air to see His Dark Materials actually take it’s time for once, as all too often this series we’ve felt like we’ve been ticking off a checklist and moving from one key scene to another as fast as we possibly could. And if anyone can deliver exposition as well as Ruth Wilson, it’s James Macavoy. I was kept engaged even throughout his long dust-is-sin speech, and I can’t think of a better actor to portray Lord Asriel.
There was a LOT of foreshadowing in this episode – moreso than I remember there being in Northern Lights. We got several conversations about The Authority, the Subtle Knife, allusions to the tower in Cittagazze… It’s all very exciting stuff for book-readers, though I’m wondering how brand new viewers feel about all this set up for next year. As much as I enjoyed tonight’s episode, I don’t think it felt very much like a finale.
After seriously dropping the ball on the Billy/Tony Costa death scene a few episodes ago, it was honestly SUCH a relief that they managed to deliver when it came to Roger’s death. Hearing Salcilia weakly shout, “I don’t want to leave you” really pulled at the heartstrings, and I’m honestly curious how many non-book-readers knew Roger’s death was coming? Or how many thought he would be saved at the last second?
Overall the finale was exactly what I expected it to be… Which is actually kind of a great thing, as every other episode this season hasn’t been what I was expecting, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. It was nice to watch a full episode that actually felt exactly like I was reading the book again. The highlight of this season is still the Bolvanger episode for me, despite its flaws. The action scenes were just so engaging, and despite this finale being fantastic, it’s pretty obvious the bear-attack-scene just wasn’t a patch on the Bolvanger invasion.
It was a shame not to see Lee Scoresby nor Serafina Pekkala in the finale, and I think the season could have been stronger overall if they’d just had two more episodes to really explore Lyra’s world in greater detail. Particularly the daemons. Undoubtedly the weakest aspect of season one is the lack of daemons and the inability to really demonstrate just how important they are to everyone in this world. I’m really hoping season two addresses these issues with a slightly bigger budget, or even some better writing to really hammer home the points that non-book-readers particularly need to grasp in order for the most important scenes to work well.
For all of the flaws this season had, I am still unashamedly eager to see what season two brings. The Subtle Knife completely captured my imagination when I read the books the first time – I seem to remember it being my favourite of the trilogy. I guess we’ll find out if that’s still the case when I inevitably reread Book 2 before the next season airs. It’s been an absolute joy to watch my favourite series get brought to life every Sunday for the last eight weeks – was this how those Game of Thrones fans felt each year?
Make no mistake, His Dark Materials wasn’t the best thing I’ve seen on TV in 2019… But the fact it exists at all is a cause for celebration, and I’m excited to see what they do with the series next year. Just please more daemons, less theatrical bad guys, and more Ruth Wilson being Ruth Wilson.