‘His Dark Materials’ recap: Lyra and aeronauts and bears! Oh my!
If you’ve seen the trailers for His Dark Materials and wondered where both the armored bear Iorek Byrnison and future EGOT winner Lin-Manuel Miranda have been, well, you are in luck because they both made their debut in this episode.
Broadway wonder Miranda plays Lee Scoresby, a Texas aeronaut, who is looking for his friend, the aforementioned armored bear. Now in The Golden Compass film, Lee was originally played by Sam Elliott and honestly, he was probably closer in casting to the Lee of the books. Even so, Miranda is having a ton of fun in the role and along with Lee’s daemon hare Hester (voiced drolly by Cristela Alonzo), injects a welcome dose of levity into the proceedings. He also has a wonderful rapport with Dafne Keen as Lee finally meets someone who can out-bluff him.
Lee has arrived via his air balloon in Trollesund at the same time as the Gyptians, who are there to enlist the help of Serafina Pekkala and her witch clan in their war for the lost children. In order to do so, Farder Coram and Lyra must meet with Dr. Martin Lanselius (Omid Djalili) of the Witches Council to send Serafina a call for aid.
A man with eyes everywhere in town, Lanselius has heard the disturbing rumors of what is being done to the kidnapped children, that they are undergoing the Maystadt Process or intercision. He is also aware that Lyra has an alethiometer. Though Farder Coram told her to keep it hidden earlier, Lyra admits to having the device. When she claims she doesn’t need books to read it, Lanselius is skeptical and asks for a demonstration. Once Lyra proves herself by picking out what spray of cloud-pine belongs to Serafina from a daunting collection of them, she, in return, wonders what question they should be asking him, “I would ask where I could obtain the services of an armored bear.”
While Lee has been searching the town for Iorek and confronting a local toady named Sysselman (Harry Melling, better known as Harry Potter’s awful cousin Dudley) about his whereabouts, Lanselius simply tells Lyra and Coram exactly where to find the bear. But instead of finding one of the great panserbjørne (armored bears) of legend, they find a rather drunk and depressed creature. He doesn’t even have his famed armor (and speaking of that armor, the episode title uses the U.K. spelling “armour”).
Over the course of the episode, we learn Iorek (fiercely voiced by Joe Tandberg) was once in line to be king of all the bears but was exiled when he killed another bear. He was further shamed when he lost his armor one drunken night and now he’s paying off his debt to the town through his metalwork. Since his armor was like his soul, similar to what daemons are to humans, he’s lost in his own depression. At first, Lyra fails at rallying Iorek to their side, but she’s determined and as we’ve seen, when she’s determined things have a tendency to happen.
Though they are unsuccessful with Iorek, Lyra is curious about Farder Coram’s history with Serafina Pekkala and the older man tells her the sad tale. Many years ago, he was in love with Serafina, so much so that they had a son together. The boy died young and it broke them apart, with Serafina raging at his death while Coram just wanted to nurse his grief (Serafina told the full tale much later in the book). Even though it’s been decades and witches age much slower than humans, it’s obvious that Coram’s love for her is still strong.
After the meeting with both the Witches Council and Iorek, Farder Coram confides to John Faa that he believes Lyra is the child that has been prophesied about. He notes her skill with the alethiometer and more than once this episode, Lyra’s talent for reading the device is singled out as unusual. We realize how special it is when we swing back to the Magisterium, which is not too pleased with Mrs. Coulter’s unauthorized raid on Jordan College last week.
She’s brought before the Cardinal who informs her that Father MacPhail will now be put in charge of the Oblation Board. Coulter refuses the demotion and informs them that she’s caught Lord Asriel with the help of the other armored bears. She knows that changes everything and demands that she be allowed to go North to finish her work and ask a question of the Magisterium’s alethiometer, a privilege few get. Desperate to get Asriel out of the way, the Cardinal accepts her demands reluctantly.
But what question does Mrs. Coulter ask? Rather curiously, she wants to know just who her daughter is, suggesting she might also have a hint about the prophecy regarding Lyra. But while Lyra can decipher the alethiometer in minutes, the Magisterium’s Fra Pavel does not have her gifts and mentions this may take weeks.
Fra Pavel’s alethiometer gets another workout this week when Lord Boreal blackmails him into asking a question of his own. It seems Boreal has found out Pavel has some sexual predilections that the Magisterium would not approve of, so in order for Boreal not to reveal them, he wants to know how he can find out the same information Grumman did, even though it’s heretical.
While Boreal is looking for how Grumman discovered the existence of multiple worlds, Lyra simply discovers one while looking at the Northern Lights in Trollesund. As the Aurora shimmers above her, she clearly sees a city and it looks very similar to the one Lord Asriel photographed in the premiere, showing that the veil between worlds is especially thin there.
That same night Serafina’s daemon Kaisa (voiced by the great David Suchet) descends from the sky to convey a message to Farder Coram and John Faa. Unlike humans, a witch’s daemon can separate across great distances so Serafina is nowhere to be found, but James Cosmo is still wonderful at imbuing his performance with poignancy. While Serafina kindly sends him happiness, Kaisa asks if they are planning to make war. The daemon informs them that the children are being held at Bolvangar, four days northeast. Though some of the witch clans are with the Magisterium, as the head of her clan, Serafina will support Coram and the Gyptians in fighting for the missing children.
As all this is going on, Lee is still determined to find his old friend but runs into Lyra and Coram first. While Coram funnily says he’s just following the girl’s orders, Lyra isn’t quite so sure she wants Lee to take Iorek away from helping their fight. Much to Lee’s consternation, she refuses to tell him where the bear is (though considering Iorek’s size and general temperament, one would think he’d be rather easy to locate). Lee eventually finds Iorek and finds out about his disgrace and lost armor. He attempts to get the armor back on his own but has no luck with Sysselman, failing even to bribe him. While the North used to be free of the Magisterium’s interference, that’s no longer the case as they tighten their grip everywhere.
If there is a flaw in the episode, there is a lot of time spent going back and forth with a stubborn Iorek, but it does pay off in a big way. After John Faa tells Lyra that he’s heard bad things about the bear and no longer want his help, Lyra refuses to obey him (not for the first time in the episode, much to his aggravation). She finds Lee and basically bluffs the aeronaut about Faa wanting both his and Iorek’s services. Once Lyra realizes Iorek‘s armor has been hidden from him and he can’t make more since it was made of sky-iron, she consults the alethiometer and informs Iorek exactly where it is.
If you were hoping to watch a bear rampage through the town, you are in luck because Iorek rips through Trollesund until he locates his armor. Emerging fully clad, he’s a fearsome sight and almost kills Sysselman until Lyra and Lee stop him. Lyra brings Iorek and Lee before an annoyed John Faa, who yells that she can’t keep disobeying him. Since Faa has no idea who he is, Lee realizes that Lyra basically tricked him into helping the Gyptians, but he agrees to go north with them as will Iorek.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Coulter has also headed north and introduces us to the second armored bear of the episode. Wearing her most amazing hat yet, she visits Svalbard and the current bear king Iofur Raknison. Lofur helped trick Iorek out of his crown with Mrs. Coulter’s help and in return, he is the one keeping Lord Asriel prisoner. While this could be viewed as the most epic former lovers spat imaginable, Coulter has other reasons for wanting Asriel kept prisoner. If Iofur does this for her, as a reward the Magisterium will baptize him, a great honor even though he has no daemon.
If it seems strange that a bear would even consider that appealing, Iofur desires to be human above all else, so Coulter’s promise works like a charm. Asriel will remain a prisoner of the bears. But Lyra is on her way north now with the deposed bear king Iorek, Lee, and the rest of the Gyptians, so matters are about to get very complicated.
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