His Dark Materials, a BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy of the same name, has had two highly impressive first two episodes, with the third, “The Spies” continuing to up the ante. The main character, a child named Lyra (Dafne Keen), has been thrust into a world of complex socio-political events. While episode one “Lyra’s Jordan” worked to introduce us to Lyra’s world, episode two “The Idea Of The North“, built out the dynamics of this world and the key players involved.
One of those players is the enigmatic Mrs. Coulter. After sweeping into Jordan college, Lyra is enticed into becoming the assistant of this mysterious woman, and it didn’t take much to lure Lyra away. The child has been raised in an aging academic facility surrounded by elderly men who treated her as an ill-begotten student. Mrs. Coulter, recognizing the spark within Lyra, offers her a chance to escape the confines of the college and travel with her to London. All is not as it seems, as Mrs. Coulter’s vindictive nature spills out, and Lyra learns of the “General Oblation Board”, or more commonly known on the street as “The Gobblers”.
In her frustration in dealing with Lyra’s inquisitive nature, and her need for adventures, Mrs. Coulter lets it slip the Lord Asriel, is in fact Lyra’s Father. Upon learning the truth Lyra manages to escape, realizing Mrs. Coulter is not a person she can trust. As Lyra jumps from the frying pan, she lands into the fire as she is unknowingly captured by her mentor’s organization, the Gobblers.
Episode three, aptly titled “The Spies”, immediately picks up where episode two left off, with Lyra in captivity. Not all hope is lost, as Lyra has some canal-faring angels swoop in to her rescue. The most popular child of the moment spends the majority of the episode being tugged and pulled about as multiple forces descend upon her, wanting her for themselves.
Not one to be left in the dark, Lyra finally reaches her tipping point demanding to know why everyone is interested in her. One of those people who want Lyra, is her Mother and her identity is finally revealed by an unexpected source, and the truth almost crushes her.
The Spies was an incredibly tense episode with Keen delivering some phenomenal performances. Keen shows her range during a family meeting with the Gyptians highlighting that she can deliver important lines with a level of depth and gravitas that’s not often seen from child actors.
Keen reinforces this delivery when she’s confronted with the truth of who her Mother is. It’s moments like this where Lyra as a character is truly brought to life from the pages of Pullman’s book. She is adventurous, charismatic, and intelligent, but filled with raw emotion. Keen nails all of this and then some, she’s such a highly talented actress.
The tension that is threaded throughout the 58 minutes of the show is gripping. Lyra is constantly evading danger which begins from the very first minute, continuing through the majority of the episode. With the Magisterium, and Mrs. Coulter both in pursuit of the young girl.
Meanwhile, Ruth Wilson delves deep into the role of Mrs. Coulter as the charismatic socialite, begins to unravel having lost Lyra. Two scenes exemplify this descent by the use of visual exposition in The Spies. The first footage highlights the guilt, and the loss of Lyra, as Mrs. Coulter sits on her bed, in her room. Overcome with anger she ferociously destroys the room, while her Daemon slowly shuts the door behind him.
The second has her walking precariously on the ledge of the condominium balcony, as the golden tamarin Daemon watches on with a level of anxiety he’s not previously displayed before, he’s worried. The loss of Lyra has Mrs. Coulter completely unbalanced, and unhinged.
I love the visual imagery used here, and it highlights the mental state in which Mrs. Coulter often finds herself, balancing on a ledge, quite literally, and figuratively. It’s at this moment that she releases the “Spy Flies” to locate Lyra, and we subsequently learn these are now illegal per the Magisterium. There are no lengths that Mrs. Coulter will go to to get Lyra back. Meanwhile, Lord Carlo Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) continues to cross into an alternate reality in search of someone that seems important in their goal. It’s within this side story that the show continues to build for future episodes as we receive nods to characters that will become integral to the future of the series.
The pacing of the episodes so far is really well delivered, moving the story along, and continuing to build character depth, without knocking us over the head with unnecessary exposition. “The Spies” began pushing the narrative, and the suspense forward, as forces begin to converge on Lyra before any real damage is done. Under the watchful protection of the Gyptians, however, Lyra has begun to explore her independence again, devoting time to attempting to read the alethiometer.
The story now leads us North, as the Gyptians search for their lost children, but there are many unknowns, and magical entities existing there that could cause obstacles for even the bravest traveler.
His Dark Materials airs every Monday in the US on HBO at 8 pm CT/9 pm ET.
His Dark Materials Episode 3
- Rating - 10/1010/10
The pacing of the episodes so far is really well delivered, moving the story along, and continuing to build character depth, without knocking us over the head with unnecessary exposition. “The Spies” began pushing the narrative, and the suspense forward, as forces begin to converge on Lyra before any real damage is done. Under the watchful protection of the Gyptians however, Lyra has begun to explore her independence again, devoting time to attempting to read the alethiometer.
Aaron is a contributing writer at But Why Tho, serving as a reviewer for TV and Film. He is also the co-host and social media manager of the Nerds Social Club podcast.
Hailing originally from England, and after some lengthy questing, he’s currently set up shop in Pennsylvania. He spends his days reading comics, podcasting, and being attacked by his small offspring.