His Dark Materials Armor

‘His Dark Materials’ 1×04 Review: An Abundance of Bears

His Dark Materials moves North, finally, as Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his first appearance as Lee Scoresby, Mrs. Coulter has trapped her former lover (who she still seems to have many unresolved issues with) Lord Asriel deep in the North, and oh yeah, we finally see a bear or two.

I will admit that this is, to me, the slowest part of The Northern Lights, the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. The trek North, meeting Lee, convincing Iorek, was never my favorite part of the book. My favorite part was what came after, much after. Like, at the end of this season, and the season to come.

That being said, the show does as good a job as it’s possible to do of setting up what’s coming, by throwing hints of the plot of book two into this first season, something I always wished Pullman would have been able to do, and of course, by presenting us with the kind of actors that can elevate even a routine conversation.

In this episode, we not only have Dafne Keen as Lyra and Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter, but we add Lin-Manuel Miranda to that, as well as the continuing presence of James Cosmo as Farder Coram and Lucian Msamati as John Faa, who all manage to make this an entertaining and enjoyable show, even when not much is happening.

But – not much is happening, and this episode feels like it drags in comparison to last week’s. Knowing the story, I know this won’t last long, but at times, hours like this one make me wish we’d have gotten the chance to binge watch this show.

I just want to get to the good stuff now.

Let’s talk a little bit about Mrs. Coulter’s plans, Lee and Iorek, and of course, the rescue mission, as we discuss “Armour”:

NOT SO STAR-CROSSED LOVERS

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As someone who read these books as a teenager, I was legitimately surprised to find out there are people who ship Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel, two diametrically different characters whose only thing in common seems to be …well, Lyra. And just the fact that they both contributed genetic material to create her, at that.

Neither of them are good parents, that’s been made abundantly clear. But their relationship, from what we know in the show so far (I’m trying to wipe all knowledge you shouldn’t have from my brain) isn’t exactly romantic, either. Mrs. Coulter seems to hold a grudge the size of Texas against Asriel and he, even though we haven’t seen him as a prisoner, seems to care about very little other than, you know, his mission.

The question, of course is, was it every different? Was there truly a point where these two actually loved each other? Was Lyra a child of love instead of a mistake? It seems like that might have been the case, but in so many ways, that makes it worse that she ended up with …well, with a man who took her in because of some sort of obligation and a woman who never wanted her till it suited her purposes.

And hey, not that we’re keeping count or anything, but at least Asriel sorta stayed. At least, that’s the way Lyra sees it, and that’s what the show is trying to say …at least so far.

A BEAR AND HIS FRIEND

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Iorek is one of the fan-favorite characters in this series of books, and it’s sometimes hard for me to reconcile that with the Iorek we first meet, the Iorek of this episode, the grumpy, angry, misunderstood Iorek. But in many ways, considering what this book series is about, Iorek could be no other way.

As an allegory, the books and the series itself, is about the idea of good vs. evil, and in many ways, about what that means. Is there absolute good and absolute evil? Can people (and bears) make mistakes, pick themselves off, and get better? Is absolution a thing or are you doomed by your sins?

Lee, the bear, and us would like to believe the answer is yes, absolution is possible. We would also like to believe that’s the journey these characters are taking. That’s why we’re invested. No one likes a self-fulfilling prophecy, after all.

Things I think I think:

  • LIN!
  • I don’t even care that he doesn’t look like Lee is supposed to.
  • Not one bit.
  • Yes, Lyra, don’t go anywhere without the alethiomether. We’ve learned our lesson.
  • Remember that world.
  • Oh, look, this is like a cell phone for witches, but with smell!
  • IOREK
  • “I’m not for sale.”
  • Me: I remember these books really well. Mrs. Coulter: I have Lord Asriel. Me: OMG WHAT.
  • “I do more damage not trusting anyone.”
  • I absolutely love Lee.
  • Weeks of study for ONE answer.
  • THAT’S HER QUESTION?
  • Lame ass question.
  • You know the answer.
  • Also, stay away, Tony Costa.
  • Lee and Iorek together. I cry.
  • “He’s a bear, he can’t be a salve, not to you, not to the Magisterium, not to anyone.”
  • YES, LYRA, THEY HAVE ASRIEL.
  • I mean, I still have conflicted feelings about that fact that she cares.
  • “It worries me that bacon is more important to you than survival.”
  • Yeah, I know people like that.
  • Lyra is GOOD at bluffing.
  • THE ARMOUR.
  • “These people need our help, let’s go give it.”
  • So many bears.
  • An abundance of bears.

Agree? Disagree? What did you think about “Armour”? Share with us in the comments below!

His Dark Materials airs Mondays at 9/8c on HBO.

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