His Dark Materials 2×01 “The City of Magpies” is a great start to a season that promises to deepen this show’s mythology, introduce us to more characters we’ll come to love, and oh yes, make us fall completely in love with Will Parry.
The show doesn’t go big in its first episode, and really, it didn’t need to. If we’re to follow not just Lyra, but Will, we need to pause and spend some time not just knowing about Will – that’s what season 1 was about – but knowing Will. And more importantly, we need to establish a dynamic between Will and Lyra, because whatever this show becomes going forward will rest on how well these two work together.
I’m here to say that “The City of Magpies” works because Will and Lyra work. And that bodes great for the show going forward. So let’s go deep into why their dynamic works, and what they’ll go up ahead as we discuss episode 2×01 of His Dark Materials:
WILL + LYRA
The moments between Lyra and Will are the highlight of the episode, and they’re both tender and baffling, both cute and entirely frustrating. Lyra is not very good at …well, let’s say human interaction, and Will is used to caring for people. That’s his default mode. So, in theory, this should work really well, and it kinda does …with Will forced to approach Lyra like a stray, hungry kitten.
But there’s something in the air between them, something that Wilson and Keen do a great job of embodying, and the writers an amazing job at capturing. These are two kids becoming friends, not two adults falling in love, and yet …there’s a lot more heaviness to their coming together, not as much innocence as there might have been if they hadn’t experienced what they have.
It always had to be this way. This isn’t a love story, not really, except it is a story of love. Of partnership. Of finding your other half in another world, even when you don’t know you have. Because this is just the beginning of the journey, but if we didn’t believe in these two from the beginning, we wouldn’t want to go on this journey with them.
Except we do. We really, really do. And we’re ready for the journey.
THE WITCHES AND THE WORLD
One of my main gripes with The Golden Compass adaptation was the fact that the witches were a little one-dimensional. The show attempts to right that wrong by showing us a little more of their world, and by putting someone other than Queen Serafina Pekkala at the forefront, which varying degrees of success.
Yes, the witches are interesting, but we have no emotional connection to anyone other than Serafina Pekkela, so they aren’t as effective at engaging us as, for example, Lee Scoresby and his search for a weapon to help Lyra. Especially as the show gives us hints at who might be in the possession of that weapon, the man known as Stanislaus Grumman, aka John Parry, Will’s absent father.
And okay, that we want to see. That we care about.
THE MAGISTERIUM AND MRS. COULTER
Nor The Magisterium nor Mrs. Coulter are exactly engaging our emotions, but their part in this story is clear: they are the antagonists. And as much as we want to see The Magisterium as the bigger antagonist – which they are, Pullman’s Church-like entity was always meant to be the “big bad” of this show – it’s clear Ruth Wilson’s Mrs. Coulter is the one we truly fear.
She is, after all, the one pulling everyone’s strings.
It’s both bewildering and amazing, because I don’t like Mrs. Coulter, I never have, and yet it’s hard to take your eyes off the screen when she’s on it. There’s such magnetism to her presence that you just …want her to succeed. In everything expect getting to Lyra, of course.
But for how long can a woman like her be expected to stay one step behind? Not long, of course. That’s what makes her the best …and the worst.
If you’re wondering about Lord Asriel, I’ve got some bad news for you: we won’t be seeing much of him this season. Book readers won’t be that surprised, as Asriel is not seen for the entirety of The Subtle Knife, but I’m pretty sure we all expected the show to be able to figure something out. And figure something out they had – the show was meant to air a stand-alone episode focused on Asriel and what he’d been doing from the end of The Golden Compass till the beginning of book three, The Amber Spyglass.
And then the coronavirus pandemic hit, filming halted, and that was left on the cutting room floor.
The sad part of this is that Jack Thorne had penned this script with Phillip Pullman’s help, so presumably it would have been a nice addition to the show’s mythology. But coronavirus giveth, coronavirus taketh away, and we’re glad the show was able to complete filming of most of season 2 before they had to shut down for months.
Hopefully they can find a way to use some of what they’d planned for Asriel in the already confirmed season 3. After all, even without actually showing up, Asriel has cast a very large shadow that can be felt in “The City of Magpies,” and likely will be felt for the entirety of season 2.
For better, or worse.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of His Dark Materials 2×01 “The City of Magpies”? Share with us in the comments below!
His Dark Materials airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.