His Dark Materials 2×05 “The Scholar” uses Mary Malone to show us another side of Marissa Coulter, and at the same time, positions Mary as the one thing Lyra has never had, and has always ached for: a responsible adult actually looking out for her. Oh yes, and it does all this while still having Will and Lyra as the emotional centers of the episode.
Because, yes, there’s a confrontation in this episode. We always knew Lyra was going to come face to face with her mother again, and it made sense for it to happen just as Will came face to face with the man who was responsible for wrecking his family. But this episode isn’t about the “action” or about Lyra and Will’s rather well-thought out plan, no.
This is about something deeper. This is about who all these characters are, and in some instances, who they could have been.
So let’s talk about Will and Lyra once again, but also about Marissa and Mary as we break down His Dark Materials 2×05 “The Scholar”:
YOU DON’T NEED TO BE LIKE ANYONE ELSE
I’ve talked before about how, till the last episode, the relationship between Lyra and Will has been a little one-sided, more by design than by either Will and Lyra’s attempts to make it so. They are who they are, who they were raised to be, and they hadn’t yet found that level of closeness that demanded their relationship become more of a partnership of equals.
But they’re on their way now, as we see in this episode, which features Lyra actually being encouraging, supporting, and Will, in turn, reinforcing to Lyra the one thing she has always wanted to hear: That she is worth it, as she is. She doesn’t need to be anyone other than Lrya.
This is especially important because Lyra has always felt that if she were more, better, maybe her parents would have loved her. And Will has always, on the flip side, felt like if he did more, he could have maybe made it so his father didn’t leave, and he could have protected his mother. Both of those things, however, are lies.
Lyra shouldn’t need to be someone else to be loved, and Will shouldn’t need to do anything specific to be worthy of affection, either. Love isn’t about following specific rules, love just is. And what we’re seeing with Will and Lyra is the beginning of a feeling that, again, they would not necessarily view as romantic, at least not yet, but that feels much more like love than anything Lyra has ever experienced, and something even Will, who had a loving mother, has never had a chance to understand from inside a relationship that is about both parties pulling their share of the load.
WHAT YOU COULD HAVE BEEN
The juxtaposition between Mary Malone and Marissa Coulter is important in this episode, because though they have both so far played important roles in Lyra’s life, the comparison goes much deeper. It isn’t about what they could be to Lyra, it’s about what they are, in general, and how that is determined by …what they were allowed, in a way.
Mary lives in a flawed world, yes. Our world. Women aren’t treated equally to men, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. We should know that, as we also live in this world. Surprisingly enough, though, there are still some opportunities for her that were just not available to Marissa Coulter in another world, one that, in many ways, is even worse for women than the one we live in.
We’ve always suspected this, of course. The story of Lyra’s birth, and Lyra’s entire existence, what she was allowed to do or learn or not learn, the attention that was paid to her, all proves it. But the show hasn’t really showcased the differences, and the fact that Mrs. Coulter has always held a place of relative power could have been used to conclude that, despite the fact that she was the only one, it was something that could happen.
That she was, in some way, exception.
And the thing is …she was. She is. And she still wasn’t allowed to be more than she is, a lackey of The Magisterium. Not to say that Mary’s experience has been perfect, and that she hasn’t experienced misogyny, but it’s clear from listening to Mrs. Coulter that she looks at Mary as the woman she could have been, had she given the chance.
What she doesn’t know is that – as Mary takes her first steps into a different world, literally, at the end of this episode, she’s now getting closer to fulfilling that promise in more ways than one.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of His Dark Materials 2×05 “The Scholar”? Share with us in the comments below!
His Dark Materials airs Mondays on HBO.