This post was updated Dec. 3 at 6:14 p.m.
Warning: spoilers ahead
“His Dark Materials” is living up to its name as it pivots toward the icy darkness of the North.
After Lin-Manuel Miranda’s grand entrance last week, the fifth episode of the HBO fantasy series turns its attention back to the missing children of the first episode – and the result is chilling. Filled with just as much mystery as the first four, this week’s installment of “His Dark Materials” leans into more macabre tones. The episode does a commendable job building its ominous atmosphere but lacks overall cohesion as it jumps between Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) breaking off into her own journey and the mystery behind Lord Carlo Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) that is unfolding in our own world.
A voiceover brings the show back into the 21st-century world of Teslas and cell phones, kicking off the episode in a startlingly different manner than its predecessors. Following a new character, the show delves into the lore behind Lyra’s existence as it ties her destiny to that of Will Parry (Amir Wilson).
Will is seen in our world taking care of his mother, who has been traumatized by the disappearance of his father, John Parry (Andrew Scott), who is being hunted by Lord Carlo on behalf of the Magisterium. This storyline seems to be growing so dense and convoluted that it seems unlikely HBO will find a way to tie up all the loose ends.
However, the conflict happening in the 21st century is reduced to background noise as the episode refocuses on the Gyptians, who are seen traversing the northern landscape. But it seems that the road north will be filled with detours as the company heads toward Bolvangar, where the Magisterium is supposedly holding the kidnapped children. Lyra ends up consulting the alethiometer, which tells her to stop at a nearby village that is supposedly troubled by a ghost.
In the world of daemons and witches, the introduction of another layer of the supernatural is no surprise. But what becomes truly confusing is the Gyptians’ reactions to Lyra’s request to go on what could turn into a suicide mission. Farder Coram (James Cosmo) was initially against the diversion, but the other Gyptians seemed unfazed with letting a 13-year-old venture on her own into the bitter cold. In the end, they send her off with a lunch box and Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg) for protection. As the supposed “chosen one,” this decision begs the question of why Lyra isn’t given more protection.
But there isn’t time to contemplate this, as the episode picks up its pace and launches into the main mystery of the series. The ghost of Lyra’s mission ends up being Billy Costa (Tyler Howitt), paralyzed by the cold of an empty village and robbed of his daemon. At this moment, “His Dark Materials” opens up a much darker world of possibilities for the remainder of the series. It no longer exists in the world of sweet relationships between animals and humans. Instead, the scene masterfully changes the rules of the game, as even children are not safe from death.
This leads into the most powerful moment of the hour: Ma Costa (Anne-Marie Duff) is left to grapple with the death of her son, resorting to burning his body as she is unable to provide him a proper grave. Suddenly, the Magisterium and Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) are transformed into menacing opponents, escalating the stakes of the series.
When the episode ends with Lyra’s kidnapping by the Gobblers, the faux pas are forgotten and traded for a dying desire for answers. This final cliffhanger provides the twist that redeems the episode from the confusion found in its first half. Now that Lyra and company have all but reached their northern destination, the remaining three episodes seem to promise answers for all the questions the show has set up. After all, Will has yet to meet Lyra, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) still has to be rescued and a polar bear has yet to be seen in battle.
With the ending of the episode merely hinting at what the Magisterium is really doing to the children and daemons it kidnaps, one can only imagine the true horror that lies in wait.