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‘His Dark Materials’ season 1 review – episode 2: ‘The Idea of North’

(Courtesy of HBO)

"The Idea of North"

Directed by Tom Hooper

Nov. 11

By Paige Hua

Nov. 11, 2019 10:01 p.m.

“His Dark Materials” is spinning into new worlds – if only the alethiometer would do the same.

The second episode of HBO’s fantasy drama released Monday night, and every minute it left audiences questioning exactly what world they were operating in. But even as the Magisterium portaled into new realities, presenting more questions than answers, the storyline maintained a logical trajectory. And this week, the true twist of the episode isn’t found in Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) being Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) father, but rather in that the second episode remained just as gripping as the first.

[RELATED: HBO dusts off ‘His Dark Materials’ to bring it back as a captivating series]

Beginning right where the last episode left off, Lyra takes her first steps into London with her new guardian, Magisterium member Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson). As a childlike curiosity seizes Lyra, audiences are just as captivated by the detailed extravagance of Mrs. Coulter’s expansive penthouse home. The beauty of the space lulls both Lyra and viewers into a false sense of security as golden pieces of decor accent the penthouse’s pastel blue furniture.

However, fans familiar with Wilson’s work – particularly her time spent as Alice Morgan on BBC’s “Luther” – will know just how adept she is at hiding a villain beneath her charming attitude. Wilson executes the same seduction in “His Dark Materials,” building her suspicious character through snide snaps at Lyra along with the occasional reprimand of her own daemon, a golden monkey (Brian Fisher).

Eventually, Mrs. Coulter’s buried rage erupts in a confrontation with Lyra after she is caught eavesdropping on her conversation with two men of the Magisterium. In the heat of the moment, Mrs. Coulter reveals Lord Asriel is Lyra’s father rather than her uncle, completely shifting the grounds of Lyra’s reality. In an enthralling scene, it’s Mrs. Coulter’s identity that is left shrouded in secrecy. After all, a growl was all she needed to command her daemon to attack Lyra’s.

The mystery of who, or what, Mrs. Coulter is, however, doesn’t even come close to the suspense surrounding the rest of the episode. While the first half of the episode focused solely on Lyra familiarizing herself with her new home and guardian, Lord Carlo (Ariyon Bakare) of the Magisterium carries his own unknown agenda in a completely different world – ours. And the effect is magnificently jarring.

After an episode and a half of building a fantastical reality, the reintroduction to the 21st-century world of humans is unsettling. Suddenly, daemons are replaced with more familiar companions – cellphones – and blimps are replaced by the modern-day vehicle. The transition, a shocking reminder of our own reality, demonstrates exactly why HBO can be considered a powerhouse in the realm of fantasy storytelling; the network’s flawless world-building is capable of making our own world seem exceptionally dull.

While Lord Carlo is traveling between realities, however, the show’s main mystery continues to unravel in the episode’s background. The Gyptians have arrived in London as well, searching for their children’s kidnappers, who they have ominously dubbed the Gobblers. And in a twist reminiscent of those found in “Game of Thrones,” the episode manages to tie the Gobblers to the Magisterium as Lyra discovers Mrs. Coulter is the head of the General Oblation Board or the GOB.

[Related: TV review: ‘Big Little Lies’ season 2 delivers underwhelming plot despite strong acting]

With so many moving parts in just the second episode, it’s impressive that the production manages to capture it all without losing itself within its own complexities. Instead, each scene presents viewers with a digestible chunk of a larger mystery, leading up to the final cliffhanger where Lyra runs away from Mrs. Coulter, only to be captured by the Gobblers.

From the pilot to the second episode, “His Dark Materials” waits for no one as it dives deeper into its own lore. The series is quickly demonstrating its ability to stand on its own as the spotlight diverges from Lord Asriel to focus solely on Lyra. Audiences walk away from this episode dying for answers, and in many ways, that’s the true indicator of success for a television show as it grows to depend on its own mysteries.

Viewers will have to come back next week to see if the golden compass will tell Lyra who she can trust.

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Paige Hua | Arts senior staff
Hua was the 2020-2021 Arts editor. She was previously the Theater | Film | Television Arts assistant editor.
Hua was the 2020-2021 Arts editor. She was previously the Theater | Film | Television Arts assistant editor.
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