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‘His Dark Materials’ season 1 recap – episode 4: ‘Armour’

(Courtesy of HBO)


Directed by Otto Bathhurst

Nov. 25

By Paige Hua

Nov. 25, 2019 10:37 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 25 at 11 p.m.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Lee Scoresby is not throwing away his shot.

Bringing to the episode a Western tone, Scoresby, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, enters the episode through bar fights and talking a big game. This week’s installment of “His Dark Materials” – arguably one of the most anticipated of the season – did not disappoint. As the Texan aeronaut Scoresby, the Broadway native won’t be caught singing in Trollesund, the northern port where he crosses paths with Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) and the Gyptians. With Miranda as its guiding compass, the episode blends the liveliness of a Western with all the awe that comes with an armored polar bear into one epic tale.

[Related: “His Dark Materials” season 1 recap – episode 3: “The Spies”]

Miranda’s quirky, tenacious character sets the atmosphere for the episode as he floats into the northern port on his hot air balloon. Kick-starting the adventure, his introduction hints at the entrance of Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg), the series’ iconic polar bear. However, while Scoresby tears through the port to hunt down the bear, the Gyptians are searching for their own force of nature – the witches.

Led by Farder Coram (James Cosmo), the Gyptians enlist the help of Lyra and her alethiometer for a meeting with Dr. Martin Lanselius (Omid Djalili), the diplomatic consul of the Witches of the North. But the episode hits its first minor bumps as Lyra once again waves the alethiometer around in public, demonstrating her gifts to just about anyone. Lyra’s tendencies, while frustrating, are forgivable given her age.

What becomes a true point of contention is how the episode presents more questions than it answers. Every story needs its suspense, but there comes a point when the existence of unsolved mysteries evolves into confusion. The real power of the witches remains unclear and Farder Coram never explains why they’re truly needed in the fight against the Magisterium, leading to an overly complex strategy that slows the episode down.

Nevertheless, these questions fade into the background as Lyra crosses paths with Iorek, and in turn, Scoresby. With Dr. Lanselius providing Iorek’s location in Trollesund, Lyra comes face to face with an armored polar bear – only he has no armor. This becomes the main point of intrigue as Lyra is ready to do whatever it takes to get the foul-tempered bear on the side of the Gyptians.

Her desperation lands her in a bar, interrogating Scoresby for information. The interaction between the two characters is the highlight of the episode, with Miranda’s cocky portrayal of the Texan aeronaut clashing with Lyra’s naive stubbornness. Filled with banter, the scene provides a refreshing dash of comedy to HBO’s dramatic fantasy.

[Related: “His Dark Materials” season 1 review – episode 2: “The Idea of North”]

In the end, Lyra uses her alethiometer to track down Iorek’s armor, the bear’s equivalent of a daemon. The episode ends on an epic note with Lyra’s discovery of Iorek bursting forth from a church, fully armored and taking down Magisterium soldiers. In the aftermath of his triumph, a bond between the gigantic polar bear and the barely mature Lyra forms as he boards the Gyptian ship to sail North alongside Scoresby.

With so much computer-generated imagery in one episode, paired with a demanding plot and high expectations for Miranda’s television debut, one would imagine that “His Dark Materials” would fail in some aspect of its narrative. And while there are unnecessarily complex plotlines, the remainder of the season provides plenty of time to clear up unresolved mysteries.

Generally cohesive, this episode is another testament to HBO’s skills in integrating CGI with storytelling, as Iorek’s personality is completely built upon his intricate facial expressions and movement. These scenes foreshadow just how stunning the series can become as it moves into the latter half of the season.

One can only hope Miranda remains young, scrappy and hungry in his portrayal of Scoresby too.

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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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