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‘His Dark Materials’ season 1 recap – episode 7: ‘The Fight to the Death’

(Courtesy of HBO)

"The Fight to the Death"

Directed by Jamie Childs

Dec. 16

By Paige Hua

Dec. 16, 2019 1:25 p.m.

“His Dark Materials” hurls itself across an icy tundra as its finale draws near.

Coming up on the seventh episode, it’s clear that there are too many plot points to cover in the remainder of the season. The episode – following its cinematically and emotionally impressive predecessor – shifts between four different locations and introductions to multiple new characters without fleshing them out. Lyra’s plans to escape the polar bear king, Iofur Raknison (Joi Johannsson), is unnecessarily complex, and Will Parry’s role in the overall endgame remains worlds removed from Lyra’s. Suspense and excitement only reappear at the last dregs of the hour when James McAvoy makes his long-awaited return.

However, the episode manages to open on a high note as Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) stares at the ruins of the Silver Guillotine, left only with the sharp remnants of her rage. Even the Golden Monkey seems nervous of his human counterpart – rightly so, as she releases another soul-shocking bellow of fury.

Mrs. Coulter isn’t just the series’ resident banshee, though. Her violence manifests itself as she comes across Sister Clara (Morfydd Clark), one of the only nurses left in Bolvangar, and almost chokes Clara to death for fun. Wilson’s conniving glee as she portrays Mrs. Coulter arguably makes her the series’ powerhouse actress, conveying sensational terror as her character emotionally manipulates others around her.

But the episode quickly pans off Mrs. Coulter’s shocking rage and instead races through numerous action-packed plot points. Lyra is seen lying face down on the snowy floor of a cavern having survived her fall from Scoresby’s balloon unharmed. Moving on quickly from there, she is discovered by an armored bear of Iofur’s guard and tossed into a prison cell in a mountainside castle.

Lyra launches her grand scheme to save her own skin in that prison cell, but her plans seem unnecessarily complex. After her alethiometer reveals that Iorek is on his way to rescue her, she immediately requests an audience with Iofur. But her strategies grow exceedingly odd as she tries to convince Iofur to battle Iorek to the death in return that she acts as the daemon of the winner. The scheme is far-fetched and extreme, leaving only confusion as a massive armored bear is defeated by a child’s shoddy plans.

And as chaos finds itself in the walls of Iofur’s kingdom, the same disorder reigns in Will Parry’s world. Lord Carlo is wreaking havoc as he continues his hunt for John Parry, Will’s father, with unclear motives. He eventually terrifies Will’s mother to the point of a breakdown, but instead of calling the cops, his genius plan includes sending his mother away so that he can defend the house on his own.

Either way, it seems both plot lines consist of unnecessarily complex plans to try and save those they love. But the confusion the two kids cause cannot be blamed completely on them. Had the show included another episode or two fleshing out the protagonists’ respective lines of logic, their schemes would be much more digestible rather than pinning their motives on the usual scattered reasoning of children.

The episode eventually culminates in Iorek’s triumph over Iofur and Lyra’s continuous journey north toward her father. Only this time, she’s accompanied by Roger, whose sudden presence is also poorly explained. When the two reach her father’s outpost, McAvoy’s triumphant return to the screen is a welcome presence, as his character seems to promise the answer to many of the show’s unresolved mysteries.

His horror at Lyra’s arrival is gripping. McAvoy layers his lines, “I didn’t send for you,” with all the horror of a father seeing his daughter in danger but also with the hints of the mad scientist he’s becoming. The performance makes his intrigue toward Roger’s appearance that much more fascinating, alluding to more sinister motives on McAvoy’s character’s end, too.

As the season finale looms ahead, it’s likely the network will pull out all the stops in terms of visuals as every scene involving CGI has so far left little else to be desired. But the series will need all the help it can get plotwise as it attempts to resolve the inevitable confrontation between Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel alongside Lyra’s and Will’s separate narratives. The network will have to do quite a bit of work if it hopes to make the finale an end-of-the-decade showstopper.

While the show is already confirmed for a second season, it remains to be seen if McAvoy’s stellar performance will continue beyond his slated first season.

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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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