Warning: spoilers ahead for season two of His Dark Materials.
The penultimate episode of His Dark Materials series two sees Ruth Wilson make yet another scene-stealing turn as Mrs Coulter, discovering a newfound ability to control the Spectres that have devastated the city of Cittàgazze.
Over the past six episodes of the show, Lyra Silvertongue (Dafne Keen) and Will Parry (Amir Wilson) have gone from being suspicious of each other to growing a strong sense of respect and compassion for one another, a fact made particularly evident in the latest instalment.
As Will continues to struggle with the agonising pain of his two sliced-off fingers, Lyra tries to care for him as best as she can while they remain in Cittàgazze, away from both of their respective worlds.
But the pair are forced to make an abrupt exit from their safehold when the children of Cittàgazze – led by Angelica (Game of Thrones star Bella Ramsey) and her sister Paola (Ella Schrey-Yeats) – seek them out for revenge, incensed that they are in possession of the Subtle Knife.
Just as Lyra and Will find themselves cornered on the roof of a house, witch Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas), who comes from Lyra’s world, swoops in to rescue them, having been searching for the young girl with a group of fellow witches.
While being in the company of the witches means that Lyra and Will now have a greater degree of protection, along with the possibility that the witches could heal Will’s hand, they are far from safe, as Mrs Coulter and the autocratic Magisterium are still hot on their heels.
Mrs Coulter re-enters Cittàgazze with Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare), who is extremely fearful of the Spectres in their midst. But Marisa, unperturbed by their presence, approaches the monstrous creatures.
In a moment that hauntingly demonstrates Mrs Coulter’s ability to separate herself from her soul, she is not only able to ward off the Spectres – which prey on the souls of grown-ups – but is also able to control them.
We caught a glimpse of this ability last week, when she was able to stand and face Lyra despite her golden monkey daemon being ferociously attacked by Lyra’s daemon Pantalaimon. But in this instance, Mrs Coulter puts into words just how she is able to do it.
‘They consume what makes us human,’ she tells Lord Boreal simply, as if any human being can simply turn their humanity on and off like a light switch. ‘So I just hid that from them. I suppress myself.’
That’s not the only line Luther star Ruth delivers impeccably in this episode. Following her demonstration with the Spectres, Mrs Coulter and Lord Boreal sit down for a celebratory drink.
In an unsurprising turn of events, Lyra’s mother poisons Lord Boreal’s beverage, telling him as he is struggling to breathe that he is of no use to her.
As Lord Boreal’s life starts slipping away, Mrs Coulter stares directly into his eyes, informing him: ‘Boreal, I don’t need you. You would only hold me back. You are not nor have you ever been my equal.’
A chilling note to mark the death of a character who commanded every scene he starred in, thanks to a mesmerising performance by Ariyon.
The darkness in episode six of His Dark Materials season two contrasts heavily with the more heartfelt moments, from Lyra and Will’s interactions to the playful dynamic between aeronaut Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and shaman John Parry (Andrew Scott), who have also entered the world where Cittàgazze is located.
One of the most heart-wrenching moments occurs when physicist Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), who has been exploring Cittàgazze, comes across Angelica and Paola, who tell her that they have not only come across Lyra, but also tried to kill her.
While Mary reprimands them over their admission, she also appears sympathetic towards the two young girls, who reveal to her that they are on their own, as the children they were with and the adults of their town have fled to the hills.
Clearly missing the presence of adults to look after them, Paola asks Mary for a simple request – a hug.
As her eyes fill with tears, Mary vows to help Angelica and Paola find their adults, seeing them for what they truly are – two young girls in need of compassion and care.
The episode ends with Lee and John preparing to make a crash landing in their balloon, having been pursued by Magisterium troops through the anomaly into the new world.
With the pair in search of the Subtle Knife bearer, and the Subtle Knife bearer – John’s son Will – in search of his father, could a long-awaited reunion between father and son finally be on the cards for next week’s season finale?
The season finale of His Dark Materials season two is due to air on Sunday at 7.10pm on BBC One.