Warning: spoilers ahead for His Dark Materials season two finale.
In a fictional universe filled with witches, daemons, armoured bears and windows that open up into other worlds, the true magic of His Dark Materials lies within the complexities and connections of its characters, brought to life beautifully from the pages of Philip Pullman’s books.
Following the somewhat disappointing release of The Golden Compass in 2007 (to put it lightly), a great deal of expectation was placed on the shoulders of the creators of His Dark Materials ahead of the launch of the first season in 2019.
Those who worked on the series rose to the challenge masterfully, developing a show that has engrossed fans of the original His Dark Materials book trilogy and newcomers alike. As a fan of the books since childhood, I desperately hoped season two would maintain this level of excellence.
Thankfully, the second series has surpassed all expectations, with elevated performances from the cast (special shoutout to the unparalleled Ruth Wilson), stunning visual effects and shocking twists that even the most dedicated His Dark Materials followers could never have predicted.
Season two begins where we left off last year. We find Lyra Silvertongue (Dafne Keen) exploring the mysterious city of Cittàgazze, having left her world through an anomaly created by her father Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), who sacrificed her best friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd) in the process.
While there, she and her daemon Pantalaimon (voiced by Kit Connor) encounter Will Parry (Amir Wilson), who has also found himself in Cittàgazze after leaving his own world. While initially suspicious of one another, Lyra and Will quickly learn to respect and care for each other, a bond that grows enormously and becomes the backbone of the second series.
Having watched Lyra and Will lead separate narratives in season one, there was no guarantee that Dafne and Amir would be able to achieve the chemistry needed for their characters when they finally come face to face. But the young actors rose to the occasion with talent equal to those with several more years of experience, creating a sense of tenderness and trust between two young people who have both been through devastating hardship.
Speaking of actors who already boast multiple noteworthy credits, The Affair star Ruth continues to amaze in every single episode of His Dark Materials, delicately treading the line between reprehensible villain and doting mother. She commands every scene she appears in, just as her character Mrs Coulter is able to control the otherwise unstoppable Spectres that have ravaged Cittàgazze.
While His Dark Materials pays close attention to its source material, season two features several extremely important moments that go in different directions to the book. However, these moments weren’t changed simply for the sake of it – they were altered in service of its TV audience.
Take the newly-created encounter between Mrs Coulter and Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda), for example, which sees the characters connect over a shared experience of abuse in their childhoods. Both Ruth and Lin-Manuel tap into something deep inside them, exposing their characters’ vulnerabilities in a way that we may never have seen had their meeting not been written into the script.
The Alethiometer heist scene, one of the most gripping parts of The Subtle Knife book, was also revised to enable Lyra and Mrs Coulter to come face to face for the first time since season one. Their exchange highlights both their innate differences and similarities, an unnerving reminder that our protagonist cannot escape her biological relation to one of the main dark forces of the show.
The finale of His Dark Materials season two is definitely not lacking in tear-jerking moments, boasting deaths, an emotional reunion and countless cliffhangers. While those who read the book will have undoubtedly seen Lee’s death coming, that doesn’t make his tragic demise any less upsetting to watch. As the first actor cast in the show, Lin-Manuel is the beating heart of His Dark Materials, much like his character and his hare daemon, Hester. In a story filled with darkness, his presence brings a shining light.
After two seasons of desperately searching for answers about his father’s disappearance several years prior, Will and John Parry (Andrew Scott) share a brief reunion, which is painfully cut short when John is shot while protecting his son. The tears streaming down Will’s face are enough to melt even the iciest of hearts in a truly mesmerising performance by Amir. As he walks away wearing his father’s hooded jacket and carrying the Subtle Knife, the young Will appears to emit a sense of strength that he was previously unable to recognise within himself.
While this series of His Dark Materials has truly been spectacular, many fans couldn’t help but feel disappointed when they learnt that a standalone episode about Lord Asriel had to be cut due to the coronavirus pandemic. Which is why the character’s unexpected return in one of the last few moments of the season two finale is such an enormous shock. There Lyra’s father stands, calling upon Angels to join his cause against the Authority, emboldened by the belief that he is fighting for the greater good.
With Will on his own, Lyra abducted by Mrs Coulter and Lord Asriel fuelling war, the third season of His Dark Materials will no doubt bring even more drama and excitement than the second… if that’s even possible.
Having introduced us to Lyra and Will’s respective worlds in season one, the second series of His Dark Materials places just as much focus on the relatable relationships between characters as it does on striking visual effects. A faithful adaptation of the second book in Philip Pullman’s trilogy, season two instils both fear and excitement in its audience, ending with a finale that will no doubt leave viewers counting down the days until the third series is released.
His Dark Materials season two is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.