'His Dark Materials' Gets Really Dark in Episode 5 (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for His Dark Materials Episode 5, "The Lost Boy."]
His Dark Materials is, for all intents and purposes, a show about children. The story is set in a world where children are mistreated, lied to, and even murdered by the adults that are supposed to protect them. If there's one thing we've learned from the series so far, it's that grown-ups are not to be trusted. Even the so-called "good guys" will trick and deceive for what they believe is a higher purpose. Children are mere victims of the greed, control, and corruption of an older generation. Honestly, it wouldn't be out of place to hear Lyra yelling, "OK, Boomer!"
"The Lost Boy" demonstrates the extreme lengths adults are willing to go in their obsession for control. It's an episode that truly puts the "dark" in His Dark Materials, genuinely harrowing and disturbing in places, which is somewhat shocking for what is ostensibly a family fantasy drama. But it's also the best episode of the season so far for those exact same reasons. Not only does it feel like we're now on a proper adventure, but we're beginning to burrow into the dark underbelly of the story — a story with real stakes and fatal consequences.
Lyra (Dafne Keen) is our guide as the Gyptians continue Northwards for their impending battle with the Magisterium. An abandoned orphan herself, Lyra knows what it's like to be lied to, even by her own parents, who until recently she was told were dead. Lyra now trusts her own gut intuition (and her alethiometer) more than any wrinkle-browed elder. And it's Lyra's intuition that makes her so determined to investigate a nearby ghost town, which may hold a clue to the missing children. "Trust your instincts," she's advised by Serafina's daemon Kaisa (voiced by David Suchet).
So, despite John Faa (Lucian Msamati) and Farder Coram's (James Cosmo) reservations, Lyra and Iorek (voiced by Joe Tandberg) head off on what will turn out to be a devastating side mission. At first, it seems like the start of a fun, odd-couple adventure, with the bright, optimistic young girl and the curmudgeonly old polar bear. And there is a lot to enjoy here, from Lyra riding on Iorek's back ("I am not a horse") to their heart-to-heart chat over supper, where Iorek reveals he was exiled from his community for killing another bear. But what they find in the eerie, frost-carpeted village is a grim reminder of the dark forces at work.
"When I am frightened, I shall master my fear," Lyra repeats (a mantra learned from Iorek) as she approaches a rickety old barn. Inside, she finds the almost lifeless Billy Costa (Tyler Howitt), his head shaven, face dirty, and body weak and frozen. Most alarming of all, his daemon is nowhere to be found, which perhaps explains the emptiness in his eyes. Lyra and Iorek carry Billy back to camp and into the arms of his distraught mother, Ma Costa (an incredible Anne-Marie Duff). But the family reunion is short-lived — Billy doesn't make it through the night.
It's a bold move to kill off a child in any TV drama, let alone one where families with kids will be watching. Billy's death and cremation are legitimately heart-wrenching to watch, and the daemons solemnly bowing their heads while the Gyptians sing an old folk song is a particularly affecting image. But it's also a necessary development to get across the gravity of what the Magisterium is doing. As Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) surmises, the Magisterium is kidnapping children and taking their daemons, which is essentially soul theft. "If you can remove someone's soul, you can do anything," he says.
Now that we know what is happening, and that the ramifications are potentially deadly, it makes Lyra's kidnapping at the end of the episode all that more potent. She's bundled from camp and taken to some sort of Arctic laboratory, where a doctor (Lia Williams) probes her for her age and identity. Lyra is quick to give a false name, but Pan's (voiced by Kit Connor) changing form gives away that she is young enough to be "prepped for immediate treatment." It soon becomes clear that Lyra is replacing Billy in the Magisterium's sinister experiments.
This somber tone is felt throughout the episode. You'll be hard-pressed to find any light or good vibes. For example, the reunion between Farder Coram and the witch Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) is not the heartwarming reconciliation I previously expected. They clearly still share love and affection for one another, but the tragedy of losing their son, who was just a child himself when he died, is a wound too deep to heal. And top marks for James Cosmo's performance here, which is full of raw emotion, pain, and long-held sadness.
Meanwhile, across the dimensions, there is another child with a mission and a fate tied to Lyra's, though he doesn't yet know it. Will Parry (Amir Wilson) is the son of John Parry, aka missing explorer Dr. Stanislaus Grumman, the man Carlo Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) has been passing through worlds trying to track down. Like Lyra, Will is self-sufficient and wise beyond his years. He works hard at school and takes care of his mentally unwell mother, Elaine Parry (Nina Sosanya), who believes that somebody is watching her.
And just like Lyra, Will is another victim of parental lies and secrets. You see, Elaine's paranoia is not unfounded. Somebody is watching her. And it all ties back to her husband's disappearance. Will was told that his father died 13 years ago during an expedition in Alaska, but, by all accounts, John Parry is still alive, and Elaine knows it. She keeps a stash of letters from John hidden in her closet, not to mention receives a monthly allowance, which was set up by John before he left. And Elaine seems confident that Will will follow in his father's footsteps when the time is right.
The "other dimension" plotline has been the weak point of the series, mostly because Carlo's objective seems so detached from everything else which is going on. Now, I haven't read the books, so I'm not sure where exactly this story fits into the overall narrative, but it has the feel of a future plot-point unnecessarily brought forward for the TV show. However, at least now there is some connective tissue between worlds and a character who seemingly has a vital role to play in Lyra's future.
This isn't an easy episode to watch by any means. It isn't a rollicking adventure full of fantastical imagery and witty quips. It is a dark, mournful, and in many ways, upsetting chapter in this story. A story where children are tricked and tossed aside in a battle for control. But it's a necessary chapter to make the eventual fight back all that more satisfying. One shouldn't count out Lyra Belacqua and the younger generation just yet.
- Serafina and her daemon Kaisa confirm that other worlds do exist and that witches have known about them for centuries. Kaisa also reveals that Lord Asriel is being held prisoner because the Magisterium thinks he wants to make a bridge between worlds using Dust.
- It's also confirmed that witches don't age physically, which makes the reunion between Serafina and Coram all the more tragic.
- No Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) this week, but something did just click for me, which I should have picked up on last week. We now know that witches can separate from their daemons. And we've previously seen Mrs. Coulter separated from her Golden Monkey. Therefore... Mrs. Coulter is a witch?
His Dark Materials, Mondays, 9/8c, HBO