After three strong episodes of character and world building, essential but nevertheless mostly set-up, His Dark Materials shifts gears and takes a leap forward in quality as we head into the North in the episode ‘Amour’. This week we take a break from our world and with the exception of a couple of scenes in the Magisterium, the focus is entirely on Lyra’s journey into the unknown, and the endearing new characters she meets along the way.
We have Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Lee Scoresby, a wisecracking Texan aeronaut who winds up in the North in search of a bear. Miranda brings some welcome levity to the series’ often grim tone and his scenes are all great fun. He also has Hester by his side, a hare daemon who is the first rival we’ve had to Pan for best daemon in the show. The way she interacts and wisecracks with Lee, especially in the middle of a barfight is a delight and I’m looking forward to having more scenes of them bickering together. Miranda brings some momentum to an episode which otherwise would have been good, but excels in his hands as he tries to secure the release of one of the most iconic characters in His Dark Materials: Ioerek Byrnison
The focus is entirely on Lyra’s journey into the unknown
There are many aspects of the story that this series had to get right and few compared to the importance of bringing Ioerek to life. This could easily have been one of the show’s pitfalls, but like Mrs Coulter, Lord Asriel and Lyra, the creators nail the portrayal. Joe Tandberg conveys the bear’s personality and anger with his voice, though it may be a little distractingly augmented for some. The CGI is impressive and at no point does the bear not feel like a real, breathing part of the world. He looks magnificent with his armour on and this episode both sells his shame and his pride when confronted with Lyra.
Lyra herself gets to be at her most proactive in this episode, as she takes on a more independent role looking for help in the fight ahead. Dafne Keen ensures she stays on the right side of confident without punching above her weight and it helps that she now has the full-time role of reading the elithiometer. How the show handles this is far less visually flashy than how the film attempted to do so. Whereas The Golden Compass had dreamlike clips, the show prefers for Lyra to just read it and we infer based on her observations that she’s reading correctly. Some may have preferred something more striking but for the sake of pacing and given the performance it wouldn’t have been necessary.
The CGI is impressive and at no point does the bear not feel like a real, breathing part of the world
We also get some nice human beats in the mix of all the early spectacle. James Cosmo talks about his relationship with a witch and it’s a beautiful moment. When Lee reaches out to Ioerek only to be turned down it works. For all the thrills and action, the show can offer us, and here it really begins to, it never loses its heart. The show’s also improving on its sense of menace with the Magisterium beginning to feel like a more interesting threat. Their guards hang in the background of the Northern town, while at home they continue to scheme, even if Mrs Coulter is still able to poke cracks in their hierarchy. Her final scene in particular is a useful bit of a set-up for what is likely going to be the series highlight. Ruth Wilson as always continues to shine in every scene she’s in, this time round in a much more reserved and coldly calculating role.
By the time ‘Amour’ is over, we’ve had action, suspense and all the pieces of the board have taken a definite step forward into the unknown. Next week it’s about to get much, much darker as we start to find out what’s happening to the children.