Plot: Season two begins as Lyra, distraught over the death of her best friend, embarks upon a journey in a strange and mysterious abandoned city. There she meets Will, a boy from our world who is also running from a troubled past. Lyra and Will learn their destinies are tied to reuniting Will with his father but find their path is constantly thwarted as war begins to brew around them. Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter searches for Lyra, determined to bring her home by any means necessary.
Review: His Dark Materials is a series that deserves a much wider audience. While the first season debuted on HBO (BBC One in the UK) to critical success, the audience numbers were somewhat lacking. Thankfully, the series was buzzworthy enough that a second season was greenlit and in production before the first season even finished airing. Completed before the COVID-19 pandemic (minus a planned standalone episode featuring James McAvoy that was scrapped), the second season of His Dark Materials is more complex than the first but has more action, intensity, and scale than before. Even though the current world climate may prevent us from seeing the third season of this series for quite some time, viewers are going to be drooling after what happens to Lyra, Will, Lee Scoresby, and the entire main cast in this enthralling sophomore run.
This second season primarily adapts the second novel in Philip Pullman’s series, The Subtle Knife. Fans of the novels will not miss a beat in following this story which sticks very close to the source material while those heading into the series blind may be a bit confused. At the end of season one, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) opened a door into another world. We pick up as Lyra (Dafne Keen) follows her father through and finds herself in Cittegaze, an empty city on a hill that is home only to children that fear a menace known as Spectres. It is there she meets Will Parry (Amir Wilson), a boy from our world who has his own important role in the events to come. The chemistry between Keen and Wilson is excellent and the pair play well off of one another. As they learn more about their connection to one another, Lyra and Will traverse into our real world as well as into Lyra’s.
Much like THE TWO TOWERS, the second season of His Dark Materials takes our cast and sends them on very different journeys. We get to once again see the great Lin-Manuel Miranda as aeronaut Lee Scoresby as he tries to find John Parry (Andrew Scott). Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) continues her search for Lyra on behalf of the Magisterium while her friend Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) does so with ulterior motives. We continue to get scenes with armored bear Iorek Byrnison as well as the witches led by Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas). We are also introduced to new, important characters like Dr. Mary Malone (Simone Kirby), a scientist on Will’s Earth who knows more about Dust than she may know. There is also witch queen Ruta Skadi (Jade Anouka) and Giacomo Paradisi (Terence Stamp) who play vital roles in the story to come. We also get a nice turn from Game of Thrones breakout Bella Ramsey as Angelica.
To give anything away about this season would not be fair to those who have not read the books, but I will say that the pacing is very deliberate this season. With so much going on, I was worried that the creative team might split The Subtle Knife over multiple seasons. Instead, they tell all of the major aspects of the novel while adding several new scenes that deepen the motivations of all of the characters. What does seem to be lacking is much of the spiritual and religious elements of the story which are glossed over here. Pullman’s novels are challenging in their subject matter and a lot of that is replaced this season for a more epic adventure tone to the story. Things don’t really start to go off the rails until the third book, The Amber Spyglass, but the complex mythology of this tale definitely begins to show itself this season.
While directors Tom Hooper and Otto Bathurst to not return to helm episodes this season, Jamie Childs directed two of the five episodes made available for review. The other three were directed by Leanne Welham. Playwright Jack Thorne, who wrote the entire first season solo, here shares writing duties on three episodes and solo credit on a fourth. The first season did have a singular voice through each episode but the more diverse writing room doesn’t feel like a detriment here. In fact, the team approach to telling this second season helps the scale of the story still feel character-based and continues to set this series apart as one of the best fantasy shows on television. It also helps that the score by Lorne Balfe continues to be the most stirring music since Game of Thrones.
His Dark Materials is definitely not for everyone, but everything about this season steps it up a notch from the first. The action is much moe intense as the endgame of where this story is going continues to increase the stakes. Like Game of Thrones, this season has some surprises for audiences, both good and bad, as the lines continue to get drawn and you may not always expect certain characters to make the choices that they do. It remains to be seen of the showrunners will go back and adapt Pullman’s follow-up trilogy, The Book of Dust, when His Dark Materials concludes, but even if they don’t they do not look to be dragging this tale beyond the three season length that matches the novels. While I cannot speak to how well the final two episodes of this season wrap up the story, I was gripped by the first five. This is the epic adventure we all needed during 2020. If you missed the first season, go back and binge it now because His Dark Materials second season is ready to blow you away.
His Dark Materials premieres Monday, November 16th on HBO.