The Compass & The Bear
With Lyra now aware of the truth surrounding Mrs Coulter, and everyone heading North, we return to His Dark Materials this week with an introduction to new characters and a more driven slice of fantasy action. The episode itself opens with a large hot-air balloon, flown by Lee Scorseby, following Lyra and the Gyptians high above. As the ship docks, so too does the hot air balloon as rumours of armoured bears run amok. The ever-charismatic Lee pickpockets a man before commenting on the unusual presence of Gyptians arriving up North.
Farder Coram takes the opportunity to ask Lyra about the compass, but with the Magisterium lurking around, they’re quickly interrupted. Together, they head off to visit the Witch Consul, in the hope that it’ll lead them closer to finding the missing children. Once there, Lyra uses the compass to convince Dr Lensilus to point them in the direction of Iorek Byrnison, a monstrous polar bear with a serious chip on his shoulder.
Mrs Coulson meanwhile is berated for her lack of restraint by the magisterium. The consequence of this happens to be her stripped of all official duties. After clapping, Mrs. Coulson tells him she has Lord Asriel in a jail controlled by bears which, in turn, are controlled by her. It’s a bold statement and one that she backs up by telling them she’ll head North and bring him back in exchange for what she wants. With a compass of their own, Mrs Coulson asks it a simple question – “Who is Lyra”.
Meanwhile, Lee stirs up more trouble by arriving at the bar and asking if anyone has seen an armoured bear. They stare at him with weary, distrustful eyes until the visitor bites off more than he can chew and fights off the men in the bar until he’s dropped outside on his face. Following Lyra’s fruitless visit with Iorek earlier in the episode, Lee stumbles upon him later that night, offering his help. He vows to get his armour back and it’s here we learn they’re old friends.
With word of Asriel’s capture spreading all the way North, Lyra pleads with John Faa to allow Iorek to fight alongside them. Given the horrors out in the world, Lyra turns her attention to Lee and here she learns more about Iorek’s armour, which happens to be as valuable as daemon are. It spurs Lyra on to speak to Iorek again, where she convinces him to retrieve his armour, thanks in part to the compass showing the way.
After getting his armour back, Lee arrives at the scene and convinces Iorek against killing the men, where they eventually reconvene with the distrustful Gyptians who welcome them aboard. With the forces of good banding together for the fight ahead, Mrs. Coulson attempts to turn the tide back in her favour and visits the King deep in the mountains. She offers King Olfur a baptism into the magisterium, in exchange for destroying Asriel’s research and keeping him under control. With the wheels set into motion, Coulson plays a dangerous game as she bats for both teams, leaving things on an ominous note as the episode closes out with our dysfunctional group heading further North.
With more fantasy elements this week and some wonderfully written dialogue for Lyra, featuring some confident sass and wit, His Dark Materials delivers its best episode yet. Seeing Iorek and Lee injects the series with yet another layer, as the shadowy past between these two remains a mystery for now. King Olfur at the end adds a great bit of foreshadowing for the inevitable fight to come too and all of this looks set to spill over into a very dramatic second half indeed. Having not read the books, I am aware that this season has been combining elements of the sequels together but to be honest, I couldn’t tell you which parts these are, such is the subtle manner of their inclusion.
Quite what next week holds in store for us is anyone’s guess (except those who have read the books of course!) but His Dark Materials is certainly heading in the right direction to end this year on a bang. With a second season already green-lit, His Dark Materials is one of the big shows I consistently look forward to watching every week and I’m certainly intrigued to see what the rest of this season has in the pipeline. Roll on next Sunday!