With a few more episodes left to go in this first season, His Dark Materials returns to deliver another strong episode, one that’s arguably the best since the show’s inception five weeks ago. The episode is chock full of drama and mystery too, as more information is revealed regarding the Gobbler operation and Lyra attempts to escape from her captors.
Lyra begins the episode in the biting cold, escorted by one of the women into a room full of other kids. Each of them wear identical outfits and there, among them, she sees Roger sitting at the table eating. The stern-faced woman in charge of the operation bursts into the room and calls out for Bridget, who hesitantly leaves her tray of food behind and walks ahead into a locked room where she’s left alone.
Meanwhile, Lyra tells the doctor about the dust before questioning their operation regarding the daemons. As the alarm blares, she’s forced to leave out into the courtyard. Once there, she talks to Roger about escaping in the midst of the register being completed. Deciding they need a distraction, Lyra and Roger start a snowball fight before sneaking out the other way. However, they stumble into a room holding stray daemons separated from their human companions. Having seen enough, Lyra and Roger rush back and join up with the other children.
Complicating matters further, Mrs Coulter arrives and is updated on the operation for separating daemons and humans. She demands a test volunteer while Lyra admits to the other girls what her relationship with Mrs Coulter is, eventually agreeing to hide her. Bursting into the room, Lyra holds herself up under the bed while Mrs Coulter moves down the line inspecting the girls one by one before taking her leave.
Unfortunately Lyra’s not out of the woods yet, as she’s taken from the other girls and separated from Pan. Just before her captors turn the machine on though, she screams out for Mrs Coulter and is let go at the last second. Alone, she and Lyra talk where she admits to being her mother. It turns out the experiment is designed to sever the daemon/human tie and stop the dust from causing hardship and troublesome feelings after puberty. It’s a warped experiment but one that allows us to understand just why Mrs Coulter is doing what she’s doing.
As she asks about the alethiometer, Lyra hands over a soldered box actually housing the spy fly and fools her Mother long enough to escape her clutches. Kicking in the fire alarm, Lyra rushes back to the kids and tasks Roger with saving the daemon-less children while she causes a distraction of her own, throwing open the metal doors and blowing up the daemon-severing machine.
As the complex erupts into chaos, the Gyptians arrive with Lee and break the rest of the children free. Fighting engulfs the complex while Lyra watches it all unfold. In the midst of this, a strange ghostly figure arrives and stabs the soldiers, turning the tide of the battle to their side. Before we get a chance to find out if this is Serafina or not, Roger and the daemon-severed kids appear while Mrs Coulter watches on from afar and slips away undetected.
High in the sky, away from the facility, Roger and Lyra fall asleep while Serafina Pekkala arrives and talks to Lee about Lyra’s destiny. It turns out Lee has a big role to play in the conflict ahead too, as he’s guided in the direction to go and find Asriel.
While John Faa leads the kids back to their families, worried they may not accept them in their current state, Cliff Ghasts attack Lee’s ship, prompting him to try and fight them off. Unfortunately in the commotion, Lyra falls off the edge of the balloon as Lee screams her name, watching in horror as she plunges into the darkness.
Talk about cliffhangers! Although the preview for next week does spoil Lyra’s fate, there’s enough in this episode to savour and enjoy nonetheless. There’s a deliberate injection of pace this week too and the way the episode skips through Lyra’s story in a straight forward manner, with little in the way of William’s separate timeline or sub-plot distractions, is actually a nice touch and allows the episode to feel much more streamlined.
With the children all but safe for now, the final two episodes look like they’re going to focus on the fight for the North and of this world, both of which hang in the balance. So far though, His Dark Materials has been highly enjoyable and along with The Witcher look set to end this year on a fantasy-high after the disappointment of Game Of Thrones earlier this year.
Whether His Dark Materials can land its ending though remains to be seen and we’ll have to wait and see if it suffers from the dreaded BBC curse of closing things out in an unsatisfying manner. Let’s hope this one bucks that trend.