After leaving Jordan College and all she’s ever known in the last episode, Lyra’s arrival in London is initially dazzling. But she soon learns that all that glitters is not gold, or golden compasses for that matter, in this tense hour.
As Mrs. Coulter gives Lyra a tour of her new home, the girl is initially too impressed by the sleek apartment to notice that the woman is locking the elevator behind her. To a girl who has spent most of her life in a cold attic room with peeling paint, the opulent marble floors and Art Deco furnishings are almost too much to comprehend, and Mrs. Coulter herself looks rather wistful as Lyra playfully flops on her gorgeous new bed. But silken pajamas and a fancy new address aren’t enough to remove Roger from her mind and Mrs. Coulter reassures Lyra that her best people are looking for him. Lyra pushes back when they visit the Royal Arctic Institute, wanting to help find her friend, but Coulter is firm on this point. Lyra must trust her and for now, the girl does, not realizing she’s becoming just as much a prisoner as Roger is.
While Lyra settles into her gilded cage, Roger finally joins the other kidnapped children, glad to find Billy Costa among the rusted beds and moldy living conditions the Gobblers have trapped them in. Just what the Gobblers have intended for the children remains a mystery, though the episode gives a few more disturbing clues.
Having arrived in London, the Gyptians are on the tail of the Gobblers but just miss finding the children after a failed raid. They know they are on the right track, finding Billy’s sweater and passing it onto a distraught Ma Costa as proof. John Faa promises that they will find Billy but Billy’s brother, Tony, has grown tired of waiting for word and he and Benjamin de Ruyter (Simon Manyonda), a fellow Gyptian, go off on their own to find Billy.
Back in Mrs. Coulter’s lair, Lyra finds that the more time she spends with Mrs. Coulter, the more conflicted she becomes. Mrs. Coulter tells her she could be extraordinary, but she doesn’t seem interested in letting Lyra be who she is — more like a little doll she can mold in her image. From how Mrs. Coulter advises the young girl and the way Ruth Wilson displays her internal damage, you get the sense that she has not come through this male-dominated world unscathed and she’d rather Lyra avoid the mistakes she’s made. She wants to take away Lyra’s freedom in order to secure the future she envisions for her, and her control-freak nature makes her seem like a more stylish Dolores Umbridge.
Being a girl that chafes at any rules makes Coulter’s demands hard to bear, and Lyra rebels in ways big and small. During one of the many lessons Mrs. Coulter gives Lyra, the girl even goes so far as to mention all she’s learned about Dust. Pan notices that both Coulter and her daemon react with alarm and prevents Lyra from revealing she learned that information from Lord Asriel.
Pan continues to be suspicious of their new circumstances, especially at night when he swears he hears something crawling around in the air vents. Initially, Lyra dismisses her daemon’s concerns, but after it happens another night, she goes searching and finds Coulter’s golden monkey daemon all alone. Perplexed, Lyra can’t understand how Mrs. Coulter and her daemon can separate from each other in such an unnatural way. When she questions Coulter, the woman gaslights the poor girl into thinking what she saw was a trick of a sleepy eye.
Just what is going on with Mrs. Coulter is a minor mystery compared to Lord Boreal’s activities in the episode. After facing off with Master Carne in an intimidating visit to Jordan College, Lord Boreal does some snooping in the school’s crypts and discovers that the supposed skull of Stanislaus Grumman is not him at all. How he can tell from looking at the skull remains unclear, but what he does next is one of the biggest eyebrow raisers in the episode.
Late at night, Boreal enters what looks like an abandoned greenhouse and steps through a shimmery portal to a world that seems very much like our modern one, with contemporary cars and modern smartphones. Now, book readers will understand just what made that portal but in the interest of not spoiling the plot, we’ll wait for the show to reveal it. In this modern version of Oxford, Boreal meets with his contact, Thomas (Robert Emms) and asks about Stanislaus Grumman, telling him that Grumman has been investigating multiple worlds. Boreal needs more information about this mysterious man and how he learned to cross between worlds.
At the Magisterium, the Gyptian raid has gotten the attention of the creepy Cardinal Sturrock (Ian Peck), who advises Father MacPhail that the General Oblation Board and their activities are attracting too much notice. This prompts MacPhail to visit Mrs. Coulter with a warning. There is a very weird energy between them suggesting some sort of past history, but Coulter is upset when MacPhail tells her that if her activities continue to attract attention, the Magisterium will not be there to protect her. Their discussion is interrupted by a spying Lyra but, before he goes, Coulter reminds him that through her work they have the opportunity to understand Dust. MacPhail reminds her that the Magisterium is important before all else, and since whispers become weapons, they all have to make sacrifices to preserve it.
Freaked out that the Magisterium is in the apartment and the spying by Mrs. Coulter’s daemon, Lyra decides to keep the alethiometer on her at all times in a small white bag. Mrs. Coulter, who prizes appearance before all else and is still aggravated by MacPhail’s visit, asks Lyra to take it off, but the girl rebels. While the Master and the Scholars of Jordan always treated Lyra’s disobedience with a shrug, Mrs. Coulter displays no such tolerance. When Lyra keeps refusing, Mrs. Coulter’s daemon launches a violent attack on Pan that brings Lyra to the ground screaming in pain. Lyra’s hurt is immense and when she mentions that Lord Asriel won’t tolerate this kind of treatment, the real bomb gets dropped. Completely losing whatever shred of composure she had left, Mrs. Coulter lets the daemon out of the bag and shrieks that Lord Asriel is “a failure of a man and a failure of a father!”
Dafne Keen is heartbreakingly good as Lyra processes the shock that Asriel is really her father and not her uncle. When she wants to know who her mother is, Mrs. Coulter dodges the question in a way that makes it very clear exactly who that woman is as well. Lyra runs to her room and begs to be left alone. Coulter seems full of regret but grants her wish and once in private, Lyra begs the alethiometer for any information about her father and tosses it aside when it can’t. But as Lyra goes deep into herself to process the news, the alethiometer finally responds.
Relations are strained between the two, and once Mrs. Coulter says she believes Roger has returned to Oxford, Lyra knows she can’t trust this woman at all. And she’s right because once Mrs. Coulter leaves the apartment alone, she goes to visit the kidnapped children. She tells them they are going on a journey and they must write letters to their loved ones to let them know where they are going. Even though she comes face to face with the missing Roger and helps him compose a letter to Lyra, Mrs. Coulter has no intention of letting him or any of the other children go and burns the letters once she leaves. What will happen to the children once they get to the North, Lyra discovers when she breaks into Mrs. Coulter’s study and discovers plans for the General Oblation Board and a device that traps a child and their demon in separate cages with a guillotine suspended above them.
Lyra is still putting together what all this means when she gets a final clue during the fancy party Mrs. Coulter throws later that day. A journalist named Adèle Starminster (Georgina Campbell) takes Lyra aside and explains that Mrs. Coulter is head of the General Oblation Board and is, in fact, the head Gobbler herself. Coulter catches the pair talking and Lord Boreal, who has returned from the other world in time for the party, escorts the uninvited journalist out to a waiting car where he takes her beautiful butterfly daemon in his hand and crushes it, killing the woman instantly.
While the journalist is being dealt with, Pan notices the elevator has been unlocked, but Lyra knows she can’t leave without the alethiometer. She loses the easy chance for escape while she grabs the device from her room and takes the more practiced route of escaping out her window onto the roof. Mrs. Coulter discovers she’s gone, but Lyra has made it down to the street and runs away as fast as she can. Betrayed and shaken from all that she’s learned as night falls, Pan urges her to try and sleep huddled in a doorway. But before she can get any rest, she notices what looks like the same daemon Billy and Roger saw right before they were snatched. Before she can run, a Gobbler gets her from behind and we end the episode as she struggles to free herself.
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