Over the previous four episodes, more than one character has highlighted that Lyra is special, the child not just of two headstrong explorers but one of great prophecy, whose destiny is to put an end to destiny. In this episode, we learn from Serafina’s daemon Kaisa that she will not do this alone, that there is a young man whose destiny is bound to Lyra’s.
This young man is John Parry’s son, Will (Amir Wilson), who along with Lyra is the co-protagonist of The Subtle Knife, the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Seeing Will at this point is a bit of a shock, but since most of Lord Boreal’s plot tracking Stanislaus Grumman/John Parry this season comes from the second book, it makes total sense for the show to introduce John’s family earlier.
We learn that after John disappeared to Lyra’s world over 13 years ago, his troubled wife, Elaine (Nina Sosanya) has had to raise Will on her own, though John ensured she still receives financial support from him in the form of a monthly deposit to her bank account. Unfortunately, Elaine’s mental troubles meant that as Will grew older, he had to assume the main caretaker role, making sure she took her medication and cooking for her just as his dad used to do. But while Elaine suffers from paranoia, her suspicions that someone has been in her house are well-founded as Lord Boreal is indeed spying on her, looking for clues about John. He even introduces himself as John’s old friend, Charles Latrom. Elaine seems to know more about John’s disappearance than anyone realizes, hiding a folder of his letters in her closet. She suggests that maybe it’s time Will reads them before backtracking in fear of what this might mean for her son. But since Will is so like his dad, it won’t be long before he hears the call of the other worlds.
Back in Lyra’s world, the Gyptians are heading north along with Lee and Iorek. Doubts are starting to creep in about whether the mission will be a success, and as Lyra expresses her worries to Lee, he doesn’t do much to settle her fears. In response, she tells Lee he isn’t very likable — a slightly ridiculous idea since he’s being played by natural charm machine Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda tries his best at being gruff but he’s too inherently good-natured for it to feel like a natural fit.
As they draw closer to Bolvangar, John Faa asks Lyra to consult the alethiometer about how it’s being protected. The device tells her that it’s guarded by a fierce fighting force (say that five times fast) of 60 Tartars, but it also reveals that there’s something terrible in a nearby fishing village that she must see first. Though it might be a vital clue in the fight against the Magisterium, none of the Gyptians from John Faa to Farder Coram to Ma Costa think it’s worth delaying the journey to Bolvangar and the rescue of Billy and the other children. And the idea that Lyra would go alone is out of the question considering she’s still being hunted by Mrs. Coulter. Knowing the alethiometer does not lie, Lyra is still troubled by what it showed her and knows she must investigate it no matter what the Gyptian elders say.
As she and Ma Costa watch the Aurora from their sleeping bags, her father’s current situation also weighs heavily on her and she speaks of rescuing him after they save the children. When she asks Kaisa about the city she saw in the lights, the witch’s daemon says that the Magisterium believes Lord Asriel wants to use Dust to build a bridge between the two worlds. When Kaisa advises Lyra to trust both the alethiometer and her own instincts, Ma Costa relents about Lyra’s trip to the fishing village and says she should talk to John Faa in the morning.
Before the night is over, a reunion many years in the making happens as Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) appears out of the air and greets Farder Coram on a darkened cliff. Much emotion and pain remains between the former lovers, with Serafina remarking that Coram seems unchanged. He hardly believes her, being much older and grayer while she remains youthful and ethereally beautiful despite being over 300 years old. Though she still sees him as the man he once was, she didn’t think he’d want to see her — and he didn’t, but he needs her help in the fight for the Gyptian children. Noticing he rediscovered his will to fight again, he notes this situation is different from what took their son.
The loss of their son weighs on their interaction so much that when Serafina confirms there are indeed other worlds and that anything can happen as the charged particles of the Aurora make the matter of this world thin, Coram hopes for a moment that means their son could return to them. But even in this fantastical world with witches and talking bears, some things remain impossible. Through tears, Coram tells her how much he still thinks of her and their son and she kisses him tenderly. Before she takes off into the night, she swears she will help where she can, though she notes the witches aren’t as united as they once were.
As morning dawns, Lyra pleads with John Faa to let her go to the fishing village. Though he notes her trick of addressing him as Lord Faa when she wants something, he allows her to go but only with Iorek’s help. Once she finds whatever it is in the village, she must return to the Gyptians as soon as she can as they make their way to Bolvangar. Though the Gyptians ceded to Lyra’s demands faster in the book, it didn’t make a ton of sense that they would have been willing to let her out of their sight so quickly and you can feel the show try to make a better case for it here.
As she rides Iorek’s back across the majestic frozen landscape, Lyra initially enjoys the trip, learning along the way about Iorek’s history and his disgrace. As they stop to eat, she learns that if Lord Asriel is being kept prisoner amongst the bears, he will not escape on his own even though King Iofur is letting him continue his research against Mrs. Coulter’s orders. Lyra doubts anyone could outwit her tricky father, but Iorek notes she’s not a bear, and bears can see tricks that humans cannot. Noting her own history of successful tricks, Lyra rejoins that she must be part-bear, hinting that she’s going to find a way to free her father no matter what.
The trip takes a creepy turn once they reach the abandoned fishing village which oozes menace. Even the normally brave Lyra falters here, but she masters her fear and starts looking for what the alethiometer led her here to discover. She finds it, much to her and Pan’s mutual horror, when she discovers a daemon-less Billy Costa barely alive in a freezing fish-house. Billy can’t tell them where his daemon Ratter has gone but she knows this is what is happening to the children at Bolvangar, that their daemons are being cut away from them, essentially removing their souls in the process. In the book, this was not Billy’s fate but that of another child. This change obviously makes the fight more personal for the Gyptians but gives their mission an air of having already failed the Costa family.
Lyra brings Billy back to the camp on Iorek’s back, and as the Gyptians see the daemon-less child, the monstrosity of what has happened to one of their own sinks in. Initially, Ma Costa wails as she tries to understand what has been done to Billy, but seeing the weakened state of her son, she urges him that it’s okay to go to Ratter and sings him a lullaby. He dies peacefully, but the Gyptians aren’t feeling so tranquil. As they light Billy’s funeral pyre, they vow vengeance, with Ma Costa saying those at Bolvangar must be killed for this.
As if enough hasn’t already happened, Samoyed hunters attack the camp later that night and kidnap Lyra. She awakes as she’s brought into a highly-secured facility to be processed. The doctor that greets her, Dr. Cooper (Lia Williams), initially suspects she might be too old for treatment until she tries to grab Pan and he changes before she can catch him. Taking a look at the maturing Lyra, who has given her name as Lizzie Brooks in a flash of quick thinking, Cooper categorizes her for immediate treatment and tells the creepy Sister Clara (Morfydd Clark) to process the unnerved girl.
As Clara pulls out new clothes for her to wear, Lyra recognizes that these are the same clothes Billy Costa was wearing. Much to her and Pan’s terror, she realizes this is Bolvangar and it looks like she’s about to receive the very same treatment Billy did. Her only hope is that the Gyptians can reach her in time.
- His Dark Materials recap: Lyra and aeronauts and bears! Oh my!
- His Dark Materials recap: Lyra discovers the truth about Mrs. Coulter
- His Dark Materials star opens up about that surprise character debut
- A Subtle surprise: His Dark Materials team unpacks that world-changing reveal
- His Dark Materials digi-dictionary: Your guide to the HBO series multiverse