Having been kidnapped and brought to Bolvangar after witnessing the tragic end of Billy Costa, Lyra realizes her current situation is dire. But as we’ve seen, she’s both resourceful and observant, which serves her well in finding weaknesses to exploit this week.
As Lyra meets the other captive children, she keeps her wits about her, delighted to see Roger but having enough sense to hide their friendship from the authorities. She has Pan talk to Roger’s daemon to get necessary intel without raising suspicions but she sees firsthand the terror all the children live under as a girl named Bridget is taken for “treatment” and doesn’t return.
When Lyra herself is examined by the doctors, she plays cagy with them as they do their measurements, prodding them about if they are measuring Dust and then pretending she means the common kind when they get curious about her. While figures like Dr. Cooper are true believers in the work, another, Dr. Rendal (Amit Shah) has his doubts about the humaneness of what they are doing to the children. There is also the curious case of Sister Clara, who falls into trances and has a strange lack of emotion. Turns out not only children are going through the treatment.
Lyra plots escape at every moment using a convenient fire alarm to make the first attempt. After starting a snowball fight during the alarm as a distraction, she and Roger sneak off and come across cages of severed daemons. Once Roger discovers an empty cage marked with Billy’s name, Lyra admits their Gyptian friend died. If that wasn’t frightening enough, they find a room full of zombified children, Bridget among them, who seem to have lost not only their daemons but also their spirits. Seeing their lifeless faces impresses upon Lyra and Roger what horrors all the children face if they don’t escape soon. She tells Roger that the Gyptians are coming for them so they must be ready to flee when the time is right.
As for the progress of the Gyptians, it’s slow going since the terrain is mountainous and difficult. It’s not the only scene set outside Bolvangar as we make a quick stop off with Will. Back in his world, he watches a video of his dad, the Hot Priest, ahem, sorry, Andrew Scott playing John Parry. Will’s house is still under surveillance by Boreal’s two henchmen but since they know Elaine is aware of them, they won’t enter to find the evidence that they need.
Back at Bolvangar, Lyra’s escape plans are complicated when Mrs. Coulter arrives to examine the progress her team has made in severing the children from their daemons in a less lethal manner than they had been. She requests a demonstration, not knowing Lyra is there and is the next up to be severed. Before that happens, Coulter goes to visit the girl’s quarters where Lyra hides beneath the bed after admitting to the other girls that Coulter is her mother and must not know she is there because it will ruin her plans to help the others escape.
Unfortunately, the doctors come for Lyra and though she tries to escape, Dr. Rendal captures Pan, disabling her in the process. Terrified, she and Pan are locked into the separate cages. As she screams that Mrs. Coulter would not want this, Rendal questions how Lyra would even know her name and suggests they should stop. Dr. Cooper insists they proceed as planned and as the blade of the guillotine rises, Lyra is only saved when Mrs. Coulter enters the lab at the right moment. Lyra screams “Mother!” and Coulter frantically rushes to stop the process. We don’t get to see Mrs. Coulter punishing the doctors, which is a shame because it was probably epic.
After saving her daughter, Coulter takes her back to her quarters and tries to calm the girl with some soothing chamomile tea. While that might have worked on herself as a child, Lyra is far too disturbed by what she’s seen but she plays along, already knowing that she can get more from her mother by appearing to cooperate. In a beautifully calibrated performance matched by Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson reveals Coulter’s complicated feelings about motherhood and the work she believes is her legacy. While she does truly care for Lyra, she’s a true believer in what’s happening at Bolvangar under her command.
Lyra doesn’t let her mother off easy but Coulter tries to explain the best she can how this research will save future children from being infected by Dust at puberty and the sin it brings. She sees it as a simple cut that will leave them untroubled for the rest of their lives, but Lyra notes if this is a good thing, why did she prevent Lyra from getting the procedure? Echoing what Dr. Cooper said earlier in the episode, Coulter explains these kinds of discoveries always involve sacrifice, but that’s easy for her to say since she isn’t the one making them.
As they argue, Lyra realizes that Mrs. Coulter truly believes what she’s doing is the best for the children. And when you look at the wreckage of her life, of how her passion for Lord Asriel upended her marriage and her reputation, you do see her strange logic and why she would be so vehement in trying to eliminate the influence of Dust in others.
But for all the arguments about Dust and sin, this also boils down to a custody fight between two parents over their child, and Coulter wants to know whose side Lyra chooses, hers or Asriel’s. If Lyra had any thought that her mother’s motives in wanting her close were pure, it’s dispelled when Coulter asks after the alethiometer. Lyra has prepared for this moment and surrenders a tin that has been soldered shut. Once Coulter pries it open, she’s attacked by the spy fly she sent after Lyra in episode 3. Lyra uses the opportunity to escape and she traps her mother in her quarters, both of them screaming in a rage about the betrayal of the other. Pan brings Lyra back to her senses and she sets off the fire alarm. The time to escape is now or never.
As the children start to flee, Roger goes to rescue the severed children while Lyra decides to destroy the intercision device. Pressing every button she can and turning every knob, she causes the machine to self-destruct and then takes off through the corridors as it explodes. Coulter, meanwhile, escapes her quarters with the help of her golden monkey by going through the air vents. Chaos reigns and a group of children are almost recaptured by the Tartars when the Gyptians arrive just in time. Ma Costa faces off against Dr. Rendal and gets personal payback for Billy’s death by snapping his neck. Another Tartar almost ambushes them until Lee takes them out with a clear shot.
As Ma Costa and John Faa herd the children to safety, Iorek saves Lyra from another attack and they charge on together. Lyra gets to see Serafina in action as the witch takes out a whole courtyard of Tartars in a whirl of smoke and arrows. It took some doing but Roger finally roused the severed children to escape and as he leads them into the courtyard, the Gyptians are horrified to see the poor daemon-less figures but embrace them tenderly. Coulter watches the scene through a door crack and backs away guiltily, finally seeming to realize the depths of her depravity.
The episode takes a slightly odd turn once the Gyptians win the battle. Instead of joining the Gyptians and the rescued children as they return south, Ma Costa urges Lyra to save her father. Lyra wishes her goodbye and boards Lee’s balloon along with Iorek and Roger to rescue her father. In the book, they board Lee’s balloon as they escape from Bolvangar and Lee kinda winds up in charge of Lyra and Roger by accident. In the show, it seems much more like an active choice, which makes Lee’s complaints to Serafina about not having a contract for this part of the journey a little odd. Despite his reluctance to be responsible for Lyra, Serafina finds the circumstance delightful, noting Lyra’s destiny in saving multiple worlds is now intertwined with Lee’s.
But if Lee is now in charge of Lyra’s safety, he doesn’t maintain it for long. As Serafina takes off and his balloon moves north, it comes under attack by cliff-ghasts. Lorek swipes them away and Lee shoots them, which seems like a dangerous idea on an air balloon, but they keep attacking and Lyra falls out of the balloon. As she holds on to the edge of the door, Lee tries to grab her but she loses her grip and disappears screaming into the mists below. Let’s hope she finds a soft landing.
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