By Lauren Morgan
November 16, 2020 at 09:50 PM EST
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Readers of The Subtle Knife, the second book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, know that the book started with the perspective of young Will Parry as he navigated a world lacking daemons but very similar to our own. Since Will’s introduction happened a season early, Lyra (Dafne Keen) stays front and center as she deals with both the ramifications of Lord Asriel’s betrayal and the strange new world she finds herself in. 

Though Lyra chased her father through the schism, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy, sadly absent) is nowhere in sight despite all the chaos he’s caused by ripping a hole between worlds. Lyra weeps over the loss of her dear friend Roger and shuns the alethiometer in guilt for leading her friend to his death at the hands of her father. She knows it’s too dangerous to go back to her own world so she charges forward with Pan and finds the city in the sky she glimpsed through the aurora last season, the same one in her father’s photogram, the city of Cittàgazze.

Instead of finding a bustling seaside city, Lyra discovers that while laundry still hangs from the line, the city itself is empty, with not a soul to be found. She and Pan search around, noticing images of angels all over that mirror the ones that flank the enormous tower at the center of the city. In an abandoned house, she stumbles into Will, a reversal of what happened in the book where he stumbled into her. Taken by surprise, Lyra attacks the young man until she realizes he means her no harm. They introduce themselves but once Will sees a talking animal in the form of Pan and Lyra sees Will has no daemon, relations turn frosty and Lyra flees. 

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Still feeling Roger’s loss acutely, Lyra wants to keep to herself but Will finds her to apologize and they begin building a fragile trust when they realize they’ve both come from different worlds than this one. While the appearance of Will into the story a season early still feels like it drained his story of some of its punch, he starts to feel more like the Will of the book as Amir Wilson sparks off of Dafne Keen and comes into his own as the character. Since Keen continues to bring Lyra to vibrant life, the success of the pairing bodes well for the rest of the season since Will is now the story’s co-lead. 

As Lyra and Will investigate the abandoned city, Lyra tells him about Dust and the theory behind it. Will, who only knows dust of the household variety, laughs at the absurdity until they discover two young girls spying on them. They chase after them and Lyra comes face to face with Lyanna Mormont herself, Bella Ramsey of Game of Thrones fame.  As the character of Angelica, Ramsey is not quite as precocious as she was in her previous role but remains just as fierce. 

Over some bottles of pilfered soda and still fresh bread, Angelica and her friend, Paola (Ella Schrey-Yeats), inform Will and Lyra that when the split between the worlds happened, Cittágazze became flooded with deadly creatures called Specters, who attacked all the adults and sucked the life from them. Children remain safe and now run the city but since Will is closer to adulthood than Lyra, he’ll soon be in danger. Since neither Dafne Keen nor Amir Wilson still look like children, it takes some suspension of disbelief that the Specters would not target them yet, which is one issue with the aging up of Lyra and Will from the books. Since the people of this world do not have daemons, Pan remains hidden which is a good idea since neither Will nor Lyra seems to trust the feral Angelica and Paola. 

Once the girls leave, Will and Lyra decide that it would be the best for both of them if they stuck together, though he’s a bit exasperated when she decides to take up residence in his house instead of finding her own among the many abandoned ones all around them. While Will’s attempts at cooking go much better than Lyra’s, both continue to hide information from the other. Lyra doesn’t inform Will about the alethiometer and Will hides his father’s letters from her. 

While they don’t fully trust each other yet, they were right to be suspicious of Angelica and Paola who they later find attacking the cat that led Will through the window to the new world. Will rescues the cat and when Angelica accuses them both of not being from this world, Pan intercedes by frightening her and the other children off. The daemon blows his cover but the fact that he’s spent much of this episode as a pine marten is a signal to book readers that maybe Lyra is starting to mature faster than she realizes. 

Back in Lyra’s world, her mother, Mrs. Coulter (the ferocious Ruth Wilson, no relation to Amir) and the rest of the Magisterium are dealing with the chaos Lord Asriel has unleashed on the world. Not yet aware that Lyra has crossed over to the new world and is out of her grasp for now, Coulter focuses on getting access to the captured witch in the Magisterium’s possession because she thinks that will lead her to Lyra. But in order to do that she must first use her special seductive brand of pious persuasion on Cardinal Sturrock (Ian Peck), who wants to deny the evidence of other worlds that everyone can plainly see in the sky. She lies about seeing Asriel the night he ripped a hole in the world but notes she’s not the only one amongst them that failed to stop what happened. As Father MacPhail (Will Keen) eyes her suspiciously, she gets the Cardinal to agree to what she wants.

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And while Mrs. Coulter uses velvet words to persuade the Cardinal, the witch, Katja Sirkka (Marama Corlett), isn’t so lucky. Whereas the witches use branches of cloud pine to fly in the books, here the cloud pine is embedded beneath their skin so when Coulter starts snapping a tweezer at the witch, the scene becomes positively squirm-inducing. Katja can only resist for so long as Coulter viciously yanks the branches from her skin. 

As Katja is tortured, an unknowing Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) has convened a witch’s council to discuss Lyra’s disappearance and what it means in terms of the prophecy. Serafina has invited Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda, still trying his best despite being horribly miscast) to speak about what he knows about her. He tells them he is searching for Stanislaus Grumman who supposedly has an object that provides magical protection. He wants to find that object and take it to Lyra for her protection. Serafina, whom Lee seems to be nursing a bit of a crush on, agrees this object will help Lyra and gives Lee a feather to call upon her whenever he needs. 

As Serafina tells the gathered witches that they must figure out their part to play in the coming conflict, she’s interrupted by the arrival of Queen Ruta Skadi (Jade Anouka) who is angry that Serafina let Lee into the council and informs them that Katja has been captured. Ruta wants to rescue Katja but because of the prophecy, Serafina believes Lyra is more important than a war with the Magisterium. 

Queen Ruta disagrees and flies off to save Katja herself. But Coulter has already broken the poor witch’s will and she confesses that Lyra is part of a great prophecy. As Coulter continues her torture, Katja calls for death and Queen Ruta arrives in a blaze of speed and smoke to deliver her a merciful end. As she escapes, she takes out the Magisterium’s henchmen and stabs Cardinal Sturrock before disappearing back into the night. 

Though the Cardinal is wounded, it is not fatal until Coulter hatches another of her plans to install Father MacPhail as the new Cardinal in Sturrock’s place. She points out to MacPhail that he now has an opportunity to give the Magisterium the leadership it needs at this critical moment. As long as MacPhail basically lets her do what she wants, Coulter will take the sin upon herself and make Sturrock’s death her first act of service to him. He looks disgusted for a moment before he agrees to the scheme (Keen and Ruth Wilson continue to have a twisted sort of chemistry that gives all their scenes a weird sexual edge). 

Meanwhile, in Cittágazze, night falls on the city as the Specters slink around the shadows looking for fresh souls to devour. As Will and Lyra talk more about their own worlds, they discover they both come from Oxford, just different versions of it. Since there is a university in Will’s world but no Magisterium, Lyra realizes that maybe she can find the kind of scholar that will give her the answers she seeks about the Dust. While neither of them is safe in their own Oxfords, Will, thinking of his mother, agrees that there are reasons for him to return to his own. He agrees to take her the next morning as Lyra kindly tells him that he does have a daemon, he just doesn’t know it yet.

As they prepare for the next day, Will pulls out his father’s letters to read while Lyra takes out the alethiometer, finally ready to use it again though she realizes that it won’t tell her the whole truth. She knows Will trusts her now but she asks it if she can trust him?

Credit: HBO

The device whirls and spins and reveals Will is a murderer. A murderer? Yes, the good kind just like Iorek was. The fact that Lyra has categories for murderers is still highly unusual but so is she. But the alethiometer has more to tell her. It turns out Will is connected to this city and that they both have something to do here. As Will reads his father’s letters, he has a vision of a knife with an angel inscribed on its hilt.  He draws closer to the tower flanked by angels at the center of Cittágazze, sensing that his destiny lies within. But Specters swirl in the darkened alley behind him, will they capture him before he can fulfill it?

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His Dark Materials

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