As the Magisterium declares war on Lyra in the season's penultimate episode, nothing stands in Mrs. Coulter’s way after she learns how to control the Specters. 

By Lauren Morgan
December 21, 2020 at 09:50 PM EST
Credit: HBO

As we rush toward season 2's conclusion, the witches arrive in Cittàgazze and see the angels flying through the night sky. Serafina realizes that this sight unseen for thousands of years means they are joining Lord Asriel in his fight. Knowing how powerful that makes him, Ruta Skadi pledges to follow the spectral beings and bring Asriel home to destroy the Magisterium. After Ruta takes flight, Serafina vows they must find Lyra. 

And she better get a move on because Will and Lyra are in serious trouble at the hands of a feral band of children led by Angelica and Paola. They want revenge for what's happened to Tullio and they storm Will and Lyra’s house at night to get it. Will, who is feverish from the wound to his hand and has been dreaming of his father, can’t concentrate enough to cut a window so they can escape. As he tries to hold them off with a knife, Kaisa sounds in the sky heralding Serafina’s arrival. Once the witch arrives and scares the mob, the children think better of attacking and runoff as Lyra apologizes again for what happened to Tullio. While there isn't much time until the end of the season, the show rushes through this scene, which was quite dramatic in the book, and it loses a bit of its power as a result.

The next morning in the forest outside the city, Serafina takes a look at Will’s peculiar injury. The witches wonder what caused it and Lyra urges Will to show them the knife. He’s distrustful of these outsiders and reluctant to hand it over for them to examine but Lyra does it for him, trusting Serafina immediately. When she asks what the blade can cut, Will lies about its abilities. Serafina isn’t pleased by the lie but tells Will that while his wound is not poisoned, it will need a spell to heal. He looks about as delighted with the idea as you would imagine.

The witches gather lichens to help bind the wound, but Serafina notices Lyra keeps staring at her with wonder. Lyra always wanted to meet a witch, telling Serafina that her father gave her a book about them. Serafina finds those books irritating because Lyra’s father knows what a witch looks like. After warning Lyra off from touching a poisonous flower, she listens with amusement as the girl lists all the things she’s heard witches can do, but Lyra admits she’s most concerned about Will. Serafina says they need to travel to their lands for the flora is more powerful. Lyra isn’t thrilled by the idea but Serafina reassures her that she can protect her better at home. 

Later as Lyra walks with Will, she wonders if Serafina is right: his wound isn’t healing. Meanwhile, he’s alarmed that they might abandon the search for his dad. He believes he has the strength to go on, but it would have been helpful if Amir Wilson’s makeup made Will look worse than he does here because save for some facial cuts, he seems pretty hearty in this scene. He pleads with Lyra to consult the alethiometer to find his father’s location and once she learns the man is in this world, all plans to go back to hers go out the window. She’s still concerned that Will might be half-dead when they find his father but the young man is determined to go on no matter what. 

Credit: Simon Ridgway/HBO

After making it through the anomaly, Lee and Jopari are indeed close, floating a short distance from Cittàgazze in Lee’s balloon. As Lee takes stock of this new world, Jopari talks about his own history, saying he’s spent time with witches, academicians, and spirits and he’s found folly everywhere he’s been. When Lee asks if this journey is folly or wisdom, Jopari doesn’t know yet. They will find the bearer and tell him what his task is. Lee inquires if it will protect Lyra and Jopari says it will protect them all. 

But Lee is right to keep worrying about Lyra’s protection since the Magisterium has now declared war on her at Father MacPhail’s command. Once he learns from Fra Pavel that not only has Mrs. Coulter gone looking for her child but the prophecy about Lyra basically suggests that she will be Eve, both the mother to them all and the cause of their fall, he realizes he can’t ignore the threat she poses to the Magisterium. He commands troops through the anomaly to face that threat; their first great sacrifice will be Lyra Belacqua.

If MacPhail thinks Coulter will bend to the Magisterium’s new order, he has another thing coming. She’s at the point where she will allow no one and nothing to stand in her way. Entering Cittàgazze with Lord Boreal, she’s fascinated by this new world, not letting a little thing like the Specters scare her off. While the normally cool Boreal acts like he’s about to jump out of his skin, Coulter remains calm, and upon examining one of the Specters' victims, realizes that what they do is stronger than the severing she once engineered. 

Elsewhere in the city, Dr. Malone has been exploring on her own and as we wonder why the Specters are leaving her unmolested, we soon see the glimmer of angel wings flapping above her, offering her protection from the deadly creatures.

Calmer now after their failed attack on Will and Lyra, Angelica and Paola follow Malone but she catches them. She offers them food and they wonder who this strange woman is and why she isn’t being attacked. Eventually, they mention their altercation with Lyra, and when Malone becomes horrified upon learning that they tried to kill her, they ask her if that was wrong, showing just how lost they are. Paola asks for a hug and Malone willingly gives it to the troubled girl and Angelica asks her to look after them like a parent would. When Malone tells them she’s here for another reason, both are heartbroken at the rejection. The former nun shows them mercy and offers to take them to their adults, a welcome note of grace for the beleaguered girls.  

As night falls outside of the city, Serafina takes Lyra aside and tells her it scares her that Will has such a powerful weapon. Lyra’s shocked that the witch thinks she needs to be protected from Will and testifies that since Will is a bearer, she’s safe. Her job now is to help Will find his father because that is what the alethiometer tells her to do and she realizes now the device is a part of her. Serafina tells Lyra that her obstinacy is her real gift, not her ability with the alethiometer. If this is Lyra’s task, she will help her but this world makes her uneasy. Lyra mentions the Specters but Serafina seems to be more concerned that Will’s hand is still bleeding. 

As Lyra looks on in the firelight, the witches perform a spell to staunch the wound. Will rests afterward and Serafina asks Lyra to consult the alethiometer about the location of Will’s father. Once Lyra does, she responds that all it tells them is to keep going up. 

The next morning, Will’s hand seems to be better and Serafina confides to him that Lyra has lost a lot for one so young. Kaisa tells Will that part of the prophecy includes a boy that must travel with Lyra. Serafina doesn’t know if Will is that boy but Serafina urges him to protect Lyra as Lyra has vowed to protect him. 

Overlooking a lush valley later on, Lyra asks Will if he thinks Angelica and Paola will be alright; she continues to feel guilty about what happened with them. Lyra has never seen children that ferocious (has she looked in a mirror?) but Will, who has experience with the cruelty of children because of his mother’s troubles, confides that he’s had trouble trusting anyone because of what he’s seen other children do. Lyra points out that was until he met her and he gratefully agrees. Proving that he’s gotten used to the witches as well, he defends them from a Specters attack in a scene that’s visually reminiscent of Harry Potter fending off the Dementors with his Patronus. 

If Lyra's compassion is one of her best traits, her mother seems incapable of it. Back in the city, she investigates the medicines in a shop she’s found, finding one of particular interest. Her daemon is soon drawn outside by the sound of the approaching Specters and she follows as Boreal quite sensibly hides behind a door. Though her monkey shrieks in alarm, Coulter draws closer to the menacing creatures, almost reaching out to touch them. But instead of attacking her, they follow her command as she casts them away and they swirl about the tower in her complete control. Boreal edges closer to her as she bids the Specters away and suggests they celebrate. While Boreal thinks he finally might get what he’s wanted from her, Coulter has a more nefarious idea in mind.

As Boreal asks how she controlled the Specters, she confesses she simply hid what makes her human since that is what they feed on. He excitedly claims nothing can stop them now but once Coulter tells him that the knife will soon be his, he corrects her to say it will be theirs: he wants an equal to share it with. She kisses him and encourages him to drink but it’s soon obvious something is very wrong with his wine. As he struggles to speak, her manner turns ice cold and she mentions all the things he hid from her, concluding that his ambitions were always too small and he would only hold her back. In truth, he’s never been her equal and as he tries to fight the poison, she hushes him and tells him not to fight. A tear escapes his eye as his snake daemon disappears into the ether. She simply turns her attention back to her wine. 

Later, once her drink is done, she holds her hand over the table’s candle. Mirroring Father MacPhail’s self-punishment earlier this season, she holds it there as it burns her and says to her alarmed daemon that strength is salvation. He trembles in horror as she tells him to remember that. 

While Coulter faced off with both the Specters and Lord Boreal and won, Lee and Jopari now find that the Magisterium is chasing them by airship. Knowing they can’t land because the Specters would get them and that the knife bearer is no longer in the city, Jopari bids them to go higher, saying the wind will be with them. Unfortunately, that also means the wind will be with the Magisterium’s massive airships, which travel faster than Lee’s small balloon. 

Credit: HBO

Since they are undefended and being fired upon, Lee decides to set down in the valley. Jopari seems rather nonchalant about the whole thing which aggravates Lee, who wants him to do something more helpful than summoning the wind. The shaman calls up a storm in response, which Lee says isn’t so helpful for his ability to pilot, but Jopari just pulls his hood down upon his head to concentrate. 

As the storm worsens but weirdly doesn’t seem to affect the rest of the characters, lightning takes out one of the Magisterium’s airships. As the other ships fire on the balloon, Jopari stands at its ledge and summons all the birds in the forest nearby. They attack and soon another ship is in flames. While it’s a spectacular sight, the remaining airship punctures the balloon’s gas canister with a well-placed shot. Lee and Jopari plummet to the earth in a crash-landing near Will and Lyra's location. As the season draws to a close next week, it looks like Will and his father are about to have their long-awaited reunion.

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