His Dark Materials season finale recap: Prepare for war!
In the season finale, Mrs. Coulter gets what has long eluded her, two characters meet their heroic ends, and another makes a surprise return to prepare for the Great War ahead.
A year ago, Lyra’s father betrayed her to tear a hole between worlds in the belief he could free his world from tyranny. Unbeknownst to them both, she has her own role to play in the Great War to come, and in this episode, we find out for certain what it is and what that portends for her future. But previous betrayals make her wary of making a wrong decision and hurting those she cares for.
That’s evident after the failed Specters attack on the witch Reina Miti (Sasha Frost) last episode. Lyra and Will realize that the witches aren’t safe in this world, which opens up an episode-long debate between them over whether the witches are helping or hindering their ability to find Will’s father. Serafina herself realizes the danger the witches face in this world but still believes her duty to Lyra requires her to stay by the girl’s side.
Will feels quite adamantly that they should go on without the witches, and since he’s been dreaming of his father, he knows his father is closer than he’s ever been. After waking in fear late at night, Pan offers the young man comfort as Will admits he’s frightened and Lyra lies asleep nearby. Lyra’s daemon confesses that Lyra thinks Will is the bravest fighter she’s ever seen, Will says he thinks Lyra is braver than he is and that she’s the best friend he’s ever had. Pan confirms that Lyra feels the same.
Eventually, Lyra confesses she overheard the discussion, and they reaffirm what they mean to each other. She wants to help him take up his father’s mantle but isn’t willing to let another best friend down the way she did with Roger.
Though Will is impatient to find his father and wants to leave the witches, the threat of the Specters has halted their progress for now. Another witch, Lena Feldt (Remmie Milner), lets Serafina know that an adult with a daemon has been spotted in Cittàgazze. Not realizing the adult is the vicious Mrs. Coulter from Bolvangar, the good-hearted witch believes she should be warned. Serafina decides that Lena will go to the city while the recovered Reina will scout the forest to make sure it's safe to look for Will’s father.
While Lena’s intentions are noble, she’s no match for Mrs. Coulter, whom she comes across hugging Lyra’s jacket in the house where she stayed with Will. Lena soon realizes that Coulter is dangerous, but she can’t escape before Coulter sics her daemon on Lena’s. As a Specter floats into the house, Coulter grabs a weakened Lena, who watches helplessly as the Specter draws closer to her precious daemon. In terror, Lena confesses to Coulter that the prophecy says Lyra will be Eve, the mother of all, and with that, Coulter lets the Specter capture Lena’s daemon, draining the witch of her life force in an impressive combination of makeup and CGI.
As she drops Lena’s body to the floor, Coulter realizes that if Lyra is Eve, she must not be allowed to fall a second time. She will do whatever it takes to keep Lyra safe. And if that means summoning an army of Specters to her side to do it, so be it.
Meanwhile, Lyra is pondering what Will said about leaving the witches, but she’s scared of making a mistake that might cost either Will or Serafina their lives. But before she makes a decision, Ruta Skadi arrives and meets Lyra for the first time.
Ruta relays the information Lord Asriel gave her about the coming war to Serafina, that his battle is bigger than just the Magisterium; he's fighting against the Authority in all of the worlds and their agents of injustice. Asriel, who remains unseen at this point, wants the witches to call all of their clans to his side. Serafina mentions that her duty is to Lyra and Lyra’s is to Will. Not knowing Will and Lyra’s previous discussions about leaving, Serafina swears she will stay with them.
Trying to persuade her fellow witch, Ruta pleads with her that this is the Great War, but Serafina points out that Lyra is the child that will bring about the end of destiny. While Ruta trusts Asriel, Serafina trusts the prophecy. Not giving up, Ruta recounts the scene with the cliff-ghasts that she witnessed earlier in the episode, saying that Asriel needs the Æsahættr to win this war. Not realizing that the Æsahættr is the knife that Will holds, Serafina bids Ruta to find this weapon and make Asriel’s fight hers. Ruta leaves as Reina returns from her scout. Since the way is clear, Serafina says it’s time to find Will’s father.
But the Magisterium has already found them. Having lost his balloon in the crash, Lee and Jopari are heading west on foot when they're shot at by Magisterium soldiers. They start running, but Lee quickly gets hit in the ankle. Since he can no longer outrun them, Lee decides to stay and fight while Jopari escapes to find the knife bearer. Brave to the end, all that Lee requires is that Jopari make sure Lyra comes under the knife's protection. Jopari promises and takes his leave after one last look at the doomed aeronaut, who’s intent on going down fighting.
And fight he does. Only down to 30 bullets, Lee reminisces with Hester about how they used to pretend to battle at the Alamo when they were young. He doesn’t like taking lives, but he knows it’s theirs or Lyra’s and he’s going to make every bullet count. Lee gets clipped by a bullet but he reloads and keeps shooting until another bullet hits him in the shoulder. As Hester reminds him about the cloud-pine Serafina gave him, he takes it out and summons the witch. The summoning works but Serafina is too late to reach Lee in time as he takes a fatal bullet. As Hester cuddles close, Lee notes how far they flew but sadly his travels have come to an end. The light goes out of his eyes as Hester disappears into the air he loved so much.
After Serafina leaves Lyra and the rest of the group at the girl’s urging to save Lee, they stop to rest. As Lyra and Reina sleep, Will senses his father is near and leaves their camp, taking the knife with him as protection. But unbeknownst to Will, Coulter, who’s traveled faster than anyone else in this episode, draws near to Lyra.
What ensues is two parental reunions, but neither one of them ends happily. As Specters attack Reina again, Lyra wakes in shock to find her mother’s face instead of Will’s. And Will and his father are in for their own shock as they meet again after so long apart. The former John Parry can foresee so much, but he’s stunned when he comes face to face with his son and realizes that he is the knife bearer. Reassuming his role as Will’s father, John fears for his long-lost wife until Will confirms she’s safe. But once Will sees his father’s daemon, he understands that his father’s journey has been far more complicated than he understood.
As the father marvels at his son, Will is still angry that he abandoned his family, Even after John tells him how hard he tried to return home and how he tried to help humanity when he couldn’t, Will bristles that his father chose others over him and his mother. He doesn’t much care about ending tyranny, he just wanted a father to be there for him.
So when his father tells him that as the knife bearer, the fate of many worlds may rest on him, Will is not really in the mood for such a task. As John tells him to take the knife to Lord Asriel to help him in the war to come, Will refuses. Holding his son’s head in his hands, John pleads with him, saying how important this role is. But Will says he'll only agree if they can both return home to their world at the end of it all. In a beautiful bit of acting by Andrew Scott, John tries to hide what he knows of his future as he tells his son what he wants to hear.
Will still doesn’t believe he’s strong enough but John tells him not to argue with his true nature as a warrior. Before any additional father-son bonding can take place, John spies a Magisterium soldier, and a shot rings out. His daemon attacks the soldier’s but the man who got lost amongst the worlds dies protecting his son from a bullet (a fate nobler than in the book, where he's killed by a vengeful witch whose love he scorned). Before he takes his last breath, he tells Will that the night is full of angels and they will protect him now.
While Serafina finds Lee’s dead body and casts a spell of protection over it, a devastated Will comes back to the camp, where Lyra is nowhere to be found. He looks over his wound and ponders his role in what’s to come. As he does, we hear the voice of Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) for the first time this season.
In his voiceover, Asriel appeals to an unseen force in the coming war and we take stock of each of our characters for the last time this season. Serafina is in the air flying back to where she left Lyra. Iorek Bynison is watching as the glaciers in his world melt. Dr. Malone, who’s been wandering around the land after dropping off Angelica and Paola with their families, is gazing in wonder over a waterfall. Father MacPhail grimaces on one of the Magisterium’s airships as Mrs. Coulter lovingly strokes the outside of a very large trunk in the hull of a ship. Realizing Lyra is gone, Will pulls up his hood and takes off alone, his destiny foretold only if he’s willing to follow it.
Asriel continues to talk until we see James McAvoy himself on screen in a surprise appearance. (He was supposed to be the centerpiece of episode 8 but that was canceled because of the pandemic). Standing near his basalt fortress in the Republic of Heaven, Asriel commands that these invisible forces answer him, doubting for a moment that they are really there. But his daemon Stelmaria senses their approach and we see the sky above him populate with angels as Xaphania (Sophie Okonedo), the same angel that addressed Dr. Malone earlier in the season, confirms that they stand with him. In return, he tells them to prepare for war.
Where is Lyra in all of this? We see once Mrs. Coulter unlatches the trunk: inside lies the drugged forms of her daughter and Pan. She lovingly strokes Lyra’s sleeping face and tells her she’s out of danger now and she’s going to take her somewhere entirely safe. And unfortunately for Lyra, she’s not getting out of the trunk until she gets there.
But hold on, we’re not done yet because at the end of the credits, we hear Roger Parslow’s voice calling for Lyra’s help. He emerges out of the darkness and as her voice echos in response, she asks him what this place is. He doesn’t answer but book readers know that the land of the dead beckons Lyra and life-changing consequences lie ahead.