After weeks of being sidelined, His Dark Materials “Malice” finally sees the witches arrive in Cittagazze and Serafina Pekkala finally meets the child that she’s been “helping” for all this time. As Lyra and Will are joined by the witches and continue the search for his father, Mrs. Coulter returns to Cittagazze with Boreal on a mission to find Lyra after losing her last week. Also in town are Mary Malone (wandering her way through the city with an angel on her shoulder) and Lee Scoresby with John Parry in tow in Lee’s balloon (currently in an airship race against the Magisterium).
Landing in Cittagazze’s world, the witches see angels flying in the distant sky. Noting that the last time they were seen, they were going off to war, Ruta Skadi decides to fly with them. This is actually a pretty large departure from the passage in The Subtle Knife, but I will be discussing that more in my book comparison write-up tomorrow morning. It’s not super clear why the witches know that the angels are going to Asriel to fight the Authority, but it happens anyway.
Meanwhile, Will is dreaming about his father, witnessing visions of a man speaking his name. Lyra inspects his hand and realizes that it’s getting much worse. But as she goes to get water for them, the children of Cittagazze close in on her. Upset at losing the knife and what happened to Tulio, the children are out for blood. Lyra wakes Will and they run up toward the roof to escape the children. Cornered and without anywhere to go, it seems that they might need some kind of miracle to get out of this. And a miracle appears in the form of Serafina Pekkala!
I’ve had some issues with the way the witches have been portrayed and sidelined in this season, but I will admit that Ruta Gedmintas‘s Serafina Pekkala is actually a good adaptation of the character. She isn’t super close with Lyra, obviously because in the series they have not even met, but she is respectful and her arrival has the correct amount of mystery and gravitas. Lyra trusts the witches implicitly — though, again, I’m left wondering why. Other than her belief that witches are good, she really doesn’t have that much information to go off of. Even Serafina says that the book that Asriel gave Lyra is inaccurate, “I find those books irritating, Asriel knows what a real witch is like.” But this is one of the first times a witch is actually speaking frankly and conversationally instead of with an enigmatic tone that comes off more theatrical than serious.
Will is far more cautious, he doesn’t know these strange women but he trusts Lyra and that puts him in a precarious position. Seeing Will’s wound, Serafina recognizes that the wound was created by magic and will require a spell to heal it. The plants in Cittagazze are not as strong as the ones from Lyra’s world, and Serafina wants to take Lyra back to their world so that she can hide them better there. But, that’s not what they’re here for, and that’s not what the alethiometer told her to do. Although she’s concerned about Will’s hand and wants it to be healed, she also knows that Will is determined to find his father. And a read from the alethiometer tells them that he is close.
Recognizing the power of the knife, Serafina relays to Lyra her worries about Will holding such a powerful knife. But this is where Lyra’s loyalty to Will shines, she reassures her that Will will not harm her and that he is the proper knife bearer and the knife belongs with him. With that settled, Serafina agrees to stay with Lyra despite her unease about this new world, and she is right to be uneasy with the existence of spectres. The witches conduct their ritual for Will to try and heal his wound. Lyra checks her alethiometer and it tells her to keep going up in order to find Will’s father.
The wound, after the ritual, seems to be closing up. Again, this is a MAJOR deviation from the book. It remains to be seen if the wound will stay like that but it seems to be an effective ritual. Speaking to Will, Serafina informs Will about the prophecy around Lyra. She informs him that the prophecy says that she will travel with a boy, however, she is not sure if Will is that boy or not. “She thinks you’re her responsibility, don’t lose sight of the fact that she’s your responsibility too. She must be protected.” Honestly, it’s like Serafina Pekkala and Lee Scoresby both subscribe to the same Lyra Silvertongue Newsletter.
Later, sitting together, Will and Lyra discuss what happened to them with the children of Cittagazze. In this conversation, Will also opens up more about his mother and seeing her being bullied by the kids at his school. He notes that those kids who tortured his mother were worse than the children of Cittagazze. He also talks about his father and how he had grown up hoping to see his father one day so that he could come home and Will could go to school and have regular friends, but soon he realized that that would never happen. This conversation is pretty much taken from the book and has always been one of my favorite looks at Will as a character and also his struggles as a caretaker for his mother.
“I couldn’t trust anyone,” Will reflects.
“Until you met me,” Lyra replies.
My heart is bursting, you guys!!! I love seeing these little steps in growth between Will and Lyra. It’s more than just these big dramatic scenes, but also in the little things. Like Will and Pan agreeing about Lyra’s sentiments last episode or Will and Lyra’s conversations back and forth while following the witches about his hand. You can see the two of them trusting each other and caring for each other and my heart just can’t stand it! As darkness descends (and the rest of the characters move closer together) the spectres come and attack one of the witches. Will manages to fend them off, but this spells trouble on the horizon.
Back in Cittagazze, Mary uses her I-Ching yarrow stalks to divine where she must go in Cittagazze. The message: “Signs are coming that will steel you on your path.” Okay… that’s about as clear as “hornbeams.” But Mary wanders Cittagazze, eventually coming to a beach where she sits and enjoys the view. Coming up upon her is Angelica and Paola after failing to kill Lyra and Will. From their perspective, we see the shimmering silhouette of an angel hovering over Mary. The angel flaps its wings and Mary turns her head just in time to see the two children duck behind a wall.
The girls follow Mary until she finally calls them out and offers them a candy bar. They tell her about the spectres, confused as to why they seem to avoid Mary, but also mention Lyra in the process. “We were trying to kill her, but she escaped. Was that wrong?” Angelica says casually, to a Mary who looks very confused. Yes, killing is 100% definitely wrong. I’m not really sure where Angelica and Paola are supposed to lead Mary, but this is a nice little interlude for Angelica and Paola, who seem pretty unforgivably awful in The Subtle Knife. Paola asks for a hug from Mary and after considering for a moment that she needs to go her own way, Mary offers to take the girls to adults that are in the hills. (Again, not really sure why Angelica and Paola didn’t go with the other kids who had run off.)
Also in town are Mrs. Coulter and Lord Boreal. While Boreal makes no efforts to hide his nervousness about the spectre, Mrs. Coulter is less jumpy. Coming across a person who has been attacked by the spectres, Mrs. Coulter notes that whatever the spectres do, it’s stronger than severing someone from their daemon. “We can learn from this,” she says ominously. Sometimes I love you Mrs. Coulter, but I definitely am afraid of you a lot of the time. When the spectres finally find them, it’s hard not to chuckle a little bit at Boreal’s reaction compared to Mrs. Coulters. Like a true coward, Boreal lets Mrs. Coulter walk forward, locking a door between them and leaving her to the spectres.
In a scene that has only been referenced in the books, Marisa Coulter walks toward the swirling crowd of spectres and, mastering herself, learns how to control them in a matter of minutes. It’s mesmerizing, terrifying, and absolutely impressive. The world is wasted on Mrs. Coulter (but also the thought of her in power is a little scary). Commanding the spectres with ease, Borela finally comes out of his hiding place and Mrs. Coulter is gleeful. Drinking to celebrate this new development, Boreal asks her how she is able to control the spectres, and she replies, “They consume what makes us human, so I just hid that from them. I suppressed myself.” Given her relationship with her daemon, it’s not hard to see how easily she turns off that part of her. Notably, she also left her monkey daemon behind when first encountering the spectres.
Reveling in her success, Boreal notes that now that she can control the spectres, they can have free run of the city. But Mrs. Coulter has higher goals and nearly scoffs when Boreal calls her his equal. Sipping from his glass, Boreal soon realizes that something is wrong. You shouldn’t have kept so much from her, buddy. As he breathes his last breaths, choking on poison, Mrs. Coulter lays it out clearly to him. His ambitions are too small, he would only hold her back. “You are not, nor have you ever been, my equal,” she replies as he gasps his last breath and dies, a single tear sliding down his face. He was a creepy guy, so, honestly not a huge loss. I will definitely miss Ariyon Bakare, who killed it in this new adaptation of a younger, sleeker, equally creepy Lord Boreal. With Boreal dead, Marisa proceeds to get completely drunk and hovers her hand over a candle flame, like we saw Cardinal Macphail do in “The Cave,” repeating the importance of strength to her daemon. Okay, Marisa.
You might also remember a while back when Mrs. Coulter visited Fra Pavel, the Magisterium alethiometrist, and asked the question, “Who is Lyra Belacqua?” Well, that question has finally been answered (it definitely would have only taken Lyra two seconds, but who is counting?) Coming to Cardinal Macphail, Fra Pavel reveals the truth. In all but exact words, he tells Macphail that Lyra is “the mother of us all” and the source of original sin. He says that if she is tempted, she will fall. Basically, if you’ve ever been in the vicinity of the Biblical Genesis story, you’ll know that Fra Pavel is talking about Eve. But they probably won’t say that until the next episode.
But, with the knowledge of Lyra’s true identity, Cardinal Macphail launches Magisterium airships and sends them into Asriel’s tear to stop Lyra from “falling”. And how is that going to happen? It sounds like they’re just going to kill a child. Which, I guess, is not totally shocking given what they approved with the General Oblation Board in Season 1. Another question arises here, how do they even know where Lyra is?
Also in the air is John Parry and Lee Scoresby. I have to say, it is still a pure delight to see Andrew Scott and Lin-Manuel Miranda playing off of one another. Scott’s enigmatic John Parry playing off of a more straight-shooting Scoresby makes for great banter. Many of their conversations are pulled straight from the book, but Scott injects new life into them by playing a younger version of John Parry. In the book, John’s identity is still not laid out perfectly clear (for the less observant reader, he is still a strange shaman from a strange land). But, without the mystery here, John is actually able to speak about missing his son and wife in a forlorn way without giving up any spoilers.
There’s also a bit of whimsy when it comes to his character, and Scott’s more solid tone plays off of Miranda’s melodic speaking style. Honestly, it’s great. I did not expect to be so charmed. Though, admittedly I’ve been rooting for them since Scott’s casting announcement. Coming across Cittagazze, Lee witnesses as the spectres cluster around Mrs. Coulter, but John correctly deduces that if the spectres are so close to the tower, the knife is no longer there. He prompts Lee to take them higher, his eyes set on the prize of the knife bearer.
But, here comes the Magisterium. Before they can seek out Lyra, they must deal with a certain pesky aeronaut and shaman. Conjuring up an instant storm with his shaman powers, Parry calls down lightning from the skies to destroy one of the airships. Then, in another breath, he calls over a massive flock of birds to take down another airship. If you think this is wild, just read the Alamo Gulch chapter of The Subtle Knife. I won’t spoil my book comparison article, but there are some CRAZY moments. As one of the airships remains standing, a sharpshooter hits the balloon’s gas canister and sends the balloon plummeting toward the earth.
With just one episode left, there is still a lot of ground left to cover. Where will all these characters end up after coinciding in this world again? What will come of Lyra and Will? Will John and Will be reunited? So many questions, not enough answers. Next Monday can’t come soon enough!
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