It seems every headline regarding the BBC/HBO series His Dark Materials, which adapts Philip Pullman‘s best-selling fantasy trilogy, centers on one thing: “the big twist” revealing characters far earlier than they appear in the books. The thing is, it’s not really a twist — it’s just different pacing of the timeline for the TV series, which absolutely makes sense.
When we first meet Will Parry and his mother in Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, it’s a big jump from focusing exclusively on Lyra Belacqua’s world in The Golden Compass/Northern Lights. Pullman introduces parallel worlds and windows that allow travelers to pass between them, as well as characters like Lord Boreal, who has a full life in Lyra’s world and a full life in Will’s. It’s in The Subtle Knife that we begin to fully understand just how integral Lyra’s role in taking down the Authority is, as well as how long these windows have existed and what they mean.
At its current pace, the BBC/HBO series could release just two seasons, though a third is certainly not out of the question; the second is already underway, which led many critics and fans to assume each book in the trilogy would get its own season. Now that we are five episodes into the first season, however, certain plots have been pushed up, which actually gives the second and third books more breathing room in the TV adaptation.
Let’s break it down.
Rather than focusing purely on Lyra’s world in Season 1, Pullman and Jack Thorne introduce Lord Boreal and the parallel words in episode two. This speeds up the His Dark Materials timeline quite a bit, at least when compared directly to the books. However, there is a significant period of time explored at the start of The Subtle Knife, before Lyra meets Will, where it’s clear that her trip to the north overlaps with Will and his mother being stalked and attacked by agents of the Magisterium.
So while it might seem shocking to diehard fans of the books to be so suddenly introduced to what was a major twist in the trilogy, it makes sense from a TV viewing perspective. Establishing parallel worlds and overlapping timelines from the jump gives viewers the ability to dive into the whole story and make sense of it, rather than having to retrace their steps if each season strictly followed the outline of the books. Of course, playing with time and space in TV happens all the time, and having to figure out how and where plots overlap can be fun — but in this case His Dark Materials is moving at such a breakneck speed that bringing every major player into the fold provides more incentive to keep the story going and to go for that third season order.
At the current pacing, it seems Lyra’s and Will’s first meeting will mark the conclusion of Season 1, which will create excellent tension heading into Season 2. Given that their journey together spans across hundreds of pages and two books, seeing their relationship stretched across one or two seasons will create the emotional resonance that makes the books so desperately heartbreaking, especially the end of The Amber Spyglass.
When Amir Wilson was cast as Will Parry over the summer, it seemed like an indication that BBC/HBO intended to keep His Dark Materials going for several seasons, in order to properly examine the full timeline of the books. Introducing him early doesn’t change that and I, for one, am thrilled to see Pullman and Thorne making at least some quality decisions regarding the storytelling for this series, even if others leave much to be desired.
His Dark Materials airs Sundays on BBC and Mondays on HBO. You can catch our episode recaps every Monday at 10 p.m. ET, right here on The Beat.