Following their departure from Jordan College, His Dark Materials S1E2, “The Idea of the North,” picks up with Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) and Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) arriving in London. Stunned by the opulence of her new benefactor’s life, Lyra inquires if the grandiose building in front of them is all Mrs. Coulter’s — to which she replies, rather cheekily, that it’s “just the one floor.” The two ride a gold-and-marble elevator to the top floor, which is a large, beautifully kept apartment where Mrs. Coulter has already prepared a room for Lyra. She gets a tour, then collapses onto her new, overstuffed bed, where she and Pantalaimon (Kit Connor) briefly discuss the fate of their friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd).
Unfortunately, his fate isn’t so gilded. The scene transitions to Roger entering what appears to be a particularly rundown orphanage, where he is reunited with Billy Costa (Tyler Howitt). This is the only update we get on the Gobblers and the kidnapped children for a bit; after the credits, the focus is once again on Lyra and Mrs. Coulter.
Lyra seemingly cares only about finding her friend. As she looks over the edge of Mrs. Coulter’s balcony after the two have breakfast, they talk about whether Lyra is afraid of heights. She says she isn’t, and that she used to sleep on the roof of Jordan College regularly; Mrs. Coulter is skeptical, but she doesn’t push the issue. She does admit that she is afraid of heights, though not because she fears she might fall; she admits to Lyra that she fears she might jump. Very little time is spent on this revelation before the pair move on to talking about Roger, with Mrs. Coulter again reassuring Lyra that she has “her best people” searching for him and his kidnappers.
Following this meal, the pair go to The Arctic Institute — a place Lyra has always been eager to visit — for lunch. The girl is starstruck by the explorers, as well as the displays. An armored bear skull gets her particularly excited, but she obeys when she’s told to sit down and then, once again, turns the conversation to Roger — particularly, how she should be included in the search. Mrs. Coulter shuts her down and asks Lyra to look around the room and count how many women are there. In the shot itself, it’s just the two of them — the rest of the room is filled only with men.
“In every room, there are those that would belittle you,” Mrs. Coulter says. “With my help, they won’t lay a scratch on you, for you will have knowledge that they won’t. I can teach you to wield power over all of them. You must let me mold you. You must trust me.” Lyra says she does trust her, to which Mrs. Coulter responds, “Then will you let me find Roger for you? Lyra, I won’t let you down.” It’s an odd conversation, especially because as soon as Lyra capitulates, Mrs. Coulter asks which explorer she’d like to be introduced to first; her deflections and distractions may go mostly unnoticed by Lyra, but certainly not by audiences.
Meanwhile, the Gyptians plot to attack what they believe to be a Gobbler van and a possible hiding place. Again, this scene is short — His Dark Materials S1E2 revolves very tightly around the growing relationship between Lyra and Mrs. Coulter.
Next, we see them back at the apartment, with Mrs. Coulter washing Lyra’s hair while she bathes. The former’s golden monkey daemon sits on the floor, facing the wall; Pantalaimon, meanwhile, walks carefully around the rim of the tub. The conversation revolves around Lyra’s hair style, which Mrs. Coulter thinks is unsuitable for the girl’s face; Lyra tells a story about how she once had long hair, which she and Roger turned into a rope to get out of a tight squeeze. This clear embellishment prompts Mrs. Coulter to roughly pull Lyra’s hair and tell her not to lie.
Lyra insists she wasn’t, but Mrs. Coulter doesn’t believe her. As the camera cuts between Pantalaimon’s worried face and Mrs. Coulter telling Lyra that she can be “extraordinary,” but only if she applies herself, it becomes clear that while Lyra is still enamored of her benefactor, Pan is not so sure. When he tells Lyra they shouldn’t change just to fit in with the London socialites in the next scene, her distress mirrors his. She thinks they deserve to have nice things for once, and Mrs. Coulter is — as far as Lyra is concerned — nice. She treats Lyra well. But… does she?
The music here takes on a sinister tone, as Lyra’s and Pan’s conversation is intercut with Mrs. Coulter staring into the distance beside the still-full tub. Her monkey daemon sits restlessly in in the doorway to the bathroom until she pulls the plug and stands up; then the scene abruptly shifts to show Lyra asleep in bed. Pan hears a loud, jarring noise in the walls and wakes her, but she insists it’s the pipes, throws a pillow at him, and goes back to sleep.
Elsewhere in London, the Gyptians arrive at the building where they believe the kidnapped children are being kept. They break into the same building where Roger and Billy reunited, but the room has been cleared out. Bunk beds, some clothes, and even a few dirty dishes litter the room, which proves to Farder Coram (James Cosmo) and John Faa (Lucian Msamati) that the children were here. However, it also proves that the Gobblers must have caught wind of the Gyptians coming, and moved the children to yet another, unknown location. “What do they want the children for?” John Faa asks. That’s the big question, isn’t it?
Briefly, we see Roger and Billy in the new hideout, where the latter confesses to missing his mum and the former reassures him that Lyra won’t rest until she finds them — no matter what.
Lyra, of course, isn’t physically searching for the boys, because Mrs. Coulter won’t let her. The scene transitions to Lyra being fitted for a shiny, blue dress that’s far more restrictive than what she wore at Jordan College. Mrs. Coulter is having a party, and she wants Lyra to help her serve drinks to the guests — many of whom are the very explorers Lyra is so fascinated by.
The episode then moves out of London, back to Jordan College — where Headmaster Dr. Carne (Clarke Peters) refuses Lord Boreal’s (Ariyon Bakare) request to examine the renowned scholar Doctor Stanislaus Grumman’s head. Boreal says he must understand where Grumman went on his final expedition, and that people say he crossed between worlds. This, Dr. Carne notes, is heresy; Boreal all but calls him a hypocrite for saying such a thing, when Jordan College is funding Lord Asriel’s (James McAvoy) examinations of Dust (a mysterious substance that the Magisterium believes is only attracted to adults).
Citing scholastic sanctuary, Dr. Carne reminds Lord Boreal that the Magisterium’s only rights at Jordan College are those he grants. He says Grumman’s head is in the crypts and that it shall stay there, regardless what threats Boreal makes. Boreal leaves, and we once again join Mrs. Coulter and Lyra in London.
When she struggles to focus on her reading, Mrs. Coulter reminds Lyra to concentrate. Lyra asks if she can’t be molded into someone who “reads some books, but who travels mostly. Who adventures. Who looks for people when they’re lost.” Rather than respond directly, Mrs. Coulter reminds Lyra that she agreed to trust her in the search for Roger, then turns the subject back to Lyra’s studies. At the moment, she’s learning about electrons, which she knows are negatively charged particles — sort of like Dust, but, as Lyra notes, “Dust might not be charged.”
The mention of Dust immediately puts Mrs. Coulter and her daemon on edge. At first, she acts as if she doesn’t know what Dust is; she asks Lyra what she knows about it, and Lyra says, “It comes from space, it lights people up if you have a special camera to see it by, and, ah yes, it doesn’t affect children.” As she speaks, Mrs. Coulter digs her fingers into her daemon, and the golden monkey daemon winces, but tries not to make a noise. This alerts Pan, who sits up from his nap in Lyra’s lap, now also on edge.
“Who did you learn this from?” Mrs. Coulter asks. Pan makes eye contact with Lyra and shakes his head, telling her not to name Lord Asriel; Lyra says she simply overheard a visiting scholar speaking to the chaplain at Jordan. Then, she asks Mrs. Coulter if she’s right, but Mrs. Coulter insists that Lyra knows more about it than she does (which is obviously a lie). Then she once again redirects the conversation back to electrons.
The Gyptians aren’t faring well. Ma Costa (Anne-Marie Duff) remains convinced that Billy is still in Oxford; Tony (Daniel Frogson) insists that he should be allowed to go searching for his little brother with the others. When she’s presented with evidence that Billy was, in fact, kidnapped by the gobblers — in the form of his vest, which the others found in the abandoned hiding place — she begs them to find her son. Benjamin de Ruyter (Simon Manyonda) privately tells Tony he has a plan.
Back at the Magisterium, Cardinal Sturrock (Ian Peck) informs Father Macphail (Will Keen) that the General Oblation Board is “causing trouble” again, and mentions the Gyptian raid to find the children. “Give them credit,” he says. “The Oblation Board’s policy of moving them constantly and quickly seems to have borne fruit, but they risk so much.” He says that he and the fathers are worried that the Board may present future concerns; he commands Father Macphail to get the Board under control.
Once again, we see Pan wake Lyra in the middle of the night when he hears the same strange sound in the walls. This time, she gets up, and notes that the sound is actually traveling. Her earlier theory that it’s just the pipes seems less likely now. When she and Pan go into the hallway to follow the sound, they trace it to Mrs. Coulter’s study — which is strictly forbidden. Regardless, Lyra opens the door, and finds the golden monkey daemon sitting on the desk inside. The sight causes Lyra to panic, especially when Mrs. Coulter enters the hallway from the other end of the apartment. See, humans and their daemons can only be a few feet from each other, lest they suffer excruciating pain. There’s no way Mrs. Coulter and her monkey should be able to exist so far apart.
When Lyra attempts to ask about it, Mrs. Coulter gaslights her; the monkey has once again appeared by her side, and Mrs. Coulter insists that Lyra must be mistaken. “He was with me the entire time,” she insists. Then she walks Lyra back to her room and tells her to get some sleep. As soon as the door closes, Mrs. Coulter smacks her daemon so hard across the head that he cries out; this, too, is unnatural — humans and daemons are supposed to have sacred, loving relationships.
Simultaneously, at Jordan College, Lord Boreal sneaks into the crypts and places his hand on the most recently-treated skull. In doing so, he is able to determine that Asriel lied; the skull is not Grumman’s. Then, he and his snake daemon go into a wooded area, then an abandoned greenhouse. Here, Boreal steps through a portal to another world — our world. He peels parking tickets off of a black car, climbs in, and plugs in a cell phone, then sends a text message.
In Lyra’s London, she consults the alethiometer to try to discern its symbols. Mrs. Coulter announces that there are guests arriving and tells Lyra to stay in her room; Lyra stashes the alethiometer in her bed. Father Macphail and Father Garret (David Langham) greet Mrs. Coulter at the elevator, then join her in the parlor, where she offers them tea or water. The tension is thick; Lyra sneaks into the hallway to eavesdrop as Father Macphail explains to Mrs. Coulter that the Magisterium is “excited by” her work, but the Cardinal has concerns.
Before Lyra can learn much, Father Garret finds Lyra in the hallway and questions her. This prompts Mrs. Coulter to throw open the door and tell Lyra to run along; back in her room, Pan reminds her that they cannot allow anyone to find the alethiometer, per their instructions from Dr. Carne — especially not Mrs. Coulter. Lyra puts the device in a small shoulder bag and says it will stay with her from now on.
Once again, she eavesdrops as Mrs. Coulter tells Father Macphail that they have an opportunity to understand Dust, and she should be encouraged in that endeavor rather than told to slow down. He reminds her that the Magisterium is more important than any individual, and that sacrifices can and will be made.
Lyra joins Mrs. Coulter in the parlor, where the latter questions her about the shoulder bag and whether it’s part of Lyra’s outfit for tonight’s party. She apologizes for being short with Lyra, and Lyra says it’s OK that Mrs. Coulter lost control. They disagree on whether or not Mrs. Coulter was angry, and whether she still is. This prompts Mrs. Coulter to start walking away, then turn back and tell Lyra that it looks absurd to carry a shoulder bag in her own home.
“It’s the only thing I really like wearing,” Lyra says.
Mrs. Coulter darts forward with a hiss, and her daemon attacks Pantalaimon. The pain of it drives Lyra to the ground, screaming, as Pan transforms into a cat to defend himself. The monkey catches him and pins him to the ground as Lyra begs for them to stop. In an eerily calm and detached manner, Mrs. Coulter inspects her fingernails and says, “If you behave in this vulgar and coarse way, then we will have a confrontation, which I will win.”
“This isn’t who you are,” Lyra insists. “Those men just upset you.”
Mrs. Coulter describes how Lyra will be expected to behave in front of guests in the future: “perfectly sweet, charming, innocent, delightful, just as children should be.” Still, her daemon holds Pan down, and Lyra insists that Mrs. Coulter can’t treat her like this because her uncle — Lord Asriel — won’t allow it. This seems to anger Mrs. Coulter further, who accidentally lets slip that Asriel is not Lyra’s uncle; he’s her father.
This revelation is devastating for Lyra, who has always believed the lie that her parents died in an airship. She attempts to ask about her mother, but Mrs. Coulter says she could have been anyone, because of how Asriel used to move from place to place. She disparages him, as well as Jordan College, the institution Asriel believed could protect Lyra if he left her at the school. When Lyra rushes back to her bedroom in her upset, Mrs. Coulter follows to tell her that their origins do not define them. In her bedroom, Lyra again consults the alethiometer, but can’t get it to answer any of her questions; Mrs. Coulter lingers in the hallway, visibly upset, before she collects herself and walks away. Lyra throws the alethiometer across the room and its hands move on their own, without her seeing.
In our world, Lord Boreal meets with an informant, Thomas (Robert Emms), at a coffee shop. They talk about their separate worlds and Boreal assigns Thomas a task: find Grumman, whom he believes has crossed between worlds.
Following their confrontation, Mrs. Coulter tells Lyra that her people can’t find Roger anywhere; she suggests that he is, perhaps, still in Oxford, but Lyra doesn’t believe that. Neither does Pan; when Mrs. Coulter leaves the apartment later that afternoon, the pair investigate the study in an attempt to find out who she really is, why the Magistrate came to see her, and what her daemon was doing crawling through the walls in the middle of the night. Lyra and Pan discover that one of the vents in the hallway is loose on one side, and that the space behind is large enough — as well as containing a ladder — so she can crawl into the ceiling and access the locked study that way.
While Mrs. Coulter visits the children that have been kidnapped by the Gobblers and has them each write a letter to their loved ones before they make a voyage north, Lyra discovers lots of paperwork for the General Oblation Board of London in Mrs. Coulter’s desk. She also finds blueprints for a place called The Station, which Roger mentions explicitly in his letter to her. Those letters, of course, don’t get mailed; Mrs. Coulter throws them in the incinerator as she leaves. In the blueprints, Lyra discovers plans that show a human and his daemon on opposite sides of what appears to be a cage — but she can’t quite parse what this means.
Pan warns that Mrs. Coulter has called the elevator, and Lyra hurries to put the study back the way she found it. Then she crawls back through the vents and just barely makes it back to her room before Mrs. Coulter goes to check on her. The two exchange hesitant smiles and Mrs. Coulter’s daemon gently pets Pantalaimon on the head. That night, Lyra blocks all of the vents in her room, then covers her desk with a thick blanket and crawls underneath to look at the alethiometer using a flashlight. She asks Pantalaimon what the plans she found could mean — especially what the purpose of the blade could be.
Then, we see Lord Boreal cross back over to Lyra’s world, and then Mrs. Coulter’s party begins. She serves drinks, as expected, until a journalist pulls her aside to ask some questions — and reveal some truths. From her, we learn that the Gobblers and the General Oblation Board are one and the same; further, Mrs. Coulter “is the Oblation Board. It’s entirely her own project.”
Panicked, Lyra leaves the party room under the guise of getting more ice. While Mrs. Coulter asks the journalist what she’s doing at a party she wasn’t invited to, Pan realizes the elevator has been left open to accommodate the guests. He and Lyra go to leave, but then she remembers the alethiometer; she goes back for it, and she and Pan escape the apartment through her bedroom window. Lord Boreal takes the journalist outside to a private car, then kills her butterfly daemon, which kills her, too.
As the Gobblers begin to transport the children to the north, Lyra and Pan hide on the streets of London. Unfortunately, they don’t hide well enough; the same man with the fox daemon who took Billy and Roger takes her, as well.