In last week’s episode of His Dark Materials, Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen) was kidnapped by the Gobblers and brought to Bolvangar, where the Gobblers have reportedly taken dozens of stolen children, including the late Billy Costa (Tyler Howitt), whom Lyra found alone in a fishing village without his daemon. After being returned to Ma Costa (Anne-Marie Duff) and his older brother Tony (Daniel Frogson), Billy died, sparking cries of revenge from the Gyptians.
His Dark Materials S1E6, “The Daemon-Cages,” picks up right where S1E5 left off. Wearing a uniform and walking through guarded cement buildings in the snow, Lyra is escorted by Sister Clara (Morfydd Clark) to a mess hall, where she sees dozens of other children all dressed the same — including her friend Roger (Lewin Lloyd).
After Lyra gets her food and goes to sit down, her daemon Pantalaimon (Kit Connor) briefly checks in with Roger’s daemon Salcilia (Eloise Little). She asks if they’re alright, and Pan tells her questions need to wait — for now, Lyra, Roger, and their daemons need to act as if they don’t know each other. This will hopefully keep them all safe until Lyra and Pan can get the lay of the land at Bolvangar. Though Roger hasn’t been physically hurt, he’s clearly been through a lot, as evidenced by both his roughly shorn hair and his jumpy demeanor.
As Lyra whispers with Pan, a young girl named Bridget McGinn and some others join Lyra at her table. Moments later, Dr. Cooper (Lia Williams) and Sister Betty (Kate Rutter) enter the mess hall to ask Bridget to come with them. She says she hasn’t had her dinner yet, and they tell her not to make a fuss. With her rabbit daemon in tow, Bridget follows the women to another part of the facility, where she’s taken into a room with a locked, steel door. We don’t see what happens inside; instead, we see Sister Clara standing in the corridor, smiling slightly as the camera zooms in. When the lights flicker, her smile fades, and the door opens and then closes again behind her.
Despite the sound of the door, Sister Clara doesn’t come to attention until Dr. Cooper snaps her fingers right next to the nurse’s ear. Then the camera shifts, and we see Sister Clara follow Dr. Cooper down the hall. It then becomes clear, through the presence of Dr. Cooper’s fox daemon and the absence of Sister Clara’s daemon, that she has been through the same procedure as Billy — which is likely what’s happened to Bridget, too.
After the credits roll, Lyra is photographed by Dr. Rendal (Amit Shah) in a caged enclosure; although he won’t answer her questions, Lyra quickly deduces that he’s measuring Dust. When he asks who told her about Dust, she lies and says it was one of the other girls. “No, they didn’t,” he replies. Then, quickly, “Where are you from?” Lyra keeps up the guise of being in the north with her father, then asks more questions. Dr. Rendal lies, too; he tells her that children who leave the Station go “to a place for more grown-up children, of course.”
Lyra challenges him and says, “So they don’t die. You don’t cut their daemons away.” Sounding more nervous, but still trying to keep his cool, Dr. Rendal tells her, “This is a philosophical establishment, not a child chophouse.” Before he can take another photo, an alarm sounds, which provokes a loud, angry reaction from the doctor. Sister Clara calmly instructs him and Lyra to make their way to the nearest fire exit, and she reminds Lyra to grab her shoes.
In the corridor, the children are putting on hats and snowsuits that match the one Billy Costa was wearing when he died. Lyra bundles up and stands next to Roger as the facilitators take role. He questions her fake name, but she bypasses an explanation to exchange information; Roger tells her Billy Costa was here, but that they took him, and she says the Gyptians are coming to save them. He’s dubious; he doesn’t think the Gyptians can stand against the Gobblers, but Lyra says they have to find an escape route — they have to help, from the inside, if the Gyptians are to succeed.
“Those who get caught breaking the rules, they don’t last long,” Roger argues. “We can’t stick out.” This goes completely against everything Lyra is; she starts a snowball fight, despite Roger’s warning, and tells him that sticking out is the only way to escape. He joins in, reluctantly, and as all of the children start to throw snow, Lyra and Roger escape from the courtyard to investigate the corridors. Roger thinks the closest they’ll get to an exit is an area where the children aren’t allowed to go.
After hiding from a nurse pushing a cart, Roger and Lyra discover a room where severed daemons are kept in cages labeled with their humans’ names. One lies dejectedly on the ground of her cage; Bridget’s rabbit daemon repeatedly hits his head against the back wall. These are the daemons of the children who are taken and don’t come back. Some of the cages, including the one that once housed Billy Costa’s daemon Ratter, are empty. Roger realizes that means Billy is dead, and is horrified when Lyra admits that she knew, but she assures him that she helped Billy find his mom; she also notes that Billy found a way out of the Station, somehow.
Then, Roger asks: “If the daemons are alive, where are the children?” He and Lyra find them in another room, sitting on cots and staring at the wall, counting the beeps from the alarm. The sight is disturbing, especially when paired with the monotone sound of their counting in unison. When the alarm stops, Roger and Lyra rush back to join the others, so they aren’t caught. Lyra tells Roger to inform the others that they must be ready to escape next time the fire alarm sounds, and he must keep the plan a deadly secret from the adults. Behind them, Sister Betty follows, looking quite suspicious of the pair.
As Kaisa (David Suchet) flies overhead at Bolvangar, indicating that the Gyptians are close, Dr. Cooper has a drink with Dr. Rendal. “Here’s to freedom and the conclusion of our work here,” she toasts. Then she tells Dr. Rendal that “she” — Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) — is on her way. He thinks they should focus on the positives of the new severing equipment, and she agrees that they cannot allow Mrs. Coulter to focus on the mistakes. Dr. Cooper seems to genuinely believe they are on the verge of important, scientific discovery; Dr. Rendal is not so certain.
“This is just pain we’re causing,” she insists. He asks how many more children have to die before they finally get the process right, and she tells him their work is necessary, in order to “free generations from tyranny of sin.” She believes this will earn them recognition and celebration from the Magisterium, and that not only can they succeed, but they must.
In the girls’ sleeping quarters, Lyra lies awake while at least one of the others cries in the dark.
Meanwhile, Will Parry (Amir Wilson) stays awake watching old interviews with his late (or simply missing) father, Colonel John Parry (Andrew Scott). When John mentions his wife and son, Will sets the laptop aside and leaves his room. He finds his mom, Elaine (Nina Sosanya), asleep in her room; Will tucks her in and turns out the light.
In a car outside, Thomas (Robert Emms) and another of Lord Boreal’s (Ariyon Bakare) spies watch the Parry home from a dark car. When Thomas asks why they aren’t going inside, he’s told that Elaine knows they’re watching, and that they must wait for the right opportunity, which will surely come soon enough.
At Bolvangar, the girls wake to the sound of an airship arriving. Upon one of them seeing Mrs. Coulter’s golden monkey daemon, confirming that she’s arrived at the Station, one of them immediately begins giving orders: check the beds, make sure everything is as it should be, and don’t stick out. This time, the girl says, the child they take will be from the boys’ dormitory, not the girls’. Lyra cowers against the wall, immediately afraid of being found by her mother.
Mrs. Coulter walks with Drs. Cooper and Rendal, who tell her that with the new separator, children are awake during and after the procedure, and the children are becoming “more responsive” once separated from their daemons. Dr. Cooper also says that they’ve had five survivors since Mrs. Coulter last visited, and the latter asks if she can see the new machine in action. Then she goes to see the children; Lyra has just told the girls she’s Mrs. Coulter’s daughter, and that she has to be hidden, or she won’t be able to rescue everyone the way she intends. She also tells them that Mrs. Coulter and the doctors are severing the children they take from their daemons.
Lyra crawls under her bed, then pulls herself up using the bed frame so she won’t be visible if Mrs. Coulter checks underneath. Annie, the girl who took charge earlier, says some of the girls are out for testing and have yet to return. As Mrs. Coulter talks about how much she cares about the girls and how much seeing their “bright, shining faces” means to her, her golden monkey daemon searches the room for anything that may be amiss.
When Mrs. Coulter leaves, Lyra lets herself drop to the floor, then has to pull herself up again when the woman returns to heap more praise upon the girls. It’s two near misses in less than a minute.
Elsewhere, the Gyptians — accompanied by Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda), build rudimentary bridges over gaps in the mountain with boards as they make their way to Bolvangar. They, too, have a near miss when one of their supply sleds nearly topples down the mountain face.
In the mess hall, Lyra details her escape plan to Annie and the other girls. They’re scared to try escaping, but they’re more afraid of being severed from their daemons. Then the doctors walk in and ask for “Lizzie Brooks,” which is the codename Lyra gave herself. Apparently, she has been chosen as the test subject for Mrs. Coulter to see the new separator in action.
Lyra goes with Sister Clara and the doctors, but halfway down the hall, she turns and tries to run. At Dr. Cooper’s command, Dr. Rendal picks up Pantalaimon, breaking the taboo against touching another person’s daemon and sending Lyra collapsing to the floor. Rendal holds Pan so he remains unconscious, and Lyra passes out, too. They carry girl and daemon into a room where Rendal tosses Pan into a small cage, then slams and locks the door. Lyra comes to and tries to fight again, as Pan slams himself against the door begging to be let go. Lyra struggles even as she, too, is put in a cage, and screams about how they don’t know who she is.
Ignoring her screams to let her out, Dr. Cooper readies the machine. Then, Lyra drops Mrs. Coulter’s name, which gives Rendal pause — how does she know Mrs. Coulter? Dr. Cooper ignores Rendal’s concern, telling him in a slow, soothing voice that they are doing something great and that he must focus on the good. Before he can close the door to the machine as instructed, Mrs. Coulter enters the room where Dr. Cooper is working, and Lyra begins to scream her name over and over.
The tactic works. Mrs. Coulter hears Lyra screaming, and the look of dawning horror on her face matches the moment that Lyra begins to scream, “Mother!” at the top of her lungs. Frantic, Mrs. Coulter shuts off the machine and screams Lyra’s name. Dr. Rendal and Sister Clara open the doors to the cages; Lyra slowly approaches the glass, behind which Mrs. Coulter crouches and holds out her hand.
In Mrs. Coulter’s room, she attempts to give Lyra an infusion of chamomile, but Lyra refuses to drink. She also refuses to reveal who told her that Mrs. Coulter is her mother; she speaks, finally, when Mrs. Coulter says she’ll answer whatever questions Lyra has, if she has any. “I do,” Lyra says. Again, the glass of chamomile is held to her lips and again, she refuses to drink. Mrs. Coulter says there are a dozen other ways to poison her other than a drink, and insists that the infusion will make Lyra feel better. Lyra takes the glass then and sips.
Rather than wait for Lyra to ask something, Mrs. Coulter immediately dives into an explanation of why she didn’t keep Lyra and raise her. She says it wouldn’t have been good for either of them, that she wasn’t equipped, and that when Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) had ideas about what was best, Mrs. Coulter let him pursue those. She swears she never meant to harm Lyra, which prompts an angry reaction.
“No harm? Then what are you doing here?” Lyra shouts, teary-eyed. Mrs. Coulter promises nothing will happen to her, here or elsewhere, and says that the only reason the doctors were going to “cut Pan from me, out of me,” as Lyra puts it, is because they didn’t know who Lyra is. It’s a chilling response; Mrs. Coulter simultaneously acknowledges that they’re harming children and promises that Lyra won’t ever be among the ones harmed, because she’s special. “It’s Dust,” Lyra says. “You’re after Dust.”
Mrs. Coulter shushes her and explains that Dust is “not a good thing;” adults are so “infected” with it that it’s too late for them, but children can still be saved from lives of sin. She insists that severing children from their daemons creates a better future, a point with which Lyra vehemently disagrees. Here, Mrs. Coulter blames daemons for the “troublesome thoughts and feelings” that arrive with puberty. No daemon, no Dust, no problem. Except if this is an ideal outcome, why not let the doctors sever Lyra from Pan? Lyra isn’t buying what Mrs. Coulter is selling, and nor should she.
In an attempt to explain away Lyra’s anger, Mrs. Coulter says that once the equipment and process have been ironed out so that they work correctly and smoothly, then Lyra can have the intercision procedure done. Meanwhile, these other children are apparently disposable. Lyra argues, bringing up Billy and Roger, and Mrs. Coulter “guarantees” that Lyra’s friends won’t be hurt — except Billy is already dead. “Well, that is unfortunate. I will find those people responsible,” Mrs. Coulter starts, only to be cut off by Lyra shouting, “That’s you!”
Then, Mrs. Coulter centers herself as the victim, remarking how hard her job is and how she’s doing her best to fulfill her calling but if the way she is has done Lyra damage, then she’s sorry. She insists that one day, Lyra will understand everything she sacrificed to make the world better for her. Crying, Mrs. Coulter asks what they should do now, and cheerfully offers to take Lyra back to her dorm. When she offers for Lyra to stay, Lyra says she’d like that, and they have a moment that seems — to Mrs. Coulter, at least — like they might be bonding and moving on.
But when Mrs. Coulter asks about the alethiometer, that changes. She tells Lyra it’s time to choose a side — hers or Lord Asriel’s — and decide “who she belongs to.” Faking her out, Lyra says, “You saved me. He didn’t. And you’re my mother.” She pulls out an object that is about the same size and shape as the alethiometer and offers it to Mrs. Coulter. But it isn’t the truth-telling device — it’s a soldered shut tin containing one of the spy flies Mrs. Coulter sent after her in S1E3, “The Spies.”
The moment the spy fly breaks free from the tin, sending Mrs. Coulter to the ground and her daemon screaming, Lyra runs from the room and breaks the keypad with a fire extinguisher, locking Mrs. Coulter in. On opposite sides of the door, they scream wordlessly at each other until Pan reminds Lyra that they have a mission. She sets off the fire alarm and runs to find Roger, whom she sends to free the severed children. While everyone dresses for the cold, Lyra runs through the Station to get her old clothes back.
When she’s dressed, Sister Clara finds her and tells her to take the clothes off, because she doesn’t need them. Lyra encourages the nurse to leave with them, but Sister Clara argues, saying that this is the best place Lyra can possibly be. In response, Lyra asks, “What was his name? The daemon she cut from you?” His name was Nicholas, and Sister Clara “loved him so much.” The nurse stares at the wall, repeating his name, and Lyra runs off with Pan to find the intercision room and destroy the separator.
Roger retrieves the severed children from their room. All of them have their heads shaved; they’re once again counting the beeps of the alarm in unison. Some are sitting, others are prone; when Roger tells them to come with him, they don’t move. He gives them a rousing speech about how even though they’ve been hurt, they can still choose to do something rather than nothing. They can still fight. “We’ve got to stop this happening again,” he says.
In the intercision room, Pan reminds Lyra that the doctor said if the doors are left open on the separator, the system gets fritzed. Lyra opens the doors, then presses every button, turns every knob, and moves every lever until something happens. The machine slowly begins to crack apart, shaking the entire building and breaking the glass. It’s going to explode; Pan pulls Lyra from the room and the pair run out to meet the other children.
An establishing shot shows a hot air balloon — Lee Scoresby’s — arriving at Bolvangar. Mrs. Coulter’s daemon leads her into the air ducts to escape her room, and the children meet a locked door. As Dr. Rendal tries to convince them to go with him, flanked by two Tartar warriors, the Gyptians arrive. Ma Costa asks if Rendal remembers Billy, and he says, “It wasn’t my fault. I was just obeying orders.” She snaps his neck, then tells the children they’ve come to rescue them.
Lyra is saved from two more Tartars by Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg), who is fully armored for battle. Not even pausing to say thanks, she tells him they have to get the rest of the children away from the Station. Elsewhere, Mrs. Coulter emerges into the reception office, crouching on the table the same way her daemon does when he sits still.
As Lee, Iorek, and the Gyptians fight the Tartars, Dr. Cooper tells one of the warriors to grab Lyra (“she’s the one with value”) and tells him to keep the children alive, but kill everyone else. That’s when the witch Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) arrives and slaughters the enemy through a series of rapid movements in which time seems to come to a full stop. Suddenly without enemies to fight, the Gyptians still, and from the hall emerges Roger, leading the group of severed children, who are all wrapped in blankets.
The Gyptians and Lyra approach slowly, then begin to embrace the children. Mrs. Coulter watches from a hidden spot before slowly backing away and ostensibly leaving the facility.
Once the battle is done, Lee loads Iorek into his balloon while Lyra says goodbye to Ma Costa; she tells her it was Billy that gave them hope they could escape, because he did it. He showed them all the way, even if he didn’t realize it. As much as she wants to help the Gyptians take the children home, Lyra has another mission: to save her father, Lord Asriel, from his imprisonment by the Svalbard bears. She brings Roger with her, who gives Lee some sass and seems shocked at the sight if Iorek.
As the balloon rises into the sky, Lyra and Roger wave goodbye to Ma Costa, Farder Coram (James Cosmo), John Faa (Lucian Msamati), and the other children. They embrace on the edge of the balloon and watch for a while, until the scene shifts to show them both asleep on the bottom of the basket, Lyra lying on a sleeping Iorek.
Lee has covered the basket with a tarp-like object, ostensibly for warmth. He has one “window” where he can see the skies, in which Serafina Pekkala sits and talks to him about his role in the future of the universe. The witch tells him that Lyra is “destined to be important, to create and resolve conflict. She matters more than she can ever know. The fate of more than this world depends on her.”
Lee notes that did what he was contracted to do, but now he’s taking Lyra even further north, and he hasn’t been offered a new contract or additional payment for that task. Serafina disregards this, telling him, “She will need you, Lee. And you need her.” She seems unconcerned with his protest that he should be allowed to choose whether or not he takes up arms, and challenges him when he says the conversation isn’t going how he expected.
“I was hoping you’d find a way of chucking me some danger money, and instead you’ve blindsided me with love,” he says, as the camera pans over to Lyra and Iorek. Serafina thinks this is a good thing, and informs Lee that the Polar Star will guide him to where Asriel is imprisoned. The wind is strong and he’s a capable navigator; they shouldn’t have any trouble just yet. “So it’s me,” he says. “She’s responsible for the fate of everything and I’m responsible for her.”
“The world is in your hands, Mr. Scoresby, and I am delighted it is,” Serafina Pekkala responds. Then she leaves on the wind, and Hester (Cristela Alonzo) teases Lee about not being impressive enough for this team.
At Bolvangar, Ma Costa, Tony, Farder Coram, and John Faa prepare the children to leave. They bring their daemons, too, though the daemons are even less responsive than the children. John Faa worries what will happen when the children are brought home, and whether their families will still love and accept them. Ma Costa has a solution to this: bring them into the fold as Gyptians. They defeated the Gobblers. They’ll surely hurt more children, but as Ma Costa points out, they’ve made it much harder for them to keep on with their horrible plans.
Meanwhile, the balloon draws nearer to Svalbard and Lee’s devices begin to act strangely; then the balloon is attacked by cliff-ghasts — oversized bat-like creatures with fur, huge claws, and orc-like faces. Lee shoots as many as he can while Iorek bats at some from the edge of the basket; when Lee shoots one that descends from above, the creature’s claw tears through one of the cables attaching the balloon to the basket, causing it to tilt dangerously.
Lyra is thrown against the door, which flies open beneath her weight; at the last second, she manages to grab the top rail of the door with both hands. The gun falls from Lee’s hand, slides across the floor, and falls out of the balloon. Despite Lee’s attempt to grab her and pull her back into the basket, Lyra loses her grip and falls to the snowy mountains below.