Following Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) and Roger’s (Lewin Lloyd) arrival at Lord Asriel’s (James McAvoy) mountaintop laboratory in the north, His Dark Materials S1E8, “Betrayal,” opens with Magisterium soldiers readying for battle. Among them is Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), who readies a pistol while an unseen voice implores the soldiers to “channel the Authority in this time of need.”
Meanwhile, Asriel examines the aurora through a window marked all over with equations. His daemon, Stelmaria (Helen McCrory), remarks, “The aurora is strong now and the child is here.” This seems to put Asriel into a state of distress, as he responds quite gravely to Stelmaria’s statement that “It’s time.”
After the opening credits, we return to Asriel’s lab as Lyra approaches him in his workshop. Pantalaimon (Kit Connor) sniffs at various components, inquiring about what’s what, while Lyra offers her father a tentative smile. He notes her surprise arrival on Iorek Byrnison’s (Joe Tandberg) back and asks how she managed to acquire the king of the Panserbjørne as a guardian. After teasing him about how he must have preferred Iofur Raknison (Joi Johansson), who allowed Asriel to continue his experiments while he was imprisoned, she remarks that he must be happy to be free. And in response to his question, Lyra replies, somewhat evasively, “It’s been quite a journey to get here.”
“That’s not an answer,” Asriel replies, “and I don’t remember inviting you.”
Lyra is upset that he doesn’t want her here, but Asriel says he left her at Jordan College for her own safety. He says that he hopes whatever she’s brought him was worth it, then asks what it is. Lyra agrees to tell him only if he explains why he lied about being her father. (Last time she saw Asriel, she thought he was her uncle, as she’d been told all her life.) She insists she would have been proud to be his daughter because of who he is, but also because he’s her father, plain and simple.
Asriel asks if Lyra knows who her mother is, as well. She replies, “Your choice in women is almost as bad as your choice in bears.” This prompts them both to laugh, but then he steps away and suggests they end the conversation “because it is getting sentimental,” and because he “wouldn’t like to.” As Lyra walks away, wiping her face, he tells her crying is unnecessary: “Lyra Belacqua, you are stronger than that.”
She takes the opportunity to correct him. Her name is Lyra Silvertongue now, thanks to Iorek Byrnison giving her a new name after he defeated Iofur and reclaimed his throne. Asriel seems annoyed that Lyra doesn’t want his name, so she tells him flat-out that Silvertongue “feels like my name. It was given to me by someone who actually loves me, which is better than I can say for you.” With that, she puts the alethiometer down, tells Asriel she brought him the device and saved Roger, and now she’ll be on her way.
He argues again, remarking that it’s the middle of the night; Lyra says she’ll leave in the morning. When Asriel picks up the alethiometer, he gives it back and tells her to keep it. He doesn’t need it. Again, Lyra seems hurt by his rejection, though he’s quick to note that he didn’t say he doesn’t want it — merely that he doesn’t need it. Lyra angrily rebukes him for being a terrible father, and he reminds her that he’s never called himself a father. That’s the point.
We transition back Mrs. Coulter, then, who is angrily scruffing — and visibly hurting — her daemon as she shakes with emotion. Father Macphail (Will Keen) walks into the room to tell her the winds have changed direction and the Magisterium’s airships are able to pick up speed. They’ll arrive at Asriel’s lab by morning. “Yes, the Authority must be on our side,” he replies, which he says is arrogant.
They argue about whether “firepower and belief” are enough against Asriel and his work, which Mrs. Coulter notes is heretical to the point that Father Macphail doesn’t want others to see it — but mostly, he doesn’t want to see it himself. On the other hand, she isn’t frightened of it. Father Macphail asks what Asriel “did” to her, to still exert so much power over her. He reminds her that he knew her before Asriel came into her life, and that when he did, she “melted,” which she denies. He seems deeply unimpressed by all of her decisions, especially her choice not to claim responsibility for her child, Lyra.
In response, Mrs. Coulter remarks, “I suppose you consider yourself without sin.” He says no one can claim such a thing, and she asks him which of the sins is his. She settles on “envy,” because she believes Father Macphail wants what she and Asriel have: “A sureness of step, a conviction, but you — you lack it. I’m the best weapon you’ll ever have.”
At Magisterium headquarters in London, Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) chases after Fra Pavel (Frank Bourke) for an answer to the question he asked the alethiometer: “How can I find what Grumman (Andrew Scott) discovered?” Fra Pavel deflects, at first, to remind Boreal that alethiometers give the answers someone needs, not necessarily the answers they want, and those answers often read more as riddles than anything concrete. Then he tells Boreal he phrased the question as, “What did Grumman discover?”
The answer: “There’s a knife in a tower surrounded by angels. That’s what he has discovered. His son will lead you to it. But Grumman never married, never had a son, so I may need to ask another question, or…”
Of course, Boreal knows what Fra Pavel does not: Grumman, who is known in another world as Colonel John Parry, does have a son: Will (Amir Wilson), who recently left home after delivering his mentally ill mum to safety at his boxing coach’s house. This followed Boreal’s lackies breaking into the Parry home and attempting to steal letters Will’s father sent before his disappearance 13 years ago, when he apparently crossed between worlds and became Doctor Stanislaus Grumman, a heretical researcher whose work Lord Asriel seeks to continue.
Boreal leaves Fra Pavel after confirming that the alethiometer mentioned a son, and then we return to Asriel’s lab.
While Asriel works well into the night inspecting photograms, his assistant Thorold (Gary Lewis) asks him if Lyra has everything she needs — a toothbrush, for example. Asriel isn’t concerned; he warns Thorold that an airship with soldiers is on its way now that Iofur is dead. “The Magisterium won’t be our only enemies for much longer,” he says. Unsurprised, Thorold remarks that Asriel has found a bigger enemy. Asriel replies, “The enemy. And now that Iofur’s guards are gone, I’m free to go after it.”
That means he won’t be at his lab when the Magisterium arrives. Asriel asks Thorold to make sure Lyra is safe, and tells Thorold that it’s not as if he doesn’t want his assistant to go with him, but rather that he needs Thorold here, to protect his daughter. Thorold asks if Asriel will say goodbye and encourages him to do “the very least,” but Asriel seems reluctant. Thorold leaves after setting down the photogram Asriel handed him and picking up a shotgun.
Lyra, for her part, is sitting in the bath and staring at the wall. Pan tells her they don’t need Lord Asriel and that they’ll leave in the morning, at first light. Roger knocks on the door and promises to walk backwards into the room and sit backwards, so he won’t see anything, if she permits him entry. She does, and helps guide him so that he doesn’t trip over anything or hurt himself. His daemon Salcilia (Eloise Little) also walks backwards, reiterating the strong connection between human and daemon: what she sees, he sees, and vice versa.
Lyra asks Roger what he’s doing in the bathroom, and he admits he was spooked by Lord Asriel. “What’s he doing here? He looked at you really angrily, and then he saw me, and he calmed down immediately. He looked at me like he was a wolf, or something,” Roger says.
He asks if they can openly refer to Asriel as Lyra’s father now, and she says yes; he knows she knows about her parentage. Roger picks up that the conversation didn’t go well, and he tells Lyra, “Parents are more trouble than they’re worth.” He admits he always liked that they were both orphans, and offers for the two of them to pretend they are.
Back in Will’s world, Lord Boreal learns about Thomas’ (Robert Emms) death at the Parry house (Will accidentally knocked him over a star railing during a break-in) and scolds his other lackey for letting Will get away. He essentially calls the guy useless, because when he messed up and asked for help, Boreal sent Thomas to work with him; but now Thomas is dead, Will is gone, and Boreal has to pick up all the pieces. Boreal tells him to get rid of Thomas’ body and find the boy; the man sends out a police dispatch to search for “reported missing person” Will in the Oxford area and asks that any sightings be reported to him directly.
At Asriel’s lab, Pan and Salcilia playfully chase each other around the room while Lyra and Roger spend time together in a blanket fort. They share sandwiches and talk about Asriel’s poor reaction to Lyra learning that he’s her father, and Roger encourages her to ask the alethiometer how Asriel really feels. When she takes it out of her pocket, he asks if it knows everything, and everything that will happen to them. Lyra thinks it does, but it only tells her what it wants her to know. Now, Roger changes his tune; perhaps they shouldn’t use it, and just know what they know.
“I mean, I’m not like you,” he says. “I would never have chosen to leave Jordan, but now here we both are, halfway around the world, and I’m here because of you and you’re here because of me. Because we changed each other’s lives. I like the fact that you changed my life.”
“Can’t promise I won’t stop changing it,” Lyra replies.
They hug and toast mugs. Briefly, we see the aurora shift in the sky to mark the passage of time, and then we see Lyra and Roger asleep in their fort with their daemons. Asriel sneaks inside to wake Lyra and asks her to come with him.
Outside the fort, they talk about Dust. Asriel admits he doesn’t exactly know what Dust is, and he tells her the Magisterium is afraid of it because they think it’s sin — not the basis of sin, but sin itself, raining down from the sky and “infecting our souls with evil. To be fair, it’s a terrifying thought.” Then, he dives into the history of the Magisterium and Dust, noting that they ignored it for years until they discovered that it only really begins to cling to people once they hit puberty. This prompted a connection to Adam and Eve and to the labeling of Dust as Original Sin.
Asriel asks Lyra when Eve’s daemon settled, and she tells him it was when she ate the apple like the serpent told her to; he’s impressed by her answer. They both quote this world’s bible, but when Lyra says “good and evil,” Asriel says, “good and Dust.” He tells her the Magisterium has been trying to convince people for centuries that they are born guilty, and that they must dedicate their lives to atoning for Eve eating the apple.
Asriel says there’s no proof that any of this ever happened, and that they’re all expected to take it on faith and the word of the Authority. Dust, on the other hand, “is an elementary particle that we can record, measure, study; we can take photograms of it.” The Magisterium uses this as a means of controlling people, which Asriel amounts to tyranny.
Lyra stands up and walks to the window, looking out at the aurora as she talks about the children whose daemons were cut from them at Bolvangar, as a result of her mother’s work. He asks if they tried to cut her, and she tells him Mrs. Coulter stopped them. He’s surprised by this. Lyra says Mrs. Coulter didn’t want to damage her, but she was “happy to damage others.” Asriel seems less surprised by that. Lyra and Pan both cower at the thought of being separated, and Asriel approaches her in what’s clearly supposed to be a comforting way.
He talks about the powerful, beautiful bond between human and daemon, and remarks on the immense release of energy that must occur when that link is severed. He gives her another quiz: “What is the most important question we can ask?” Her answer: “Where dust comes from.” He’s once again impressed by what she knows.
Lyra picks up one of his photograms, and he begins a passionate explanation about the aurora and the Dust that pours into the world from it. He believes that if they can see a castle in the sky through the Northern Lights, and that if light and Dust can travel from another world into this one, then people can build a bridge and cross themselves. He wants to go to the source and discover what Dust really is, whether it’s Original Sin or something else entirely. She seems unconvinced, but more than that, she doesn’t hold any desire to accompany him, which is what he seems to be implying. Lyra has done her piece.
“Lyra, what I can tell you is that Dust is what makes the alethiometer work,” he says. “Did you know that? I doubt the Magisterium know that.” He asks if the headmaster at Jordan College ever asked her to bring it here, and she admits he didn’t. Asriel tells her the alethiometer belongs to her, then notes that she was never sent here, but he’s glad she came. “You don’t come from nothing, Lyra. You’re the product of something extraordinary.”
He says goodnight and leaves. Lyra falls into a chair and uses her coat as a blanket, leaving Roger alone in their blanket fort. In an airship, Mrs. Coulter looks out the window at the night sky. And in Will’s world, Boreal sits in a car waiting for news of the missing Will. He remarks that the legends of the Tower of Angels must be true, based on what Fra Pavel said, and he and his snake daemon express visible interest in discovering the knife Will can allegedly lead them to find. The camera briefly shows Will riding a mostly-empty bus, and then we return to Asriel’s lab — where the Magisterium has arrived.
Lyra wakes to Thorold gathering things around the lab; he tells her Asriel is already gone, but that he’ll get her somewhere safe. Then she discovers that Roger is missing, and Thorold tells her Roger went with Asriel. Lyra realizes immediately what her father plans — he needs energy, and he’s going to get it by cutting Roger and Salcilia apart. Despite Thorold’s protestations, Lyra runs outside and calls for Iorek Byrnison.
Iorek comes running and she tells him to follow the footprints; he calls for backup from the other bears, then tells her to climb on. They race off to wherever Asriel has taken Roger, which we then see is deeper and higher into the mountains. Roger asks when Lyra is joining them, and Asriel reiterates the lie that she’ll be coming with Thorold to join them very soon.
The Magisterium descends upon the lab. They blow open the door and Father Macphail and Mrs. Coulter follow just a few soldiers into the building. She tells him not to touch anything, because Asriel will have surely laid traps. Then she demands that he get the guards out while she goes exploring. There’s no sign of anyone or anything, but there’s evidence of plenty of people staying here; Father Macphail notes the “encampment” in the living area and asks Mrs. Coulter for any sense of where Asriel might be or what he’s been doing. She’s quiet as she looks through a telescope at the aurora.
Thorold knocks Father Macphail out and turns his shotgun on Mrs. Coulter, but she isn’t scared. “You won’t hurt me,” she says. “I know you too well. Plus, I’m unarmed.” She knows Asriel has gone up the mountain, but can’t quite parse what he’s doing — the numbers he has all over the window are “just some kind of energy release.” When she realizes the calculations are about Dust, she asks who’s with Asriel and what he’s trying to do. Then she attempts to intimidate Thorold into telling her what he knows, but it doesn’t work. Instead, she offers him freedom while she pursues Asriel up the mountain with troops in tow.
In his own world, Will continuously refreshes the BBC News website on his phone at a diner, cowering in a corner with his hood up. He spots a police officer at the counter and leaves, seemingly wandering the streets with no purpose.
Having reached the top of the mountain — the closest they can get to the aurora — Asriel instructs Roger to stay close. The boy asks about “the surprise for Lyra,” and then the camera cuts to show a dozen armoured bears racing up the mountain. Lyra sits astride Iorek Byrnison; they stop when they see a fleet of airships heading the same direction. Mrs. Coulter tells the Magisterium to open fire while the bears prepare to fight back. Lyra hides as best she can, and an all-out battle begins. Iorek pulls her from the middle of it, promising to get her to the mountain.
As the airships continue to fire overhead, Lyra and Iorek spring through the snow. Roger watches the battle from the top of the mountain, horrified. He suggests they go find her, but Asriel has other plans. He grabs Roger while Stelmaria grabs Salcilia, and they put the pair in separate cages split by a massive blade.
Iorek and Lyra reach a bridge he cannot pass. They say a short, heartfelt goodbye, and then she leaves him to find Asriel and Roger. It’s a treacherously tiny bridge, but Pantalaimon assures her it isn’t far — just a few careful steps, and they’ll be across. That proves to be true, though she nearly slips halfway. On the other side of the chasm, Lyra exchanges one last look with Iorek and then carries on.
From his cage, Roger begs for mercy. Asriel says there are always casualties in war, and that though he’s sorry this is happening to Roger, this war will free humanity forever. Roger screams Lyra’s name, and we see her slowly climbing up the mountain. She’s losing hope, but Pan insists she can do it. She asks him to fly up and see if he can see them, and he tells her they’re just beyond the next peak — Roger and Salcilia are in cages like the ones at Bolvangar.
Unlike the cages at Bolvangar, this one isn’t machine-run. Asriel has to force the blade down by hand, throwing all his weight into it. Lyra frantically scrambles up the mountain, but she gets there just seconds too late. Her fingers grip Roger’s cage and the pair exchange one final look before the blade slips down completely. Salcilia disappears and the energy blast throws Lyra backward, knocking her unconscious. A massive streak of white light jets down from the aurora, splitting the sky in two. It creates a triangular-shaped door, and Asriel looks visibly relieved when he sees it.
Mrs. Coulter has reached the top of the mountain. Asriel tells her she’s too late, and she counters that though she can’t stop his experiment, she can certainly still stop him. “I am pleased that you’ve come, Marisa, to see what I’ve done,” he says. She tells him the Magisterium will never allows this, and he counters that what he’s discovered marks the end of the Magisterium. He aims a gun at her, clearly as a precautionary measure. Her own pistol sits in her belt.
“You see that light?” he asks. “That is the sun of another world. Look. Come. Feel the warmth of it on your face.”
Then, he asks her to come with him and work with him as he fights this war and takes on the Authority: “Help me create a new Republic of Heaven. … You and I, together. We can take this universe apart and put it back together again.” She’s clearly tempted by this idea of a “new start,” and they kiss, but ultimately she denies him, despite how hard he tries to get her to acknowledge who (he believes) she is and what (he believes) she wants.
She says she has to stay here, in this world, because Lyra is here. Then she says goodbye and walks away. Asriel and Stelmaria walk into the light.
While Mrs. Coulter goes back down the mountain, Lyra comes to and hides from her mother. The camera cuts between this and Will hiding in a park from two policeman patrolling the streets on foot.
Lyra pulls Roger’s body from his cage and sits in the snow, cradling him. Though his face is warm, Salcilia is gone, which means Roger is definitely dead. Lyra regrets bringing Asriel the alethiometer, and Pan does his best to comfort her. They didn’t mean for Roger to be killed; they didn’t know what Asriel was planning. Lyra blames herself, though, and she apologizes to her dead friend even knowing that she can’t go back.
Then, Pan speaks up: “We need to find Dust. We thought it was bad, because grown-ups said so. What if it isn’t? What if it needs protecting?”
If they can find Dust before Asriel does, maybe they can do something about it.
Lyra is reluctant, because they’d be alone traveling between worlds. Pan reminds her they’ve always been alone, apart from Roger. Lyra is horrified at the thought of leaving him behind, but a moment later, she steels her resolve: “We’ve gotta make sure they don’t win.” She says goodbye and explains the plan, then lays Roger down. “We’ll make sure your death is not in vain,” Pan promises.
Will spots a friendly cat and follows it into a familiar gap in the fence at the park. Lyra gathers Pan to her chest and walks toward the light.
As she steps into the window/door her father created, Will finds the same window/door Lord Boreal has been using to travel between worlds.
Together, they step through.
That concludes His Dark Materials Season 1 and our episode recaps (for now). Stay tuned for more, including news about Season 2, right here on The Beat.