Monday, November 4, 2019

REVIEW: 'His Dark Materials' - Lyra Receives Several Visitors Who Could Immediately Change Her Life in 'Lyra's Jordan'

HBO's His Dark Materials - Episode 1.01 "Lyra's Jordan"

Orphan Lyra Belacqua's world is upended by her long-absent uncle's return from the North, while the glamorous Mrs. Coulter visits Jordan College with a proposition.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of HBO's His Dark Materials.

"Lyra's Jordan" was written by Jack Thorne and directed by Tom Hooper

Lyra Belacqua presents as a young orphan girl with a major destiny that will shape her world. People talk about her and the greatness they all expect from her. She is mischievous and rebellious while wanting to explore what the world around her has to offer. It's thrilling to watch as she scales the buildings of Jordan College with such acute awareness of all the secrets they might hold. And yet, this world has a layer of mysticism to it that goes completely over her young head as well as the viewer's. That's frustrating because it makes it seem like information is unnecessarily being withheld in the hopes of a dramatic reveal further down the line. Lyra's uncle, Lord Asriel, comes to Jordan College to proclaim to the scholars that he needs additional resources to finance his research in the North because of what he has discovered about an unknown substance called Dust as well as a potential new world. This brief presentation is all that Lyra and the audience gleams about what is potentially at play in this world. In the beginning, it seemed like the only immediate diversion from our reality is that each human has a daemon attached to their soul that presents as an ever-changing animal until they mature into adulthood. That's the high-concept idea at the heart of the series. And yet, there appears to be more with the dominating control of the Magisterium, which lords over this land and dictates what is acceptable behavior. But that remains a vague concept in the early going. The scholars are forever in fear of what their overlords might think or do because of Astriel's presentation. Astriel also understands that he needs to leave the college the next day in order to keep himself safe. That just means he's a family connection who fleetingly comes in and out of Lyra's life. He doesn't care about her. He cares to the extent that he wants her to live knowing that she may be special and have some vague importance later on. Right now though, she's simply a spy who can help him in the moment even though he isn't willing to take her to the North or provide meaningful answers about what happened to her parents. Lyra is frustrated and holds out hope that her life can be one of adventure. She wants to be an explorer. That appears to be the greatest profession to her. That's why she is so taken by Mrs. Coulter right now. She is a newcomer to the world of Jordan College who conducts herself in a completely different way. People are taken aback by her while also respecting her opinion. She gives Lyra a wonderful new opportunity if she is willing to take it. In fact, she appears as an ally in every endeavor Lyra is hoping to achieve at the moment. Children are also disappearing throughout the city. At first, it's just a story happening elsewhere. It doesn't change her life at all. It's not until her best friend, Roger, goes missing that she grows concerned. Of course, Mrs. Coulter seems to have more information about what's going on. But that too feels like a fleeting suspicion confirmed through hushed tones because it isn't safe to discuss things of importance in public spaces. That could contribute to an overall mentality that the people of this world never feel safe and protected. They believe that they are always being monitored and can be condemned at a moment's notice by the Magisterium. That would require those in power to actually have a presence though. In this premiere, they are simply an outsized threat everyone talks about without the audience walking away with a clear understanding of what's exactly going on in this world. That is incredibly confusing and makes it difficult for the viewer to latch onto this being a bold and exciting new fantasy series to enjoy. The performances from Dafne Keen, Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy and Clarke Peters are all nuanced and fascinating to watch. But there is also a sense of trepidation that comes from fearing the ability to give the audience all of the details to process about this world upfront. That's unfortunate and may make this season a very tedious slog overall. Even the gift that may always present the truth to Lyra along this journey presents as a puzzle that must be figured out before it can provide that clarity.