Monday, November 18, 2019

REVIEW: 'His Dark Materials' - Lyra Is Embraced by the Gyptians Who Are Willing to Protect Her No Matter What in 'The Spies'

HBO's His Dark Materials - Episode 1.03 "The Spies"

Following her kidnapping, Lyra falls in with a new group, but struggles to know who to trust.

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 next episode of HBO's His Dark Materials.

"The Spies" was written by Jack Thorne and directed by Dawn Shadforth

Every episode so far features Lyra trying to find her way amongst a new makeshift family. In the premiere, she was at Jordan College under scholastic protection. It's the place where she lived for twelve years. Then, she moved to London with Mrs. Coulter. That arrangement imploded quickly because she came to fear the person who had suddenly taken her in. And now, she finds refuge amongst the Gyptian community after they rescue her from the Gobblers. All of this presents a scattered narrative overall. One where it doesn't feel like there is a whole lot of consistency so far. It just features Lyra bouncing around this world engaging with as many of these characters as possible in order to extend some sense of importance to them. Most of them are being asked to carry stories all by themselves. The acting can oftentimes help make it all seem compelling. However, Lyra is really the only character the audience may be invested in at this point. That is an important and remarkable achievement. It would still be beneficial if the narrative found some consistency and allowed the audience to fully investigate in this world and what Lyra hopes to achieve. Right now, everything presents as being too mysterious. Everyone is seemingly in the know about Lyra being special. Everyone is just reluctant to tell her the truth. They cryptically say that she has to figure things out on her own. If that doesn't work, then they say that they are trying to preserve her innocence. That's an excuse that is quickly wearing thin because her world has already been destroyed a couple of times. She is told shocking secrets about her lineage. Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are apparently her biological parents. They didn't raise her because of the scandalous nature of their relationship. That loss is what set them on their bitter and abrasive paths in this world. But Lyra frequently gets lost in the shuffle. She yearns for a greater understanding of the world. She first views Asriel and Mrs. Coulter with wonder and excitement. They are explorers who get to discover the various beauties of the world around them. That is magical. It's what Lyra wants to achieve. It was something withheld from her. But now, she is finally getting her wish to travel to the North. That's where the Gobblers have taken the missing children. As such, the Gyptians sail there as well. Lyra quickly finds support amongst this community. She just brings more uncertainty and terror along with her. Mrs. Coulter will do anything to get Lyra back. It shows the desperate machinations of a woman eager to bond with her child. It's just so destructive and coming at a severe cost for those around her. She is willing to break any law if it can return what she views as rightfully belonging to her. That sense of ownership over Lyra is so toxic and cruel. Lyra deserves greater independence and respect than that. But again, the show runs into problems because it is so withholding with information. That makes it difficult to care when shocking twists occur. The opening action shows Benjamin and Tony going rogue because they think they have the better approach to retrieving the missing children. Their reckless nature may ultimately get Benjamin killed because the risk proved to be too much. All it provides is a fleeting clue and the growing concern that Ma Costa is about to lose even more. She has lost one son already and can't bear to lose another. She will protect Lyra because she feels a close bond with her. She is the one who shares the truth with her. Even then though, it feels like people are talking about Lyra in a way that informs greater importance without fully explaining why. The alethiometer is vital and Lyra has figured out how to read it. She is given clues for how to access its knowledge. It just presents itself through vague details where anyone could be lucky enough to decipher it. It doesn't feel like one has to be a master of the symbols and their meanings in order to figure out what the device is trying to say. It being that obvious may be a criticism of the power the Magisterium actually holds over this world. It may not be as strong as everyone believes. It may be built up on a fake premise. That can still be very effective though. The show just has to commit more strongly to several of these narrative impulses.