Monday, December 23, 2019

REVIEW: 'His Dark Materials' - Asriel Presents Lyra With the Possibility to Explore All that Dust May Provide in 'Betrayal'

HBO's His Dark Materials - Episode 1.08 "Betrayal"

As the Magisterium closes in, Lyra assists Asriel's efforts, but at great personal cost.

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 season finale of HBO's His Dark Materials.

"Betrayal" was written by Jack Thorne and directed by Jamie Childs

Dust has been a mysterious substance that has driven a lot of speculation surrounding the narrative this season. It's this foreign concept that Lyra doesn't understand. Therefore, the audience doesn't have a firm grasp on it either. Lord Asriel provides her with a broad explanation for the substance. It turns out that the world at large doesn't know what it is either. As such, the people who are aware of it project their own sense of fear and wonder. The Magisterium is the authority in this world. They are powerful. They lord over this universe with a firm grip on religious ideology. That hasn't been all that explicit throughout this season. It's more often something that is suggested instead of blatantly on the screen. Yes, the leaders are priests. However, Marissa Coulter and Lord Carlo wield much more influence than any of the traditional leaders through this power structure. That has given them a sense of individuality that doesn't always have to align closely with what the government requires of them. It's just forever unclear if their actions are sanctioned by those in charge or if they are off exploring their own interests. Carlo stepped through a portal to another world early on in the season. He has made frequent journeys as well. He is constantly causing problems for Will and his mother in London. That has been his driving focus this season. He wants answers for what an old colleague was doing. That mission is one that remains shrouded in secrecy. Carlo may now operate with some understanding that Will can lead him to the major discovery he is chasing. However, that's further complicated by Will going on the run with all the letters his father left behind. That's basically the only explanation for why he steps through a portal to a parallel world. He doesn't even know they exist. He just feels trapped by circumstances. He goes through that portal because it seems better than whatever force may be hunting him down. That paranoia can certainly be a powerful image. One where he believes he's under near constant surveillance and suspicion. It may be him extending the same character traits as his mother. It could also be him living as a young man of color in a world so willing to condemn him for any unbecoming action. This move could be freeing. But it also sets him on the path for much more chaos and destruction. That's a tease for future pleasures though. Right now, the finale revolves around Asriel doing his best to explain his research to his daughter even though he is committed to betraying her by killing Roger. Asriel and Marissa are essentially conducting the same experiments. They do so for drastically different reasons. Asriel doesn't ascribe to what the Magisterium declares Dust to be. He doesn't view the government leaders as having any conclusive evidence suggesting that it is original sin. They can look to their religious stories and see through human experiences that sin presents itself as a child goes through adolescence. There is the hope on Marissa's part that severing a child from their daemon will actually offer them salvation. Father MacPhail says that no one is without sin. As such, it's impossible to rid that concept from the world entirely. The Magisterium just operates with the belief that they can lessen the burden on humanity to ensure a greater likelihood of salvation for the generations to come. They are altruistic in these beliefs. Asriel's research doesn't point to the same conclusions. He views Dust as the magical substance that holds the multiverse together. It offers a sense of a higher power by even providing information from time to time. That's what guides Lyra when she uses the alethiometer. She should always trust its readings. She has accepted that lesson. She's still willing to give it away believing this to be the extent of her grand journey. It isn't. Roger dies because her father betrays her. He is selfish in his desire to explore the bounds of the universe and possibly free his world. Marissa stays behind because she cannot abandon the world where her daughter lives. Of course, she doesn't know that Lyra chooses to follow her father believing that Dust can potentially offer her the solution to all her problems. It probably isn't as simple as that. She is jumping into the unknown. It's most emotional and enthralling when it comes to Lyra having to make that choice. With Will, Asriel and Marissa, they are set on their current paths by the demands of the plot. With Lyra, there is a sense of earned catharsis that fuels her ultimate decision that should surprise the audience and ensure that the future will remain just as perilous as the first season turned out to be. Lyra has so many allies willing to help her on this journey. Sometimes the hardest part is taking that first step in embracing one's true identity. Lyra doesn't know she has a grand purpose in the world. As such, that too can lessen the final moment by making the audience sure that this is the only thing that could have happened. And yet, the show mostly earns that because of all the pieces it successfully laid earlier despite it being heavy handed with a lot of foreshadowing of events to come too.