There are three episodes left in this season of HBO’s His Dark Materials, and—I don’t know how else to say it—shit is getting real. His Dark Materials S1E5 is called “The Lost Boy,” and if the previous four (and really, the top half of this one) had felt a little more expository than we might have wanted, this one gets right the hell down to business.
They’re still doing that thing where they are making weird choices as to what they are going to tell us as opposed to what they are going to show us. Instead of the title cards they used in the pilot, this one suddenly has voiceover narration at the beginning. In this case, it’s to let us know that Lyra isn’t alone in her destiny (they’ve been telling us all along that she is Chosen, though they have yet to come out and say what for), that there is yet another Chosen child out there, and that their destinies are intertwined. Cool.
In the books, Will Parry isn’t introduced until part two. They’ve expanded the storylines out of Lyra’s world and into the other one (presumably ours), and we’ve seen Carlo Boreal making his wonderfully sinister way from one into the other. He’s been making inquiries about another cross-worlds traveler, and that man has turned out to be Will’s long-missing father.
Will, as far as we can tell, is a stand-up teenager who takes care of his mother, Elaine. It’s not specified what sort of mental illness she has, but among other things, she’s definitely got some paranoia going on. Though really, when you consider the adage “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you,” it kind of begs the question of how much of what Elaine is experiencing is real and how much is just in her head.
When Carlo comes calling, inquiring after Elaine’s husband, even his polite demeanor is creepy. Elaine senses there’s something not right about this man and brings her concerns to Will. He doesn’t put too much stock in them, and that made me wonder about mental illness, at least in this context. If we’re taking as fact that there are parallel worlds and that some people can see and travel across them while others can’t, is mental illness even what we think it is? Could it simply be, at least in some cases, that some people have an awareness that others don’t? She clearly believes that Will is going to follow in his father’s footsteps, as far as the other worlds are concerned.
In the case of Elaine, it’s definitely not all in her head. When she becomes agitated over the suspicion that someone has been in their house, Will’s default question is to ask if she’s taken her meds. I understand that, as a caregiver, he needs to ask the question. Still, as someone who’s been on the receiving end of that question, I was frustrated on Elaine’s behalf. She tells her son, “The world is broken. It takes extraordinary people to fix it.” She’s not wrong about either of those things.
Back in Lyra’s world, Team Lyra is still on their way to Bolvangar, where they believe the missing children are being kept. Lyra’s gotten really good at reading the alethiometer, down to specifics on how Bolvangar is defended. The alethiometer is also being fairly insistent that there is something scary in a nearby, deserted fishing village, and she needs to go there first. Gyptian leader John Faa tries to talk her out of it. No, Lyra, the plot is this way! You can’t go that way! And besides, they’re still trying to keep Lyra on the down low in case her mother sends out more of her Spy-Flies to track her down.
She has some banter with Lee Scoresby and makes the point of telling him he’s not an easy man to like. I hope the writers planned on that statement being read as ironic, because otherwise, why do you cast Lin-Manuel Miranda? The man’s got more likability in his little finger than I have in my entire body.
Anyway, Ma Costa and Farder Coram weigh in (the latter getting some lovely face time with his old girlfriend, Serafina Pekkala, and we get to learn more about witches in this world while we’re at it), and Lyra is allowed to go investigate the fishing village, provided Iorek the armoured bear goes with her. The CGI work on the animals in His Dark Materials has been top-notch (it has to be since daemons are so relevant), but I’m not going to lie, as Lyra rode the bear across the tundra, I wished I didn’t know the proper way to sit a horse. Of course a bear would be different, but she was sitting high up on his neck with her legs flapping, and it yanked me out of the illusion of the story for a moment.
It’s nice to see her bonding with Iorek, learning his history, and the proper way to show respect to an armoured bear. When they arrive at the deserted village, Iorek hangs back and lets Lyra go in alone. The mantra about not giving in to fear reminded me of the Bene Gesserit litany against fear…or, more likely, an Our Father or a Hail Mary. When the alethiometer sent her here, it had spoken of a ghost, and that’s essentially what she finds. It’s Billy Costa…or what’s left of him. He seems physically fine, but he’s catatonic, and the most monstrous thing of all: his daemon is nowhere to be seen.
Not going to lie, I am normally a bit of a wuss when it comes to watching violence involving children or animals, and I remember from the books that this story is going to bring me plenty of both. Maybe it bothered me less when I didn’t have my own kid to worry about, or maybe it’s less upsetting to read than it is to see. I can definitely say that whoever animated Pantalaimon’s reaction to Billy’s daemon-less state was a graduate of the Stuart Little School of Heartwrenchingly Sad-Looking CGI Rodent Types. I don’t plan to wuss out on the rest of the season, but I’ll tell you, better writing would make it easier for me. As gorgeous as this show is to look at, the writing continues to be clunky and doesn’t blow my skirt up.
Lyra takes Billy home to his anguished mother, and it’s heartbreaking to watch as Ma Costa sings a lullaby to her empty shell of a child. She tells him it’s okay to go, to be with his daemon again. We are reminded (for once, showing instead of telling) exactly what a daemon is, now that they are pretty sure what the Gobblers have been doing with the abducted children. Lee says to Lyra, “It’s about control. If you can remove someone else’s soul, you can do anything.” Lyra and Lee hang back while the Gyptians say goodbye to Billy. They burn the body, swearing vengeance through their grief.
I don’t know if something specific tipped the bad guys off that there was a kid among the Gyptians who was ripe for their “process” or what made them zero in on Lyra. In any case, that night, some henchmen sneak into the Gyptian camp, quietly kill those standing guard, and kidnap Lyra. Next thing she knows, she’s in some medical-type facility, with a creepy doctor debating whether or not she’s too old for the “treatment.” What chills the blood is how the deciding factor is when they realise that Pan is a yet-unsettled daemon and that Lyra is younger than they thought.
Did Philip Pullman somehow feel that impending puberty didn’t present enough problems, so he decided to add that to his list of metaphors in his story? Lyra is quick enough to give them an alias when they ask her name. Dread comes when they tell her to change clothes, and she realises that what they want her to change into is the same thing Billy Costa had been wearing when she found him. It turns out that Lyra has gotten to Bolvangar ahead of her friends, is in big trouble, and we can only hope that the cavalry gets to her before she is subject to the same fate as Billy.
Like I said, shit is getting real. Maybe I should have waited until the season was over and then binged it all at once so I wouldn’t be chewing off my nails right now. Can it be Monday already?