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His Dark Materials S1E7 (“The Fight to the Death”): West Side Bears

Not bothering to get too creative with the episode titles for His Dark Materials, are they? That’s okay, the bear rumble was supposed to be cool enough to make up for the title. And it was, well…a little grizzly (get it?).

But seriously, folks. Last week left us with Lyra mid-plummet after an aerial attack sent her tumbling out of Lee Scoresby’s airship. It’s a fall from an impressive height, so we won’t discuss the reality of how she picks herself up immediately after, entirely unbroken. There’s an armoured bear coming up behind her, and she thinks for a second that her friend Iorek made the fall with her (we find out later that he did; he just landed somewhere else). No, Lyra, these aren’t the bears you’re looking for, this is one of King Iofur Raknison’s guards. She is brought to Svalbard, the stronghold of the armoured bears, and she is ushered into a dungeon.

Her cellmate is wild-eyed scholar, Jotham Santelia. He’s there because he refused to humour the bear-king. Iofur Raknison has a King Louie complex, and wants to be like you-oo-oo. He gets irate if you don’t tell him what a great job he’s doing emulating humans. Armed with this terribly handy exposition, Lyra demands an audience. I hope that’s not the last we see of Jotham Santelia, by the way. Asheq Akhtar’s performance, however brief, is fun, and I’d like more of it.

Lyra kneels before Iofur Ragnison, the king of the armoured bears

Lyra has a very profitable conversation with King Iofur. She tells him that she’s actually a daemon, and that she could be his daemon, provided that he defeats Iorek Byrnison in mortal combat. It was good to see her a little bit worried that her lie might have gotten her friend in trouble, but it didn’t stop her telling it. She manages to throw some dirt at her mother while she’s at it, since Mrs. Coulter had never told Iofur that he might have been able to have a daemon.

When Iofur wants proof of Lyra’s story by demanding that she tell him what his first kill had been, Lyra demands privacy to consult the alethiometer. I mean, with a guy like Iofur, him having killed his own father would have been a pretty good guess, even without the alethiometer’s help. You want to get on the good side of a delusional monarch, compare him to Zeus. It worked with Emperor Caligula.

I have to say, as clever as Lyra is, and deserving of the name “Lyra Silvertongue”, the nature of her lies is not endearing her to me. Crooning to Iofur about how much she would love him once she was his daemon reminded me of the line she had pulled on Mrs. Coulter. True, she is lying to The Bad Guys. But her method is to manipulate them, using their love (or desire for love) as her weapon. It’s getting the job done, and keeping her alive…but it doesn’t particularly make Lyra someone I want to take out for frosty chocolate milkshakes.

Iorek arrives (also unscathed from his plummet from the airship), and is only too pleased to have an impending death match waiting for him. He’s been wanting to fight Iofur, and take his throne back. The actual bear fight was pretty fun to watch (I wish they would put half the effort that they put into grappling CGI bears into the human fights on this show), and got pretty real there toward the end. I was sort of glad that Lyra and the camera turned away from the actual kill, so I didn’t have to look it in the face. Armoured bears aren’t supposed to kill each other, but he’s able to rationalise this because “Iofur was no real bear.” And no, I guess he wasn’t, since he wanted to be human.

Mrs Coulter surveys the wreckage of the medical facility

Back at Bolvangar, Mrs. Coulter and Creepy Golden Monkey (CGM) survey the wreckage the facility sustained when the children escaped. Her rage is expressed in one of her now-familiar primal screams, and draws the attention of Sister Clara. Sister Clara, you remember, had her daemon removed as an adult, and thus kind of exists in a semi-lobotomised state. As she goes on about how this is the best place, and she would so like to make Mrs. Coulter happy, all I heard in my head was “I try to be my best.”

Mrs. Coulter turns her frustration on Sister Clara for a minute, and we think Mrs. Coulter is going to strangle her to death. And call me crazy, but the way CGM was looking on, it seemed proud of its human. But Mrs. Coulter stops, mid-choke, and tells Sister Clara that she didn’t mean it. Really, it would have been a mercy killing, had she gone through with it. But what makes Mrs. Coulter so interesting as a character (apart from Ruth Wilson’s stellar performance) is the way she teeters back and forth over that line between sanity and delusion.

In another episode of “Sliders, Now Starring a Hot and Sinister Man,” Carlo Boreal is now making house calls. He’s after John Parry’s letters, and is more than happy to intimidate the hell out of Elaine Parry to do it. She’s calling BS on his claim that he’s some sort of official, and even more so on the notion that her husband could still be alive. She wants a warrant, or even some form of identification before she cooperates with him. What rattles her the most is Boreal’s snake-daemon, which Elaine sees on him, despite his insistence that it’s not there. Even his daemon is there for the gaslighting.

Will Parry and his mother Elaine

Boreal finally backs off Elaine, but stops by the Lurkmobile to tell his two lurking henchmen, “I don’t care how you do it, I want the letters.” Elaine, meanwhile, rushes to her son at school. Will doesn’t like it when his mother brings her raving to his school, but she finally gets his attention. He leaves her with a friend to look after her and heads home to do some lurking of his own. When the henchmen break in that night, the result isn’t what they were hoping for.

Will, with the help of their cat (either on purpose, or the cat just getting in the way, as cats do), pushes Henchman #1 over a railing (possibly killing him, we’re not sure), and runs off into the night with his father’s letters in his backpack.

One of the witches looks off into the distance, Lee Scoresby standing a few paces behind her

This whole time, we have been wondering what befell Lee Scoresby, since his friends all seem to have fallen out of his airship. He’s relatively safe on the ground, fretting over the state of his broken airship. I keep wondering if the person in charge of his hair and makeup did some time on Doctor Who, because Lin-Manuel Miranda has some serious Tennant hair working for him. He has no alethiometer to reassure him that his friends are safe, but he does have connections.

Serafina the witch pops by to give him the news. Watching him whoop with exuberance is one of the best things in the episode, though that’s probably a Miranda thing, not so much a Scoresby thing. When the witch starts talking about his destiny, he demurs at first, saying “no more fancy talk. I’m just a hustler, I played my part.” No, Lee! History has its eye on you! You’re in this for the duration! Lee resigns, saying “I hope I’m strong enough.”

This leads to everyone, in their own ways, beginning to cowboy up for what’s looking like an inevitable showdown. Father MacPhail is all set to switch sides and hitch his wagon to Lord Asriel, but Mrs. Coulter quietly demonstrates to him how she is way more scarey than her ex. Also, she’s now got lots of guys with machine guns at her back, which takes her scarey to a whole new level.

Lyra, along with Roger (another successful plummeter), get a ride from Iorek, to go to see Lyra’s father, Lord Asriel. I would have thought being new king of the armoured bears meant that Iorek had to stay at Svalbard and do king things, but I guess not. Lyra’s reunion with her father isn’t what she’d hoped for. He is not happy to see her, angrily repeating that he hadn’t sent for her. His mood shifts when he sees Roger, and I am sure that isn’t going to bode well for either Roger or my continuing fondness of Asriel. For the first time, we are really seeing that Lyra’s parents are both zealots, each fanatical in their own way.

Next week—the season finale. Will we finally get to see the opposing theologies that Lyra’s parents represent go head to head? And will we get a clearer idea of whose side we are actually supposed to be rooting for?

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Written by Cat Smith

Cat Smith is the reigning Miss Nerdstiles, having inherited the crown from absolutely no one, because she made it up. She is an actor, a musician, a cosplayer since before they had a word for it, and a general nuisance (General Nuisance *salute*). She and her ukulele have charmed the collective socks off of LI Who and LI Geek, ReGeneration Who, WHOlanta, Potterverse, Coal Hill Con, Time Eddy, MISTI-Con, Hudson Valley Comic Con, Wicked Faire, SqueeCon, The Way Station, and The Pandorica Restaurant . She has written for "Outside In" and "Why I Geek" (among others), and you can find her music on bandcamp at https://missnerdstiles.bandcamp.com/album/who-riginals. Consider supporting her continuing adventures by becoming a patron at patreon.com/missnerdstiles

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