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His Dark Materials S2E5 “The Scholar”

The following contains spoilers through His Dark Materials Season 2 Episode 5 on HBO.


Welcome, dear reader, as we continue to review Season 2 of HBO’s His Dark Materials with S2E5, “The Scholar.” The title this week is a bit misleading, because we really have two scholars, don’t we? There’s the obvious one, Mary Malone, and the one we didn’t suspect the episode to be about, Mrs. Coulter. Once again, we are treated to Mrs. Coulter meeting another character that she never met in the books, and once again, the results are perfection. They have been doing such an amazing job this season of staying true to the novels, but augmenting them in the most fascinating ways.

No witches in this week’s episode, nor Lee and John Parry, but we do get a brief return of Cardinal MacPhail. Will and Lyra now have both instruments, and all forces seem to be converging on Cittàgazze. With just two episodes to go, the pace has been picking up and there’s a lot to talk about.

His Dark Materials S2E5 - The golden monkey viewed in a car's mirror, sitting seat belted in the back seat
Safety first!

Monkey

Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon got a lot of screen time this episode, and most of it weirdly sympathetic. So I thought maybe we’d do something different and start with him. First of all, who would have thought we’d all collectively go “aw” at the sight of this nasty little monkey seat-belted into the back seat of Boreal’s car. He seemed to be having a better time of it than Lyra did. I suppose that shows the difference between his submissiveness to authority and Lyra’s fierce defiance.

His next big moment comes when Mrs. Coulter goes out to visit Mary Malone. Boreal tells her that she is “far too conspicuous” because of how she was dressed. He seems to have overlooked the really conspicuous thing—running around campus with a monkey tagging along beside her. Mrs. Coulter solves that little problem by leaving her dæmon behind, closing the door on him as she walks out of the bedroom. Both her dæmon and Boreal are a bit stunned by this move. Once again, we find ourselves sympathizing for the poor little guy as he whines at the window, watching her dive away.

Lastly, we get the big confrontation as Will and Lyra pull off the big heist. The monkey derails their little plan right off the bat, snatching the alethiometer away from Will and handing it over to Mrs. Coulter. When Lyra and Boreal arrive on the scene, Lyra squares off against her mother while Pan squares off against the monkey. Coulter seems to be making some headway reaching out to Lyra until she warns her away from Will. Then she makes the final mistake of comparing Lyra to her younger self.

Ironically, it’s this moment, when Lyra is verbally denying that she is anything like her mother, that she becomes most like her. With a growl, she has Pan attack Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon. Of course, this mirrors the scene from S1E2 where the monkey attacked Pan to subdue Lyra. Pan tears into the monkey, changing into wolverine form. The monkey appears to be getting the crap kicked out of it, and Coulter is feeling the pain of it.

Personally, I’m fairly well convinced Mrs. Coulter and her dæmon are letting Lyra and Pan win. They are purposely not going on the offensive. Then Mrs. Coulter, with some obvious effort, overcomes the pain and stands up, facing down her dumbstruck daughter. At this moment, Will grabs the alethiometer and cuts them an escape window. Here is where you can tell Coulter and her dæmon were pulling their punches, because the monkey is immediately back in full snarl mode and leaps after them just as the window closes.

His Dark Materials S2E5 - Mrs. Coulter sits in the passenger seat of a car, looking thoughtfully out the window while holding a to-go coffee cup
Mrs. Coulter observes the differences in this world

Mrs. Coulter

Leading up to that confrontation, Boreal tries so hard to woo Mrs. Coulter all episode, and he just couldn’t be failing more. It almost makes you feel sorry for him as well. Sitting in his collection room, Coulter tells him, “I can see why you like it here,” and the silly man takes it as a compliment, with a glimmer of hope that she is finally admiring all the wealth he has amassed.

She’s really calling back to his own comment from the coffee shop that “it’s a culture of consumerism, not faith.” He fits right in here. He sees this world as full of material treasures to plunder. Boreal is no better than the “magpies” of the Guild, using the window between worlds to acquire trinkets for his own benefit. If he had access to the Subtle Knife, he would pick up right where they left off.

However, Marisa the scholar sees this world as a treasure trove of ideas, to be shared, not stolen. At the café, she was not appalled by their lack of dæmons, she was amazed by the working woman with the baby. She is stunned to learn that Mary Malone runs her own department at the college, and her final assessment of Mary is that she is “free.” This is the life she could have had. Granted the degree she earned. Publishing the papers she wrote. A life she could have shared with her daughter even.

The other thing about that woman she was watching is that she was doing it alone. Balancing work and family, and not a man in sight. Coulter just cannot tie herself to a man. Not Asriel, whose goals are aligned with her own, nor Boreal, who ultimately repulses her. In the confrontation with Lyra, she even warns her to “stay away from that boy” because he will do her “nothing but harm.” All of her life has been a struggle against the male-dominated Magisterium. Here is one of those ideas from this new world—that men and women can work together as equals—and she cannot accept it any more than the Magisterium would be able to.

Mary stands in her lab facing the Cave as it flashes bright white, lighting up the entire room
Mary has her final conversation via the Cave

Mary Malone

After meeting Lyra’s mother, Mary turns to Google for answers, finding that all results for “Marisa Coulter experimental theology” come back “Missing: Marisa Coulter” (nice work prop department). Then the Cave chimes in, unprompted, with some real answers. Well, sort of.

She is instructed that she “must play the serpent.” She is going to take a journey. She must “deceive the guardian” and “find the entrance.” She “will be protected,” presumably from the Spectres, and she in turn needs to “save the girl, and the boy.” Lastly, the angel tells her that they “will not speak again…in this world.” At this, the Cave flares up and self-destructs.

Mary grabs her things and runs home to pack. Maybe also to grab her I-Ching, remembering that in S2E2 Lyra told her, “The Chinese box you have upstairs—you’ll need it where you’re going.” Being a good scientist, she takes a moment to do a little research, finding out that she is going to need to be “crafty.” Not especially helpful.

Later she finds the park, guarded by a Latrom Industries security guard. She manages to pull off the most unconvincing deception in the world. Turns out Latrom’s visit to her lab paid off in her ability to name drop “Charles.” We end the episode with Mary walking through the window and stepping into a moonlit Cittàgazze.

Father Graves looks stunned, his spider daemon on his shoulder
Father Graves is stunned

Quick Takes

A couple of quick takes on the rest of the episode:

  • Boreal says he bought his house shortly after selling his muscovite collection. In case you were wondering, as I was, just what muscovite is, it is apparently just a fairly common mineral with various industrial uses. Not sure how he translated that into riches.
  • It’s interesting that Boreal’s house is positioned exactly where the Tower of the Angels is. The architecture of the steps is even mirrored, as we see the scenes flip back-and-forth.
  • Coffee plays an important role in this episode for some strange reason. Boreal gets Coulter “the best coffee in Oxford.” Mary is getting Coulter coffee (in dirty cups, naturally) when she disappears. And Lyra makes Will coffee (how grown-up!) as they regroup after getting the Knife back.
  • Hornbeam is a reference to the trees that line the park where the window to Cittàgazze is hidden.
  • The jaw drop that Father Graves executes as MacPhail turns the tables on him is just priceless.
  • Many have commented on how all of the Magisterium inner circle have creepy-crawly dæmons: bugs, spiders, etc. Is it a little too over the top, or exactly what you would expect given their role in this world? You be the judge.
  • Will takes Angelica’s accusations to heart, feeling that once again, he has killed someone. He even feels the weight of Giacomo’s presumed death on his conscience. Poor Will is always stuck in the role of the reluctant killer.
  • We got to see Mrs. Coulter play out her conversation with Lee in the previous episode, showing that pain cannot break her. So nice how they weave all these pieces together.
  • So we’re to presume that Mrs. Coulter can just jump into a car in this other world and automatically know how to drive it?
Angelica and Paola hug their brother Tullio, Paola looking sad and Angelica looking fierce
Angelica wants revenge

Best lines of the episode:

  • “He’s getting good at this.” “He is.”
  • “What do you mean, she runs a department?”
  • “Fine, but you’re far too conspicuous like that.”
  • “Those men and…heaven help us…women…”
  • “Surely I’m not the first woman you’ve witnessed capable of self-control. Have you never encountered witches on your travels?”
  • “Impertinent. Intelligent. Free.”
  • “We will not speak again…in this world.”
  • “I might just see where life takes me.”
  • “Oh, and were you hoping to add me to your little collection of treasures?”
  • “Lyra, you don’t need to be like anyone else. They’d be lucky to be anything like you.”

In The News

Here I try to point you to a few of the more interesting and informative news items over the last week related to His Dark Materials:

  • Elle has a wonderful interview with Dafne Keen where she talks about her parents (both also actors), her experience on Logan, and of course about filming His Dark Materials.

That’s all for this week. Please let me know your thoughts and feelings about this week’s episode, and any theories you have on what’s to come, in the comments below. Remember that 25YL will provide continuing coverage of His Dark Materials throughout Season 2 and beyond.


All images courtesy of HBO

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Written by Brien Allen

Brien Allen is the last of the original crazy people who responded to this nutjob on Facebook wanting to start an online blog prior to Twin Peaks S3. Some of his other favorite shows have been Vr.5, Buffy, Lost, Stargate: Universe, The OA, and Counterpart. He's an OG BBSer, Trekkie, Blue Blaze Irregular, and former semi-professional improviser. He is also a staunch defender of putting two spaces after a period, but has been told to shut up and color.

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