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His Dark Materials S2E6 “Malice”

The following contains spoilers through His Dark Materials Season 2 Episode 6 on HBO.


Welcome, dear reader, as we continue to review Season 2 of HBO’s His Dark Materials with S2E6, “Malice.” The Cittàgazze tourism industry is really picking up in this episode. Mary takes in all the sights of the city, from top to bottom. Mrs. Coulter explores the city in a dashing outfit that would put Indiana Jones to shame. Boreal is so taken with the place that he’s going to stay there forever. At one point, we’re even treated to Lee’s balloon drifting in the skies behind Boreal.

We get a little bit of everyone in this episode, and no one is left on the sidelines. Several paths cross, and several more are headed that way. With the truncated 7-episode season, this is our penultimate episode, and the showrunner has said it should be viewed as part one of a two-part finale. Let’s dig in.

His Dark Materials S2E6 - Will lies prone on the ground by a camp fire as three witches extend their hands over him casting a spell
The witches attempt to heal Will’s wound

Will, Lyra, and the Witches

We open with Serafina and Ruta observing angels flying through the skies above Cittàgazze. They have not made themselves visible for thousands of years, since the last time they made war. Presumably, they are flying off to join Lord Asriel in his missing episode, and Ruta flies off to follow them. Looks like we will have to wait until next season to find out.

Serafina rescues Will and Lyra from the Cittàgazze lynch mob just in the nick of time. However, she can’t do anything to save Will from his knife wound. It continues to bleed, being a magical wound that will need magic to close it. One wonders how the previous Bearer, Giacomo, healed the wound from his severed fingers. It’s apparently part of the process of becoming the Bearer. You’d think that should have been part of their Subtle Knife 101 training session.

As the party makes their way up the mountainside, the Spectres show up and attack one of the witches. It isn’t clear yet what kind of damage they inflicted. Maybe the witches ability to separate themselves from their dæmons will turn out to give them some degree of immunity to the zombification they inflict on normal humans? It’s interesting that prior to this, everyone thought they were somehow limited to the city. Even John Parry thinks that he and Lee are safe up in the air, which is strange since the Spectres can quite clearly fly.

His Dark Materials S2E6 - John Parry standing in the balloon basket, holding a box of matches in his hand
Conjuring fire

Lee and John Parry

Lee and Jopari’s banter is one of the highlights of the episode. Lee seems to understand that his magic is limited to controlling nature, but keeps hoping for more. The best line of the episode is when Lee questions him about not being able to fly and Parry explains to him that here he is…flying. Likewise, the funniest moment is when Lee asks him to “magic up” some fire, Parry stands up, closes his eyes in concentration…and then he pulls a box of matches from his pocket. Classic.

All the fun drains out of their trip when the Magisterium airships show up on their tail. Here at last, the shaman uses his powers of nature in a more flamboyant way, taking out two of the three pursuers. We’ll just kind of ignore all those poor birds he just forced to commit suicide, mind you. As that third airship turns tail though, a sharp shooter hits a gas canister on the balloon and down they go. Well, landing in the valley was their plan anyway, now it’s just going to be a crash landing.

His Dark Materials S2E6 - Mary and Paola hug in front of a fountain, while Angelica watches from the side
A heartbreaking hug

Mary Malone

Mary has picked up a literal guardian angel, just visible in the sunlight on the beach. As promised, she is protected in this world. She has also picked up a couple of tag-alongs, in the form of Angelica and Paola, spying on her from afar. The heartbreaking moment of this episode is surely when Paola asks Mary if she can have a hug. Their Lord of the Flies esthetic cracks and we see them for the hurt little kids that actually are. Now Mary is their guardian angel, giving her the excuse she needed to get moving up the mountainside.

His Dark Materials S2E6 - Mrs. Coulter reaches out with a finger to touch on of the Spectres flaoting in front of her
If anything, the Spectres appear to be afraid of Mrs. Coulter, not the other way around

Mrs. Coulter and Lord Boreal

As Mrs. Coulter and Lord Boreal step into Cittàgazze, Carlo looks about as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Made all the worse when they happen upon one of the zombified natives. Mrs. Coulter admires the Spectres’ work as being something much stronger than what she was accomplishing with the General Oblation Board. Ever the scholar.

Despite Boreal’s nervous vigil outside the shop, Mrs. Coulter’s dæmon is the first to notice the gathering Spectres. At first, he reacts fiercely, screeching defiance. Then Mrs. Coulter concentrates and he falls silent, almost as if in a trance. Apparently, this is where she hid her humanity, as she would later explain to Boreal. Speaking of, he slinks back into the shop and latches the door, watching Marisa through the window. Really? A drafty glass door is supposed to protect him from these ghostly spirits? This dude is neither very brave nor very smart.

Coulter walks fearlessly right into the midst of the Spectres. She reaches out to touch one and it shies away. With that, she has apparently established control over them, and her dæmon wakes up from his trance. Boreal comes out of hiding and Coulter suggests they celebrate. She has been stringing him along all this time, constantly appealing to his greed for the Knife or his lust for her. She kisses him to complete the disarmament as she pours him the glass of poisoned wine. Alas, poor Carlo. He was indeed never her equal.

His Dark Materials S2E6 - Cardinal MacPhail sits in his stark stone quarters, his daemon sits on a writing desk beside him
Cardinal MacPhail and his dæmon urge Fra Pavel to speak

Cardinal MacPhail

After witnessing Cardinal MacPhail shoot the messenger when Father Graves delivered the news of the witches attack last episode, Fra Pavel is understandably nervous about relaying the answers from his alethiometer. Though his larger sin is probably not telling MacPhail sooner about Mrs. Coulter’s special request. Pavel is finally coaxed into telling what he’s learned, though undoubtedly the scene ended with thousands of us shouting at our screens, “Just say it!” Not sure why the show is being coy at this point. I guess we’re saving the word “Eve” for the final episode.

His Dark Materials S2E6 - Lee and Hester in the balloon, Lee looking through his spyglass
Lee spies trouble off in the distance

Quick Takes

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

  • From here in, Mary’s story is taking us into the final book of the original trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, pulled forward a bit into Season 2. Her part in The Subtle Knife novel ended with her walking through the window into Cittàgazze.
  • I didn’t catch this until it was pointed out on the Her Dark Materials podcast, but Marisa finds the poison she later uses on Carlo in the shop, just before she encounters the Spectres.
  • In my S2E2 review, I theorized that maybe Mrs. Coulter is the daughter of a witch who somehow did not pass the initiation. Now though, I think they’ve made it clear that she’s the opposite of a witch or a shaman. She’s a scholar, an academician—hers is the magic of science, or perhaps rather the science of magic.
His Dark Materials S2E6 - Mrs. Coulter stands in the squard before the tower, arms outstretched, Spectres swarming in front of her
Mrs. Coulter exerts her control over the Spectres

Best lines of the episode:

  • “If you trust me, you trust her.”
  • “I find those books irritating.”
  • “I needed to fly. I summoned you. Here I am—flying.”
  • “It will protect us all.”
  • “It’s no good for you at all. It’s full of sugar.
  • “Was that wrong?” “Yes.”
  • “You can make us have baths and tell us what to do and all that.”
  • “People told me it was your reading of the alethiometer that I’d find impressive. The truth is it’s your obstinacy that’s your gift.”
  • “Perhaps if you tell me, we shall understand it better together.”
  • “A wound caused by magic must be closed by magic.”
  • “She thinks you’re her responsibility. Don’t lose sight of the fact that she’s your responsibility, too.”
His Dark Materials S2E6 - Mary Malone sits on a stone wall with the backdrop of Cittagazze behind her, sunlight beaming down on her
Mary is watched over by more than just angels

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:

  • Apologies for being late with this review, but it allows me to sneak in one really good bit of news. Deadline announced that His Dark Materials has been officially renewed for its third and final season. They will begin production in 2021, and script writing has already been in progress.

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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