REVIEW: His Dark Materials, S2 Ep1 – The City of Magpies

His Dark Materials S2 Ep1

His Dark Materials begins its second season in a different world where the two main heroes of the saga finally meet.

Picking up where the first season left off, the premiere finds Lyra having crossed her father’s bridge into a strange new world. She and Pantalaimon explore the seemingly deserted city while still reeling from the death of Roger. As they make their way through the empty streets, they bump into Will, who has also wandered in from another world. Their meeting is tense and violent, with both young people on their guard, but they somehow learn to trust each other. It was a wise decision to subtly introduce Will in the first season so his appearance here does not feel contrived or random. The audience knows a little about him already and though his role was nowhere near as prominent as Lyra’s last season, he at least has been around the story enough for him to really matter.

His Dark Materials S2 Ep1The majority of the episode is spent with both young heroes walking around the abandoned town while trying to adapt to each other’s cultural differences. Given that they have both been thrown into circumstances beyond their understanding, they seem to be adapting pretty quickly, probably due to their precociousness. Lyra’s quickness to accept drastic changes to her worldview is understandable given all she has recently experienced while Will’s hesitation is also relatable.But he is a practical boy and he doesn’t dwell too much on the inexplicable but sticks to things he can understand and control like tidying up broken pottery or leaving payment for food even if no one is around.

While this season of His Dark Materials will be even darker than the first, there are still some moments of levity. Will and Lyra’s conversations and comparisons about their world help not provide some exposition but also lay the foundations for their bond. Will’s calmness in the face of the unknown is an effective foil to Lyra’s hostile willfulness. There are adorable moments when Will cooks Lyra an omelette and then the latter attempts one of her own, with the egg-shells still in it. Will doesn’t make fun of her for this nor does he take offense at her calling him a kitchen-boy, having understood that she was brought up in a very different way. Later on, when Lyra consults the alethiometer about him and discovers that he is a murder “but the good kind,” she is also put at ease. She asks if he can take her to his Oxford where she can find a scholar who knows more about Dust and he agrees. They have already learned to trust each other and that bodes well for the trials ahead.

The two strangers eventually encounter children from that world who reveal that the deserted city is called Cittàgazze or the titular City of Magpies. The two citizens of Cittàgazze, Angelica and Paola, inform them that the city is plagued with Spectres and that all the adults have fled. Apparently, the mysterious, malevolent entities only hunt grownups while children are safe. The Cittàgazze children are also afraid of cats, as Lyra and Will soon find out later on. It is worth noting that Angelica is played by Bella Ramsey – Lady Lyanna Mormont lives on!

His Dark Materials S2 Ep1Meanwhile in the zeppelin of the Magisterium, Mrs. Coulter interrogates and tortures a witch to gain more information about Lyra and her role in the ancient prophecy. Ruth Wilson continues to be a sinister presence on His Dark Materials, playing Coulter with a cool, cruel competence whether she is using tweezers to pluck out the witch’s precious cloud-pine or whether she is whispering in the ear of Fr. McPhail, manipulating the Magisterium to fit her schemes. She is still clearly concerned about Lyra but whether this stems from any maternal instincts (as she claimed at the end of last season) or from her own ambitious self-interest remains to be seen. Wilson balances these complexities of the character with ease and it’s clear that whatever her motives, she is still a major threat to Lyra.

Led by Serafina Pekkala, the witches gather to discuss their role in the burgeoning conflict with the Magisterium. They have seen the bridge to the new world created by Lord Asriel and they fear for the future. Serafina reminds them of the prophecy and their duty to protect the child. Lee Scoresby is also present at the gathering, determined to help Lyra by looking for a man named Stanislaus Grumman, who reportedly knows of a powerful, magical weapon. Serafina assures him that he may call on her for aid whenever he needs it.

Ruta Skadi, another witch queen, arrives and exhorts Serafina and her sisters to take a more active part in the war. No longer will they allow the Magisterium to hold sway over their world. While Serafina hesitates, Skadi soars away, having heard that Katya, one of her sisters, was being tortured by the agents of the Magisterium. In a thrilling sequence, Skadi swoops in as Katya calls on Yambe Akka, the goddess of death. Skadi releases Katya from her misery while fighting her way through the zeppelin and escaping.

His Dark Materials has now brought its two protagonists together and set them on a quest to save their worlds. While neither of them fully understands their role in the war to come, they are both conscious of the burden of destiny. Now that their paths have finally crossed, their true journey can truly begin.