REVIEW: His Dark Materials, S2 Ep2 – The Cave

His Dark Materials S2 E2 D

The second episode of His Dark Materials sees Lyra step into Will’s world where she makes a new ally while the Magisterium retaliates against the witches, starting all-out war.

His Dark Materials, S2 Ep2 - The CaveLyra has to contend with exploring yet another strange world albeit one still a bit similar to hers. She convinces Will to show her the doorway to his Oxford and though she initially believes it will be like her own, she quickly discovers how much of a stranger she is on what she had hoped would be familiar streets. In a way, this parallel version of her world is more difficult for her to navigate than the deserted Cittàgazze but she also adapts quickly. She is able to visit a museum where she encounters Lord Boreal, who clearly recognizes her but decides it isn’t the time to take her back home.

The two children part ways as Will tries to check in on his mother, has a meeting with his father’s lawyer, and discovers that his paternal grandparents have been living in Oxford all this time. For all his precociousness, Will is still just a lost boy who has had to grow up fast to care for his mentally ill mother. The prospect of reconnecting with family is tempting to him and he almost eagerly goes to meet his father’s parents. But the rift between his parents and grandparents is clear, and to Will’s dismay, his grandparents are working with the police to try and catch him. He narrowly escapes but is clearly emotionally scarred by this encounter once again with adults that cannot be trusted.

After consulting the alethiometer, Lyra has a fascinating encounter with her Scholar, physicist Mary Malone. Lyra is determined to learn more about Dust, which is dark matter in Mary’s world, and the meeting of these two female characters is one of the highlights of this episode of His Dark Materials.

More than an intellectual conversation on the mysterious nature of these invisible particles that interact with humankind, their meeting was also a rare moment of vulnerability for Lyra, who is still reeling from the death of Roger last season. The alethiometer instructs her not to lie to the scholar and so the usually smooth and confident young girl allows herself to honestly express her sadness and confusion about her circumstances.

Being an open-minded scientist, Mary Malone sympathizes with the young girl and is also shocked by Lyra’s own knowledge of Dust. Lyra demonstrates this further by expressing an interest in “the Cave” computer that Malone has been using to study dark matter. Malone watches in awe as the particles react to Lyra and even form symbols of the alethiometer. She has never seen anything like this and her work takes on a new significance. Lyra promises to return and Malone is eager to see her again.

The hypocrisy, misogyny, and corruption of the Magisterium is on full display in this episode in the scenes of the former cardinal’s funeral, the ensuing process to elect a new cardinal, and the summons and trial of Dr. Lanselius. Mrs. Coulter exerts her influence subtly as she she manipulates Fr. MacPhail to take decisive action against the witches.

But for all her power, it is also clear that she is out of place in the male-dominated structure and there are moments that show her own disdain for the system that so clearly favors men over women. One of the priest’s comments about how unnatural it is for witch mothers to abandon their children clearly strikes a chord with Mrs. Coulter and by the end of the episode she chooses to prioritize the search for Lyra over any more power politics in the Magisterium.

In the end, Fr. MacPhail becomes the new cardinal after his proposal to attack the witches and bomb their communities is unanimously approved. There is a brief but moving scene when Serafina Pekkala and Ruta Skadi witness their homes going up in flames and they realize that war has been irrevocably declared. Ruta Skadi, in particular, watches in horror at how her angry actions have led to such drastic and deadly consequences.

His Dark Materials the series expands on the source material by including scenes that were not in the books. The trial of Dr. Lanselius also provides a little more information about the culture of the witches, their treatment of their offspring with mortal men, and the mysterious but apparently beautiful ritual that allows them to be separated from their daemons for long stretches of time and across long distances. The hypocrisy of the Magisterium is particularly evident when they speak of this ritual as evil when it is they who have been conducting the forbidden experiments on children in Bolvangar involving intercision.

(It is also interesting to note that this is the second time Omid Djalili and Amir Wilson are in a fantasy series together following Netflix’s The Letter for the King. But while Djalili’s role here is smaller, it is also more compelling. I’m a big fan of Djalili’s standup comedy and I’m always so impressed by his versatility when I see him in these dramatic roles knowing that he is also a talented performer in musical theater, having played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and Fagin in Oliver! I do hope this is not the last we will see of Dr. Lanselius.)

His Dark Materials, S2 Ep2 - The CaveBut for all the political intrigue, social commentary, and philosophical themes, His Dark Materials is also essentially about two lost children trying to make sense of a crazy multiverse. And again some of the strongest scenes are those between Lyra and Will as they gradually learn to trust each other in spite of everything. This trust is particularly valuable since they are surrounded by adults determined to deceive and entrap them. The scene at the Botanical Gardens is a highlight as it is another quiet moment that allows these two young characters to have an honest conversation with each other about their own struggles and fears. They also find comfort and strength in the other, despite such a short acquaintance, and their growing bond will be instrumental in helping them survive the even greater struggles ahead.