REVIEW: His Dark Materials, S2 Ep6 – Malice

REVIEW: His Dark Materials, S2 Ep6 - Malice

His Dark Materials delivers an eventful penultimate episode as key players finally converge in the world of Cittàgazze and the lines for the final battle are drawn.

After two relatively quiet but effectively compelling episodes, His Dark Materials seems to be trying to ramp up the pacing in time for the upcoming finale. Everyone has crossed to the world of the specters – the Witches, Lee Scoresby and Jopari, the Magisterium, Mrs. Coulter, Boreal, and Mary Malone. And in trying to balance the different roles all these characters play, the episode tends to be unevenly paced.

Thankfully, there are still some subtle character moments that play to the strength of the series such as the conversation between Will and Lyra, Mary’s encounter with the lost girls, and Mrs. Coulter’s subjugation of the Spectres. Nevertheless, for every calm scene, there is an action-packed or political intrigue scene that follows, to propel the plot forward. And it sometimes can seem a bit jarring. There’s something to be said about the maternal roles played by certain characters – Serafina, Mary, and to a twisted degree, Mrs. Coulter – in this episode as opposed to the absence of the fathers of the two children. But so many things happen in one episode for such themes to be given enough space to breathe.

REVIEW: His Dark Materials, S2 Ep6 - MaliceAfter skipping over them for an episode, we finally spend a bit more time again with Lee Scoresby and Jopari as they cross over to another world. There’s little banter between them as the shaman cheekily demonstrates his powers of flight and fire, but Andrew Scott still skillfully portrays his regret at leaving his wife and son behind. But his obsession with finding the bearer of the knife overpowers everything else, which does make him seem less sympathetic, despite Scott’s intense eye contact. There isn’t much time to be spent with him and Lee before they are attacked by the Magisterium and then crash land into the forest below.

As fascinating as they are, the Witches never really get the treatment they deserve on the show. They seem to serve as convenient plot devices for the most part, swooping in to rescue Willy and Lyra from the wrath of the Cittàgazze children, concocting a healing spell for Will’s festering wound, and basically baby-sitting the two protagonists as they make their way up a mountain. Earlier in the episode, they get a glimpse of angels in the distance and Ruta Skadi decides to follow these celestial beings and somehow reunite with Asriel. The Witches are certainly proactive but we never seem to spend enough time with them to care more about them and this season their lines have been sadly reduced to variations of “The Magisterium will pay for what they’ve done.” One can almost sympathize with Willy’s lack of interest in them even as Lyra is excited to interact with Serafina Pekkala.

The Witches are trying to protect the children of an ancient prophecy, about which the Magisterium finally learns more after Far Pavel consults his alethiometer. The knowledge frightens the men of the Magisterium so much that the Cardinal leaps into action and sends warships to continue the battle. His Dark Materials is very deliberate about showing the Magisterium as an organization comprised only of men and it is very telling that what they seem constantly threatened by is represented by women whether it’s Mrs. Coulter, the Witches or a literal teenage girl prophesied to be the reincarnation of Eve. One indeed wishes for the downfall of this misogynistic institution.

One woman who gets a moment to shine (figuratively and literally) is Mary Malone, who explores Cittàgazze unperturbed by Spectres, probably because there are angel wings that protect her as she goes. She doesn’t do much in the episode but she does have a significant encounter with the lost girls Angelica and Paola, who are shocked that an adult isn’t being attacked. In a rare moment of vulnerability and a great way of showing the trauma these troubled children have experienced, they approach Mary and Paola even asks for a hug. Angelica humbly asks her to stay and take care of them and when she refuses, she instantly regrets it, seeing the pain the children have suffered. So she decides to bring them to their adults. Where this journey will lead is interesting as it didn’t happen in the books but it is a testament to Mary’s compassion and sense of moral responsibility.

REVIEW: His Dark Materials, S2 Ep6 - MaliceMrs. Coulter is in her element in this episode, after previously showing her own vulnerability. She again demonstrates her ability to dissociate and to distance herself from her daemon which is “what makes her human” and thus proves untouchable by the Spectres. She manages to get them to do her bidding, much to Boreal’s frightened fascination. He truly had no idea who he was dealing with and the opportunity he inadvertently gave her to access more power.

Foolish Boreal ever thinking he could get the better of such a dangerous woman. It was also pathetically hilarious to listen to him call her his equal, and one could laugh along with Coulter’s reaction to his declaration. As monstrous as Coulter has now become, one can’t really blame her for poisoning her misguided and misogynistic cohort. He has outlived his usefulness and she now has all the cards in her hands. She later on demonstrates her commitment to this new, dark path, as she holds her hand over a flame and declares, to her monkey daemon’s despair, that “strength is salvation.”

Again, the best part of the episode is the relationship of the two leads, with Will and Lyra relying on each other more than ever, and portraying the trust they have developed over the course of their journey. They are open to each other about their trauma and they are always supportive of each other in times of need. The alethiometer correctly tells them that Will’s father is nearby but this particularly journey matters less than the one that lies ahead of them in the saga of His Dark Materials. There is a great comfort, however, in knowing that they will not be alone in this fight.