REVIEW: His Dark Materials, S2 Ep7 – Æsahættr

His Dark Materials, S2 Ep7 - Æsahættr

His Dark Materials delivered a heartbreaking finale that ended with two major deaths as well as a painful separation that will have long-lasting repercussions.

Lyra and Will’s bond was further solidified in an episode that would test them both to their limits. This episode likewise highlighted how their parents failed them both and how, despite their youth, they would have to pursue their complex destinies on their own as their parents dragged them both into a grand war beyond their imagining.

His Dark Materials the television adaptation has done little to develop the witches beyond mysterious, magical exposition machines. This was the case here with Serafina Pekkala and two others basically serving as baby-sitters for most of the episode while Ruta Skadi had a bit more to do by learning about Asriel’s grand plans for war. Perhaps we would have seen more of the queen had the Asriel-centric episode pushed through but this season, she was relegated to a beautiful, badass plot device. The two witches who accompanied Serafina were dispatched by Spectres and even Serafina herself proved ineffectual this time, both as Lyra’s guardian and Lee Scoresby’s savior (more on that later.) But for all the limitations of this portrayal of the witches, I would have to agree with another reviewer that this is still preferable to the sexualized depictions of them in the books. It’s a small win but I’ll take it, and it actually made for a better adaptational change, in my opinion anyway, when it came to John Parry’s fate (again more on this later.)

Despite the setup for a potentially poignant moment last episode, Mary Malone didn’t end up doing much this time as she simply escorted the two lost girls to the edge of a camp where their adults might be. Didn’t even stick around long enough to make sure the adults were actually there or still alive. Still, Mary is the only one in His Dark Materials right now who is having the time of her life, following a trail of blue petals and consulting the I Ching as she goes along. Good for her.

His Dark Materials, S2 Ep7 - ÆsahættrMrs. Coulter continued to control the Spectres, this time even standing at the top of the Tower of Angels in a not-so-subtle display of her new, monstrous powers. More interesting were her quieter moments, like when she found Lyra’s winter coat and silently held onto it. But if anyone felt any sympathy for her as a mother, this would have been immediately dispelled when she was shown at the end having stuffed her beloved daughter in a suitcase in an attempt to “save” Lyra from fulfilling the prophecy of being the new Eve and bringing about the downfall of mankind. Marisa also displayed her self-destructive relationship with her own daemon, not just scaring the poor monkey with exposure to the Spectres but also angrily confronting the creature, and by extension, arguing and hurting her own true nature. For all its toxicity, hers continues to be one of the more fascinating human-daemon dynamics on the show.

But there were healthier depictions of the human-daemon relationship in this episode. Will and Pan had a simple but revelatory conversation about bravery and friendship, while Lyra was seemingly asleep. Will doesn’t fully realize the significance of this exchange and how he is actually conversing with the soul of the girl he loves and who loves him. Later on, both Will and Lyra re-affirm the strength of their friendship with one another, making it all the more painful to see that they will be apart for a while.

Another touching human-daemon relationship was between Lee Scoresby and Hester, as they took their last stand against the Magisterium, buying some time for Jopari to fulfill his mission. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance was moving, particularly his last lines to his daemon. While daemons on His Dark Materials barely have any lines (the golden monkey doesn’t even speak), Hester is one of the few who has had more interaction with her human, even exchanging witty banter with Lee on several occasions. This time, Cristela Alonzo does her best voice work as she tearfully assures Lee that their sacrifice was helping Lyra, right before she dissolves into thin air. Lee’s death, although already expected by book-readers like Miranda himself, still packs a punch and is even more painful with Serafina’s late arrival to whisper a kind of protection spell over the fallen aeronaut.

This sacrifice led to the big family reunion of the episode – between John and Will Parry. Again, I am glad about the adaptational change that had them both meet in daylight and therefore recognize each other before it was too late. After spending so much time with Will and knowing how much he wanted to find his father, there was a certain satisfaction to see this wish fulfilled, even for a short time. Even John Parry got to experience some kind of emotional catharsis at seeing his son again and watching both Andrew Scott and Amir Wilson portray this reunion was a highlight of the episode.

His Dark Materials, S2 Ep7 - ÆsahættrBut this is His Dark Materials and parents are terrible. Almost immediately you see that John Parry, happy as he is to see his son, is still focused on his mission to instruct the knife-bearer. Even as Will demands explanations about John’s absence, the latter gives unsatisfying excuses and an empty promise that they would go home afterwards. It was still heartening to see Will happy for a few moments before everything, of course, went wrong and a Magisterium bullet killed John, as he did one thing to protect his son. Again, this was changed from the book and I do prefer this death than that of a spurned witch’s arrow that was in the source material.

Either way, poor Will had to watch his father die and Amir Wilson’s performance was truly heartbreaking. He is left to pick up the pieces, literally take his father’s mantle as he fulfills his role as the knife-bearer. It was just disappointing not to show his reaction to losing Lyra as well, even though we are certain that he will stop at nothing to find her.

His Dark Materials, S2 Ep7 - ÆsahættrAt the very end of the episode was a surprise cameo from Lord Asriel himself, and a glimpse of what his standalone episode could have been. As James McAvoy’s voiceover began, it was clear that he would make a brief appearance even as the rest of the characters were already being sent off on their journeys for the confirmed third and final season of His Dark Materials. McAvoy’s performance as Asriel is as charismatic as ever and his lofty speech about defying the tyranny of the Authority and building a world of freedom and knowledge is moving, and it almost makes you forget what a terrible person he is. Almost.

But his speech is effective enough to enlist the aid of an army of angels, who rally to his cause, even though he does not yet have the legendary Æsahættr. It was hilariously frustrating to hear Ruta Skadi talking about this weapon when Will was right there. But that always adds to the drama.

If you stuck around for the post-credits scene, you would have gotten a glimpse of Roger, calling to Lyra from beyond the grave, and those who have read The Amber Spyglass already know what is coming next. Thankfully, His Dark Materials has been given a chance to conclude its epic journey and, however long we will have to wait for the third season, we will be seeing Lyra and Will one more time.