His Dark Materials Episode 1.02: “The Idea of North” Review

His Dark Materials is at its heart a story about a child who discovers how to find the light amidst the darkness of the world. The first entry into the darkness of that world can be terrifying, confusing, and suddenly the world feels as if it is a giant shadow that will devour you whole. And sometimes it does. You rush from one end of the chasm underneath the shadow to another, trying to find an exit, that light. The amount of darkness you uncover within that chasm changes, of course, depending on the chasm in question. There are times when chasms that come in the shape of an inspiring, if standoffish, explorer uncles. There are times when chasms come in the shape of an exciting, seemingly kind woman whose sheer glamour is a tour de force, a superpower. Sometimes it is in the shape of a truly stunning apartment where the largesse of luxury thinly hides an imprisonment of fortitude.

That is Lyra’s (Dafne Keen) journey in the second installment of this adaptation, where our rash heroine finds herself in wildly different positions from the beginning of the episode to its end. At the beginning, she is thrilled and ecstatic to be in the presence and care of Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), a woman who seems to not just be a thrilling explorer of her word but one who also sees Lyra in a way that so many of us want to be seen by others. When she tells Lyra that she has the capacity to be extraordinary, Lyra’s entire body language changes. Suddenly she finds herself being seen in a way that Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) had never expressly seen her in spite of her so obviously wanting him to. That it was a woman seeing her value and her abilities makes it that much more instantaneously impactful and powerful. It is also what makes the revelations of who Mrs. Coulter is that much more devastating.

This hour of television without a doubt belongs to Ruth Wilson. Every expression, body language, and line reading is layered with a multi-faceted performance of a character who is clearly at war with herself. She is feral in one moment, attacking Lyra and Pantalaimon (Actor), in manipulative command at another, and barely containing her seething rage that precedes the fulcrum at which her relationship to Lyra instantly changes. Yet at each of those moments, the audience can sense that there are multiple conflicts happening right underneath those dominant expressions. Wilson does a stunning job of keying the audience into the conflicts that Mrs. Coulter is facing at each of those moments and the portrait you are left with at the end of the episode is quite an interesting one. Mrs. Coulter is more than aware that she is the only woman to have attained a level of power equivalent to the men around her but the way she molds herself into such a powerful figure is still dominated by patriarchal constraints. That is clearly driving her up the wall. She is capable of feeling emotional heft but she constantly bottles it up and casts it aside as if it is an inconvenience at best. She is able to separate herself from her dæmon to a greater degree than other humans can in her world, signifying the depth of her self-conflict.

“The Idea of North” drops two major bombshells on the series much earlier than either was expected. The first is Mrs. Coulter revealing to Lyra that Lord Asriel, her standoffish uncle who apparently has never put a child to bed properly before, is in fact her father. The reveal is devastating to Lyra, whose despair at Lord Asriel never looking at her twice sinks to a greater depth. The second is that Lord Boreal (Actor) can travel between worlds, proving instantaneously that Lord Asriel was right and that at least one agent of the Magisterium is completely comfortable with this heresy they are seemingly so concerned with stopping. A part of this change comes from the simple fact that Lyra could not be the sole focus of the series and therefore the writers decided to expand beyond her to fill in the grand scope of the books. Lord Boreal, for reasons this review will not touch on just yet, seemed ripe for such an expansion. It’s the change that, unlike Mrs. Coulter’s paternal reveal, that may have happened a tad bit too early for the sake of the story, considering what will happen later. We shall see.

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Notes:

+The Gyptians’ search for Billy (Actor) is excellently built throughout the episode. I am thrilled to see their storyline continue to develop.

+According to an article that can be found at EW, a part of the reason that the show runners decided to expand the focus of the first book beyond Lyra is that child labor laws prevented her from anchoring the entire first season – the amount of screen time would simply have been too much.

+Last week, graduate program funding. This week, parking tickets. Love it.

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+The CGI on the dæmons is excellent.

+“I don’t think I understand grown ups at all.” Me too, Lyra!

+Roger (Actor) is a clever one, isn’t he? Keeping him and Billy in focus is smart for the sake of both of those characters and also helps sell the urgency with which Lyra abandons Mrs. Coulter’s apartment.

COSTUMES

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+That turquoise double-breasted number? Ugh, Yes!!!

+Where can I purchase Mrs. Coulter’s voluptuous ivory nightgown?

+That dress for her party – just hits the right combination of alluring and dangerous.

ARCHITECTURE/INTERIOR DESIGN

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+Mrs. Coulter’s apartment is everything. The light fixtures? The dramatic tables? That rooftop patio – yes!



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