Well that’s it for Season 1 of His Dark Materials and this pretty much closes out the story that was told in the first book Northern Lights, or for the US, The Golden Compass. Talking of which, the movie version of The Golden Compass was slated by many fans, myself included, for not including the proper ending of this book in the movie, probably because they felt it was a little too controversial. But we love a bit of controversial drama right, and we have it in spades in Episode 8 titled ‘Betrayal’ for many good reasons.
After finding her father finally, Lyra is a little shocked as to why he is so unwelcoming to her, after all, like the Alethiometer told here, she had to bring something to her Father Lord Asriel, and whilst Lyra simply assumed that meant the Alethiometer. However, little does Lyra know that she brought exactly what Asriel needs to him, and with it, he will attempt to open a gateway to other worlds under the light show of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.
Time is short as Mrs Coulter and the Magisterium forces are on their way to Asriel laboratory to stop him at all costs. A climactic confrontation on a cold dark mountain awaits Lyra, Asriel, Coulter and Roger. After which, we will start to learn the true nature of the story developing in His Dark Materials, a war against the authority aka God.
Was it any good?
Oh yes, this was for me far and away the best episode of Season 1 by a mile and I already gave one episode this Season an A+. Adaptations are a tricky thing, as you sometimes have to cut things out that don’t translate as well to film, and sometimes, because of this, you have to add in details that were not in the book. Most adaptations get both of these aspects wrong — they cut out important details and add in details which don’t help the story along. His Dark Materials itself has been guilty on both charges so far this season, but never to the point of ruining the story. However, in ‘Betrayal’ it feels like the best moments are lifted straight from the pages and the additional details added for once actually aid the story being told and complement what happened in the books, and that is a rare beast I find.
This is a slower episode than the last few, and it excels because of that, some of the best scenes are the quiet moments of conversation between McAvoy’s Asriel and Keen’s Lyra. This episode is all about the character work and the performances and everyone is on top form. For a start, we get to see more of Asriel and what kind of character he is and what his goals are in this episode and McAvoy is excellent. The scene between Asriel and Lyra where they discuss Dust is probably my favourite singular moment of the entire Season so far, and it’s just a chat between father and daughter, if you could call Asriel a father that is. There is another great moment at the very end between Asriel and Coulter, which sort of clarifies the relationship between these two parents of the year (sarcasm).
I also have to mention the visuals of this episode as they were absolutely stunning, the whole thing set against the Aurora Borealis in the North, and then the energy that Asriel uses to split a hole in between universes is just brilliant. The opening looks like someone has placed an infinite number of many colored threads and pulled them tight to the ground like a curtain. As characters walked through, I got that feeling of a thousand different worlds lying on top of one another, which is of course, exactly what it is supposed to represent. Honestly, spectacular visuals in this one.
Performances and Criticisms
Performance-wise, we have four main characters to deal with in this episode, Asriel (McAvoy), Lyra (keen), Coulter (Wilson) and young Roger (Lewin Lloyd). It might not seem like Roger is that much of a main character, but considering how much his abduction and rescue drive the story of Season 1, he is a major character, I won’t mention how why he is so important to this particular episode, but trust me, he is important and his performance is on point here. I felt so sorry for what he has to go through, and I already knew what was going to happen from the books.
The main three are just exceptional and we get multiple facets of each character coming through here. This is not a simple story where Coulter is the bad one and Asriel is the good one, in this episode, we get to see a somewhat warmer side of Coulter juxtaposed with the cynical and sociopathic focus of Asriel as he justifies anything in his belief he is doing the greater good. As for Lyra, well, this episodes she finally realizes that she is on her own, that she cannot trust anyone really, and certainly not her parents, the decisions she makes are hard and brave and we see this wilfulness in Keen’s portrayal, as I said above, some moment just feel lifted straight from the pages and the additions are always complimentary and help to build characters up for a final twist of fate.
In terms of criticisms I have only one, and it never once took me out of this episode whatsoever, so I am being picky. When the Magisterium attacks the Armored Bears I felt like we only saw the battle from the side of the Magisterium, and I would have liked to see a few more shots of the bears hurling their weapons at the Magisterium in turn. However, I guess bear-on-human violence is just not something they are prepared to do in this family-friendly show. Family-friendly in terms of the violence perhaps, but the themes being discussed here are way beyond your average TV show and directly conflict the beliefs of many religions in our own world, like a logical dismantling of the idea of original sin and the preposterous guilt that people feel for something supposedly done by one person (who scientifically did not exist) many thousands of years ago.
This is a fantastic end to a fantastic adaptation, and even though there were some criticisms of certain episodes, I never felt like the bar lowered dramatically at any point. The overall Season, when compared to the book, might not quite hit all the heights, but it so far beyond the misguided and too-shortened movie version it’s unreal, despite that movie having better battle scenes.
I am excited as hell to see this carry on into Season 2, which is already filming now, I expect we will have it released around the same time next holiday season and I can’t wait to see Will and Lyra finally meet, and the story of The Subtle Knife to begin.
RELATED: His Dark Materials Episode 7: The Fight To The Death Review – Almost The Best Episode So Far But Not Quite
‘Betrayal’ is the most emotional, powerful, visually stunning, controversial, and well-acted episode of the entire season, so don’t miss it. From a fan of the books, whilst I didn’t agree with every single choice they made, overall this is a far better adaptation than I ever expected and I thank the BBC (and HBO’s money) for crafting such a great experience and giving us a cast this good.
Grade: A +
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