Last night in the U.K. saw the second episode of His Dark Materials Season 2: The Cave. Tonight will see the U.S. release of episode 1: The City of Magpies. That means that my side of the Atlantic is going to be a week and 1 day ahead for the remainder of Season 2. With that in mind, any readers from the U.S. may want to avoid this review until next week for fear of SPOILERS. Though readers of the books may not feel the need since they know what is coming?
So here is what I thought of His Dark Materials Season 2: The Cave without any SPOILERS.
I loved it, and yet I have the feeling that non-book readers will find this a boring and exposition heavy episode. It is, but The Cave also gives us the first true glimpse into what the story of His Dark Materials really is. The central conflict of the story is present in The Cave, and along with some other nice little touches and performances, made it a compelling 50 minutes. A quick check online at fans who have seen The Cave confirms my feelings. I see a lot of non-book readers bemoaning a slow and exposition heavy episode. At the same time I see fans of the books agreeing with me about how brilliant it was.
His Dark Materials is a complex and thought provoking story, not an action movie. Therefore it takes time, and conversations between characters to unpack the themes being presented. Stick with it folks, that’s all I can say. Final warning before we get to SPOILERS.
SPOILER Warning for His Dark Materials Season 2: The Cave.
The Cave see’s Will and Lyra heading back to Will’s Earth, our Earth for a dual purpose. Lyra wishes to speak to some Scholars (scientists) of Will’s World about Dust. Meanwhile, Will needs to make sure his Mum is ok. Whilst we don’t catch up with Lee Scoresby in The Cave we do spend a bit of time with Mrs. Coulter and the Magisterium. It’s worth noting that the Magisterium content in this episode was not present in the books. It’s hinted that events like this occurred, but ‘off-screen’ if you will in the books. Frankly I thought it an excellent idea to show the thought process of the main antagonists of this story much earlier in the plot. However, I’ll get into that more below.
The Magisterium have decisions to make, choosing a new leader being paramount. However Father McPhail is ready to wage war on The Witches, whether elected or not. The Witches, who hope to prevent all out war have sent Dr. Lanselius to attempt some diplomacy. Lyra uses the Alethiometer and learns she should be focused on helping Will find his Father, but it also advises her to seek out a specific scientist at an Oxford University. Lyra, believing that her own task is is greater importance heads off to find Mary Malone. Whereas Will pays a visit to his estranged paternal Grandparents and learns that he really cannot trust anyone, expect perhaps Lyra.
The Conflict Of His Dark Materials
His Dark Materials, whilst not obvious from the outset, is a story that pits organized Religion against Intellectual freedom. This story should not be alien to anyone watching because the same battle has happened time and again throughout our own History. Lyra’s World is one where those historic ideological battles went another way. The Magisterium is the Christian Church if it had gone on to dominate the world and maintain control of the lives of most Humans. The Witches represent a Pagan like society who cling to their intellectual freedoms by a thread.
The Magisterium hates Dust because it’s unexplained and dangerous to their own dogma. Dust, and the idea of a Multiverse where the Magisterium isn’t in charge is heresy to them. We see the fear of the unknown and hatred of what’s different best in the trail of Dr. Lanselius. Sent to the Magisterium for diplomacy, Lanselius is forced onto trial for being a traitor and a spy. As the Magisterium throws their accusations at the Witches, it becomes clear that Lanselius isn’t going back home. This was a scene not covered in the books but it does a great job of showing the dangers of a world controlled by organized Religion.
I thought the way the show handled the selection of a new leader of the Magisterium very brave. Very clearly the process being shown is almost identical to the way in which a new Pope is chosen in this world. I.e. the showrunners have made a direct comparison between the Magisterium and the Catholic Church. This comparison is less telegraphed in the novels but equally apparent. However, it is also a source of potential controversy because there are those who will refuse to their beliefs to be challenged. For those who cannot accept their beliefs being challenged, there is a simple solution, don’t watch the show. However that’s hardly going to please the financial people at HBO is it? Personally I love it, because His Dark Materials is a story that’s supposed to challenge you in an intellectual level as well as entertain.
I won’t spoil were this conflict is going, or how it will be resolved in the end, but the controversy has only just begun. I’m here for this adaptation and I love how the extra content they are giving us is being used primarily for world building. I believe the approach is going to allow for the audience to follow the events of Season 3 a little easier for one. Yet as alluded to above, there are some non-book readers fans who found The Cave to be slow and too full of exposition.
RELATED: His Dark Materials Season 2: The City of Magpies – A Great Start
I genuinely believe the pace is going to accelerate over the next few weeks as this season builds towards its Episode 7 climax. I think that’s the main reason why book fans such as myself thought this week’s episode was amazing. We can see how brave the choices they are making are, and a lot of little touches seem designed for fans of the books alone. One scene involving Will and Lyra sitting on a bench will mean nothing to new viewers. However, that simple scene had book fans in tears knowing the drama that’s to come.
Mary Malone was well cast, I loved her. Will and Lyra’s relationship continues to evolve perfectly. Mrs. Coulter was once again magnetic and multi-layered as per usual with Ruth Wilson’s performance. The Cave itself which is a quantum computer built to study Dark Matter in our own world was well realized.
I have one slight criticism though. In the book when Lyra first meets Mary Malone she is severely distracted by the real threat of funding issues for her work. This was mentioned briefly by Mary’s colleague later on in the episode. However the scene felt somehow less interesting as a result. In the books it felt as though Mary was far more open to Lyra’s insane ramblings as a result of her distracted state of mind. Those funding issues are going to have a relevance the plot later on. I’m not sure the show flagged this fact as important enough the way it was shown?
I see the meeting of Mary and Lyra as a criticism, but a minor one. Frankly I think it’s pretty clear from reading my coverage of this show that I am a huge fan. I have not agreed with every choice made in the adaptation of His Dark Materials that goes without saying. However, the vast majority of choices made for this adaptation have been excellent in my opinion. This may be a slower paced and exposition heavy episode, but I was still mesmerized from start to end.