His Dark Materials Season 2: The Scholar aired last night in the U.K. However, in the U.S., You are still two episodes farther behind. Therefore the obligatory SPOILER warning for Season 2 Episode 6, The Scholar for those not currently up to date.
If you want to know what I thought without SPOILERS, let me give you something.
It is rare for a book adaptation to surpass the source, very rare. Whilst I would say it is far too early to say His Dark Materials TV Series surpasses the source novel, this episode did. The way the show is able to show us situations never covered in the book, has been a revelation. in The Scholar, we see some of this extra materials really start to bear fruit. Once again the cast, the script, the design is all on point. In my humble opinion, this was the best episode of His Dark Materials yet. My hopes are simply that this level of quality continues until the story is finished.
Warning, His Dark Materials Season 2: The Scholar SPOILERS Lie Below!
The name of this week’s episode, The Scholar, had me slightly confused. As a book fan, I knew the rough events we would see this week and the name did not seem particularly appropriate. However, in the end, it totally was. When a book is adapted its should be used as an opportunity to expand upon themes books cannot convey very well. However, normally what happens is that books get adapted into movies, and instead of adding content in, it is taken out. Normally to fit a run time that does not fit the format of the story in novel form. I guess that is why it’s so rare for an adaptation to surpass a book, yet from time to time it happens.
We will in a different world now though. A world where high budget long form adaptations can take place of books. Instead of subtracting from a book, we can have more content added in. In some ways this can be done horribly, like The Hobbit movies? However His Dark Materials is certainly showing us many of the ways this can be a benefit.
The genius in The Scholar is to take a relatively small, but tense scene from the books. A scene that’s solely centered on Will and Lyra, with Coulter and Boreal in the background, and turn it on it’s head. Now we see the beauty of developing the characters of Coulter and Boreal to such a degree. The Scholar essentially tells this tense scene from the books from the point of view of the antagonists. Therefore, when the characters collide in the episode’s climax we get to experience the event from four different angles instead of merely two.
The plot here is simple. Boreal has the Alethiometer, Lyra and Will want it. Lyra and Will have the Subtle Knife, Boreal wants it. Boreal wants to possess Mrs. Coulter, Marissa wants to possess Lyra. Boreal hatches a plan to have both the Knife and Lyra, and use this as a way to persuade Coulter to him. Meanwhile, Will and Lyra hatch a plan to use the Knife to steal the Alethiometer from Boreal.
In the books we only see this plan from Will and Lyra’s perspective and don’t even know Coulter is in Boreal’s home until they arrive. By focusing so much on Coulter especially, The Scholar is able to weave this story out from Coulter’s perspective even more than that of Lyra. The result, is a set piece far greater than the one we read in the books. The tension seemed far more palpable given the encounter we could see developing in front of us.
Where Coulter’s motivations and reasons for being in Boreal’s home are a mystery in the books, her we can see through Ruth Wilson so much of what makes the character tick. This extra materials, specifically Coulters visit to Mary Malone were a masterstroke. Finally we see something which Coulter cannot stand up to, honesty from a free Woman. Mary Malone has everything Marissa Coulter wants, and yet her anger is barely contained. Mary, being kind and inquisitive unknowingly insults Marissa. The rage blinds Marissa and leaves her searching for words, whilst barely containing her emotion.
Here we see the two opposing forces of His Dark Materials at work. Coulter lives in a world where females are still treated as second class citizens, not allowed to perform many jobs, or hold important positions. This is a an echo of our own World that we have moved beyond, in most places anyway. The comparison is showing us both the idiotic ideas of our own past, and the darkness of the world Coulter is from. Coulter goes from swaggering into Oxford believing she can charm her way to information, to seriously questioning the rules she has been subject to.
There was so much I could praise in this episode, the performances, the tension, the effects. Last week I said the episode was annoyingly almost perfection, well this week, was perfection. The Subtle Knife, book 2, was always my favorite book even if some of my favorite scenes were in book 3. So when I say that so far Season 2 is better than the book, you know this is not some casually given praise. Even some of the little Easter eggs were amazing. The animal Pan turned into when Lyra attacked Coulter was a Wolverine, which I’m sure is a reference our readers will get.
All in all His Dark Materials Season 2: The Scholar was amazingly paced, tension filled, heartbreaking, sad, and educational. What more can you ask for on a Sunday night TV show? Can we just get Season 3 green lit now, please?