‘His Dark Materials’ Season 2, Episode 1 ‘The City of Magpies’ Review: The Prophecy Begins
BY Stephanie Larson
Published 3 years ago
Goosebumps! Nothing else can better describe the return of HBO’s His Dark Materials.
Tonight’s season 2 premiere came as a glorious thrill that absolutely blew me away once again much like the very first episode of the show. I can repeat everything I’ve been raving on about in season 1 (visuals, casting, music score, the freaking demons, the script, even the opening title) but there’s no need to embarrass myself. As a fan of the books though, I admit becoming a little emotional seeing the amount of care the cast and crew put into every single little detail to stay true to Philip Pullman’s books while making a small screen masterpiece.
His Dark Materials ‘The City of Magpies’ can’t be an any more remarkable welcome to The Subtle Knife. It continues with what the show has been doing so well since the very first minute: getting to the meat of things. There are new worlds, new rules, new characters, and new relationships. And while the finale of season 1 was tragic, ‘The City of Magpies’ is a sweet, warm, and rare interlude before the prophecy carries our favorite characters to all sorts of danger, worlds, and tragedies.
After this though, we’ll surely be treading on an emotional minefield. So best of luck to us all and let’s get down to it.
One of the most remarkable things about ‘The City of Magpies’ is the smoothness of the transition from the season 1 finale. Although we here in the real world had to wait a year to lay eyes on the magnificent city in the sky, it doesn’t seem like any time had passed at all in the world of His Dark Materials.
It opens right to Lyra (Dafne Keen) after she crosses to the other world where she stumbles upon Cittagazze aka The City of Magpies, a city of thieves abandoned by the adults because of creatures called specters. These awful creatures feast on the very essence of life on adults and post-pubescents. And they leave kids alone, biding their time until they come to the right age. Kids can’t see them as well.
Before the fated meeting of Lyra and Will (Amir Wilson), His Dark Materials granted us a little tour of the marvelous city via Lyra’s exploration. And can I just say, that set should win an award. According to RadioTimes, the crew built it in six months. If you look closely at the brickwork, cloth patterns, and design of the set, you can see hidden angels, magpies, and even the subtle knife. They couldn’t find any town like it so they just built it. Wise choice.
The Beginnings of a Bond
Now back to Lyra and Will.
As one would expect, their meeting is a little awkward. It starts out with Lyra pummeling Will. They then measure each other up. But it’s when Pantalaimon (Kit Connor) speaks up and stuns Will that their relationship just flows. Their wonder at each other, one with a demon and the other without, speaks volumes about this new world and this new journey.
Although the pair are equally freaked by each other, Will and Lyra soon agree to become travel buddies seeing as there’s no one else there. Soon enough, they’re proven wrong though. They stumble (somewhat literally) upon sisters Angelica (Bella Ramsey) and Paola (Ella Schrey-Yeats), orphans who’ve lost their parents to specters. They tell them about the specters and leave Will with an ominous warning that he’s nearly ripe for the picking. After that little interlude, Lyra and Will are left to themselves and this is where the fun starts.
Lyra and Will’s personalities are on different ends. While Lyra is wild, Will is reserved. And while Lyra was raised with servants, Will did everything for himself and his mother. That right there makes for plenty of fun to build their relationship.
When Will makes Lyra an omelet, she assumes he was a kitchen boy. She then pokes the eggs around suspiciously before taking a bite and conceding that the thing which she mistakenly calls “omallat” tastes good. Lyra also takes over Will’s bed which he begrudgingly gives up. Later on, Lyra does try to pick up some of the slack by cooking their breakfast omelet but as Will notes while picking out eggshells out of his eggs, she added her own spin to it (cue the cracking of eggshells in Lyra’s mouth).
Later that morning, Lyra and Will find Angelica and her gang of kids terrorizing a cat. They save it in time and as inconsequential as this little scene seems, it establishes the bad blood between Angelica and the pair.
That night, Will and Lyra continue to make comparisons between their worlds until they land on one common point: Oxford. Realizing that the scholars in Will’s world might be more open to the discussion of Dust, Lyra begs Will to take her to his world. He hesitates, the fear of being caught for his crime nagging at the back of his mind, but at the thought of his mother, he agrees.
Before going to bed, each of them faces things they’ve been dreading, for Lyra the alethiometer and for Will, his father’s letters. In her grief and anger over Roger’s death, Lyra hasn’t forgiven the alethiometer. She refused to use it blaming Roger’s fate on it. But that night, she decided to figure out who she’s traveling with. Finally, she picks it up and asks who Will is. A quick few ticks later, it gives her a definite answer: He’s a murderer.
On the other hand, Will opens John Parry’s letters. As he starts reading though, the image of a knife throbs in his vision. At that same moment, he feels the Cittagazze’s tower calling to him. As he approaches it, a swirl of black smoke builds up behind him revealing the specter waiting to feed on him.
Lyra’s grief and anger is one pleasant addition to His Dark Materials. In the books, her grief was barely touched on early on her arrival to Cittagazze. This showcase of guilt, anger, and her newfound distrust of the alethiometer is more true to her character and more realistic. It also allows her to discover that the alethiometer does tell the truth, but not every bit of it, an important point to remember.
Meanwhile, back in Lyra’s world, Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) gathers the witch clans to determine what loyalties they’ll be taking. Here, we’re introduced to the fierce no-bullshit witch queen, Ruta Skadi, (Jade Anouka). She wants them to take the fight to the Magisterium. Serafina, however, is more concerned about Lyra and the prophecy. Failing to urge her sister witches to fight with her, Ruta takes it upon herself to rescue a witch the Magisterium has taken captive.
In that same meeting, Lee Scoresby (Lin Manuel Miranda) who is Serafina’s honorary guest reveals he plans to find Stanislaus Grumman. The aeronaut found out that Grumman knew of an object that kept its bearer safe (the subtle knife) and he wants to get it to Lyra. Wishing him good luck, Serafina gives him a feather to use to call for her help.
The Snake in the Church
The said witch that Ruta Skaddi set out to find, Katja (Marama Corlett), was being tortured by Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) witch inquisition style. Using her alien female sexuality, she manipulates a room full of priests to do her bidding. While she displays such evil in the torturing part, Mrs. Coulter’s manipulation of the old men in frocks is just so deliciously twisted. The faux subservience while obviously wrapping them around her fingers is just terrifyingly good.
Mrs. Coulter has never channeled a psychopath so clearly though as when she was torturing Katja. Luckily for the witch, before she gave in and spilled the prophecy beans to Mrs. Coulter, swift death came in the form of Ruta Skadi. With a rock-star entrance, Ruta cuts through a storm and basically apparates with a knife to the heart in front of Katja. The Magisterium’s security doesn’t even stand a chance and she makes a quick escape but not before stabbing the reigning cardinal of the place in the chest. The messed up thing is that while the old man lay dying, later on, Mrs. Coulter proposes finishing him off once and for all to one of his buddies. The reason? He was in the way of their plans. And Mrs. Coulter was ever so ready to do it with her own hands.
‘His Dark Materials’ Season 2 Premiere Overall Verdict
‘The City of Magpies’ was an impressive opener for the second season of His Dark Materials. It came out swinging with the momentum of last season’s finale while still leaving enough space to explore the new world and the new relationship between Lyra and Will. While the rest of the teams on the show are quickly moving into place, the cautiously developing bond between Lyra and Will gives us that emotional grip that will have us rooting and tearing up for them through their journey.
Something also worth noting about His Dark Material’s season 2 premiere is how well-packed the entire episode is. It had cut through chapters of the second book keeping a smooth narrative, surprisingly keeping all key points of the story, and still leaving that mysterious surprise at the end. It’s no easy feat to do that, especially while keeping all the emotional and informational complexities of the story all packed in there. This is how you adapt a book to series.
Now, we have got to see those angels, witches, and specters in motion.
His Dark Materials continue Sunday, November 16th, with “The Cave” at 9/8c on HBO.