‘His Dark Materials’ Season 2, Episode 6 ‘Malice’ Recap: Lyra’s Destiny
BY Stephanie Larson
Published 2 years ago
Angels! Spectres! Angels!
Finally! After all this time, His Dark Materials is finally busting out the VFX big guns. Last season, we had the glorious reveal of the daemons and Iorek Byrnison and while they still do amaze until now (who can’t get enough of Pan, right?), the spectres and angels are taking over.
Aside from the story itself, one thing fans are really looking forward to are the interpretations of creatures in Philip Pullman’s world, and the His Dark Materials VFX team is definitely on track. They’ve managed to create a cross between the book version and dementors from Harry Potter that is originally terrifying for the spectres.
As for the angels, they got every detail right. It appeared just a few seconds in one of Mary’s scenes but it was enough to amaze. Their subtlety, the way you can only see them in certain shimmers of light, their very composition of light – it’s what I call magic.
More than those details though, this week’s episode titled “Malice” has its own jaw-dropping moments. From Mrs. Coulter’s control over the spectres to the revelation of Lyra’s identity, “Malice” is the perfect buildup to the second season finale of His Dark Materials. Just by those revelations, I can already tell next week will be crazy and it’ll take me some time to digest. Thankfully, there’s still time to buckle up. For now, let’s get into the events of this week’s episode.
The Knife’s Aftermath
Angelica (Bella Ramsay) and Paola (Ella Schrey-Yeats) weren’t kidding when they vowed to take revenge on Will (Amir Wilson) and Lyra (Dafne Keen) for their brother. A few days after Will and Lyra retrieved the alethiometer, just when Will’s hand was getting worse, Angelica and Paola gathered up the kids and attacked. They had them cornered and were ready to kill. Fortunately, Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) and the witches arrived just in time.
The witches take Will and Lyra to the safety of the mountains and there, they examine Will’s wound. Although he won’t trust them yet, Lyra convinces him to start trying. They show Serafina the knife and after one or two questions, the witches start gathering herbs for Will’s wound. As Lyra watches them, Serafina tells her that the flora in their world is more potent and that they should return so Serafina can keep her safe better as well. Unfortunately, Lyra is still too aware of the promise she made Will to find his father. There’s also the matter of Will’s hand which is clearly weakening him.
Despite the temptation of home, Lyra listens to Will when he tells her to consult the alethiometer to know what they should really do. Like before, the alethiometer is steadfast in its answer: find Will’s father. When they ask where Will’s father is, however, they’re surprised to find that he’s in the same world as them.
Up, Up, And Away To A New World
Sure enough, Jopari/ John Parry/ Will’s dad (Andrew Scott) and Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) are just up above in the skies. They have taken Lee’s balloon and have sailed it through the anomaly into the world of Cittagazze. They were just a mountain away headed towards the city.
As they let the winds take them forward, Lee starts investigating his new traveling companion. First off, he starts questioning Jopari’s shaman-ness. Lee was told shamans could fly and yet, there was Jopari. The shaman cheekily corrects him though. “I needed to fly. I summoned you,” he says. “Here I am, flying.” Despite that, Jopari does have abilities no other human had. And he attributes them to what he learned from spending time with other beings like witches, spirits, and such.
Then, Lee asks what they’ll do next after they find the bearer of the subtle knife. The answer is simple. They tell him what he needs to do. Once again, Lee clarifies if the bearer will protect Lyra and in answer, Jopari assures him, “It will protect us all.”
Mary Meets the Children
Down in Cittagazze, Mary (Simone Kirby) is exploring the city, her curiosity finding merriment in it while her anxious side continues to look for answers on how to move forward. Although she’s unsure, one thing is for certain, as the shadows have told her, she will be protected. Angelica and Paola spot her by the water basking in the wonderful sun, curious why she wasn’t afraid. What they don’t see, however, is that quick subtle glimmer of wings made of light behind Mary. It disappears in the blink of an eye but it was there, an Angel protecting Mary from the spectres.
Later, Mary passes by Lyra and Will’s hideout. There, she comes across Angelica and Paola who explain what happened to the city. They also mention Lyra and their attempt the previous night to kill her. Sadly, with all that has happened to their home, the kids don’t recognize that what they did was wrong. As Angelica plainly puts it, “Everything’s wrong here miss. You’ll learn that soon enough.”
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Paola asks if she can hug Mary. Although stunned by the request, Mary agrees and Paola wraps her arms around her tightly. As the longing seemingly gets the better of her, Angelica asks Mary to stay for a bit. Since the spectres weren’t going after her, Angelica hopes she can take care of them. They’re even willing to submit to the usual things adults made them do like baths. But Mary has a mission.
As if she didn’t dare extend her hopes too far, Angelica quickly says, “We’ll be fine. We’ve got each other.” The kids turn away but in the end, Mary couldn’t just leave them. So, she agrees to take them to where the adults have gone.
Into The Witches’ Care
Later that night, the witches and the children make camp. Away from the ears of others, Serafina tells Lyra that she is wary of Will but Lyra assures her that he’ll never hurt her. On her end, she also reveals that the alethiometer has set her and Will on a mission to find his father. With that coupled with Lyra’s determinedness to push through the mission, Serafina’s initial plans changes.
Where Lyra goes, she goes. Protecting Lyra is her mission. That doesn’t mean she won’t hold Will accountable for Lyra as well though. And Serafina makes sure to let Will know of that the next morning when he wakes. Before that though, she and the other witches perform a spell on Will which sends him straight to sleep for the night. Before joining him, Lyra consulted the alethiometer for the whereabouts of Will’s father and it had only one answer: Up.
The next day, Will and Lyra think back on Angelica and the other kids. While Lyra hasn’t met kids like them, Will has. In his world, boys his age made fun of him and treated him more cruelly than Angelica did all because of his mother’s ailment. He hasn’t trusted anyone since then but that’s changing because of Lyra.
As they continue their journey, they inevitably meet spectres. As powerful as they are, the witches aren’t immune to them as well and the spectres almost get one of them. In an instant, Will whips out the knife and the spectres immediately retreat, hissing and shrieking.
Mrs. Coulter Meets the Spectres
Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson) and Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) have also followed into Cittagazze. While Boreal is like a mouse, terrified of every corner, Mrs. Coulter is in her element. At one shop, they find a victim of the spectres. Boreal compares it to being severed, however, Mrs. Coulter thinks it’s something more powerful than that. And instead of being terrified, she takes it as a learning opportunity.
A few shops down, they finally come face to face with the dreaded creatures themselves. Boreal quickly but silently withdraws indoors and shuts the door but Mrs. Coulter tentatively walks towards them. Her monkey daemon starts going wild with aggressive shrieks and Mrs. Coulter is visibly starting to feel the first pangs of fear as well. But then, she takes a deep breath and seems to switch off a part of her, the human part, and her fears and her daemon quite down.
One step after another, she goes closer to the spectres as they gather around her. Then, she lifts her hand, slowly reaching to touch one of the creatures but before she could, it shrinks back from her finger. Assured, Mrs. Coulter more confidently spreads her hand and watches as the spectre in front of her halves itself into two creatures. She then lifts her other hand and makes a parting motion, watching coldly as they follow her command.
In high spirits, Mrs. Coulter declares she and Boreal celebrate, behaving more warmly than usual towards him. She even humors him when he asks her how she controls them. “Well, they consume what makes us human,” she explains. “So, I just hid that from the. I suppressed myself.” Unfortunately, that’s as clear as she’s going to get so we’ll never really know what that human part of her that she shut down is.
Ever the opportunist, Boreal immediately sees Mrs. Coulter’s newfound powers as a chance to conquer the city for themselves, as equals. What he didn’t realize is that Mrs. Coulter never saw him as an equal. She didn’t even plan on taking him along further. Right before she kissed him and served him his glass of wine, she slipped a few drops of poison in it. As he starts explaining how they could go on with his version of moving forward, he starts to expire. And she watches as he takes his last breath and finally dies.
Back to Lee and Jopari, after seeing the swarm of spectres in Cittagazze, they decide to retreat. Unfortunately, the Magisterium has also decided to join the expedition and now, after crossing the anomaly, they’re hot on their tail with their faster airships. They manage to ignore them for a while but as the day draws to a close, the airships grow ever closer.
At that point, Jopari draws on his shaman abilities and calls up a storm. The first airship falls from a lightning strike. The second follows after an ambush of birds. The third, however, veers direction. Before it could complete its course though, a soldier shoots at the balloon and hits the gas canister sending the balloon wildly plummeting down into the dense forests.
Back in Lyra’s world, Cardinal MacPhail (Will Keen) is anxious to know what Mrs. Coulter has been doing. By reading the alethiometer, Fra Pavel (Frank Bourke) unveils that Mrs. Coulter is looking for her daughter. More than that though, he discovers something that has the power to cripple the Magisterium for good if it ever were to become known: the prophecy surrounding Lyra.
In his audience with the Cardinal, Fra Pavel recalls the time Mrs. Coulter asked him to ask the alethiometer who Lyra Belacqua is and it gave the same answer as the witches’ prophecy. Beyond doubt, it’s heresy to their ears and yet it is what it is.
“Her name is her destiny,” Fra Pavel begins. “It foretells she will be in the position of the one who brought about all downfall, mother of us all, cause of all sin.”
With this new discovery, MacPhail sets his sights on a new goal and that is to extinguish Lyra Belacqua no matter what it takes.
‘His Dark Materials: Malice” Overall Verdict
His Dark Materials took its sweet time but now, everything is coming together. Now, the pieces are starting to come together – what part Lyra plays in the prophecy, who the serpent is, what the war is about – and it is astounding!
The subject matter of Pullman’s books at its core is one of the most difficult to put to screen. And yet, here is His Dark Materials, slowly but surely, capturing the depths of the books. What I love most about this episode aside from its usual grandiose, however, is that it has achieved a very rare feat which is to subtly improve upon its source material.
One demonstration of this is Mrs. Coulter’s scene with the spectres. In the books, her control over them was explained as a negotiation, of her promising them more prey in exchange for them submitting to her. But here, the way she shuts down whatever makes her human in order to control them ties in better with her complicated psyche and the astounding control she holds over it. Plus, it makes her that much more of a terrifying character that endlessly befuddles us.
The other scene is Mary’s scene with the kids especially the part where Angelica questions if their attempt to kill Lyra was wrong and when Paola asks for a hug. It’s a sudden slap of a reminder that no matter how awful they might have been, they’re still kids. They’re kids who have lost their family and home and are simply waiting for the day they have to keep running as well. It’s also a shocking reminder that Will and Lyra are kids too and that the burden placed on them is something they shouldn’t be carrying.
It gives so much more heft to the emotional baggage of the story and it reminds us that as much as we love all these glamorous effects and beautiful scenery, we’re essentially watching kids going to war. It’s just something to think about but now, I don’t know how to prepare exactly for the finale.
His Dark Materials continue Sunday, December 20th, with “Æsahættr” at 9/8c on HBO.