Only Fleabag‘s “Hot Priest” could get fourth billing in the opening titles for a brief cameo and a voice-over, but nevertheless His Dark Materials seems pretty determined to build-up the reveal of Andrew Scott as John Parry – which will probably happen in next week’s episode.
For now though, Theft is a bit of a fragmented instalment, jumping between three different worlds and even more locations without really managing to achieve a huge amount. It feels like a mid-point between everything that occurred last week and everything about to happen next week, and while that doesn’t always result in my favourite kind of His Dark Materials episode – or any kind of TV episode, if I’m honest – I did find it very enjoyable.
A fair chunk of Theft is dedicated to Lee Scoresby’s quest to find the elusive Stanislaus Grumman, and it’s nice to see Lin-Manuel Miranda get a bit more focus in the series after a rather brief cameo role in The City of Magpies. Miranda isn’t necessarily the Lee Scoresby many fans would have imagined, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t make the character his own, adding a heartfelt sincerity which could have been easily been missed by a different actor. I’m not sure what his temporary imprisonment adds to the story exactly, given that he learns all he needs to after a bit of time down the local tavern and then – for whatever reason – doesn’t actually go where he needs to, instead heading straight for the Observatory where Grumman is not likely to be. It is a nice bit of world-building to see one of our leads attacked for being anti-Magisterium though, but does come across as somewhat null-and-void given that Lee isn’t actually imprisoned for very long.
On the other hand, it does offer us a terrific scene between the aeronaut and Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson), which helps to develop both characters beyond their book counterparts in a really interesting way. Any scene between Wilson and Miranda is sure to be a fascinating watch on screen, and both actors bring their A-game to the (dark) material, but – and unfortunately there is a but – it all feels a little superfluous. Do we need to do know that Lee was beaten as a child to be endeared towards him? Do we need to know more about Mrs Coulter, given that part of her appeal from the novels has stemmed from the mystery surrounding her? Mrs Coulter is a constant enigma, a character no one can quite understand, and yet here we get a wonderful performance from Ruth Wilson that tells us much more than we ever really needed to know.
Having said that, TV is a very different medium to novels, and I can’t fault screenwriters Sarah Quintrell and Jack Thorne for trying to expand on these characters. This TV adaptation of His Dark Materials has to add something that isn’t just exactly what’s written on the page, otherwise what’s the point? It’s a bit of a double-edged sword; the creative team are damned if they try to build upon the books in this adaptation, and damned if they don’t add anything at all – and I think there’s good arguments either way. Had the scene been worse, I would have been more annoyed, but when it’s handled this well, I’ll let them off.
Meanwhile, Lyra returns to Will’s world to talk more with Mary Malone, but Boreal’s agent in the police has beaten her to it and interrogates her. It’s a great little scene between the two of them, and a terrific reminder of how superb Dafne Keen is as Lyra – the way she quite happily lies until she’s caught out. The quick moment of horror as Lyra reveals that she knows Will is brilliantly done, so fast that it catches the audience off-guard just as much as Lyra herself, and imbues the following chase with an extra level of tension. Alas, Lyra’s too quick to trust Sir Charles Latrom (Ariyon Bakare), who steals the alethiometer from her, before revealing himself in a scene which would probably carry more weight had the series not played its cards too early last season – but works well enough nonetheless.
There’s also some terrific visual moments sprinkled through the episode, from the haunting visual of the Witches of Lake Enara wandering through the ruins of their home, to a cameo from Iorek and the armoured bears of the North (which still look incredibly photo-realistic), and a nice scene where Will and Lyra hide away in a cinema to watch Paddington (I’m assuming it was a double-bill with Paddington 2 as well). It’s quite worrying to see Will checking his phone during the film – not to mention the two of them talking quite loudly – but at least they were able to avoid anything too nasty this time. That comes next week.