And with that, His Dark Materials Season 2 reaches its conclusion. It’s another bold and exciting cliff-hanger ending for the series, and one that leaves us in desperate anticipation of a third season (which is apparently being written, but surprisingly without confirmation from BBC One/HBO). For now though, we have Season 2’s finale Æsahættr – and special thanks to Philip Pullman for picking such an award-to-write name. Æsahættr is His Dark Materials in its stride, hitting all the beats from the novels but expanding and reworking them to suit a new format, which all results in a highly satisfying – if not perfect – instalment.
There’s some lovely character moments throughout Æsahættr: from the start we have Pan (Kit Connor) talking to Will (Amir Wilson), which is a definite highlight of the series. The bond between Will and Lyra is at the heart of His Dark Materials, and above all else, I’m so glad that this series has been able to translate that to screen. Amir Wilson and Dafne Keen are a great on-screen pairing, and their heart-to-heart later on was genuinely touching. Both the characters and actors have grown over the course of the series in a tremendous way, and it really puts me in mind of the Harry Potter films – allowing audiences to see the actors grow up with their characters – which helps to develop the series’ central themes. It is a shame though that Will’s reaction to Lyra’s kidnapping is so underplayed, as I think it could have been a much bigger and more impactful moment for both characters.
I also feel that we could have spent more time with Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and Jopari (Andrew Scott) prior to the aeronaut’s gunfight with the Magisterium soldiers, but then I’d also argue that we could – and should – have spent more time with both characters across the season as a whole, to develop their bond before their journey reached a close. Having said that, I think that Lee’s death was handled incredibly well by director Jamie Childs – managing to make it both very emotional but also understated – while Lin-Manuel Miranda and Cristela Alonzo (as Hester) were absolutely superb in their final moments on screen together. It’s sad to see these characters depart the series, but they were an undisputed highlight.
Another highlight was seeing John and Will Parry reunite at last. There was a definite feeling of distance between Andrew Scott and Amir Wilson which really sold their difficult relationship; neither has seen the other for years, and they struggle to be father and son once again. Instead, John / Jopari is determined to caution Will about his destiny as the knife bearer – a destiny Will really doesn’t want, but seems condemned to. It’s a big reworking of the moment from Philip Pullman‘s novel, but the change feels more fitting for this adaptation, allowing the two characters to connect before Jopari’s death. That the Magisterium are responsible for the death of Will’s father is an interesting idea to develop into the next season, and I thought it was a neat visual touch to see Will wear his father’s coat as he heads off towards his next adventure.
Alas, Æsahættr isn’t perfect, and does suffer from some of the recurring issues this season. The lack of a Lord Asriel-centric Episode 8 makes Ruta Skadi’s (Jade Anouka) reappearance feel oddly out-of-place, delivering exposition that would have worked better in a full scene (and in a season where Mrs Coulter keeps unnecessarily explaining her motivations, giving us Lord Asriel’s could have really benefitted the story). Whether or not we’ll actually get to see this additional episode still seems to be up in the air – although based on interviews, probably not – but I do wonder if it would have helped to expand Season 2’s scope in an interesting way, as well as developing Asriel into more of a fully-rounded character. Ruta’s presence doesn’t help the witches either, who still feel like an afterthought in a series which should really be presenting them in a more powerful, enigmatic and ethereal way. The first season could get away with this, the second has struggled, and I can’t see the show’s third run making up for it without deviating too much from the main story; thus, I think that the witches will remain as the show’s most underwhelming aspect.
Furthermore, it seems that screenwriter Jack Thorne is determined to flesh-out Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) beyond the character in the books, which is great for Wilson’s performance but detrimental to the character’s impact on the story. Quite why she needs to turn to the camera and say “Lyra is Eve…I must prevent her from falling” (or words to that extent) is beyond me, especially considering that Wilson’s performance clearly communicates this without the need for words. I’ve said before that I’m not keen on expanding Mrs Coulter outside of the enigmatic figure presented by Pullman in the novels, but I’d probably be on board if it was handled with some degree of subtlety.
Despite these recurring issues though, Æsahættr is a really good episode to end this run of His Dark Materials. It’s got high stakes, lovely character moments and some truly wonderful cinematography (that shot of Mrs Coulter staring out of the cracked window in the Tower of Angels is absolutely stunning, and very cinematic), and an ending which sets up Season 3 in spectacular fashion. Lord Asriel (James McAvoy) is allying himself with the angels to form a new republic of Heaven, Lyra is revealed to be Eve and has been kidnapped by Mrs Coulter, and Will must forge a new path for himself without Lyra’s help.
And…was that Roger at the end?