His Dark Materials Travels To A Familiar World In “The Cave” And Lyra Discovers Dark Matter
His Dark Materials is back for season 2. And so far the adaptation of the second book in the series – The Subtle Knife – is going smoothly. As we discussed in our review of the season premiere, the second season looks much better in terms of direction and cinematography. The actors have also all stepped up their games. Including the young protagonists of Lyra Silvertongue (Dafne Keen) and Will Parry (Amir Wilson). The second episode of the new season travels to a familiar world. It also introduces a new character in physicist Mary Malone, and Lyra finally starts telling the truth. Let’s dive into the second episode of season 2: “The Cave.”
Will and Lyra Visit Oxford
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After a heart-to-heart with Will last week, episode 2 of His Dark Materials finds Lyra following him through his doorway into a world new to her, but very familiar to us. Will’s Oxford is a stand-in for our own world. And the anxieties that grip him are painfully familiar. Lyra is excited to find a scholar who can help her understand Dust. She goes tearing off through the streets searching for her own Jordan College. Sadly that college does not exist in our world, and Lyra must consult the alethiometer again for directions.
In the meantime she bumps into Boreal. And doesn’t find it at all suspicious that an older man is giving a young woman his card, encouraging her to call on him at any time. I realized in that moment that Lyra wouldn’t know that this is suspicious in the world she is currently in. In her own Oxford, she spent all of her time dealing with adults so this is not a weird moment for her. Perhaps if Will had been with her, he would have been more suspicious.
The Spectre of Potential Police Brutality Hovers Over Will
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But Will is not with Lyra at this time, the two of them having split up to accomplish different goals. Will must check on his mother. He spies on her through a window, finding her seemingly unchanged after her son disappeared for who knows how long. Then he goes off to visit a solicitor and discovers that he has paternal grandparents living right down the street. He didn’t know these relatives existed, and is understandably shook. Off he goes to pay them a visit, but he is alarmed when his grandmother mentions the police are looking for him. Will takes off after that, dodging cops all along the way and keeping his hoodie up so no one can recognize him.
The very real fear that Will has of the police has layers of subtext in our own world. He is a young black man who has killed someone (in self-defense) and he is naturally suspicious of authority. With all of the ongoing issues in our own world around police brutality and the murders of young black men, these scenes of Will running from the police feel extremely timely. They are injected with a new anxiety. We as viewers are certain that if the police catch Will then they will almost certainly kill him to achieve their goals.
Marisa Coulter Has Her Own Plans
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Speaking of corrupt institutions, the Magisterium demonstrates fully in this episode that they are a group fully driven by patriarchal ideals. The former head of the church is now dead at the hands of Witch Queen Ruta Skadi (with some help afterwards by Mrs. Coulter). And so Marisa schemes to place Father MacPhail at the head of the organization. It is clear that Marisa is the one who should be running things. She is the smartest one in the room at any time, patient and cunning. But all she really wants is the freedom to pursue her own objectives. So she works to elevate Father MacPhail. They plan a strike on the home of the Witches as a show of strength.
It must be said that Ruth Wilson continues to be a foundational strength for His Dark Materials. She gives the character of Marisa Coulter a complex and nuanced depth of emotion. She is a woman struggling to survive in a man’s world, by any means necessary. Her own ambitions and schemes are subtle in a way that the rest of the Magisterium is not. Although she is a villain, it is easy to understand her motivations. Wilson is a powerhouse who outshines every actor around her. She keeps these scenes interesting, without her I would have grown bored of the Magisterium’s machinations a long time ago.
Misogyny Is The Real Villain In Lyra’s World
The Magisterium fears the Witches, and believes them to be heretics. But really what they fear is women with power that they do not understand. This is demonstrated in a scene with the ambassador from the Witches, a doctor who is the son of a witch and raised in their society. The poor man attempts to explain the rituals and culture of the Witches, to no avail. The Magisterium rails against the Witches for being perverted and wicked. MacPhail’s rival for the seat of Cardinal screams about blasphemy and how Witches “steal the seed” from men and basically calls them all whores. When confronted with the idea that women can tap into powers that men cannot, he basically has an apoplexy. In the end the poor doctor is imprisoned, despite the fact that he was sent as a diplomat.
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The scenes with the Magisterium are a bit overwrought. But they are effective at showing both the ignorance and cruelty of the organization. Each shot is often framed with stern men lined up in ranks, wearing all black in a very Imperial Star Wars type of way. They believe primarily in shows of strength and bluster, in contrast to the subtle cunning of Mrs. Coulter. His Dark Materials is working very hard to show that the patriarchal nature of the Magisterium is an essential part of their evil.
Lyra Meets A New Character And Discovers Dark Matter
Speaking of women with power that others don’t understand. We meet a new character in Mary Malone. After following the alethiometer’s directions, Lyra finally locates the physicist who can teach her about Dust. She is a scientist studying Dark Matter, which is what Dust truly is in His Dark Materials. The two of them have a heart-to-heart where Lyra attempts to explain her situation, and why she needs to know about Dark Matter. The alethiometer told Lyra that she had to be truthful with the scholar. But she finds that telling the truth is harder to do than it seems. Eventually she convinces Mary with a demonstration of the alethiometer. Revealing that Mary used to be a nun who left the church to become a scientist.
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Mary takes Lyra down to see the titular “Cave” of the episode’s title. It is a supercomputer that she uses to detect Dark Matter. Mary hooks Lyra up to the machine and is astonished to see Lyra controlling the Dark Matter to create symbols similar to those found on the alethiometer. At the sign of the hourglass however, Lyra jumps up and remembers that she has to meet up with Will. She goes tearing out of the lab, promising to return to Mary the following day.
I was pleased to see Mary Malone get so much screen time in this episode. She was one of my favorite characters from the books. The fact that she is a character from our own world makes her feel real and grounded. Mary will have a major role to play in coming events. And the actor that they cast in her role (Simone Kirby) is excellent. She has empathy for Lyra and treats her like an adult, once she realizes that the young woman isn’t playing around. Mary is one of the various mother figures that Lyra gains in the series. But she also has so much more going on that will be vital to the future of the story.
Lyra Continues To Tell The Truth To Gain The Trust of Others
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All in all, episode 2 of the new season of His Dark Materials continues its trajectory of setting up the story for the season. When Will and Lyra finally meet back up, they take a seat on a bench at the Botanical Gardens. (The sight of them on this bench made me tear up, having read all of the books and knowing the importance of the location.)
Lyra finally shows Will the alethiometer and continues to tell the truth. She wants Will to trust her now, as she knows she has to help him find his father. This scene is exceptionally sweet and further cements the foundation of their vital relationship. The young actors also excel in this scene, particularly Wilson who is really starting to embody the character of Will Parry.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.