Episodes Watched: 1-4
The second season of the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy of fantasy novels returns to our screens, following an exciting season finale as Lord Asriel defiantly tore a bridge to a new world. Thanks to the stellar cast and impressive visual effects, the first season was met with an overall positive response compared to Chris Weitz’s 2007 film. Lyra’s journey continues as writer Jack Thorne begins to unravel the mysteries of the second volume of Philip Pullman’s fantasy, The Subtle Knife.
Following the aftermath of Lord Asriel’s consequential actions, His Dark Materials season 2 opens in a world on the edge of war. Asriel’s otherworldly portal has undermined the control of the oppressive Magisterium, with Serafina Pekkala and the clan of witches poised to attack. Meanwhile, after witnessing the death of her best friend, Lyra (Dafne Keen) boldly travels through the bridge to a brand new world. Stepping into a mysterious abandoned city, she finally meets Will (Amir Wilson) and the two team up to discover more about the effects of the mysterious ‘dust’ particles and how they connect to Will’s missing father. Lurking in the shadows, Mrs. Coulter continues the search for her daughter, hellbent on bringing her home by any means necessary.
With Lyra finally meeting Will in the brand new World of Cittàgazze, fans of The Subtle Knife novel will know just how significant and thrilling this event is. For the uninitiated however, the slow-burn pacing of the opening episodes, due to the meticulous world building and an ever sprawling cast, could be a cause for concern. However once the main plot is established and the key pieces assembled, the action does pick up, along with some long awaited revelations, resulting in a much more gripping series. Whilst The Golden Compass very much laid the foundations, the second instalment delves much further into the rich mythology of the universe. Teasing key elements such as a mysterious prophecy, a link between “dust” and dark matter and a coveted weapon known as Æsahættr (“God-destroyer” in Old Norse), there’s a lot for genre fans to look forward to. The series also continues in a similarly dark tone to the first, particularly with the introduction of Harry Potter-esque creatures.
Due to the ever growing multiverse, the large cast becomes even more divided, particularly with significant battle lines being drawn thanks to Asriel’s defiant actions. The central pairing of Keen and Wilson make for an enjoyable dynamic, especially when Lyra enters Will’s World thanks to some fun fish out of water moments. Their affable bond makes you quickly route for them, particularly as they’ve been through so much. Fan favourite Lin Manuel Miranda once again adds humour and a sense of adventure to proceedings as aëronaut Lee Scorseby, striking up an intriguing dynamic with explorer Colonel John Parry (Andrew Scott). However Ruth Wilson is still the show’s MVP, proving as intense and manipulative as ever as Mrs Coulter. While she’s still very much motivated by pursuing her own goals, it’s clear that Lyra still means a lot to the agent, as she continues to try and track her down. For fans of James McAvoy I’m afraid to say the series is fo far lacking in the Lord Asriel department, mainly due to a scrapped standalone episode.
The production and effects team have upped their game since the first season, particularly when it comes to the spectacular size, scope and design of Cittàgazze. Acting as the main gateway to numerous parallel universes, the immersive otherworldly location has a distinctly Mediterranean feel, complete with winding cobbled streets adorned with cafes and shops. With the Tower of the Angels looming large in the heart of the town, along with numerous Escher inspired staircases, the key characteristics are well realised onscreen. The visual effects of the daemons and witches also continue to impress, along with the steampunks design of the Magisterium’s airships.
With a stellar cast and impressive production values, Season 2 of His Dark Materials continues to push the boundaries of primetime television. The growing war between the Witches and the oppressive Magisterium, along with the tease of a certain prophecy, makes for a much more gripping narrative. Yes it’s not as action-packed as some shows, and the exploration of mythology and religion may put some viewers off; but for a big fantasy fan like myself, I’m very much enjoying the rich depth of the worlds.