Synopsis: Our hero, Lyra, arrives in The North. She seeks the services of a renowned warrior. Iorek Byrnison is a powerful force, one of the famed Armored Bears. However, he has had his armor confiscated and is being kept in servitude. Lyra must team up with Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda), renowned aeronaut and friend of Iorek, to recruit the bear to join the oncoming battle . . .
Smartly employing pacing, the episode begins with the arrival of Lyra (Dafne Keen) and the team at The North. The feel is very different, as the bleakness of the environment is reflected in the continual reminders of how hard the fight will be against the might of The Magisterium. Perhaps the best way to describe this episode is to think of it as exposition, in the novel. That’s not to say it’s lacking excitement, just that the tension is being prepared. That’s enjoyable in its own right, as viewers finally get to see the beloved Iorek Byrnison, so iconic within the story.
Meanwhile, Marisa Coulter (Ruth Wilson) is making preparations of her own. She demonstrates the lengths she will go to, so that she can destroy the findings of Lord Azriel. She reveals that he is being held captive and has no qualms in using him as a bargaining chip. This side of her is further explored and gives her motivations a life of their own. Their manifestation into behavior that captures ruthlessness is well managed and another example of good script-writing.
Dafne Keen continues to shine as Lyra, managing to adapt accordingly to the situation. She evolves, from scared girl, into a formidable force. Only acting of a high caliber can get across the multiple facets of a character. Keen manages this well, always having the dichotomy of child/hero at the forefront of her performance.
Without Ruth Wilson (Marisa Coulter) the show wouldn’t have what is truly necessary. A villain. Again, this performance is an example of the importance of getting dimensions of a character right. This week Marisa Coulter was determined, forthright and not afraid to play dirty to get what she wanted. Wilson is perfect for the role; it’s hard to imagine another doing what she does. She believes she is right, and that her mission is the only course of action. The determination to get it done, at all costs, is displayed brilliantly.
In terms of filler roles, James Cosmo’s Farder Coram has his moment in this episode, sharing tenderness. Viewers learn about his lost love, and further losses he has endured. As a supporting role, Cosmo brings an important element into the story. He shows rare emotion, of an otherwise stoical character. A good depiction. More secondary character action comes by the introduction of Lee Scoresby. Lin Manuel Miranda depicts the adventurer, showing enough guts, but not appearing as “overly capable of anything”, in the masculine sense. He conveys a hero with flaws, but also wits and determination.
Whilst not visually present, Ian McKellen shows how truly vital audio presence is. He fills the screen, without even being on it. As the voice of Iorek Byrnison, his impact is immediate and undeniably powerful. It had to be a huge name, to be the voice of such a character. McKellen captures Iorek’s pain and anguish.
CGI and Action
The obvious discussion is about a certain armored bear . . .Before that though, The North itself as a character is worthy of brief analysis. The effects manage to make it look believable as a hard place to be. The tension of opposites between an uninhabitable space and a working environment is intelligent, by way of set design. The scrapyard feel is believable, and the real sensation that suffering and hardship are never far away here. Talking of which, the CGI uses a new addition to the cast to show exactly this . . .
Decisions can’t have been easy when it comes to making a reality of an icon. The people/team responsible got it absolutely spot on. Details matter. The bear has bedraggled fur, and is battle-scarred. His size is masked by the way he is made to behave. That’s what truly works here. Frailty is masked behind sheer brute force and strength. Slow movements express on the screen the emotional state of Iorek Byrnison. He comes into a stronger mindset just when he needs to, so the action is set up for a much-anticipated climax. The scenes is set now, and things are about to explode.
With a good amount to do in one episode and no one section that can afford to have less screen time than the other, the various elements of the show really come together well here. Acting is nuanced, once more. Seeing Lyra do what was needed to recruit Lee Scoresby has echoes of her mother’s behavior. Manipulation, minus the evil cunning. Lyra does what is needed for the greater good; nevertheless, her determination to achieve is a well-observed shadowing of what she has observed in the adults she so mistrusts.
Looking forward, both sides now have their advantages, and the finale can play out. A fusion of good story-telling, sensitive attention to the themes of the novel (liberty, good Vs. evil, and the dynamics of power), impressive CGI and knowing when to move on to the next part, this episode continues to show why this adaptation has worked so well. Research, passion and intelligent commentary on the human condition within a society show why it’s one of the hottest properties around, currently. Rightly so, too.
The novel series of ‘His Dark Materials’ is featured in a gift list on The Portalist.com
- CGI and Action8.9
- Incidental Music8.5