His Dark Materials 2×01 Review: “The City of Magpies”
His Dark Materials Season 2 picks up a couple of days after Season 1 ended, with Lyra having gone through the rip in the world that Asriel opened in last season’s finale. In “The City of Magpies”, she finds herself in a seemingly deserted world very unlike her own, and there she happens to meet a familiar face – familiar to us, but not to Lyra.
Yes, that’s right, “The City of Magpies” brings together Lyra with Will, two children from different Oxfords who are on a similar journey. It was such a good decision to introduce Will earlier in the series. He doesn’t show up until the second book, but by bringing him in during the first season, it makes their meeting so much more powerful. You’re more emotionally invested now because you’ve spent time with both characters.
Their interactions are fantastic. They have such an amazing relationship in the books and I’m so happy that it’s translated so well on screen. I’m a little surprised that Will is this trusting after having just met Lyra, especially considering the circumstances that led to him leaving his world, but I find it very amusing that Pan is all in on trusting him, even if Lyra is hesitant. Both of them play off of each other very well – the omelet scene and the anbaric/electric/amber conversation were great.
I love the way Amir Wilson plays Will; he exudes genuine goodness. There were moments that were more obvious, such as him saving the cat and insisting on paying for food despite all evidence implying the city they’re in is deserted, but there were also smaller moments, like him stopping to pick things up as they wandered.
Side note: I had absolutely not considered that the modernization would include things like Will having a cell phone. I wonder if they’ll have that be a bigger thing?
Lyra was a little more in line with her book counterpart in this episode. I’m not here to rag on Dafne Keen’s portrayal, but Season 1 Lyra was very grim and dour and not at all how I imagined her to be. Now, however, she seemed more like herself, so to speak – from walking on furniture to eating with her hands to sniffing herself to see if she needs to bathe. I also appreciated that she was immediately distrustful of the fact Will doesn’t have a Daemon; it makes up for the lack of an appropriate response when they found Billy Costa last season.
Season 2 and “The City of Magpies” begin the adaptation of The Subtle Knife, which should give you an idea of what the focus of this season will be on. As last season there was a lot of emphasis on the alethiometer, so too will this season revolve around the yet-to-be-revealed knife.
Let’s be real, though; it’s in that building with the steeple that Will was headed towards at the end of the episode, isn’t it?
The pacing in this episode was pretty good overall, except for the scene with the witches council. I get the sense they needed to dump a lot of exposition in a short amount of time, but then it didn’t seem to have any narrative purpose except to send Lee on a quest, and they weren’t even aware of the quest before they gathered. Also, I don’t have any recollection of Lee learning about this mystical weapon in Season 1, so how did he find out about it?
I think they took some of the criticism of Season 1’s portrayal of Daemons to heart because it was much better in “The City of Magpies”. Lyra and Pan’s relationship wasn’t as close as I was expecting last season, but in this episode, they seem a lot closer. He seemed like an actual character rather than an afterthought. Perhaps it was because much of the episode was spent in a world where no one else has Daemons. Whatever the reason, I’m glad they seem to have realized how important Daemons are to this story.
Easily the weakest parts of the episode involved the witches and the Magisterium. Ruth Wilson is still unbelievably unsettling as Mrs. Coulter, and the torture scene was extremely disturbing. But for the most part, these two groups come off as cliches that you would expect to find in a badly-written young adult novel. The witches are too overpowered superheroes – although I did like the bit about the cloud pine in their skin – and the Magisterium are too on-the-nose supervillain.
Aside from that, though, I feel like this was a fantastic episode, and a great way to bring back the series.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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