His Dark Materials 2×02 Review: “The Cave”

The Cave His Dark Materials
Mary Malone has got it going on.

His Dark Materials Season 2 continues with “The Cave”, which has Lyra venturing into other!Oxford for the first time as she and Will try to uncover the mysteries of the windows and search for someone who can tell them all about Dust.

“The Cave” does not start where last week’s episode left off, but I suspect we haven’t seen the last of that mysterious tower. Instead, Will takes Lyra to his version of Oxford; the purpose is two-fold: he’s anxious to check on his mother, and she seeks a scholar to explain Dust. The two have vastly different experiences that are both necessary to the ongoing story.

Lyra does end up finding a scholar who understands Dust – she’s just not aware that’s what she’s studying. This is where we meet Mary Malone, a physicist studying dark matter. Despite the fact that Lyra has trust issues after everything that’s happened, she has no problem unloading all of her emotional baggage on this woman she’s just met; I can relate to that.

Mary, however, is extremely helpful to Lyra. She has a machine, the titular cave, that sort of reads brainwaves. Lyra, due to her experiences with the alethiometer, is able to manipulate the machine in a manner that Mary has never seen. I loved how the shadows from the screen in the machine are the same as from the opening credits sequence. The machine tells Lyra that Mary is important – and she is. Despite Lyra having to leave and meet Will, we will see Mary again.

Meanwhile, Will discovers he has grandparents, and almost immediately after learning this, he learns that they are not to be trusted. Will’s grandparents are alluded to in the books but never seen, so I appreciate that the series takes the opportunity to introduce them; it helps to flesh out Will’s life and world, and helps fill the episodes with material that expands the universe a bit.

However, the importance of “The Cave” is it establishes a bond of trust between Lyra and Will. At the beginning of the episode, it’s more that they are together due to circumstance. I feel by the end of the episode they are together by choice. Lyra, who hid the alethiometer from Will at first, sits down with him to explain its purpose. She uses it to check on his mother, which goes a long way towards easing his concerns about leaving her behind.

The Cave His Dark Materials
Will and Lyra bond in the botanical garden.

They also clear up the initial misunderstandings – Lyra calling him a murderer when he’s gutted over the accident, and her saying she’s there to help him find his father. But they both have been through similar ordeals, as they both recently have learned they can’t trust people that they thought they could.

There are little moments throughout this episode that make everything more real – Lyra getting hit by a car immediately after coming through the window, the way she couldn’t stop looking at everything, her refusing the digestives, Will getting a low battery warning on his phone (many people were curious as to how he still had a charge after a few days in Cittagazze). It’s the details that truly make a fantasy show feel like its own world.

Now, I know the Magisterium plotline is important – it’s sort of the entire point of the series, after all – but I just can’t get into it. A lot of this stuff isn’t in the books, but it is good that they’re expanding on all of this material. There is a lot of stuff that is mentioned, such as MacPhail’s rise to power, that they now have the opportunity to actually portray. In the grand scheme of things, it’s good, but I just want to see more Lyra and Will.

Mrs. Coulter is phenomenal, as always, and the way she subtly manipulates people and events the way she wants them is diabolical and extremely impressive (Cersei Lannister could never). There are a lot of characters in this series who seem almost cartoonish in their portrayal, but Ruth Wilson does an amazing job at making Mrs. Coulter such a complex, nuanced villain.

That said, I think this was a good episode for shaping Pater MacPhail as a villain as well. He seems genuinely remorseful over the actions he has taken. But he still takes them.

And I also appreciated how the cardinal selection in “The Cave” mirrors a papal selection almost to the letter. His Dark Materials has no qualms indicating who the real enemy is supposed to be, when the poorly-received The Golden Compass film bowed to pressure from religious groups and toned down the symbolism. There is also the whole matter of literally burning the witches’ home. The witches have been kind of meh, but that scene was chilling.

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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