His Dark Materials is back for its third and final season, adapting the third book in Philip Pullman’s trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. Season 3 will be on a scale unlike anything we’ve seen so far, with the war to end all wars looming in the not-too-distant future. The two-episode premiere, “The Enchanted Sleeper” and “The Break”, drops us right back in the thick of things.
“The Enchanted Sleeper” picks up right where “Æsahættr” left off. Will has returned to camp to find Lyra gone. I was upset that they left this scene out of the season 2 finale, so it’s nice to see that they actually did include it. But let’s be honest, it could have been in both episodes. I still think it would have been a better way to close out the second season.
The story picks up some time later; they’re never really clear on how much time has passed, but given the desperation you can feel in Will’s movements and the skillful way he handles the Knife, it’s obviously been a while. At the same time, though, I can’t believe it’s been all that long. Otherwise, I feel the Magisterium would have found Marisa and Lyra.
I love the animation in the opening scene of “The Enchanted Sleeper”, which details that, essentially, God is a lie and Asriel intends to prove it. Mostly, I love that it seems to be a growing trend to use flashbacks or backstory as an opportunity to flex in a different medium. I remarked on this in both my review for the latest season of The Dragon Prince and the most recent episode of Star Trek: Prodigy. It’s such a neat idea.
We finally get to see what Asriel was up to during season 2. (James McAvoy essentially summarized the nixed Asriel-centric episode in our interview from New York Comic Con, if you’re interested.) We got a glimpse of it in “Æsahættr”, but as with everything else in these first two episodes, the scale is much grander. One of my complaints about the season 2 finale was that it felt too small, considering the huge revelations that were taking place. “The Enchanted Sleeper” and “The Break” are much better in that sense. Everything seems so much larger.
Asriel’s recruitment speech could use some work, but it somehow manages to do the job. He is able to convince Ogunwe to follow him and become the commander of his army. I love Ogunwe’s introduction, and basically everything about his character, though it differs from the source material. In the books, Ogunwe is from Lyra’s world – he has a Daemon and everything. But in the show, he is from a different world.
I understand the idea. The war that is coming (or is currently being waged) will affect all beings of all worlds. Asriel has been missing all this time because he has been gathering forces for a final battle – the best fighters in every world. What better way to illustrate this than by having his general come from a world other than his own?
At the same time, though, this highlights a major issue that I have with His Dark Materials. No one has any trouble understanding each other. It’s not just the language thing – although it is kind of weird that not only does everyone speak the same language, they all have the same accent. It’s that when Asriel starts rambling about Dust and the Authority, no one ever has to interrupt him and ask what the heck he’s talking about.
I guess we can’t spend every episode explaining every concept. But given how much time has passed since season 2, not using Ogunwe’s ignorance (as being from another world) as a way to refresh the audience’s memories was a wasted opportunity.
What I do like, though, is the contrast between Ogunwe and Asriel. Ogunwe is utterly devoted to his daughters. His oldest was “severed”, the way the children were in “The Daemon-Cages” in season 1. Asriel is able to appeal to Ogunwe by emphasizing the importance of making sure no other children have to endure such a terrible fate. At the same time, he is leaving his daughter to her own devices, willfully ignoring any concern that she may be in danger (even from his own Daemon). He only starts to show interest when he learns that Will, the bearer of the only weapon who can kill the Authority, is with Lyra.
Lyra, of course, is with Marisa. Marisa has been keeping Lyra unconscious to make it harder for the Magisterium to track her using their alethiometer. It’s also because there is no way Lyra would stay with Marisa otherwise. I do believe that Marisa believes this is the best thing for Lyra, and on the surface, she is correct. She is doing her best to keep Lyra hidden from people who want to kill her. But Marisa’s maternal instincts have always been suspect, and consistently drugging your child is not in the “good parenting” handbook.
The Magisterium is also looking for Lyra, for a very different reason. As it was revealed in season 2, they believe that she is the new incarnation of Eve, who they consider to be the mother of all sin. They are determined to kill her before she can do whatever it is she is prophesized to do. Father MacPhail enlists Father Gomez, the newly-introduced religious super-zealot, in this task.
Basically, everyone is looking for Lyra. Will is joined on his search by Baruch and Balthamos, a pair of Angels who have come to bring him to Asriel, as well as Iorek. I am so happy to see Iorek back – and considering what happens at the end of “The Break”, he’s going to be important later – but I do wish that they had spent a little more time on their introduction. Iorek is impressed by Will’s daring in challenging him to a fight, and then in the next scene he’s just like, “So you’re looking for Lyra.”
For purely selfish reasons, I wish we had gotten to spend more time with Baruch and Balthamos before Baruch was killed. (By the way, that entire sequence, with Baruch’s final word being his beloved’s name and Balthamos proceeding to go feral, broke my heart. It was so well done.) But then, His Dark Materials has not been a series that focuses on romance. They have more important things to worry about.
In the end, everyone finds Lyra. For whatever reason, Marisa decided to hide in her own world. Will finds them first and makes Marisa believe he is leaving Lyra in her care while secretly planning a rescue attempt. As Will is trying to sneak into Marisa’s hiding place, Father Gomez and the Magisterium’s soldiers have arrived. Marisa plays Gomez like a two-bit fiddle, allowing for Will to cut into Lyra’s room and wake her up.
When Marisa learns that Will has no intention of bringing her with them, she begins to needle him, poking at his guilt and insecurities about having left his mother behind. As a result, Will loses focus and ends up breaking the Knife. This, of course, is devastating for multiple reasons. First, it means that the only weapon that can stand against the Authority is now useless. But it also means that Will and Lyra will be stuck in Lyra’s world unless they can find other gateways.
Will’s escape plan is further compromised when Magisterium soldiers attack them as they leave. Fortunately, he’s got a panserbjørne on his side. Iorek covers their escape while Will, Lyra, and Salmakia (the Gallivespian sent by Asriel to guide Will and Lyra to him), take refuge through the gateway Will had previously opened. But without the Knife, there isn’t much else that they can do.
As a premiere, “The Enchanted Sleeper” and “The Break” do quite nicely. We get some important information, this season’s arc is clearly laid out and established, and there is some stellar action leading up to a cliffhanger. The soundtrack is once again on point, and I am in love with the new opening credits. (I also appreciate how they kept the credits mostly consistent throughout the series, just adding worlds and characters as we went along.) With this as an opener, I’m very excited to see this story come to an end.
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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