Lyra and Will reach the other shore and truly begin their journey through the Land of the Dead. Marisa refuses to quietly accept her fate. Metatron responds to Asriel’s challenge. “No Way Out” and “The Abyss” hurtle us towards the finish line and the looming War.
There was some skepticism when it was revealed at New York Comic Con that HBO would be releasing two episodes a week. The news felt very much like a network burning off the last of a show’s episodes. If His Dark Materials hadn’t only been scheduled for three seasons, I might have been concerned. Not to mention, halving the amount of time a show is on the air doesn’t allow much time to build an audience.
However, when watching “No Way Out” and “The Abyss”, I couldn’t help but feel that it was actually a good thing that HBO decided to double up the episodes. These two episodes complement each other perfectly. It’s not just that you get to see Lyra and Will’s adventures in the Land of the Dead in one night. We also get to experience the full scope of the emotional journey Marisa and Asriel have when they think that Lyra is dead.
Honestly, it may be difficult for me to review these last few episodes. I just couldn’t watch them with a critical eye; I was too engrossed in the story. My notes are brief and mostly caps lock. (Also a lot of ranting about the Magisterium.) Nonetheless, I shall do my best! Forgive me if this review is shorter than the first two.
I believe I mentioned last week how excited I was to see the world of the Mulefa. It did not disappoint. Aside from the fact that they absolutely nailed the Mulefa themselves (talking fuzzy elephants who roller skate, how could you not love them?), the world itself is gorgeous. Idyllic and peaceful, with gigantic trees and friendly animals. It is, after all, meant to represent Eden.
We haven’t spent all that much time with Mary since she walked through the gateway at the end of season 2. She’s just kind of been meandering along. But now the serpent is in Eden, and with nothing to do but wait, she begins learning about the Mulefa, including their language. Something I like about this sequence is how ambiguous it is. How long is she there, that she can learn their language so well? Or is she just that smart? Or is it because she’s sleeping inside the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?
(Side note: Can I express a little bit of displeasure that the titular spyglass is not actually a spyglass and just a circular piece of amber? Bit of a letdown.)
Just in case you missed the religious symbolism in, you know, the world where the church is in charge, people’s souls are visible, and they’re about to go to war with God, “No Way Out” and “The Abyss” will lead you gently by the hand, then punch you in the face with it. Actually, it’s not so much symbolism as it is, like, the literal plot.
His Dark Materials is one of the things that cemented my agnosticism. Look at the vastly different ways that the Magisterium and the witches look at Eve’s fall. The priests consider Eve to be the ultimate evil, that her fall will doom mankind. When Father Gomez offers to go take out the serpent as a way to prove his devotion, I couldn’t help but wonder why that wasn’t the plan first. No, of course, it makes sense to kill the little girl and not whatever is going to tempt her.
But the witches talk about Eve’s fall as an act of bravery. She questioned authority. She dared to think for herself. And in turn, she was labeled as evil and blamed for everyone’s sin.
Basically, everything you ever thought was a lie. That’s something that’s emphasized when Lyra and Will travel through the Land of the Dead. Lyra is horrified at what happens to the souls, wandering around in near darkness, forever searching. She cannot believe that is what happens when a person dies. And later, a woman also rails against it, remarking that she spent her entire life praying, hoping for a beautiful afterlife that wasn’t going to come.
I loved the Land of the Dead. The endless walls of objects, people’s forgotten memories. Voices in the dark. Everyone drained of color. When Lyra and Will were listening to the harpies, and you could see the life drain out of Will. Everything was so haunting.
But then Lyra helps Roger to remember, and it makes the souls hungry. I loved the aspect of people’s lights turning on as they remembered. It even seemed like a little life came back into Roger as he and Lyra talked. That was such a neat detail. And it shows that one of the greatest weapons in anyone’s arsenal is hope. All of those souls were willing to follow Lyra and Will, with no guarantee that they would be able to help, just because they hoped things would be better.
Lyra and Will go through a lot in “No Way Out” and “The Abyss”. Both of them are able to reunite with people they feel they failed. Roger tells Lyra that what happened to him wasn’t her fault; ultimately, he chose to go with her, because he wanted to. Lyra has been carrying that guilt around forever, and getting to see Roger and help free his soul will alleviate a lot of her burden.
Will, likewise, is able to see his father again. They had such little time in the real world, and it’s so unfair that he can only see him again in the Land of the Dead. But Will, for all he barely knew his father, has felt terrible for not following through on his father’s dying wish. He needed to hear that he did the right thing, that helping people is what’s important, and that his father is proud of him. (Side note: I am in love with the score from that scene. It was so beautiful.)
Even Lee gets closure. He died not knowing if Lyra would be ok, and now he has seen that she is alive and well and continuing to do the impossible. I will admit, I teared up when he walked through the gateway, anxious to be with Hester again. (Truth be told, I’m tearing up now just writing about it!)
On the other side, Marisa and Asriel also undergo their own journeys. In the span of two episodes, these two unbelievably selfish people are finally able to acknowledge that they actually love their daughter. The lengths that Marisa went through, to escape from the Magisterium and save Lyra, only to believe that she had failed in the end. (That scene where Metatron appears in the Magisterium was so well done. I was terrified!) Seriously, just give Ruth Wilson the Emmy right now.
Meanwhile, Asriel is so blasé about it that I really, really hated him in that moment. But when Marisa fully confronted him with the situation – that Lyra was killed because Metatron was retaliating against Asriel – you could see tears in his eyes. That may be the first genuine emotion he’s shown in this entire series. Still, I think it wasn’t until his conversation with Iorek (which was spectacular, Iorek should be on my screen always) that he realized just how special Lyra is. He’s never been willing to admit that before.
That is quite a lot of growth from these two in a short span of time. You love to see it. But I can also appreciate what a humbling experience it must be for Asriel, to go through all of this effort to change the world, and the most he ever did was create Lyra.
With only two episodes left in the series, we are crashing into a war against Heaven. Hold on tight, because it’s going to be quite a ride.
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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