It all ends here, everyone. At last, the journey has concluded. What started as a simple fantasy series where everyone had an animal companion that was actually the physical manifestation of their soul turned into a philosophical allegory about what makes us human. “The Clouded Mountain” and “The Botanic Garden”, the last two episodes in the final season of His Dark Materials, provided an action-packed, suitably emotional farewell to these characters.
I mentioned in my review of last week’s episodes that I felt that the decision to release the final season’s episodes in pairs may have actually been a wise decision. I couldn’t imagine watching “No Way Out” and “The Abyss” with a break in between. Likewise, “The Clouded Mountain” and “The Botanic Garden” are the perfect finale for this series, but if you had to wait a week after “The Clouded Mountain” to see “The Botanic Garden”, you might have felt a little let down.
“The Clouded Mountain” holds most of the action of the climax. For all of season 3, we have been hearing about Asriel’s war against the Authority. We’ve seen his army amassing. We’ve seen how little he cares for anything else – including his own daughter (though when has he ever really cared for Lyra?) – in his goal of saving humanity from the universe’s biggest lie. Now, finally, the war has come.
I’d be very interested to hear the opinion of someone who hasn’t read the books. While the battle was very visually impressive, I am a little disappointed because some very important characters weren’t there. For example, Iorek and his panserbjørn fought for Asriel’s forces in the books. And when Asriel met Iorek last week in “The Abyss”, I thought for sure he would agree to join the fight. Similarly, some of the souls that Lyra and Will met in the Land of the Dead had also agreed to fight (they were actually meant to protect their Daemons from the Spectres).
But while I missed those who were missing, it was quite well done cinematically. The titular Clouded Mountain was beautiful and empty and void of anything resembling paradise. The visual of the angels joining the fray on Asriel’s side was breathtaking. And I couldn’t help but hold my breath the moment Marisa took control of the Spectres and essentially destroyed them. That scene was so unbelievably badass.
Though the battle itself wasn’t all that I hoped, the important aspect of the fight was Marisa and Asriel’s confrontation with Metatron. It’s never really quite explained why Marisa and her Daemon are so distant with each other. (She does comment on it somewhat when she admits that her Daemon hates her.) However, that strained relationship means that Marisa is the perfect person to get close to Metatron. She is extremely practiced at burying her true emotions, she’s a supremely accomplished liar, and she is used to flattering mediocre men to bend them to her will.
Here, in this moment, is where His Dark Materials needed to hit the emotional beats, and I think “The Clouded Mountain” delivered. I never thought I would cry when Marisa and Asriel died (I can’t remember if I cried when I read the books, but let’s be honest, it’s me, I’m sure I did), but Ruth Wilson and James McAvoy gave such truly fantastic performances. Here are two of the most selfish people on the planet, and they are making the ultimate sacrifice (not just death, but complete and total oblivion for eternity) for the daughter they never really cared about before.
I think the moment that did me in the most was Lyra reaching out to Marisa’s Daemon, only for the monkey to disappear before they could touch. And, ok, Stelmaria coming in at the last second to knock them into the abyss, and then vanish before Asriel’s eyes, was also pretty heartbreaking.
While we’re on the subject of Daemon’s, Will’s Daemon! I was bummed that we didn’t see her on the dock in the Land of the Dead, but I knew we would eventually get to see her.
I love so much how Will is this prophesied warrior. The knife-bearer, Æsahættr, the one who wields the only weapon that can defeat the Authority. Will told his father that it wasn’t in him to be a soldier, but what ultimately defeats the Authority is Will’s kindness. He cuts into the Authority’s prison to help, and the Authority is so decrepit that he just fades away. After the dramatic display that was Metatron’s death, I love that the Authority just turns into Dust, and Lyra and Will shrug and go on about their day. In order for them to do what they need to do, they can’t know what they’re doing.
“The Botanic Garden” gives us the denouement. So often in series like this, the audience doesn’t get to see the aftermath. His Dark Materials shows us what happens after Asriel’s great war. And really, it’s just two kids being kids. After the chaos of “The Clouded Mountain”, it seems like such a low-key way to end a series. But when it comes down to it, it’s all about the characters. And that’s why “The Botanic Garden” shines.
I think “The Botanic Garden” portrayed Lyra and Will’s relationship much better than The Amber Spyglass did, but that’s likely due to the advantages of the medium. There are things you can do in a television show that are much more difficult to pull off in a book. They have been laying the groundwork for the change in their relationship essentially from the beginning, but definitely from the beginning of this season. And Lyra and Will are so endearingly sweet that I feel like you can’t help but root for them.
Again, I’ll admit to being disappointed a bit, because I was hoping to see Iorek again. And I was absolutely expecting to see the Gyptians again, whom we haven’t seen since season 1. I think it was so sad that when Lyra finally returned to Jordan College, no one was there to greet her. I suppose that’s part of the point – she’s essentially lost everyone that was important to her – but I still would have liked to have seen some reunion.
Although I’d wager that a happy reunion would have taken away from the bittersweet melancholy of the ending. I have been dreading this from the beginning, because as much as I love Lyra and Will, I knew that they wouldn’t be able to stay together. I ugly cried through most of the final episode, especially during the montage of Will and Lyra visiting their bench in their respective worlds.
What I love about the message of His Dark Materials is that our beliefs are often framed by a particular perspective. The Magisterium was after Lyra because they believed her to be the embodiment of sin. But it turns out that the fall they were so worried about wasn’t anything bad, it was Lyra falling in love. Love isn’t a sin. Likewise, Gomez excitedly informing Balthamos of his plan to kill Lyra, thinking that the Angel would be ok with him murdering a child. What a fundamental misunderstanding of the precepts you’ve dedicated your life to.
This series also is an accurate representation of life. Marisa’s Daemon disappearing before Lyra was able to touch him is a metaphor for all those missed possibilities. Could their relationship have been different if Marisa had taken those steps earlier? We will unfortunately never know, and Lyra is left with unanswered questions.
Not only that, but Lyra and Will experience the unfairness of life in that they are permitted to meet, form a connection, and then were forced apart by circumstances outside their control. Life is often bittersweet. It’s made up of meetings and partings. One could argue that it was a blessing they were able to meet in the first place, and I’d bet that neither of them would trade that love for the bliss of ignorance.
In the end, I’m extremely satisfied with His Dark Materials as an adaptation. “The Clouded Mountain” and “The Botanic Garden” in particular really nailed the essence and emotion of the series. While there were some aspects of the books that I would have loved to see, ultimately I don’t think they could have done it any better. These two episodes were the perfect way to cap off a superbly-done series.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe it’s time for a rewatch.
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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