His Dark Materials 1×01 Review: “Lyra’s Jordan”
I have been waiting for this series to premiere for years. His Dark Materials, based on the trilogy by Philip Pullman, gets off to a spectacular start with “Lyra’s Jordan”, a perfect introduction to the world for those who may be unfamiliar with it, and a welcome return to those of us who already know it well. With a premiere like this, I know that this series is in good hands.
There is no dilly-dallying in this first episode. “Lyra’s Jordan” hits the ground running, hitting all the major points and bringing in many of the major characters. Already in the first episode, we’ve learned about daemons, Dust, the Northern Lights, the Magisterium, and the missing children, and we’ve met Lyra, Asriel, Mrs. Coulter, most of the Gyptians, and the alethiometer. There is enough information that you can start putting things together and seeing where they’ll end up. This is a story that will unfortunately feel very timely – the quest for truth and knowledge in the face of a powerful force attempting to silence it in order to remain in control. Even without seeing it written, every time they mention Dust you can hear the capital “D”, and the scene in the Magisterium was powerful in its softness.
“Lyra’s Jordan” establishes the world quite well without bogging itself down in exposition. A few brief sentences at the beginning explain the concept of daemons while still leaving enough information to be parsed out through the story – show, don’t tell. I liked very much how they showed Lyra’s and Roger’s daemons changing form so frequently – and smoothly, let’s hope the majority of the SFX budget is spent making sure the daemons always look as realistic as they did in this episode – and very soon after emphasized the importance of a daemon settling by featuring the Gyptians’ ceremony for Tony.
The dramatic introduction of Asriel is fitting for his character (he’s a bit dramatic), and it transitions seamlessly into Lyra and Roger playing around Jordan College. For the purposes of the overall story, it is vitally important to understand Lyra’s innocence, which this first scene captures exceedingly well; two children racing through a university, scaring each other by hiding in coffins and stealing bottles of wine they end up not liking. Dafne Keen does an excellent job at embodying Lyra – she’s precocious without being obnoxious, she’s curious and fiercely loyal. The scene where she tries to work the alethiometer for the first time was very well done; her frustration is palpable. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what else she does with the character.
Of course the gold standard is Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter. Even if you don’t know that she isn’t to be trusted, you can tell. There’s something about her eyes and the way she holds herself that sets off warning bells; you don’t need that shifty look from her golden monkey to understand that there is something sinister about her. But at the same time, you can see the poise and sophistication that attracts Lyra to her. You can see why she’s a force to be reckoned with.
The world of His Dark Materials feels unquestionably real. There is a tangibleness to the entire episode that wasn’t present in the ill-fated cinematic version, The Golden Compass. The cinematography is breathtaking, particularly in the overhead shots of Jordan College. Plus, if the darkness of the opening theme didn’t clue you in, the muted colors and somber tone of the visuals would hammer home the fact that this is not a cheery story. (By the way, that opening sequence? Absolutely gorgeous.) Something magical is going to happen, but it’s not necessarily going to be a good thing.
This series is off to a great start, with “Lyra’s Jordan” being an almost perfect way to begin. I cannot wait to continue on with Lyra’s journey.
Have you seen “Lyra’s Jordan”? What did you think?
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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