His Dark Materials 1×03 Review: “The Spies”
Things are moving right along on His Dark Materials. “The Spies” focuses on the quest for information – information on the missing children, on Lyra’s whereabouts, on Grumman, on the alethiometer – yet everything we learn just leads to more questions.
This is the part of the books where the plot really gets going, and “The Spies” is actually quite a packed episode even though it doesn’t seem like that much happens. They have moved up the two big reveals of the first book – Lyra’s parentage – which I have no problem with. It’s different in the book, because we are solely in Lyra’s head, but many characters know about Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, and it would feel disingenuous to keep a lid on that knowledge until later. It is much more organic to have this information be revealed at this point in the story, especially with how it’s come out.
Along those lines, I love how we are already starting on the plot of the second book with the reveal of Grumman aka John Parry and that he’s from “our” Oxford. We even got our first glimpse of a very important character! As I said in last week’s review, I think introducing this stuff early will make it less jarring (and possibly alienating) when we move to The Subtle Knife next season. I also love seeing Boreal not knowing what the heck is going on in the other world, like staring at the boot on his car or being flustered by the computers.
The acting was once again fantastic in this episode. Mrs. Coulter is becoming more unhinged and Ruth Wilson is phenomenal at showing her semi-slow descent into madness. Amazingly, I think this humanizes her a bit, showing the cracks in her armor. Villains who are just 100% evil are boring; I don’t sympathize with her at all, but at least this way you can see how people are drawn to her, and she isn’t just cold and uncaring.
Dafne Keen was also stellar, especially during the scene where Ma Costa revealed that Mrs. Coulter is her mother; you could really feel her desperation. (Her speech to the Gyptians was a little ridiculous, though, and it takes away from John Faa’s character.) Though I feel the show has matured her perhaps a bit too much. In the books, she eventually got the nickname of Lyra Silvertongue, yet in this show, we have barely seen her lie. She’s a bit more feisty in “The Spies” than she has been previously, but she still seems a bit dampened.
Speaking of Ma Costa, I am so glad Anne-Marie Duff has been given more to do than just cry; I mean, it’s understandable, she just lost her son, but it’s nice getting to see a whiff of the spitfire she is. (I can’t say I liked that line about why Lyra had to keep the spy fly, however.)
I’m loving the cinematography in this series. “The Spies” has some amazing shots; the framing is great, the use of color is great. There are also some great directorial choices, like keeping Mrs. Coulter and her daemon apart (the scene where he’s on the other side of the window while she’s on the ledge) or showing Lyra’s destroyed room when Tony was escaping the penthouse.
There is a really great parallel in this episode – there are two sets of spies (Tony and Benjamin, the spy flies) and in each set, only one returns.
I think the daemons, in general, are much better in the series than they were in the movie, but I think they fail to capture the nature of the human/daemon relationship and the culture around it. Mrs. Coulter and her daemon are, I think, handled extremely well, because they’re meant to have an unusual relationship. And I like the little detail of Ma Costa and Tony wearing those gauntlet things on their arms, since both have them have bird daemons. But I don’t get the sense of closeness that I should be seeing between Lyra and Pan. They don’t get a whole lot of scenes together, so I’m hoping that future scenes will help develop their relationship more.
All in all, I am really enjoying His Dark Materials. I feel like the show is true to the spirit and tone of the books, and the acting, cinematography, and music are all exceptionally well done.
Have you seen “The Spies”? 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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