Synopsis: With Lyra (Dafne Keen) at the compound where the experiments are bearing fruit, she must convince the other children, being held, that they have only one option, if they’re to survive: fight. However, Lyra herself must first survive, if she has any hope of battling alongside the other captured children. She is awaiting the arrival of her contingency, to help her and the others regain their freedom.
Any good narrative needs motivations to help explain actions, and tie them to the plot. The writers get that difficult balance weighted brilliantly, in this episode. A much needed picking up of the pace is seen. At this stage, big moments are needed. They certainly arrive. Lyra (Dafne Keen) faces an irreversible loss, that potentially threatens to end existence for her, as she knows it.
Roger (Lewin Lloyd) finally gets more screen time in this episode, and his dictation to Lyra helps to really paint the picture of how awful the events that are unfolding are, at Bolvangar. What’s not been seen is wonderfully captured, as Roger struggles to talk of what he has learned is going on.
Another crucial element of the story is Lee Scoresby’s (Lin-Manuel Miranda) talk with Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas) . As well as depicting Scoresby as the reluctant hero, and would be doubter of the importance in a higher purpose, it also cleverly re-iterates this aspect. The overarching significance of this element is what makes Philip Pullman’s story count as epic. Lyra is well and truly cast as the hero of the saga, and her role defined as critical.
Ruth Wilson’s Miss Coulter is an absolute masterclass of a performance. She captures the nuance and the remains of the inner child, still trying to exist, within her. Still stifled. The emotions are brilliantly expressed, simultaneously. Sacrifice, guilt, confusion. All things so often attributed to those who are subjected to religious (Catholic Dogma, specifically) stigma. It can’t be overstated how intrinsically essential this is to get right here. Wilson excels and presents a version of Miss Coulter Pullman must surely be proud of.
A strong supporting cast also helps to keep the atmosphere of tension alive. Their depictions of wardens who have been brainwashed, and/or live under a constant threat of fear were remarkable. It’s easy to easily dismiss those who aren’t the stars of the show, as expendable. They played their part in helping to make visible the effects of subversion and banal terror.
In her now established role as the show’s leading part, Dafne Keen continues to demonstrate why she is receiving so much critical acclaim. She shows a maturity some actors never achieve, in a lifetime. She can switch from damaged child to vengeful victim, in a blink. Taking on the role of a beloved literary character isn’t something that always works well. It does, here. Keen makes the role her own, by being exactly what’s required of her, in the moment.
CGI and Action
Whilst there’s no one huge stunt in this installment, there is a great deal going on. The compound looks and feels like somewhere akin to Auschwitz, perhaps. The children who have been experimented on are shaven-headed, and appear gaunt and frail. Touches like this, coupled with the lack of any individuality (dull, identical boiler suits) coalesce to make for a very dark atmosphere, that lingers in the consciousness well after the show has ended. Easy to attain to, not easy to achieve to this hauntingly tangible standard. Great effects are not just the result of computers and stunt persons. Simple, attention to detail can make all the difference. This is evidence of exactly that.
Lee Scoresby’s balloon is impressive, in as much as the visuals are done from the interior view. It didn’t feel as if the camera work made things cramped, or that they were an afterthought. How they showed the canvas wobbling, due to the dreaded Cliff-Ghasts was another win for the BBC team. The creatures themselves are worthy of a mention, too. They appeared only in flashes, which was an intelligent touch. It maintained their status as sinister.
The legendary Iorek Byrnison wasn’t present in abundance, this time around. Despite that, when he was on screen, he was made to count. His slow-paced talking offers a presence on screen that’s visually symbolic of the auditory Godliness of Ian Mckellan. More evidence of managing to get an icon from book to screen, with aplomb.
With a great deal to do, in terms of world-building, this week’s installment married that responsibility to individual performances. Scenes that were weeks in the build-up finally paid off. particularly Lyra’s confrontation with her mother. There was a definite Gothic feel to that exchange, and the raw emotion communicated with deftness, and nuance. The themes of the show came through with subtlety, and made for some of the best drama on television, currently.
A culmination of all that’s been achieved so far was offered, with the ending. A brilliant cliff-hanger that gives a well-needed dip, following the rise which those viewers root for had just worked so hard to obtain. A roller-coaster of an episode that sets up what’s to come, and leaves a real excitement to know. Great stuff, from a stellar cast, and talented team.
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