‘His Dark Materials’ 1×03 recap: “The Spies”

His Dark Materials 1×03 “The Spies,” Aired Nov. 18, 2019

On His Dark Materials Lyra finally has adults who are willing to be honest with her and  have some personal autonomy over her life. Having said that, Lyra doesn’t get to do too much this episode, but she is finally headed to the North!

Saved by the gyptians 

Lyra is quickly saved from the Gobblers by Tony Costa and the Gyptains. Ma Costa offers to take Lyra in. Lyra bulks at first, believing herself to be exchanging one prison for another. John Faa and Farder Coram listen to her worries and give her the choice to stay and earn their trust.

Lyra agrees to stay with them for the moment, after all, they also have the same goal: to find the missing children, no matter the cost. Their situation is complicated because of Mrs. Coulter’s relentless pursuit of Lyra. She is forced to hide away in the Gyptian boats, a situation that brings her to her breaking point.

Lyra’s frustration is very real. Sure, the Gyptians told her she’s not forced to stay with them, but they also won’t give a clear answer of how they know so much about her. Over and over, the adults in Lyra’s lie or manipulate her. Plus she can’t understand why Mrs. Coulter keeps looking for her. So yeah, it makes sense when she goes off on Ma Costa and just asks for the truth.

A mother’s love


Ma Costa is the first adult who treats Lyra with any maternal love. She’s a warm figure who listens to Lyra, appreciates her for who she is, and offers advice. She gives Lyra the last piece of the puzzle. Mrs. Coulter will never stop coming after Lyra because she is her mother. A reveal that I’m sure we’ve seen coming, but is still works because it’s brand new information to Lyra.

Ma Costa tells Lyra the whole complicated and messy love story of Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel. A forbidden love full of secrets, murder, and loss which ends with Asriel stealing Lyra away and taking her to Jordan College for protection. Ma Costa was the nurse that took care of Lyra when she was first born and has not forgotten that she failed to protect her when she was a baby. 

Loving gesture? 


Lyra’s mother, Mrs. Coulter is not having a great time. She lost Lyra and every attempt she makes to find her fails. The Master of Jordan College is of no help, so she ransacks his office in anger. Which then makes the Magisterium angry. She ends up breaking the law and sending spy bugs after her (still unclear on why they’re so bad though?). 

Over and over, whe see Mrs. Coulter lose control. Her outburst of anger and desperation, though ill-intentioned are the first honest hints of her love for Lyra. It doesn’t make her sympathetic per se, but it is fascinating to watch her be on edge over this. Even her hateful monkey watches her with a mix of fear and fascination, as if he himself is not sure what she will do next. 

Then Tony Costa, who should listen to his mother more often, and Benjamin break into her apartment. It’s a stupid attempt to get more intel on what Mrs. Coulter is doing with the missing children. The break-in ends with the first real casualty of the season as Benjamin kills himself rather than become Mrs. Coulter’s prisoner. 

Lyra’s totally got this 

Farder Coram is the other gyptian that Lyra gets to bond. They have several important conversations over which he earns Lyra’s trust. One is about daemons, where Lyra says she doesn’t want Pan to settle into one form, and neither does he. 

Lyra decides to trust Farder Coram with her biggest secret and shows him the alethiometer. He’s awed by it and tells Lyra more about how it works, stressing that it will be of now use to them because it takes years of study to master it. So of course, like ten seconds later, Lyra successfully uses it. It’s an absolutely amazing scene to watch. As a fan of the books, it’s one of those moments where the magic of the books leaps into screen and I’m filled with just pure joy. 

Further Musings:

  • Is Lord Boreal just going to pop to Other Oxford  every week? How many associates does he have and how does he find them? I’m imagining his Craiglist ad:  “Hi Traveller from another world, up to some shenanigans. Need some part-time spying. Only serious inquiries, thanks.”
  • WILL PARRY UPDATE: We got a picture! Also, his dad is played by Andrew Scott. I. CAN’T. WAIT. 
  • Pan continues to be the best, I love that he’s such a smartass towards Lyra. 

Next week: Lin Manuel Miranda and armored bears! Who’s excited? 

His Dark Materials airs on HBO Monday nights. 


Gabriela Acevedo

Gaby is a TV-obsessed fangirl and writer. Television is her true love, but movies and books aren't far behind. Currently living in Los Angeles, she's originally from Puerto Rico, which is still her favorite place in the world. Find her on twitter @gabsteramy.

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