His Dark Materials series premiere 1×01, “Lyra’s Jordan” aired on Nov 4, 2019
Welcome to the universe of His Dark Materials. A world that is both alike, but also very different from ours. In this alternate world people are born with “daemons” an outside manifestation of your soul that takes the shape of an animal.
Fans have been waiting for a worthy adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. In the series premiere of this HBO and BBC adaptation Pullman’s world is beautifully rendered. Fans will be filled with joy at the attention to detail that has gone into bringing this universe to life.
The series premiere introduces us to our protagonist, Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), a twelve year old orphan who has grown up within the walls of Jordan College. Lyra is always accompanied by her daemon Pantalaimon (or Pan for short). One of the joys of this episode is watching Lyra run through the rooftops and crypts of Jordan College as Pan shifts shapes.
Lyra years for adventure. Her world is small and lonely, her only friend is a Roger, a kitchen boy who is also an orphan. She dreams of going North with Roger and thinks she might finally get her chance when her Uncle Asriel (James McAvoy) arrives back in Jordan College after a year away in the North.
Asriel’s arrival at Jordan College gets some mixed reactions. Lyra is delighted and sneaks away from her lessons to see him. The Master of the College is less thrilled, as he immediately tries to poison Lord Asriel. Lyra, who has been watching from the window, stops Lord Asriel from drinking the poison.
Lord Asriel is there to give a presentation to the scholars at Jordan College. Lyra conveniently hides in a cupboard and learns about Asriel’s shocking discoveries. He’s brought with him some photographs. One of them, he believes, proves that “Dust” is exclusively attracted to adults and not to children. What is Dust you ask? Well, we don’t know quite yet and neither does Lyra. His other, even more shocking discovery is a photograph that might prove the existence of other worlds.
Look, we just have to say it, Lord Asriel is downright mean to Lyra. She worships him and it’s heartbreaking to see him dismiss her. He leaves for the North without saying goodbye to Lyra. When she follows him into the airstrip, desperate for him to take her to the North with him, he denies her again and tells her he has no time for her. Having said that I love James McAvoy in this role.
Asriel is the only family Lyra knows and he’s so cold to her that it’s not wonder that Mrs. Coulter’s attention wins her over instantly. All it takes is for Mrs. Coulter, a visitor to the college, to mention she’s been to the North for Lyra to agree to become her new assistant. She’s an explorer who dazzles Lyra with stories about everything she’s ever dreamed of seeing. When she agrees to let Roger come along with them it seems all of Lyra’s dreams will finally come true.
Ruth Wilson is probably my favorite casting so far. She really nails the allure of Mrs Coulter while hinting there is something sinister about her and her daemon, a golden monkey.
During the series premiere we are introduced to the Gyptains, a group of people that live on boats. Billy Costa, one of their children goes missing. Roger believes that the Gobblers took him. Lyra thinks the Gobblers are just a child’s story and doesn’t take him seriously.
By the episode’s end Roger has also been taken. It’s Lyra who realizes that Roger is missing and now believes the Gobblers have taken him. Mrs Coulter listens to Lyra’s story and promises to find Roger for Lyra, she just needs to come along with her to London. Lyra agrees to make the journey with her.
The Gyptains also head to London. They are continuing their search for Billy Costa and the many gyptian children that have recently been kidnapped.
A parting gift
The Master and the Librarian at Jordan College worry about Lyra. She has a role to play, and while they want to protect her, it is time for her to leave the College. They know that Lyra has to make a journey that includes a great betrayal. And in sad twist, it is Lyra who will be the betrayer.
As parting gift the Master and the Librarian entrust Lyra with an alethiometer. It’s a mysterious instruments that tells you the truth. Unfortunately she has to keep its existence a secret and it does not come with instructions on how it works. Lyra’s first attempt to use it, when she desperately tries to figure out what happened to Roger is a total failure. Still, when she follows Mrs Coulter to London, she makes sure to bring along the alethiometer
The first episode is slow-paced and exposition heavy, but this all seems necessary to set up the world. As a fan of the books, this episode left me satisfied and excited for what’s to come. It has already taken more risks than the 2007 film adaptation managed to make. His Dark Materials is brimming with potential, I love discovering this world through Lyra’s eyes and can’t wait to see more.
His Dark Materials airs Monday nights, on HBO.