His Dark Materials, a BBC adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy of the same name, started off by weaving a narrative that situates the series’ main character, Lyra (Dafne Keen), solidly on the path to her destiny. The series is back with episode two, “The Idea of North.” The first episode of the series, “Lyra’s Jordan” worked to introduce us to the world by just dropping us into its magic and adventure.
The episode worked to set Lyra up in an adventure bigger than herself, using the Jordan College walls to showcase the grand scale of the future. However, we not only saw a foreshadowing of her adventure North, but we also saw the darkness in the story, the Gobblers. Stealing the Gyptian child Billy and Lyra’s friend Roger, spiriting them away to London and leaving no traces. Lyra, pushed by her friend’s disappearance and the need to know more after listening in on her uncle Asrial’s presentation, headed off to London, with the Gyptians taking the river in their own quest to save their children.
Now, in episode two, “The Idea of North,” Lyra is in London, dropped into the grand world of a new place with her new caretaker, the female scholar Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson). Amazed by the world around her as she dines with Mrs. Coulter at a restaurant filled with antiquities, Keen brings out the curiosity in her character. Lyra is willful, but she is above all else looking for something beyond herself. She weaves tales to Mrs. Coulter, who is quick to ask her to hide her fantastical ideas, pushing her to change to fit the world in the guise of protecting her from those who would demean her.
“The Idea of North” is a stellar episode that continues to world build while also showcasing Lyra’s discovery of the darkness in the world. For the former, Pan (Kit Connor) and Lyra are at the center of the episode, their relationship as human and daemon take center stage as the episode uses them explore the rules of the relationship. Instead of providing us with dialogue-based exposition, we’re shown how the daemons are connected to their humans. The pain inflicted on one is pain inflicted on the other. Tethered together, their souls can not be too far apart, and if one of them dies, so does the other.
This relationship will be key to understanding the world of His Dark Materials as the story continues and establishing it now in a visual way does the heavy lifting to allow the story to flow freely. Additionally, “The Idea of North,” like episode one, doesn’t handhold the audience, instead, it drops you into new settings, worlds, and just lets you experience them, in their mystery and their grandeur.
But the relationship between human and daemon, between Pan and Lyra, is also used to showcase Lyra discovering the darkness in Mrs. Coulter, the hopelessness of being unable to find Roger, the crushing containment of being formed into someone new. At the beginning of the episode, Mrs. Coulter tells Lyra that she can be extraordinary. While Pan is hesitant of the beautiful woman and her monkey daemon, Lyra is bewitched, stunned by the possibility. “No one has ever said I could be extraordinary before,” Lyra tells Pan to quell his suspicion.
But throughout the episode, Mrs. Coulter is pushing Lyra into a gilded cage, removing her curiosity and instilling it with compliance. Then, Mrs. Coulter’s cruelty rears its head when she instructs her daemon to assault Pan, and as such, Lyra. Crushed physically and emotionally, “The Idea of North” pushes Lyra into a choice. Does she stay in Mrs. Coulter’s dangerous cage, and submit to both her and the Church, or does she become someone who finds people who are lost? She chooses the latter, and Keen shows that she is the perfect choice to play Lyra.
While Lyra’s story is the focus of the episode, we also get to see the Gyptians as they raid the houses used by the Gobblers to hold abducted children. As they bust through windows looking for their children, we realize that the Church is behind the kidnappings. With the Gyptians closing in, yet so far away, we also get to see Roger and Billy, taken, trapped, and we can’t help but feel for them.
“The Idea of North” is a wonderful episode that continues to prove the strength of the series as not only an adaptation of Pullman’s work but as a series in its own right. It’s magical and dark and presents themes that highlight the struggle women and girls face to succeed and how they must change to do so. This adaptation also basks in Pullman’s commentary on the corruption of organized religion instead of watering it down like the 2000s film. His Dark Materials continues to dive into the meat of the trilogy, not shy away from it.
His Dark Materials airs every Monday in the US on HBO at 8pm CT/9pm ET.
His Dark Materials, Episode 2 - The Idea of North
- Rating - 10/1010/10
“The Idea of North” is a wonderful episode that continues to prove the strength of the series as not only an adaptation of Pullman’s work but as a series in its own right. It’s magical and dark and presents themes that highlight the struggle women and girls face to succeed and how they must change to do so.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.