The stakes have never been higher as we begin the final season of this epic fantasy saga.
On His Dark Materials Season 3 Episode 1, the stage is set for an adventure that will span many worlds.
It has been two years since the cliffhanger ending of Season 2 (based on Book 2 of the series, The Subtle Knife).
When we last saw Lyra, she had been abducted by her mother, Mrs. Coulter. Now, Lyra is being held against her will, drugged.
Mrs. Coulter will never win mother of the year, but she will do all she can to protect her daughter -- and only her daughter -- from the Magisterium.
All these men after you, I tell you, it’ll never change.Mrs. Coulter
Ruth Wilson has always been an indomitable force as Mrs. Coulter. She's a deeply repressed woman. Notice how her daemon cannot (or will not) speak to her. But Lyra is the one good thing she has done, even though she would torture and murder other children.
Mrs. Coulter is a despicable character for many reasons, but when she argues her point, she makes it sound believable and firmly believes what she is saying. She's an expert manipulator, rich with nuance and despair, and you have to admire her strength and audacity.
Here’s the trick they never tell you -- your mother needs you. That bond, it stretches, it transforms, but it never breaks. Why? Because the line from here to here matters more than any line in nature. It’s primal. It’s beautiful. It overwhelms all other things if you let it.Mrs. Coulter
On the other side of the coin, we have James McAvoy's Lord Asriel, who, again, is not above harming other children if it means protecting his daughter.
Asriel only sees people (and angels and witches) in how they can be helpful to him. He will find Lyra and bring her to safety, not because she's his daughter but because she is with the boy with the "god-killing" knife.
You can see how Mrs. Coulter and Asriel were attracted to each other -- both are people who will let nothing stand in the way of what they want.
I am Lord Asriel Belacqua. I intend to march on the Kingdom of Heaven, and I should very much like you to join me.Lord Asriel
Episode 1 has little momentum. There's so much explaining and establishing to do. The opening narration to catch viewers up about the history of the war on Heaven makes sense, but it's a bit info-dumpy.
It's necessary, though. It has, after all, been two years since the end of Season 2. Will doesn't seem to have any sense of direction until the angels show up.
The approach to angels here is fascinating and very in line with the old religious texts. They are magnificent beings, unfathomable to humans, ancient but not indestructible. They have feelings and long-term relationships, and some care more about humans than others.
Humankind cannot stand against its Creator.Commander Ogunwe
This is sci-fi/fantasy at its most daring -- thought-provoking, with imperfect, complex characters and morally grey villains. You wouldn't think a father would be able to do that.
Asriel is dynamic and forceful. He is fighting for the freedom of all worlds, so he's not evil, per se, but he's definitely not nice.
Alarbus being tortured in the intercision chamber was a disturbing sequence.
It shows just how far Asriel will go, and McAvoy treats his character with such cold determination. You can see that glint in his eye and wonder if he almost enjoys inflicting pain on Alarbus, someone who serves a brutal tyrant like the Authority.
You know what else is interesting? Dust. Fascinating stuff. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to understand it. I once killed an innocent young boy in order to harness it. But no one, before this moment, has ever tried to weaponize it.Lord Asriel
So much attention to detail and craft has gone into this show. Talking animals could come off as silly, but they are well done to the point of realism that it's easy to forget they're only animated.
The show is so epically filmed that it truly gives the sense of traveling between universes.
The opening credits sequence gives me chills every time. For a book reader, all the hints at what's to come are so exciting. It has earned its epic status.
While the show's effects, music, cinematography, and production design are all impeccably realized, the casting really ties it all together.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost's Mr. Eko) is a perfect choice for Commander Ogunwe.
Though I miss his daemon from the book, having him come from a different universe makes him a useful audience surrogate, as he can ask the questions we are thinking and get explanations without seeming too expository from a storytelling point of view.
Yesterday I believed that angels were merely symbols, and witches were villains in children’s stories.Commander Ogunwe
Jamie Ward's Father Gomez has an odd, albeit consistent, line delivery in that he pauses for dramatic effect in the middle of every sentence. It's like he's trying to do a Rickman but doesn't have the gravitas.
Still, he's suitably, quietly evil. Gomez is dangerous because he represents a new generation willing to carry out the dogma of his forebearers, indoctrinated and ready. He's an example of how even the most deeply toxic religions can persist and survive longer than human lifetimes.
Fear is a gift. It allows people to learn.Father Gomez
Amber Fitzgerald-Woolfe is tender and expressive as Ama, the little girl who helps Will and Lyra escape. She's quite different from the Ama of the book, but the integration of sign language here was an inspired addition to her character. It's also worth noting that "Ama" means "soul."
His Dark Materials Season 3 Episode 2 saw the return of Simone Kirby's Dr. Mary Malone.
Kirby has such a magnanimous presence on screen that she's like the antithesis of Mrs. Coulter. Dr. Mary is the most maternal of all the characters, and she isn't even a mother. She exudes warmth, and though we only got a little bit of her here, there is certainly more to come.
Her journey throughout the third book is my favorite plotline of the entire series. If you know, you know!
The Amber Spyglass, upon which His Dark Materials Season 3 is based, expertly brought the book series to its conclusion.
The television series has done well with its first two seasons, bringing Pullman's world to life in all its glory. This is a strong opening overall and promises to be a continually faithful adaptation.
It was wise to air the episodes back to back, as Episode 2 gets things moving along much more rapidly than Episode 1.
The child actors are no longer children but young adults. It speaks to their maturation that they have grown into even stronger young actors.
Dafne Keen and Amir Wilson are the heart of the series, and when they are together, it feels like nothing else matters. With only six episodes left, they are hurtling towards their destiny like an intention craft.
There are a few differences from the books, and there will likely be more. Some things are virtually unfilmable. It is a different medium, and things have to be adapted.
Some of the fantasy elements land better than others.
The Gallivespians, the little high-tech fairy-like people, don't quite work as well as they do on the page; they're harder to take seriously.
Pullman's world is rich and inventive, turning so many tropes on their head and mining so many mythologies for characters and such. The infinity of it all can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it's endlessly engrossing.
Pullman said of writing the series that he wanted to create a "Paradise Lost for kids." In fact, this is where his title comes from:
"Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain/His dark materials to create more worlds,--/Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend/Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,/Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith/He had to cross."
-John Milton, "Paradise Lost"
His Dark Materials has always been filled with intense subject matter.
Today we have been offered an opportunity. The opportunity to purge this world -- to purge these worlds -- of all that has been ailing them. We are going to release the righteous from sin.Father President MacPhail
The series has dealt with the kidnapping and indoctrination of children by religious rulers, the dangers of theocratic government, dangerous narcissists as parents, and the intensity of puberty.
The television series has never shied away from how dangerous the world could be for children; though it is a fantasy, these are all things that exist in our world.
Will and Lyra are certainly older here than they are in the books, but they are still children and have so much to navigate. All they want is to be children while they can and be allowed to live normally.
The series takes the material seriously, holding it with reverence, but there is still a sense of magical wonder.
It's always been a bold choice to make a fantasy series about the quest to kill God. Unlike the first film adaptation, the show doesn't shy away from its atheist leanings. It forces its readers and viewers to examine their own beliefs and question our inherent morality outside of religion.
Fear is a gift. It allows people to learn.Father Gomez
Are you excited about the final installments of this series?
Are you a book reader ready to watch this beloved story reach its epic conclusion (but, of course, not ready for it to be over)?
Share your thought in the comments.
Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.