Warning: this article contains spoilers for episode two of the BBC’s His Dark Materials, so do not read on unless you are fully up to date…
The series introduced us to Lyra (Dafne Keen), a plucky young girl who lives in an alternate version of Oxford with her dæmon, Pantalaimon.
When her uncle, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), comes to visit, Lyra is thrust into the middle of a mystery: what is dust? And why is everyone so afraid of Lord Asriel’s findings?
The show’s second episode was filled with more questions, as we spent time with Lyra and the glamourous Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson) in London, while also learning the fate of Lyra’s friend Roger, who was kidnapped in episode one by the Gobblers.
Here are the questions we’ve been left with after episode two…
Is Mrs Coulter the villain of the show?
Mrs Coulter first pitches herself as a friend and mentor to Lyra who, after a lifetime of being surrounded by old men in the world of academia, is impressed to find a successful woman.
When the pair head to London, Lyra is impressed with Mrs Coulter’s huge flat and seems to view the woman as a mother-figure of sorts. But things soon start to go downhill.
Mrs Coulter is frequently impatient with Lyra, and snaps at her for “lying” when she tells stories about her time at Oxford, but it’s an argument between the pair which ends in violence that clears Lyra’s eyes as to what Mrs Coulter is: cruel and out to use Lyra.
After a Magesterium official visits Mrs Coulter’s home and threatens her, Lyra confronts her. The ensuing argument sees Mrs Coulter command her dæmon, a golden monkey, to attack Pantalaimon, an act that physically hurts Lyra as well. During the argument, Mrs Coulter also reveals that Lord Asriel is in fact Lyra’s father, and not her uncle as she has always thought.
Growing ever more suspicious, Lyra tries to investigate what Mrs Coulter is up to, before eventually running away during a party. The only thing she takes with her is her alethiometer, which she still hasn’t been able to make work.
It’s still not clear what Mrs Coulter is up to, but her behaviour towards Lyra has been both physically and emotionally abusive, and she’s also somehow involved in the kidnappings of young children – more on that in a second – so it’s clear she’s not exactly a force for good (despite her excellent wardrobe).
Why are the Gobblers kidnapping children?
In episode one, a Gyptian boy called Billy and Lyra’s friend Roger both went missing, said to have been kidnapped by the Gobblers, and this week we see the two boys – and a host of other children – being held captive.
The children are living in a dorm room in what appears to be a run-down building, watched over by a sinister-looking nurse. At one point, annoyed at Lyra, Mrs Coulter visits the children, who are captivated by her. She tells them they are going on an adventure and they should write letters to their friends and family. It’s a ruse to identify Roger, who decides to write a letter to Lyra. After leaving the children, Mrs Coulter burns all of their letters.
Later in the programme, we see the children being told by the nurse that they are leaving for the north.
During her investigations, Lyra realises Mrs Coulter may be involved in the kidnappings; a reporter tells her that the Gobblers get their name from the General Oblation Board, which is part of the Magesterium, and which Mrs Coulter is the leader of.
Also finding out more about the Gobblers are the Gyptians, who come close to finding the children during a raid on an abandoned property; unfortunately, they’re a little too late, as the children have been moved.
How connected are humans and their dæmons?
We know that dæmons are a physical manifestation of a person’s soul that takes the form of an animal.
Children’s dæmons can change shapes – Lyra’s dæmon Patalaimon mostly takes the form of a ferret, but we’ve also seen him as a butterfly, a cat and more – but once someone reaches adulthood, their dæmon settled in one form.
We knew already that dæmons and humans are inextricably linked, but in episode two we found out just how close that bond is. As well as seeing that Lyra was in physical pain when her dæmon was attacked by Mrs Coulter’s, in episode two we also saw that a human will die if their dæmon dies; Lord Boreal demonstrated this when he killed the dæmon of a reporter who had gatecrushed Mrs Coulter’s party.
But there’s something more sinister going on as well: even though humans and dæmons are supposed to be inseparable, we know that Mrs Coulter and her dæmon can be physically apart. This comes as a surprise to Lyra, who says it should hurt for the pair to be parted. Of course, Mrs Coulter tells Lyra she was imagining things when she thought she saw the golden monkey at the other end of the corridor from Mrs Coulter, but we know it’s Mrs Coulter who’s lying…
And of course, when Lord Boreal (Ariyon Bakare) steps through into modern-day Oxford, his dæmon disappears. But does this mean that if someone from modern-day Oxford were to step into Lyra’s world, their dæmon would appear?
How did Lord Boreal travel to modern-day Oxford?
Episode two’s biggest reveal concerned the fact that the Oxford of our reality also exists, and that people can travel between the two.
Lord Boreal, who is part of the Magesterium and who is trying to discover more about what Lord Asriel discovered in the north, is seen at Jordan College. He then makes his way to an abandoned outbuilding, and disappears after stepping through a silver-looking “cut” in the air. When we see him again, he’s in our Oxford, where he meets another man in a coffee shop and talks to him about Lord Asriel.
Later, we see Lord Boreal back in Lyra’s Oxford, where he leads a reporter out of a party hosted by Mrs Coulter, and kills her by killing her dæmon.
In Pullman’s books, we don’t know our version of Oxford exists until the second book, so seeing Lord Boreal step through into a modern version of Lyra’s city was a huge surprise. In book two, The Subtle Knife, openings exist between our worlds and can also be cut using the knife of the title, which we haven’t yet seen.
One thing that is clear from our glimpse of modern-day Oxford: whatever is going on with Dust, Lord Asriel, Mrs Coulter and the Magesterium is far bigger than Lyra has imagined.
The next episode of His Dark Materials will air on BBC One at 8pm on Sunday.