“Armour” sees the show head North and get a jolt of energy from the appearance of Lin-Manuel Miranda and everyone’s favorite angry polar bear.
This recap of His Dark Materials Season 1, Episode 4, “Armour”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
It has been a little while since we last checked in on Lyra (Dafne Keen), Pan (Kit Connor), and their earnest blue-collar shipmates, and things have changed in the meantime. Across the second and third episodes, which remained handsome and well-acted but slowed to an uneventful crawl and began inexplicably introducing characters and plots from much later in the series, the show got worse — not bad, you understand, but just a bit off-kilter. The fantastical worldbuilding was chafing awkwardly against contemporary Oxford. There was clearly a sense that the show itself was yearning to follow Lyra’s impulse and head North, where witches and aeronauts and armored bears await. Well, in His Dark Materials Episode 4, the show finally went North, and not at all surprisingly it became much better for doing so.
Lyra and the Gyptians arrive there on the hunt for their missing children, pilfered by Mrs Coulter (Ruth Wilson, still fantastic) and the sinister, enigmatic Oblation Board, which has designs on separating the nippers from their daemons. But while they don’t find the kids there, they do find Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a charismatic Texan balloonist with a scruffy-looking smartmouthed hare daemon, Hester (Cristela Alonzo), and a thirst for adventure that the show is sure to make good use of. They also meet a key figure in Phillip Pullman’s mythology, Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg), a disgraced warrior turned hard-drinking smith whose missing armour gives His Dark Materials Episode 4 its short-term plot.
And there’s plenty of macro stuff, too. Lyra continues to puzzle out the alethiometer, which is, now it’s partially decipherable, a useful story-shunting device. Mrs Coulter faces retribution from the Magisterium, forcing her to play her Asriel-is-locked-up-under-bear-supervision trump card and sneakily liaise with King Iofur (Joi Johannsson). There are banned surveillance beetles and prophecies and witch consuls. His Dark Materials Season 1, Episode 4 felt the closest to the book that the show has until now, and it brought its pages to life in the most convincing way. Ironically, more of this episode was sprung from a computer than those before it, but its creations feel hefty, its ideas expansive, and its energy contagious. More of this and His Dark Materials might well live up to its potential.