“The Daemon Cages” made for a chilling, thrilling payoff to everything that has come before, and saw His Dark Materials operating at its best.
This recap of His Dark Materials Season 1, Episode 6, “The Daemon Cages”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
If “The Daemon Cages” wasn’t the best episode of the BBC and HBO’s His Dark Materials adaptation – and I think there’s a case to be made that it was – then it certainly contained the highest concentration of best-of moments: Best acting from Dafne Keen and Ruth Wilson, best action, best visual effects, best cohesion of beloved source material and big-budget primetime telly storytelling. It was an hour of icy settings, interactions and developments, the chill difficult to ignore.
Bolvangar, the clinical prison where compassion and children both go to die, made the perfect backdrop for the events of His Dark Materials Episode 6, staffed with slightly off-kilter scientists and nurses who run the gamut from believing what they’re doing is right but being reluctant about it to probably slightly getting off on it. Lyra (Keen) didn’t fit in there, obviously, but the facility fit snugly into a story about children being forcibly separated from first their families and then their souls.
Mrs Coulter’s (Wilson) involvement with Bolvangar makes it difficult for her to be sympathetic, which she wasn’t in the books to begin with, but that’s the direction the character seems to be taking in this version; she’s misty-eyed and mothering when she saves Lyra from her own procedure, though the expectation that Lyra would be thankful for her doing so strikes me as a bit naïve. Both actors sell this interaction, though, and it was the highlight of “The Daemon Cages”. As Lyra became less understanding, less empathetic, angrier, Mrs Coulter became more open, more desperate, more human. It was a clever inversion of their relationship as we last saw it, and proof that Keen was a smart choice to shoulder the dramatic weight of this adaptation, which lifts many of its most cutting lines directly from Pullman’s text.
It’s these interactions which facilitate Lyra’s escape in His Dark Materials Episode 6, a thrilling sequence which also comes to incorporate the Gyptian hordes, Iorek Byrnison (Joe Tandberg), Lee Scoresby (Lin-Manuel Miranda) and the witch Serafina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas), who arrives in the nick of time in a flurry of visual effects to save the day and the children imprisoned at Bolvangar.
“The Daemon Cages” smoothly switches tones and styles for a late standoff between Lee and some native ghouls, and the overwhelming sense is of a transition from one plot, one adventure, to the next. While it obviously all ties into an overarching narrative which is itself transplanted from a trilogy of novels, His Dark Materials Season 1, Episode 6 felt very much like a finale; the culmination of everything that had been building until that point, and the casting off of its heroine and her allies into unknown adventures elsewhere.