His Dark Materials season 2, episode 1 recap – “The City of Magpies” a whole new world

November 9, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
TV Recaps
3.5

Summary

“The City of Magpies” will still likely prove troubling for fans of the books, but it’s a solid introduction to the new worlds, characters and ideas that’ll hopefully define this second season.

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3.5

Summary

“The City of Magpies” will still likely prove troubling for fans of the books, but it’s a solid introduction to the new worlds, characters and ideas that’ll hopefully define this second season.

This recap of His Dark Materials season 2, episode 1, “The City of Magpies”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous season by clicking these words.


After last year’s surprise-hit first season, the BBC and HBO’s collaborative adaption of His Dark Materials continues apace in “The City of Magpies”, which won’t necessarily assuage the anxieties of literary purists but has enough of its own ideas going on to be an entertaining romp through a new-ish reality.

You’ll recall that at the end of the first season, Dafne Keen’s Lyra Belacqua witnessed her friend Roger die at the hands of Lord Asriel and stepped into the relative unknown of a portal to a new world, which is where this premiere picks things up, with Lyra and Patalaimon exploring their new surroundings and grappling with everything they’ve experienced thus far.

This brings Lyra into the company of Will Parry, which also makes for the major turning point of the series, the moment when the two heroes come together and unite in the shared traumas of their pasts and the mutual responsibility they have to their future. It’s a big moment, and one of the first, besides her interactions with Roger, that has allowed Lyra to be among similarly-aged company, which is a pretty integral element in a story in large part about the loss of innocence and a wide-eyed wonder at the discovery of people, places, and truths that had rightly been closed-off to innocent children. Season 2 is quick to remind all that there is no room for innocence in this newer, darker world, where the kids’ innate sense of moral responsibility is much rarer than anyone would like.

In many ways these two represent the opposite of Mrs Coulter, still expertly embodied by Ruth Wilson, who seems born to play this role; she has the capacity for goodness but the instincts for corruption and cruelty. Many have quibbled with the depictions of various beloved characters in this series, but “The City of Magpies” is a reminder that Wilson’s casting was a masterstroke, and that her relish of villainy is one of the strongest throughlines.

This premiere is also very much a comforter, contrasting Lyra’s alienation with the audience’s familiarity at seeing old faces like Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala. But it’s also a tease for fans of the books who know what’s coming and what to look out for, and those who’re concerned for the safety of the adult characters moving forwards. Ruta Skadi (Jade Anouka) gets an introduction here, as do the grown-up menacing Spectres, stacking the deck against anyone who isn’t of drinking age – although the youngsters have their own share of things to worry about.

It’s functional above all else, then, but “The City of Magpies” is nonetheless an excellent introduction to the new characters, new worlds, and new ideas that’ll hopefully come to define this sophomore outing. It was divisive in its first go-around and it’ll likely remain so, but the space in the television landscape for a reality-hopping fantasy adventure is always better filled than left vacant.


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