His Dark Materials season 2, episode 2 recap – “The Cave” between worlds

November 15, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
HBO, TV Recaps
3.5

Summary

“The Cave” continues to work very well as a complicated and weird coming-of-age drama, as Lyra continues to explore a new world that is both very different from and similar to the one she knows.

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3.5

Summary

“The Cave” continues to work very well as a complicated and weird coming-of-age drama, as Lyra continues to explore a new world that is both very different from and similar to the one she knows.

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


There really is no wonder that a certain portion of literary purists don’t like the BBC and HBO’s adaptation of His Dark Materials. It’s so many things at once that it can be difficult to keep track of, and it’s by no means a direct translation of the material as-written. It was an oddball thing even then, a big hodgepodge of elements and genres and themes that on their own made hopping the media transom a challenge. Now it’s grappling with the need for modernization to keep a contemporary feel, as well as cherry-picking from the books to form a newer, more TV-friendly arrangement. When Will pulled out a smartphone in “The Cave”, I can’t say I was surprised or that it even necessarily stood out.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that an adaptation of a beloved series doesn’t develop along the same lines as the story did in the first place. Now it exists in a new context, one that can’t ignore the cultural importance of the work or the fans’ longstanding familiarity with it. In the same way that, say, Rogue One was an answer to an ancient fanboy nit-pick, a lot of this show is designed to fill in gaps, answer interesting questions, and generally make the unfolding of a very complex and weird story more palatable to the mainstream. You can see the logic behind that, even if you can see why certain people might be annoyed by it.

The second reason is that the writing is sharp. When Will pulls out that smartphone, Lyra makes a comment about having something similar, only better. She means the alethiometer, obviously, but she could really be talking about anything. This is the show folding its new ideas and elements into its underlying coming-of-age plot; that sense of wonderment and discovery that Lyra, in large part through her relationship with Will and her exploration of Will’s – read: our – world, is supposed to embody. This is a young girl, a child, essentially alone on a world-saving quest through universes. She has met talking bears and witches, but the most curious thing, for her, is a boy very much like her who has nonetheless lived a completely different life. This is one element that “The Cave” absolutely nails.

It’s easy to highlight the differences, both in a fish-out-of-water sense, and in a revelatory way, such as Lyra realizing that not only is Simone Kirby’s Dr. Mary Malone a female scholar, but she was also allowed to leave the church – both borderline incomprehensible to Lyra. But the lapsed Catholic scientist is a useful means of pointing out the similarities between Lyra’s world and ours, too, boiling down the fanciful concept of Dust to something relatable and sort-of understandable, like dark matter. It’s no different from almost every culture that has ever existed having a very similar creation myth; there are commonalities everywhere, and what we might think is unique and special to us is actually universal. This, too, is something Lyra must grapple and come to terms with.

Mary is also one of few adult characters thus far who takes Lyra’s word out of compassion and curiosity rather than an ulterior motive, which is why this side of the plot tends to work better than anything involving the Magisterium, despite the dead-on brilliance of Ruth Wilson’s casting as Mrs. Coulter. She continues to strike a fine figure of elegance and menace, and the nearer she gets to Lyra the tenser the plot becomes, but she’s a bright spot in what is otherwise a cabal of contradictory metaphor and thinly-veiled old-fashioned patriarchal power-hoarding, much less complex than Lyra’s internal struggle and the endless possibilities of parallel worlds. “The Cave” highlights the Magisterium’s hypocrisy, but fails to make this crusty cabal engaging beyond the level of plot-moving evildoing. The fact the show is only going to get weirder is probably best for everyone.


Thanks for reading our recap of His Dark Materials season 2, episode 2, “The Cave”. For more recaps, reviews, and original features covering the world of entertainment, why not follow us on Twitter and like our Facebook page?

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