“Malice” makes for a handsome, dense penultimate episode as the narrative pieces are cleverly positioned for next week’s finale.
This recap of His Dark Materials season 2, episode 6, “Malice”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Previous episodes of this season of His Dark Materials – especially those that have resembled a knockabout coming-of-age tale and explored the most mundane of differences between superficially similar worlds – have pared back the more fantastical elements of Phillip Pullman’s worldbuilding. That is very much not the case in the penultimate episode, “Malice”, which has so much going on that it almost feels as though the disparate aspects are in conflict with each other. Will and Lyra spend most of the episode in the company of a witch; Lee and Stanislaus Grumman chill in a balloon both discussing and performing all manner of weirdnesses; Mary Malone ventures into a new (to her) world of murderous children and such; Mrs Coulter at one point walks down an alleyway flanked by ethereal, serpentine spectres; and the Not-the-Catholic-Church-Really-We-Mean-It ruthlessly schemes. It’s a lot.
And with so much, what’s required to keep everything in manageable proportions is a clever pairing of characters and their actors, which is where “Malice” really excels. There is plot development here, but the strength of the hour is really on seeing Will and Lyra continue to bond under the watchful eye of a sage witch, or Lin-Manuel Miranda and Andrew Scott swapping sarcastic one-liners in a hot air balloon, or Mrs Coulter smugly discovering she can control the spectres while Lord Boreal watches on, impressed and probably a bit demeaned – maybe even aroused, in all honesty. Despite all this stuff happening, “Malice” is surprisingly modest in its pacing, letting the to-and-fro of the writing and performance do its job.
His Dark Materials has always reliably looked good, but I noticed quite how good it looks more here than I usually do, perhaps because there was such a diverse range of stuff to look at. “Malice” is as good at springing to life tangled terracotta alleyways as it is mountain ranges and the churning sky surrounding a balloon basket. It does interior as well as exterior; intimate as well as broad. This much worldbuilding is complemented by an abundance of world.
And it’s very much a penultimate episode, lacking the grandeur and closure of a finale but skilfully positioning characters and narrative threads just-so, ready to be made proper use of next week. There are just enough developments and CGI beasties and gunships in shaman storms for “Malice” to not feel empty or inert, even if the sense of it building towards something, namely the overdue reunions of several different characters, is felt most strongly of all. For various Covid-related reasons, there’s every chance that next week’s finale might not feel like one, but we’ll have to wait and see.
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